Chapter 3: The Dementher’s Shadow
“This experience is shit!”
Fallon crouched behind a defeated Horned Crystal Spider with a smirk as the male Sentinel’s voice boomed down the tunnel towards the Warlock and her familiar.
“Waste of my skills,” he continued with exasperation, “and I’m going to need another break before we take down Cyren. Damn Mana is getting low.”
“I have potions if you—” a hesitant female voice began before she was rather rudely cut off.
“Sorry, Praeditus, but I’d rather not deal with Ether Fatigue,” the man replied with evident sarcasm.
“What our esteemed Guardian means to say,” a second male voice interjected soothingly. “Is that we both have the [Ether Attunement] skill, so we’ll be fine. We just need to take a short break outside the Dungeon Boss’s Lair to replenish our Health and Mana.”
“Oh—okay,” the female voice responded so quietly that Fallon almost didn’t hear her mumble out, “Sorry.”
“Nothing to apologize for. We knew what we were getting paid to do. So relax, Praeditus, and enjoy the easy experience!”
“You think I’d be down here dealing with these bugs if I wasn’t getting paid?” the gruff Sentinel’s voice snorted. “Why are there so many of these damn spiders already? We should have brought more firepower or come earlier so we could skip straight to Cyren’s room.”
“We had to wait until the Sentinel we bribed started his shift, didn’t we?” The other man responded with strained patience. “And if we had brought more people, that would leave less profit for us, Lennox.”
“Ah—well. Put more back into that bow then, Jarel. You need to start earning your cut.”
“Why don’t you try turning them around so I can shoot at something other than their armor, Guardian.”
“Oh! I didn’t know you were that bad of a shot, Ranger.”
“You’re an ass, Lennox.”
The Sentinel’s bickering drifted further away before the sound of combat resumed once more. Fallon eased up slowly to stand behind the dead Horned Spider, then whispered to the Dementher behind her, “We should be able to follow them safely from this distance.”
The Dementher’s wolf-like ears flicked towards her as the familiar snorted. “You forget you’re dealing with a Ranger, Warlock,” Asmodeus replied sharply. “They have an ability perfect for detecting enemies creeping up behind them.”
“Well, don’t you have that skill to cloak us with?” Fallon returned with a raised brow. “You’re good at invisibility, remember.”
The Dementher sighed. “Just because a Ranger can’t see you doesn’t mean he can’t sense you. Still—for the sake of your experience—”
A vapor of sulfuric mist settled around Fallon, who breathed in the noxious air hesitantly as a strange sensation crawled across her skin and blurred her vision momentarily.
|Dementher Active Skill—Mantle of Shadows (Tier ↁ)|
|The physical presence of both Familiar and Warlock are cloaked in the Shadows of Ancienter. Any skill used will cancel the effect. 50% bonus damage is added to any skill activated while under the effects of [Mantle of Shadows.]|
“Remember, even if they can’t hear your footsteps, they will hear anything else. So watch your step, and don’t go kicking over any stones,” Asmodeus cautioned as he moved past the Warlock down the path.
“Yes, Mother,” Fallon muttered sarcastically as she stepped around the Horned Spider. The Dementher’s tail whipped out and lashed against the Warlock’s leg. Fallon sucked in an angry breath of pain as she gripped her right thigh and danced silently in place. ‘Owww!’
“They’re working their way through the last cluster of arachnids between them and Cyren’s lair. Get moving, Warlock!” Asmodeus called back without remorse as he pranced ahead of her down the tunnel.
Fallon limped forward quickly while being mindful of her step as [Infernal Gaze] revealed a red cluster of Spiderlings gathered around a larger Horned Crystal Spider. The auras of the smaller arachnids burned out rapidly beneath a barrage of arrows. As the Warlock closed the distance to the Dementher, she stepped cautiously around the tunnel wall barrier and caught her first visual glimpse of the party ahead of them.
The Guardian, who appeared somewhere in his early thirties, was dressed from head to foot in heavy dark grey armor that shone blue under the crubal crystal light. In his right hand was a flanged mace made of the same metal while his left hand gripped a kite shield of black metal with hues of green along its surface. The Sentinel had short ash-blonde hair and olive green eyes that always seemed to be squinting at something. He stood with his right foot placed on top of the squirming back of a Spiderling and rotated the shoulder that held his shield.
“Go on then, Praeditus,” the Guardian gestured his weapon at the struggling arachnid while he focused on the Mage leaning against her staff, “—get a hit in, so you get some more experience.”
The young Mage shook her golden-copper brown curls, revealing gem-green eyes and cheeks far too pale, even for a class notorious for staying indoors with their nose stuck in a book. “I’m—just about out of mana.”
“Again?” The Guardian said incredulously. “Euclid’s Fist. What rock have you been hiding under to have a mana pool that small?”
“Lennox,” the Ranger cut in sharply as he continued to search the tunnel around them with an arrow nocked to his bow. His turquoise-blue eyes flowed smoothly over Fallon and Asmodeus without detection, but his brow furrowed as if what he was seeing didn’t match up with something else. “Let’s take a break and then finish up here.”
“Yeah, sure, that was the plan,” Lennox, the Guardian, replied in a bored tone as he dropped his mace, almost casually, on top of the Spiderling’s head and finished putting the creature out of its misery. “Maybe you should go over the boss fight with our Praeditus here, Jarel.”
Jarel, the Ranger, backed up slowly towards the Mage, who slid down her staff into a heap of robes and tired limbs upon the floor. “You doing alright there, Cassandra?”
Cassandra, the Mage, didn’t reply but instead fumbled about with a pouch on her belt.
Jarel sighed and returned his inquisitive stare to the tunnel behind them that his party had just cleared.
“Are you—sure he can’t see or hear us?” Fallon asked nervously, unsettled by the Ranger’s rather focused attention in their general direction.
“It’s fine. It’s probably the Ranger’s skill [Keen Senses] telling him there’s a potential threat lurking about close by,” Asmodeus replied with a shrug of his deer-like head. “If he hasn’t alerted the Guardian by now, then he’s not too bothered. Although he’ll likely stay vigilant until he figures out what his skill has detected, so don’t wander about until they’ve moved on.”
“Huh,” Fallon tilted her head and studied the Ranger. Beneath Jarel’s leather cowl, she could just make out a bit of brown hair the color of cinnamon. She focused her skill [Infernal Gaze] on the Sentinel and four bars of information presented themselves neatly across the Ranger’s face.
|Jarel ᚢᛜᚲᚾᛟᚹᚾ. Nucleus (Feralis). Class (Ranger). Rank (C). Level (ᚢᛜᚲᚾᛟᚹᚾ)|
|Ranger Jarel. Health: ᚢᛜᚲᚾᛟᚹᚾ. Mana: ᚢᛜᚲᚾᛟᚹᚾ.|
|Experience till next level: ᚢᛜᚲᚾᛟᚹᚾ.|
|Status Effects: [Aura of Precision] and [Keen Senses].|
‘Augh. He’s only one rank above me, but a lot of his information is restricted. Still, he’s C-rank, so that makes him at least level 45.’
Fallon refocused her skill on the curved dark-grey weapon that Jarel still held at the ready with an arrow nocked loosely against its string.
|Weapon—Black Ash Recurve Bow. Grade (C). Quality (Common)|
|Hewn from a tree in Black Ash Forest. A recurve bow that deals 29% physical damage to target.|
The Ranger shivered suddenly and relaxed his grip on the arrow, then rubbed his neck as he eyed the shadows where the Warlock and her Dementher familiar waited. Fallon frowned at his uncanny sense of danger and shifted her attention to the Guardian.
|Lennox ᚢᛜᚲᚾᛟᚹᚾ. Nucleus (Virtus). Class (Guardian). Rank (C). Level (ᚢᛜᚲᚾᛟᚹᚾ)|
|Guardian Lennox. Health: ᚢᛜᚲᚾᛟᚹᚾ. Mana: ᚢᛜᚲᚾᛟᚹᚾ.|
|Experience till next level: ᚢᛜᚲᚾᛟᚹᚾ.|
|Status Effects: [Aura of Aggression] and [Knight’s Valor].|
A quick check of the Guardian’s Mace and Shield was enough to confirm Fallon didn’t care to be hit by either.
|Weapon—Reinforced Jabal Mace. Grade (C). Quality (Greater)|
|Forged from Ore mined from the Jabal Mountain. A blunt mace that deals 18% physical damage to target. Reinforced with Endram Crystal for an additional 12% physical damage.|
|Note: Blunt weapons add a 15% chance to inflict [Stunned].|
|Weapon—Adamantine Shield. Grade (B). Quality (Greater)|
|Forged from Adamantine Ore. A sturdy kite shield that deals 16% physical damage to target and blocks 10% incoming damage.|
|Note: Sentinels with the Virtus Nucleus have increased physical strength that allow them to wear heavier armor and ignore the armor grade penalty as long as there is only 1 rank difference.|
‘Can’t be doing too bad if he can already afford B grade gear. I wonder how close that Guardian is to B-rank, though?’
Fallon finally settled [Infernal Gaze] on the last member of the illegal delving party and found herself—extremely underwhelmed.
|Cassandra ᚢᛜᚲᚾᛟᚹᚾ. Nucleus (Ingenium). Class (Mage). Rank (E). Level (18)|
|Fire Mage Cassandra. Health: 1,264/632 (1,264). Mana: 24/73 (146).|
|Experience till next level: 2,000/54,900.|
|Status Effects: [Ether Fatigue]x5|
‘No freaking way?’ The Warlock focused on the bottle of fluids that Cassandra was currently chugging down and pressed a fist to her mouth to suppress a groan.
|Item—Ether Mana Potion. Grade (D). Quality (Lesser)|
|A potion of Ether Mana that restores 30% of Mana Resources and inflicts the penalty [Ether Fatigue] for 10 minutes. Consuming additional Ether items will result in [Ether Fatigue] taking effect. For each stack of [Ether Fatigue], your Mana, Health, Skill Accuracy, and Skill Damage will be reduced by 10%, and the duration will be increased by an additional 10 minutes.|
“Not only is her Mana Pool embarrassingly small to begin with, but she’s successfully negated any damage she can do at that rank!” Fallon fumed quietly. “I can’t believe they’re about to take her into Cyren’s Lair with a crippled Health Pool. The Spider Queen Matriarch could one-shot her with a single attack!”
“Why do you think she looks so nervous?” Asmodeus replied in a mocking tone.
The Warlock frowned as the girl, probably only a year or two older than Fallon, fumbled and dropped the empty bottle as she attempted to return it to her pouch.
Jarel turned sharply at the sound and sighed. “You can’t keep drinking those, Cassandra.”
“How many has she had?” Lennox queried, apparently just taking notice.
Jarel raised an eyebrow at the Mage, whose cheeks had gone a pale shade of gray and blue.
“Just—a few,” Cassandra mumbled out nervously.
“A few?” Lennox echoed doubtfully as he eyed her with growing annoyance. “As in two?” He held up two fingers as if to clarify his question. Cassandra glanced at his outstretched fingers and then looked away guiltily. “Three?”
Jarel eased all tension on the bow, returned the arrow to the quiver at his waist, then strapped the weapon onto a hooked strap along his back. Fallon watched as the Ranger closed in on the Mage and yanked the pouch from her inventory belt.
“What are you—” Cassandra protested as Jarel reached inside and started tossing empty bottles onto the ground.
“Four—Five—Six?!” Lennox's ash-blonde brows shot up incredulously. “Are you insane?”
“My mana pool kept running out—”
“But—you’ve only been casting [Fire Bolt]!”
“No, she doesn’t have that skill yet,” Jarel corrected with a cynical laugh. “She only has [Ignite].”
“I don’t care what the damn skill is called!” Lennox snapped as he strode towards the pair. “What’s your Ether Fatigue stack at?”
“By the three bloody moons!” Lennox slammed his mace into the ground and quickly spun away to take in a deep breath.
“It’s fine, Lennox!” Jarel interjected with an annoyed glance at the crack left in the dungeon floor by the mace. “As long as Cassandra hits the Matriarch at least once with her staff, she’ll still get credit and experience for the kill.” The Ranger turned a reassuring smile to the Mage, who heaved on her staff as she stood up sluggishly.
“If she can manage that,” Lennox snorted, clearly not impressed by the Mage’s sickly complexion. “Well, let's not waste any more time. If we’re not out of here by the time the Vanguard party comes through, we’ll have bigger problems to deal with.” The Guardian glanced around and found a spot on the ground nearby where he put down his shield and mace, then sat between them.
“Rest for a bit while we get our Mana and Health back up,” Jarel said patiently as he placed a steadying hand on Cassandra’s shoulder. “No worries. After you hit D-rank, I’ll teach you how to replenish your resources using Ether found in a dungeon. Normally—you want to save expensive potions like this for emergencies only.”
Cassandra nodded and slid back down to the ground to hug her staff while Jarel chose a spot close beside her and laid his bow across his knees.
Fallon blew against her shoulder-length blonde hair impatiently as the Ranger and Guardian activated their [Ether Attunement] skill.
|Active Skill—Ether Attunement|
|Through careful meditation and cultivation, you are able to connect to the Ether around you and draw from it to replenish your Health and Mana Pool. Percent and rate of Replenished Resources are determined by the rank of the Dungeon, Gate, or Area as well as the Tier of the Skill.|
|Note: Using this skill regularly when your resources are exhausted will allow you to naturally expand your Health and Mana pool over time, giving you more resources to pull from.|
Fallon tried not to laugh at Lennox’s overly focused expression. The Guardian’s furrowed brow and scrunched-up face made it look as if he were trying to expel something from his body rather than draw in the Ether coursing through the Dungeon floor and walls around them.
‘Then again, just because you have a skill doesn’t mean you’ll be proficient at using it.’
“Warlock,” Asmodeus called out softly, his voice tight with anticipation. “Between the two of them, this shouldn’t be a long fight. I’ll provide a distraction and create a door behind Cyren so you can get the killing blow. Grab the Matriarch’s core quick as you can. The exit door will be to your right behind her.”
“Got it,” Fallon whispered back. “What if they overhit and take her out before I get a swing in?”
“They’re here to level up that Mage,” Asmodeus replied logically. “The next best thing to Cyren’s Monster Core is getting the killing blow on a boss.”
“But—the Mage can barely do any damage!”
Asmodeus snorted. “Not with her skills, but that Staff.”
Fallon turned back to the Mage and focused [Infernal Gaze] on the long black staff that Cassandra cradled tightly against her chest.
|Weapon—Black Locust Staff. Grade (A). Quality (Superior Rare)|
|A Boss Weapon obtained from the Matriarch in the Forest of Pestilence. A (Rare) Dementher weapon that deals 76% ether damage to the target and has a 20% chance to inflict the [Famine] debuff.|
|Weapon Passive Skill—Famine|
|A weapon skill that afflicts the target with 21% Pestilence damage (x5) that is drained from Mana and Health Pool. 10% of all drained resources is restored to the Staff Wielder's Health and Mana Pool.|
“Oh—yeah. Even with the Grade penalty that will still hit harder than my sword,” Fallon grumbled, annoyed by the odd twinge of envy she felt towards the weak Mage slumped against the ground before her. “I wonder which Praeditus family she belongs to. They must be new to Highguard if I’ve never met her before.”
“Right!” Lennox announced as he slapped a hand down loudly on the shield. “That’s good enough.”
“Impatient old dog,” Jarel grumbled as he uncrossed his legs, picked up his bow, and rose gracefully to his feet. “Is your Mana even at 50%?”
“It’s at 60%, which is more than enough to kill this bitch!”
The Ranger sighed as he moved over to Cassandra and offered the Mage his hand. “Up you go.”
Cassandra accepted his hand but looked ready to puke the moment she was back on her feet.
“You’re really going to hate yourself later,” Lennox muttered with what might have been a sliver of sympathy. “Ether hangovers are the worst.”
“Don’t listen to him,” Jarel said as he slid an arm around the Mage’s shoulders and guided her towards the yawning mouth of Cyren’s Lair. “Just focus on getting through this last fight. If you manage to level, that will clear up Ether Fatigue better than any cup of coffee or good night’s sleep.”
“Really?” Cassandra asked. The Mage’s expression brightened for the first time since Fallon had laid eyes on her.
Jarel raised his bow hand and motioned towards the silver winged Sentinel Badge on his shoulder. “Scout’s honor!”
“Or you can use your Praeditus privilege to get into the temple and ask the Mender to clear you up,” Lennox growled as he secured the leather straps of the kite shield around his left arm. “Let's link up for this one so I can keep an eye on your statuses."
"Link up?" Cassandra questioned.
"I got it," Jarel said as he focused on linking his Nucleus to those of the Mage and Guardian before him. "You should get a prompt right about—now."
|Ranger Jarel has initiated a hunting party. Total Nucleus linked 2/3.|
|Note: All status effects, Health and Mana Pool information, lootable items and skill usage will be visible to party members.|
"Do you see it?"
Cassandra blinked as she motioned her hand through the air. "Umm."
"Use your Nucleus," Lennox growled with a shake of his head. "Prompt it with a mental command."
"Okay, I—I think I got it!"
|Total Nucleus linked 3/3.|
|Hunting Party members: Ranger Jarel, Rank (C). Guardian Lennox, Rank (C). Fire Mage Cassandra, Rank (E).|
Lennox nodded and hefted his flanged mace up against his shoulder. "Stay close to Jarel and out of my way. No funny spell business until I have Cyren’s full attention. Got it?”
“I-I can do that,” Cassandra replied determinedly.
The Guardian gave her a nod, then threw Jarel a look that seemed to express, ‘Don’t let her fuck this up,’ before he turned and strode briskly into the Crystal Spider Cavern Dungeon Boss Room.
“Here we go,” Fallon whispered as [Infernal Gaze] immediately lit up a massive red mound that moved along the ceiling of Cyren’s Lair. The enormous monstrosity stretched out one of its eight jagged legs and descended slowly towards the party of delvers that dared to awaken the Matriarch Spider Queen from her slumber.