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The cleric pulls the lever and the platform stutters and descends with the sounds of gears and rumbling below in the deep. My dexterity saves me from the shock—I could have stumbled in the crate and fallen out of hiding. The players are close enough that they would have noticed me and ruined our shot at piggybacking a higher-level team. My display icons fade and my vision dims to black.

Oh great, here comes the music—

After suffering through the narrator and the music again I check and see that Briar and Kian are both still hidden.

The party we followed through are already slowly moving down the tunnel.

“Guys,” the red mage starts, “I thought I saw something weird in the notices as we entered. Did you guys see anything?”

“Nope,” the cleric says, “probably just some glitch with that stupid cutscene we can’t skip.” He waves around his hammer, testing the weight, “I can’t believe we cannot skip that.”

The party advances up the tunnel with long strides and then pull out torches, which illuminates the walls. This tunnel looks entirely naturally made—smooth water-carved walls with stalagmites and stalactites scattered everywhere. There are many rough boulders, which is great for those of us in the shadows.

I let the party move up ahead and I bring up voice chat. “Okay, we are in and are undetected.” I move a little farther up. “I want to keep up with them, so we don’t have roaming monsters aggro us and cause a commotion. Come to me. We’ll need to use these dark-vision potions, or we will be blind, and we don’t have torches.”

“Good plan,” says Kian. “I still can’t believe this worked.”

I hand out the potions and we all drink them, though I don’t know how long the effects will last.

“We only have one shot. After this, they will never enter this instance again without checking the platform. Also, this is obviously a bug and they will probably patch this by this time tomorrow.”

Briar says, “None of us have been in here, so we don’t know what to do. These guys have been in here a bunch of times now. What if they all die or we don’t make it in time?”

“Time?” I ask.

“Yeah, see that countdown in the lower right?” says Kian. “That’s probably our time limit in here.”

“Crap.” I hadn’t noticed that before, and we have just under five hours. “Okay, let’s just let them clear the trash, and if we can help them—without them knowing we are here—we will need to do that.”

Leaping though the shadows, we keep our communications to the bare minimum as we tail the party. Ahead, I notice the party stop for a second and then from either side come groups of monsters. I inspect them, six goblins, all level two. The fighters and mages quickly dispatch the trash, loot them, and then move ahead before stopping at what appears to be a fork in the tunnel.

They look at the ground and do something I cannot see, then move into the left tunnel. I follow up ahead and see they had triggered a spike trap by casting a spell at it.

That thing probably got them the first time they came in here, I bet that was pretty funny to see.

To the left the tunnel opens to reveal a large cavern. Inside, at the center, looks like a deep pit with small walls around the edge. A large open well. The party is plainly visible with their torches and chants. It’s like they are advertising their presence to the entire dungeon, and this room has only the one entrance and exit. This is a rounded, cavernous room with paths around the sides. In the center is a raised area with a stone tree carved from floor to roof. It has burls, knots, and its branches all have small, downward-pointed stone leaves which look like daggers. Hanging from one branch is a huge brass bell. Next to,and below the bell is a stone platform with three steps up.

I watch the cleric mount the platform and raise his hammer; the other members of the party gather close to the tree trunk—under a thick branch. They reposition a couple times, and it looks like the party is making sure they are under the branch. The stout cleric swings his hammer back and hits the bell with a deafening clang. The stone leaves of the tree drop like sheets of daggers, striking the cleric. He runs back to the tree while suffering heavy damage. A low sound like goblins drumming starts and then the well lights up. With a snarling, rumbling, and clawing a monster with a snake’s head and tusks comes up from the well. It is followed by the rest of it, which looks to be twenty feet long or more. It has smaller limbs with sharp claws, but with its large mouth it could easily swallow anyone in the cavern.

I inspect the snake-thing. Its name is “Grootslang the Devourer” and it is a level seven mini-boss. Inspect shows that it the equivalent of a level 12 regular creature. It rises, hissing in a strange, thrumming way which vibrates the tree, the sound increasing in power. The drumming abruptly stops and the creature roars impressively, shaking the tree, which drops hundreds of little stone leaf daggers. The party under the large limb is safe and waits. As the beast charges, the thicker of the two fighters steps forward and raises his shield. I can only assume he is the tank for the party.

“These are some cool mechanics!” Briar says.

“Let’s hope no adds come out and aggro us. Keep back,” I say.

Grootslang hits the fighter with a claw, and the fighter barely holds his groundRecovering, the fighter lets out a taunting yell at Grootslang while slashing it on the snout with his broadsword. The fighter then moves away from the trunk of the tree so the party can strike Grootslang on the flank. I see the tank taking hits from falling stone leaves and watch as his health plummets. Just as I think he will die, the cleric shouts and two counter-circling blue lights surround the fighter. The lights move from above and down to the ground, and the fighter is fully healed. Grootslang quickly turns and brutally claws the cleric, but returns to the fighter after another swipe from the tank’s broadsword. The mages finish their spells finally and blast Grootslang with brightly flashing spells, causing huge wounds to erupt

The second fighter braves the falling daggers to position himself for a powerful attack. He takes two hits, but lands the killing blow.

The entire chamber is reverberating as the goblin drumming halts.

Grootslang died, non-combatant experience gain: 500xp

“Seriously?” says Kian. “We are getting experience from their kills?”

“Is this because it is a boss?” asks Briar. “That must be it.”

The tree morphs and changes shape and reveals a large lever, which the cleric unceremoniously grabs and pulls.

This is awesome.

The party heals up quickly and they loot the corpse of Grootslang and quickly exit the cavern. They don’t notice any of the unusual shadows moving toward the dead mini-boss.

Our party gains thirty gold, a pair of boots, a pair of gloves,

We move fast and follow the party back the way we entered. Returning to the four, we follow them down the right tunnel, which curls up and to the left before dumping out into another cavern. This second cavern is smaller than the previous one. I can see what looks like a wooden fortification on the far side of a short chasm. On it there is a raised, half-rotten wooden drawbridge on the other side. It’s a defensive structure designed to keep anyone on this side out. The party stops and I move up to eavesdrop on them.

“Okay, you guys know what to do. Hit them just like the last time. Hopefully we can get this right and not burn the whole thing down againcleric says. “Are you ready, Bran?” He asks the fighter without the shield.

Bran says, “Yea, Alan, let’s do this.” Then, he pulls a new torch out of his pack and lights it.”

I almost forget I took a night vision potion and can see fine here. With the potion I can see ahead of them, but they cannot. Trying to get an idea of what they might do, I get closer. Then, I see a goblin scout appear on the top of a makeshift platform to the right of the drawbridge and I notice him sniffing the air.

The fighter named Bran sprints ahead with the red mage behind him; he throws the torch onto the platform, and the goblin squeaks and jumps down. While the mage is casting, the fighter pulls out a bow and arrows and readies himself. A commotion erupts from the other side of the drawbridge, which I cannot see, but several goblin mages appear. The fighter lets an arrow fly and hits one goblin mage, interrupting a spell. At the same time the red mage’s spell completes, and I see a fire bolt fly, blasting the mechanism keeping the drawbridge up. The drawbridge slams down with dust and rocks in the air. The cleric named Alan, the tank, and the other mage run up in exact time to cross the drawbridge as it settles. They all run across and begin to slaughter goblins, who mostly only have bows and arrows.

I wonder how many times they took to get that right.

The team led by Alan go into a cave to the right, then come back out. They stop and heal up minor wounds, and then take defensive positions as two skeletons come out. The mages blast one with fire as the tank stands bulwark to keep the mages safe. The cleric walks up with his eyes closed, chanting, and smashes one skeleton with a single hit from his hammer.

“These guys have done this a few times,” I say.

“Ya think?” Briar says.

Quickly looking around and moving on, the players come to another fork take a corner to the right. Approaching the intersection, I see there is a large iron gate on the leftward side which has no visible way to be opened.

I use my perception and focus on the surrounding area of the gate. Looking for a secret lever or something, I carefully scan all around the gate. I don’t find a lever, but just out of the corner of my eye I see a slight glow, high above the path right at the intersection. There is something up there, a small opening.

“Can you guys follow them for a minute? I want to see what this is.”

Briar and Kian move on, keeping a distance behind the group. I climb up to a tiny ledge; it has an even smaller entrance to a tunnel which looks like it would be great for a goblin. Goblins are small, and even at my size this tunnel feels cramped. It does not go toward the gate as I thought it might. It continues forward about a hundred yards. To the left, I enter from a high point, which can only be the boss room for this dungeon. It is a massive hall and behind a blue sheen of a ward sits a monstrous skeleton on a chair of rough-hewn rock. Behind the skeleton is a waterfall with glowing moss and a runic stone—I see a chest under the chair. There are cages with skeletons hanging behind him. Huge books litter the floor. Could this be a lich? No, not at our level. I cannot identify it through the ward though.

Moving forward for a better look, I see a small path down from my position and on it is a lever. Oh, what is this? I climb down and pull it; fire erupts out of the entire floor below.

Holy crap!

If this is like the first fight wouldn’t goblins be up here drumming? Looking closer, I think the goblins might control the mechanics. My eyes follow the path to the lever, during a boss fight a goblin could come down that tunnel I did. Then, at a specified time, a goblin pulls the. That is it, I would bet almost anything that this is how the mechanics are done. I look at the cages with skeletons and I see they all have pulleys above them. Those things go up and down and even across the cavern. I can see another ledge similar, which probably has another goblin manning another lever.

We can do this.

I hear huge gears moving and the creak of metal; the players have opened the iron gate. Based on the location of where this boss room is, they probably have another mini-boss to go and maybe one more puzzle. They must have taken out another mini-boss and got access to another lever. I turn around and almost run back to the intersection. As soon as I am in range, I open voice chat.

“How did it go up there?” I ask.

“Good, there was a treasure room with some traps. They had to kill two trolls, and they were smart and used fire. One fighter took a hard hit, but the cleric healed him,” Kian says.

“I know how we will do this; I found the boss room and we can take over the fight mechanics. We will be able to make it look like they wiped once the boss is almost dead,” I proudly say and quickly explain what I found.

Kian says, “We will need Briar to position himself behind the boss for a backstab. When we finish with the party he can jump in and do a backstab, and then Esme and I will charge in.”

“Awesome, but these dorks need to speed it up. We only have a couple hours left,” Briar says. “From the way they talk, they wipe at this next fight half the time, and the rest of the time they wipe on the boss.”

At the intersection I see the party move past the gate, entirely unconcerned with their surroundings. Once past, they stop and wait.

“Alan, you need to make sure your mana is topped up before this next one,” says the red mage. “We always end up cutting it too close.”

“I know, man, and we need Bran to have his skills off cooldown. How much time we need to wait?” asks the cleric.

“Only sixty seconds. Let’s go get set up. And, for the record, I really hate this one,” Bran says, hefting his shield and muttering, “the devs are bastards.”

The party moves forward to where an opening is to the left; it looks like there is white stone around the mouth.

“Oh man,” Briar says, almost blurting out loud. “Spiders!”

I look again and see it is not white stone, but is instead thick spider silk. I move ahead and can hear the tank complaining about not being healed more in the coming fight. I sneak up closer to listen.

“We wiped here the first time, but we got this now that you guys know what to do,” says the cleric. “Just keep the aggro and watch those little adds. When they show up everyone except Bran needs to be killing them.”

They step in farther and burn away webs with their torches. I follow, eager to get a look at what they are about to fight. A spider would likely drop the gear a rogue like myself would love. Just 30 feet behind them now, I see they are on the edge of a platform ahead. A platform which has a massive cocoon-looking structure above it. Casting my eyes up, I see it is illuminated slightly with green and purple light coming from spots within; the platform has pits all around it, and if you were to fall in you would be tangled in webs. There is a path all around the lower side clogged with webs. I can see that in each of the four corners of this mostly rounded cavern are small cocoon structures with thick tendrils attaching them to the central cocoon. The second they step on the platform I can see that this whole cavern will know they are here by vibration. I slink back, ready to stay well out of the way.

The party sets up, casts their buffs, and waits for cooldowns on skills to reset. I watch them pop potions, which I’m not able to identify fast enough. This is the first thing they have really prepared for, and the more I watch these players, the more I think they are damn good.

“Ready, check, ready?” Alan barks.

“Ready!” they all yell in unison, pumped.

The tank, Bran, steps forward and a light-strumming sound starts, as if cellos all around the cavern begin to play. The players are caught in a brief area-stun as the large cocoon shifts and a massive black widow spider climbs out. It shivers and drops before them with a slight bounce lifting it’s forelegs—the strumming cellos begin a battle tune. I inspect the spider, its name is “Jorogumo, the lady of the cavern,” and it’s an Epic level 8 mini-boss. I can’t get any more information on it, but I am glad these guys are fighting it and not us. Even with it focused on the other group, it is a terrifying creature to face.

The cleric chants a warding as the tank moves forward with a yell and hits the spider on a leg. The second fighter uses a skill and the mages start casting furiously as the spider circles. The tank slams the spider again and I can see that very little damage is being done; he is just keeping it away from the casters—whom it would rip to pieces in seconds. The spider lifts both front legs, and the tank ducks behind his shield as a green acid sprays him. The red mage finishes his spell; stepping forward, he flings fire over the spider. It jumps back and circles to the side as the second mage finishes a spell, which causes several bolts to fly and hit Jorogumo with resounding thumps.

I notice that one corner of the cavern comes alive with a shimmer and smaller spiders swarm. The tank screams “buff,” and half-turns to the cleric, who steps forward with a touch that ignites him with a protective cobalt fire. The tank, now with a bluish glow, engages Jorogumo and moves it away from the others who all leap back. Seven cat-sized spiders swarm the platform, clamoring for the mages. The other fighter after finishing the skill he was casting leaps into the air, landing with a huge smash on the approaching spiders and instantly killing five. The others are quickly dispatched by the two mages.

Alan the cleric chants again and a light glow bathes the platform with a splash. I retreat deeper into the shadows as I see another batch of the cat-sized spiders come from the corner nearest me and swarm to the players. The red mage casts at the mini-boss as the other mage quickly chugs a potion. Ice spikes burst through the onrushing mini-spiders and the leaping fighter does a huge swiping attack, killing several spiders. Two of the little spiders get onto him, doing a bit of damage, and he and the mage both take hits while killing them. Catching one spider with my inspect skill, I see they have only five hit points, but they can poison and look like they would easily swarm a player.

The red mage’s blast goes off and another fan of fire hits Jorogumo wounding it deeply. Another group of the small spiders’ emerge. Alan the cleric smashes the lady of the cavern with a thundering hit, knocking it back. Immediately after his attach he steps back to heal his tank, who had taken a devastating bite to his arm.

While the cleric and mages cast, both fighters attack the huge spider with taunts, jabs, and shouts. Jorogumo jumps back, taking damage. The spider uses a skill and webs cover the entire platform, sticking all the characters in place. At once it jumps from player to player, biting them. I see the last corner cocoon burst open, and five more spiders emerge. The tank breaks free and does a deafening shout, grabbing the attention of Jorogumo and all its children. He then ducks down and uses a skill which changes his appearance, making him look grayer and move slower. Everything attacks him at once as the others break free and begin to rain blows on the spider horde. The last to escape is the red mage. He downs a mana potion and casts a fan of fire, killing the boss, which morphs into the body of a beautiful woman in a long black dress. Gasping several times, she then lays there as if asleep, her body impaled on a lever. A lever which is identical to the one under the stone tree.

The cello orchestra playing background music fades. I am surprised the narrator is not blabbing about the arachnid conquest.

Jorogumo died, non-combatant experience gain: 800xp

You have reached level 6!

Hide-in-shadows level 6!

The party stops and heals, they are all poisoned and the cleric has to cure each of them. We move to the sides keeping an ever-watchful eye.

After looting the mini-boss, the red mage says, “Does it seem like the loot we are getting is less than the other runs we have done?”

“Yeah, it really does. Maybe we are getting a farming nerf?” Alan asks. “Well, let’s wrap up the final trash stretch and do the boss, I think we have him this time.” He throws the lever and they start out.

“Okay, guys, loot fast,” I say as we jump on the lady and open the loot interface. I pick up a cloak and a knife.

 

Cloak of the Spider

This cloak once belonged to the Lady of the Cavern. It’s unnaturally black and drags shadows behind it.

Hide in Shadows +2

Once per day: Summon spider (of wearer’s level)

Nightvision.

 

Inspect level 3!

This cloak is a valuable find. I have lucked out now twice, this and the knife I cannot identify. Briar and Kian both get normal items for their levels and we receive another fifty gold.

I slip on my new cloak; the hide bonus will be great. I toss my new stat point into dexterity.

“Can you guys follow behind them? I need to run to my perch and get ready.”

Kian and Briar nod, and I take off, dragging shadows down the tunnel.

***

I’m above the lever, hidden in the shadows waiting as the party enters. Kian and Briar keep me appraised of the way the party got to the room. They let me know that there was a smaller spider ambush and some troll who broke free of a cage to attack. As the party enters the boss room, they look fresh and ready to fight. I see the two blue forms of my party members sneak in after them. Kian climbs up to the goblin perch on the other side of the cavern, Briar moves farther on so he can be behind the boss at the right moment. We are in place.

I see the party buff up and the tank steps forward, crossing the threshold and awakening the Yaoguai, who stands, a nine-foot-tall skeleton. Yaoguai walks forward, a spectral sword appears in his hand. The goblin drums beat in time with his footsteps and start a steady rhythm of battle.

The players use flame and bolts, and the tank suffers some heavy hits, but I’ve seen this before. But then the music changes, and to my right I see a goblin emerge from the small tunnel and come down to the lever. As he reaches it, I wait for a second while I watch the players shift tactics and run to the center of the cavern as a cage drops. Piling into the cage, they wait, firing spells at the boss, and then the cage goes up. The goblin throws the lever and the floor is engulfed in fire, exploding below them. I know what I need to know now. I drop down, killing the goblin in one blow.

I inspect the boss Yaoguai; he has 75% of his health left. I need to play my part as the goblin I just killed for a few minutes. Then, we spring our trap.

The cage drops and the players move to the side of the fighting area as Kian says, “My goblin is throwing his lever.” Spikes burst from the floor in the center. I watch Kian flash, killing his goblin lever-thrower in one deft strike.

We now own this boss fight.

Playing my part, I keep up what the goblin would do and blow up the floor while they are in the air. Kian shoots the spikes when they are at the side. The boss drops to 45% health, and there is a shift as he swaps tactics.

Yaoguai plants his sword into the ground and becomes invulnerable as waves of ink-black power rush from him. With each burst there is a clawing, screaming, gasping sound that I am going to have nightmares about. I watch the black waves crash into the party and their health pools plummet.

The cleric uses his big heal, it is clearly an ultimate that he was saving. That healing skill brings the party back from the brink of death, right before they are about to take another huge wave of darkness. I cannot see them then spot them in the cage high above the roiling mass of dark screaming energy.

Each time the cage goes down the party gets out and attacks, then it seems the damage triggers the wave of darkness, and they quickly get back into the cage as it ascends. The period in the cage is time they use to heal, chugging potions and the cleric applies heal over time spells.

I wait. Yaoguai is at 20% and they do another cage ride, healing up.

“One more cage ride, then when they land, we grill them up,” I say.

The boss’s health is at 15% as they pile out of the cage. Yaoguai opens his mouth and a wave of green gas sprays over the party as I see their health drop precipitously. Finally, the moment I have been awaiting, Yaoguai hits 8% and the trigger happens. The party jump in the cage, and this time the explosion does not happen. I see them look around in alarm while still furiously casting at Yaoguai, who is at 5% and dropping.

The cage comes back down. They pile out, and I say. “Now!”

I throw the lever and the floor erupts in inferno—I see the spikes shoot up and impale the party. When the fire dies down, both mages are dead, and only the tank and the cleric are alive.

“Briar, get into position. And again!” I say and throw my lever.

The cleric had gotten a heal off the moment before, but the fire leaves him at only 1% of his health. I see him screaming, and then the spikes come up again. I leap down among the shadows to Yaoguai as I see Briar emerge from the dark and hurl forward. Briar has his knife above his head with both hands as he plunges it into the boss’s head. Kian reaches the platform at the same time I do. We both are still in the shadows and moving fast as the boss turns, smashing Briar with his sword and leaving him at 6% health. I enter range and sprint foot over foot, leaping into the air at the flank of this skeletal boss. Kian sinks a dagger in the back of his knee as I drive my knife behind where his ear would be. The bone gives way and he instantly disintegrates.

You hit Yaoguai for 12 (+4 flank) damage.

Yaoguai died, the death blow landed by you, experience gain: 9500xp

I land in a whirlwind of skeletal dust as the notifications pop up.

You have reached level 7!

You have reached level 8!

You have reached level 12!

Congratulations!

You and your team are the first to complete the “Welcome to Imagine Online” special instance, “Yaoguai’s Lair” - for your region.

Congratulations: You have gained control of one of three fortresses in your region.

See the quest manager in Port Yarrow to select your fortress.

Please note: You must be a member of a clan to claim a fortress.

Congratulations!

You now have access to create a clan.

To claim rewards, please enter your clan name.

Note: All members of your current party will become members.

 

It worked. It really worked.

I remember the conversation with the tailor. I enter our clan name.

Nightfallers.

 

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A note from joeldg

If you enjoy this story please click follow and favorite in the upper right so you can get notifications for new content.

This chapter is the end to the first story arc and the remainder of the story will be released one or two chapters per week, ongoing.


About the author

joeldg

  • Portland, OR

Bio: Joel lives on the side of an extinct volcano with his family, and a cat with markings of a ghost, named after a Roman general. He writes ongoing LitRPG, as well as short-form GameLit and SciFi. He has played nearly every single MMO/MMORPG.

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