Thick white smoke began to drift out from under the door of the bilge room. After less than a minute there was enough to cover the floor of the hallway immediately outside the room. Which meant that the small space was completely engulfed in the stuff.

While not directly harmful, the Smokescreen Potion was great at obscuring medium sized spaces in a fog-like cloud. Anyone trapped within the cloud would have zero visibility. In confined spaces or when multiple overlapping potions were used they could even dampen sound.

Not even torch light could pierce the magical smoke. It was a very disorienting tool that found a place in the toolkit of many Ascenders. Either as a tactical advantage when attacking an enemy or as a means of escape. The number of potential uses was nearly limitless. Though the Corpse Hunter was probably one of the few to use it as a teaching tool.

Maria would be blind and deaf, much like the Mauve Sprouts she'd fought on the previous floor of the Dungeon. Of course the child didn't have extrasensory perception like the mushrooms did. Not that being able to detect vibrations would've been much help in this particular scenario.

She would have to rely solely on her own intuition. And there wasn't much time left to get her Fate under control with her assessment looming over her head. For the Rift Caller, it was sink or swim.

Out in the hallway Aiden checked his pocket watch. There were a number of different concoctions that could be used to create smoke screens. Some ingredients could alter their dispersion time, determine how long the clouds stayed, the range of their clouds, and what effect they had. They could be laced with poisons, turned into steam vents or electrostatic clouds, or even dyed pretty colors purely for aesthetic purposes.

This particular smokescreen that the man in gray had tossed into the room with an eleven year old girl was a simple run of the mill smoke bomb. It was important to push Maria to her limits but pushing her too far would be counterproductive. He wanted to build her up, not break her down.

Smoke continued to pour out from under the door. There was a sixty second dispersion time on Aiden's potion, or so the shopkeep he bought it from had said. After that the cloud would linger for a few minutes unless dispersed by a breeze or wind magic.

Aiden waited five minutes before opening the door. As the last remnants of the smoke billowed out into the hallway a small humanoid figure came into view. Maria sat cross legged on the floor in the middle of the small room. Her eyes were closed as she clutched a small blue beetle that poked its head out between her fingers, staring up at the man in gray.

"You didn't try to teleport out," the Corpse Hunter said calmly.

The girl opened her eyes. "I wanted to. And I almost did."

"What stopped you?"

"I started to panic at first. Then I realized you…I mean the smoke…wasn't going to hurt me. It was just a test to see what I'd do when I was scared. Wasn't it?"

Aiden nodded. "It is vital to know when you should use your abilities and even more important to know when you shouldn’t. Too many people are afraid to stop and take the time to find a solution to their problems. But if waiting doesn't worsen the situation then more often than not it is the solution."

"If I had teleported I probably would have fallen off the boat," Maria said. “And drowned.”

"Yes, especially if you didn't compensate for the fact that we're moving," said the Corpse Hunter.

"Oh yeah…”

"Ready to find out what's on this ship and kill it?"

The girl nodded as she put the beetle back into her pocket.

There was only one one door in the hallway which led to the bilge room that the Ascenders had first arrived in. At the far end of the hallway was a set of stairs that led to the deck above. Quietly the Corpse Hunter and the Rift Caller made their way up the stairs.

They peeked their heads up past the last step just enough to see into the next area. A large wide open space greeted them with dozens of wooden barrels and crates lining the walls. Skeletons dressed in sailor's garb moved about the room, mopping the floor, carrying boxes, and performing other menial tasks.

Aiden chuckled.

"What's so funny?" Maria asked in a whisper.

"It's a skeleton crew", he said quietly.

"Ok, but why is that funny?"

"Well it's a pun."

"What's a pun?"

"It's like a metaphor but in the form of a joke."

"Nevermind, I already regret asking. Can we fight them now?"

"Sure," Aiden said with a sigh.

Two of the skeletons dropped to the ground in a heap of bones and ragged clothes. An arrow jutted out of one their skulls while two daggers lay in the remains of the other's ribcage. All of the other skeletons turned to look at the stairs where the Ascenders were crouched.

The undead sailors dropped what they were doing and brandished the cutlasses that hung at their sides. Then they charged down the hallway towards Aiden and Maria.

"Are you ready?" Aiden asked as he unleashed another arrow, decapitating one of the skeletons by shattering one of its vertebrae.

"Yes," Maria said.

"Alright then, do it."

"Shouldn't I move further away from you? What if…"

The skeletons were almost upon them.

"No time," the Corpse Hunter said, nocking another arrow. "Do it now."

The girl vanished in the blink of an eye.

Aiden glanced over briefly to make sure his right arm and everything else on that side of his body was still right where it should be. Content to find himself still in one piece he fired his bow, dropping it the moment the arrow took flight so he could draw his sword and shield.With how narrow the stairway was only two of the monsters could attack him at a time.

The sound of clashing metal soon filled the air as the skeletons swung wildly at the intruder, determined to defend their ship. Aiden parried the right hand foe's cutlass with his shortsword while using his shield to block the other one’s attacks. There were plenty of openings that he could have taken advantage of to slay them while still maintaining his own defense.

But the Corpse Hunter ignored them all. He wasn’t trying to kill them, just keep their attention trained on him and from what he could see it was working quite well. The creatures were lined up four bodies deep, all waiting to take a swing at the man.

Suddenly one of the skeletons in the back of the group crumpled to the ground. Then another followed suit right beside the first. Slowly but surely the back row of the monsters’ formation began to fall apart.

Aiden could barely hear Maria's daggers striking the undead sailors from behind. His own battle had grown quite loud and the front line of the undead swashbucklers continued to swing at him with increasing intensity. The undead sailors weren’t susceptible to fatigue but they were outclassed and outsmarted.

Just as the skeletons began to laugh triumphantly they fell to the floor in a pile of broken bones. The Corpse Hunter had always wondered why the undead laughed maniacally when they thought they had the upper hand. Most of them seemed to do it, especially the skeletal variety.

It was unnerving at times and just plain annoying at others. The most common theory was that it was a simple scare tactic designed by the Dungeon to strike fear into the hearts of Ascenders of all ages. Though that notion wasn’t backed by any sort of hard evidence.

Aiden generally felt some form of sympathy for the denizens of the Dungeon. They hadn’t asked to be put there, to exist in a constant state of perpetual violence. But he didn’t have any sympathy for the undead.

They were assholes and the man in gray was suspicious that they knew exactly what they were doing, and worse yet, that they might actually enjoy inflicting harm on others. Thus the copious amounts of laughter that they emitted at the sight of Ascenders. If he hadn't been trying to help Maria train up her Rift Caller abilities he would've dealt with the skeleton crew himself.

"Well done," the man in gray said to his preteen companion.

"Thanks," Maria replied.

"What happened to your boot?" Aiden asked as he pointed to the bubbles that coated her left foot.

The girl grumbled a bit. "When I teleported behind the skeletons I landed in one of their mop buckets. Why do they even need to mop? They're dead."

"Who knows. But look at the bright side, that's officially the least gross thing you've landed on so far."

"Yeah right, there was a dead rat floating in the bucket."

Aiden held back the urge to chuckle. Maria just couldn't catch a break. After the fight they searched the storage hold for anything that might be of use to them.

The skeletons had very little on their individual persons. Mostly just their swords which were rusty and chipped, and their clothes, which were ragged and worn. A key on one of their belts had caught the Corpse Hunter's attention but he ignored the rest. The sell value for monster equipment was always pretty low unless it had some sort of unique or magical property to it.

In one of the crates Maria found a small metal cage that looked like it was designed for a parakeet or a small rat. She put her beetle in the cage and looped her belt through the handle. Aiden had wanted to throw the thing out a porthole when the rusty door kept swinging open on its own, making an ear piercing screeching sound.

Instead he put a dab of sticky sap on the latch and hinges which helped keep them in place.

"Didn't think I'd be using this to fix pet cages with," he said to himself.

It was the same sap he'd collected from the plant creatures on the eight floor where he'd met Maria for the first time. Had that really only been half a day ago? It felt so much longer than that.

When the beetle's new home was all spruced up and in working order they proceeded to the next staircase. The sound of music drifted down the stairs from the deck above when the Ascenders drew close. Peeking up over the staircase and saw twenty or more skeletal sailors laying in hammocks, sitting down, or milling about the room. This area looked to be the crew quarters.

Several of the monsters were playing instruments filling the room with the jovial sounds of an instrumental sea shanty. Though they didn’t sing, some of the undead sailors did laugh periodically as though they were enjoying themselves.

The hair stood up on the back of Aiden’s neck. “I hate it when they do that,” he said under his breath.

“Why do they laugh like that?” Maria asked.

“Because the gods hate us.”

There was a brief pause before the girl spoke again. “So. Same plan as before?”

“No, there’s too many of them this time. Some are sure to take notice of you and break off from the rest. You’d be in a real bad spot if you got separated from me and surrounded.”

“Ok, then what is the plan?”

“Watch and learn, kid.”

Every skeletal head turned to look at the man who strode up the stairs confidently as though he didn’t have a care in the world or a fear in his heart. Several of the skeletons immediately drew their swords and charged at the man while the band continued to play. As the closest skeleton reached its boney arm back to swing, the Corpse Hunter lunged forward and grabbed the monster by the skull with his bare hands.

A pulse of green light emanated from his palm and the skull turned to dust and crumbled between his fingertips. Aiden struck another undead sailor in the ribs with an open palm from his left hand. The creature split in half as the green energy sent chunks of the monster’s spinal column flying through the air. In a matter of seconds seven piles of ruined clothes and scattered bones stood where the sailors had been just a moment before.

The cacophony of laughter ended along with the music. Those still laying in their hammocks sat up to look at the Ascender that had just reduced their number by almost one third in less time than it took to play a full sea shanty. They were not afforded the opportunity to avenge their fallen shipmates.

The Corpse Hunter slammed his fist into the deck. A shockwave of green energy blasted outward, slamming into the remaining skeletons like a tidal wave. The instruments clanged to the floor as their owners disintegrated.

Maria walked into the room when it was clear that the fighting had subsided. Aiden wiped a copious amount of blood from his nose with the back of his gloved hand.

“I should’ve held back a bit on that one,” the man in gray said, chastising himself.

He looked at the girl. “Consider that your second lesson. Be confident in your abilities but also know your limits and try not to resort to overkill when you can avoid it. I can’t tell you how many Ascenders I’ve found dead from Soul Fatigue a stone’s throw from an exit door.”

“How did you do that?” the Rift Caller asked. “You turned them into ash.”

“Technically I turned them into bone dust. My Soul Barrier ability prevents corpses from being tainted by things that can bring them back from the dead by putting a permanent shield around the body. However, if that body is already the subject of an undead affliction, Soul Barrier causes the monster to undergo rapid decomposition.”

“So you can make old dead things even older to the point that they just fall apart?”

“That’s pretty much how it works. It’s not as effective on spirits or other incorporeal creatures though.”


“The more of a physical form an undead creature has, the more effective my ability is at destroying it. Things like ghosts and banshees aren’t as adversely affected since they don’t have physical bodies.”

“That’s kind of cool. I wish I could turn things into dust.”

Aiden tried to think if anyone had said that he or the things he could do were cool in the past. They had not.

“I think we’re close to the upper deck of the ship. Ready to finish up this floor?” the Corpse Hunter asked, patting the kid on the shoulder.

“Yeah, let’s do this,” she said.


About the author


  • United States

Bio: Just an aspiring writer. [Ongoing LITRPG]

New Chapters posted daily. [Finished]

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