[Solo’s Instinct] warned me just a moment before the ground exploded and the world was thrown to dust. My head snapped back and something ripped at my flesh, tearing a scream from my throat.
I heard shouting faintly, as my head lolled. It took me two seconds to realize my hearing was shot. Two more to realize I was on the ground. I forced my eyes open, seeing double vision. Parker was dragging me away, blood dripping down his forehead. His mouth was open, veins bulging, yelling and I barely heard it.
I followed his gaze and found Rickson racing, scrambling, amidst showering soil and debris. Rose stumbled backward, [Coolshade Bracelet] flashing, a veil of shadow around her. Stone fell from the sky. Small bursts of fire erupted behind them and I stared at Rose’s target. A large shining figure behind, struggling at the border of the ruins. Rose was unleashing everything she had. I saw Rickson throw away his spear.
I kicked out, trying to master my limbs. Parker’s gaze shot to me, seeing my lucidness. My eyes were locked on the enemy. A being of pure moonlight. Only this creature was no ghost, it looked solid. Like dawn and dusk made flesh, an organic being of twilight.
Area Boss: [Twilight Elemental]
A being of twilight. A creature that exists between dusk and dawn, equilibrium in the moonlight. Caught between the everbright and evershade, its form is constantly shifting, like the phases of the moon.
It shone in mute reflective radiance, a swarm of sunlight ghosts surrounding it. Its form was fluid, flickering between impressions of large beings. Monsters, creatures, beasts, and figures I couldn’t name. The only thing static was its size, and it was regrettably the size of a large van.
It paused, organic twilight shifting into the form of some gigantic lizard. A pale blue pallor, the grey of the moon. An intense shining—
I heard the vibration from Parker’s yell as he hurled me toward the treeline. I rebounded off the ground, rolling to a stop. And then the ground exploded again and the force pressed me to the floor, scraping me across it like the crash of a wave.
I was dazed, breathing hard. My back was against a tree trunk, a handful of thinner trees near the treeline completely splintered. Parker lay nearby, unconscious, bleeding. I stared down at my body as Rickson and Rose slid to a stop nearby, getting a shoulder under each of us.
I was a mess. It was… the most bloody I’d been. The pain engulfed me. Lances of fire rushed down the flesh of my torso. It didn’t burn like fire, it was sharper, colder. Somehow softer than frostbite. No less intense.
My ears popped and I realized Rose was talking to me. My hearing was back. “—okay? Evahn, can you hear me?” There was a roar in the distance, an answering surge of ghostly wails. “Rickson, I don’t think he can walk!”
I tried to speak but a headache assaulted me. A wave of vertigo. A concussion, I thought, idly.
Rickson had Parker’s arm over his shoulder. “There’s no time, Rose! Just pull him the best you can. It’s a damn Area Boss! That thing’s guarding whatever the hell is in those ruins. We need to leave the Dungeon!”
“Oh my god, oh my god.” Rose was panicking, head snapping back to the ruins.
“He was in the middle of the blast. That thing shot a laser beam at him. I’m surprised he’s even alive.” Rickson was staring backward too, shaking, adjusting Parker on his back. “Parker was on the edge and look at him. Fuck.”
I felt my world turn upside down and I almost threw up. “Okay, I got him. He’s lighter than I thought he’d be.” Came Rose’s voice, practically in my ear.
I heard Rickon’s shaky breath. “Alright, here goes. [Safest Route]. Follow me, stay close!”
I blacked out for a few minutes because the next thing I knew we were moving. I hadn’t been this close to death since the very first day of the apocalypse. I closed my eyes and wrapped myself in my mind, isolating myself from the physical unpleasantness, and regarded it with clinical eyes.
I had taken a hit that should’ve killed me. That was immediately obvious. Then, I would’ve died if Parker hadn’t thrown me from the second blast. My bones weren’t broken, but my flesh suffered from those odd burns. I let the pain pass through my mental filter, a sharp pain more than a stinging heat, yet with the characteristic breadth of some kind of nerve damage.
I floated away from that. Towards something else. Something new.
Something helping me recover. To say it was a foreign entity was intuitively wrong. It was a part of me, like an addition to the whole, no less valid than any of my limbs. Only my symbiote was specialized in one thing only, recovery.
It had been working on the injuries I sustained from previously absorbing the clones. Minor damages, all things considered. And under the bandages and first aid efforts, those wounds were already healing.
But now I could feel its deliberate motions, the movement of my body’s resources. A vague weakness came over me, fueled by energy sourced from healthier parts of my body. I wondered how much of this was the symbiote and how much were the raw effects of CON.
I had 27 points in the attribute. A measure of hardiness, endurance, and health. A rough understanding of the attribute. Every point helped me now. The worst part was I couldn’t rely on my clones, anything I made right now would be just as useless as I was. And they had all instantly died back at the ruins.
I could only focus on recovering. And so I watched the symbiote, lost to consciousness.
It felt like tendrils of warmth suffusing my body. I couldn’t tell what form my symbiote took within me, whether it spread across my body like some overlaid network, if it moved within me, or if it was simply diffused into my flesh and bloodstream. Or if it did something else entirely.
I could experience its effects. The jolt of fear and pain I’d felt had triggered it, I think. It was working overdrive, taking my body into its own hands and molding my recovery. The pain noticeably lessened after the first couple of hours.
Eventually, I found the strength to open my eyes. It was… dim, which was expected. I found Rose nearby, there was a first aid kit between me and Parker. My first aid kit. I vaguely recall her apologizing in advance.
She was tending to Parker so I rested back, staring at the stars. I laughed a little, then winced, immediately drawing Rose’s attention.
“Evahn! Don’t move, you’ve got… burns all over.” She said concerned. “Why are you laughing?”
“No reason,” I said lightly. “It’s just… a good reminder, I guess. That death is just around the corner. For anyone.”
“I used your first aid kit, sorry about that,” Rose said, checking my bandages. I felt like a mummy.
“I know,” I replied. “How’s Parker? Is he…?”
“He’s fine. Less damage than you, fortunately. I think he has some kind of Skill to mitigate damage. His body’s tougher than it should be.” She glanced at me, predicting my next question. “Rickson’s making sure it’s not following us.”
“What the hell was it?” I groaned, trying to move.
“A [Twilight Elemental], whatever that means. AndI said don’t move.” Rose chided me. “You’re gonna make it worse. Just… lie down, Evahn.” She eyed me. “It was the right move leaving. We’re not equipped to face an Area Boss, not if its anything remotely as dangerous as the rootmother. Stay still!”
“I’m sorry. I just… I feel blind.” I finished lamely, stilling.
A single perspective in an unknown place. This wasn’t how I operated. This feeling of exposure, of not knowing my surroundings. Was this how everyone had been navigating the Dungeon? It was sobering.
“If I stay in place too long…” I trailed off, mind flashing back to the science building. To the spider. To Horace in the hallway—
“Relax Evahn.” A hand pressed against my chest, forcing my breath to slow. “Calm your breathing. It’s just another day in hell.” I found Rose giving me a small grin. “We’ll all get through it.”
I took a deep inhale and heard the rustling before I saw it. I tensed, then immediately relaxed.
Rickson broke into the camp silently, his words came softly and direct. “It’s sticking to the ruins. We definitely woke something up.” He said without preamble. He saw me awake and nodded to me.
“Any idea what happened?” I asked him, giving up on propping myself up.
“We have to have woken it up somehow.” He said. “It could’ve just been our presence that triggered it. Maybe the ghosts we killed.”
“It's dangerous,” Rose said.
“Some kind of shapeshifting moon beast more than I’d consider an elemental,” Rickson nodded. “Is what I would say if that didn’t imply a werewolf.” He sighed. “It’s not a normal monster that’s for sure, if anything we’ve fought so far even constitutes normal. I’m convinced it's guarding whatever valuables are in that ruin.”
Rickson gave Rose a pained look and I extended that sense of my mind, curious. [Telepathy]. I think it was easier now that I’d gotten accustomed to the faint frequency of other minds. Before it had been overwhelming but here with so few people I’d had enough time to practice some measure of precision when perceiving the minds of others.
I heard his internal monologue. How are we supposed to leave like this? I might be able to make it out myself, but Rose and the rest… not injured like that. If I went for help, could Rose manage? No, I can’t leave them, not like this.
The thought of actually abandoning the group never crossed his mind, only leaving for help. Not that it had never crossed his mind, I couldn’t always be listening. But I didn’t peg anyone in this group as the type to do that.
“Can they move?” He asked Rose.
“I can—” I gasped, reclining back.
She frowned at me. “Not Evahn, at least.” She grimaced and I focused on her. “Not any time soon.” If we run into anything like this it’ll be bad. I could handle maybe one or two enemies, depending. Rickson doesn’t have combat capabilities other than the spear and he doesn’t even have that anymore.
The [Sleepywood] was only sleepy if one convinced themself it was. There were creatures roaming the twilight everywhere, not enough for constant harassment, but enough that any lull in alertness would lead to a potentially fatal encounter.
It was only a matter of time before something stumbled upon us. That quiet, unspoken understanding slowly sunk in and a mood to match the twilight gloom fell over the camp.