The Sun was setting in the horizon, casting the landscape in shades of orange, as Reivyn and his squad mates finally exited the dungeon and returned to the pallisade. The daylight in the dungeon had never shifted, and the incongruence was disorienting for a moment before he got his bearings.
The men made a sorry sight as they came limping through the barricade supporting each other. Bandages and dried blood adorned almost the entire squad. The sentries standing post at the Dungeon entrance looked at the returning squad with wide eyes.
"I'll escort you men to the infirmary, but I need to go report the situation to Knight-Lieutenant Brand," Corporal Decker informed his squad. Knight-Captain Reifold was really the one who ultimately needed the information, but one did not simply go up to the commander without going through the chain of command. As it was, Corporal Decker would need to go through his Platoon Sergeant to get to the Adjutant, and they would most likely all end up in front of the Knight-Captain anyway.
Brace was one of the men that had suffered a small leg fracture, and now it was Reivyn's turn to support the other man as he gave him a shoulder to lean on. The entire squad, even the few members who were completely unharmed due to providing assistance, hobbled their way to the infirmary. Many of the soldiers and levies stopped what they were doing to watch the procession. Their squad, so far, was the only group to return with any kind of injuries.
"What happened to you lot," a man with the same rank markings as Corporal Decker approached and asked. He spoke as if talking to the whole squad, but he was actually addressing Corporal Decker. The man was the first squad Squad Leader. Corporal Lam, I believe, Reivyn identified.
"Oh, you know how it is. These guys are too clumsy for their own good, and they just couldn't help themselves," Decker replied. "Always causing me worry. Can't go on a relaxing stroll without at least a couple of them stubbing their toes."
"Seriously? A bunch of goblins and orcs did this to you?" Corporal Lam raised an incredulous eyebrow. Decker frowned at the other man.
"No, it was the ogre," he answered.
"Ogre?!" The other NCO exclaimed in shock. "What ogre? Did you guys go all the way to the bottom?"
"Yeah, didn't you?" Decker asked back. Lam shook his head.
"We were pretty cautious, and we stopped after the second room holding orcs," he said. "We decided to call it a day there so we could grab some more silver and have the strength to haul it back."
Corporal Lam had joined the men in their trek to the infirmary for the conversation, and they finally arrived at their destination. Corporal Decker supervised his squad going in to get the necessary medical attention that field first dressing couldn't handle. He waved the other man off.
"I'll tell you more about it later. I gotta make sure my men are taken care of and then report to the Adjutant," Decker told the man. "I'll give you all the juicy details after."
"Sure thing," Lam clapped Decker on the shoulder and bid him farewell.
"Alright, men. Get patched up then grab some chow. Nobody has duty tonight, so I'll see everyone bright and early in the morning," Corporal Decker instructed the squad.
Reivyn helped Brace make it to an empty bed where he could get attended to by the Healers. After sitting down, he waved Reivyn away.
"Alright, alright," he said. "They'll get me patched up good as new in no time. Go on ahead. There's nothing to worry about anymore." Reivyn clapped him on the shoulder in the soldier's common gesture.
"Ok, Brace," he said. "I'll probably be asleep by the time you get done, so I'll see you in the morning." Reivyn waved to the other men and bid them farewell as he exited the infirmary.
Reivyn dragged his tired body to the chow hall. He grabbed a quick bite to eat in the mostly empty eating area, and then made his way to his tent as dusk settled in. He crawled into his sleeping bag and then brought up his notifications.
First Floor: Complete
Combat Experience: Exp +155
Boss Defeated: Exp +200
First Floor Completion Bonus: Exp +500
Anomaly Detected. Calculating...
Determined Boss Solo Killed: Bonus Exp +300
|Helpful Hint: System determined you engaged the Boss without the assistance of your Party. The other combatants were determined to be friendly to the Boss, thus System determined it was a Solo kill|
First Floor determined not completed Solo. No Achievement awarded.
Achievement! Defeated a Tier 3 enemy solo while still in Tier 1!
Physical Stats +1
Reivyn smiled as he saw the notifications. This was the first time in a long while that he had received an explanation from the Akashik Record. Getting credit for killing the boss as solo also led to the System inadvertently letting him know there were achievements involved with clearing floors completely alone.
Based on the number of goblins and orcs he would need to fight and defeat all by himself in order to get solo credit for the rest of the dungeon, he had no hope of doing such a thing any time soon. It was something to consider for the future, but he would need to be equivalent to mid-Tier 3 at least to be able to handle that entire floor plus the boss room all on his own.
Knight-Captain Reifold could do it without breaking a sweat, but I wonder if he would get any benefit based on his level? I don't know enough about how this all works, he thought.
He distributed his unassigned Stat points, bringing his Clarity up to par with his other Mind Stats before putting a few points in his Physicals. He closed his eyes and let sleep claim him shortly after.
Reivyn reported to the Knight-Lieutenant to continue acting as an aide once more after eating breakfast with his squad. The stipulations about talking about the Dungeon to other squads didn't apply to the levies, so Reivyn found some time to tell Teilon about what could be found in the lower parts. Teilon understood his and his compatriot's abilities, and he vowed to turn around as soon as they heard the clinking sounds of mining. The levies might have a few among their number who had advanced to Tier 2 already, but they were still ill-equipped to fight anything actually dangerous.
Reivyn continued to read the book, gleaning tidbits here and there regarding the information required of a junior officer, but he kept getting distracted. The Knight-Lieutenant, while absorbed in his own work, would occasionally glance at Reivyn and snicker. Reivyn eventually closed the book, set it aside, and looked at the Adjutant. The older man looked over at Reivyn when he noticed the youngster staring at him.
"Heh, looks like the apprentice will become the master sooner rather than later," he said with a laugh. "Oh, master, accept this humble one as your disciple. Teach me your ways, and reveal the secrets of the fabled 'Thousand Years of Pain' technique, hahaha." The man couldn't hold his laughter in any longer and finally broke down. He wiped a tear from his eye, and Reivyn rolled his eyes at his antics.
"Seriously, though," the man continued after he had calmed himself down. "How did you ever think to attack an ogre in such a way?"
"Well..." Reivyn drew the word out as he considered his state of mind at the time. "I saw that the ogre was going to kill the orcs that had put it in chains, and while it was flailing around dealing with them, its loincloth was bouncing around. I just happened to notice it, and it jumped out at me like it was a clear target. I didn't have time to think of anything else, and I just grabbed the opportunity," he finished with a shrug. The Knight-Lieutenant listened to him as he rubbed his chin.
"It's a good thing you did. Ogre's have very thick skin. It isn't quite to the point of natural armor, but it does offer plenty of resistance to piercing and slashing damage. In a standup fight against an ogre, the best bet, for your current power level, is to use a blunt weapon to smash its knees and immobilize it. Once it's unable to move around, attacking from behind or from a distance is the next step. Slings are superior to arrows, as it can rattle its tiny brain around in its skull while arrows have a tendency to bounce off and cause bruising unless you have the Aim Skill at a decent level to pinpoint the weak points such as eyes, mouth, throat, and, if needed for whatever reason, ears."
"Hmm, I have Aim at level 19," Reivyn spoke up. Knight-Lieutenant Brand raised his eyebrows in surprise for a second before returning his face to a neutral expression.
"Of course you do," he wryly said. "19, combined with your journeyman level mastery of ranged weapons, might be enough. If you're close enough. Ogres are Tier 3 equivalent. As such they will have a good reflex speed and dodge ability. Just because you immobilize their legs doesn't mean they can't twist their bodies around.
"By the way, from the report Decker gave, the ogre you encountered in the Dungeon sounded like it was low Tier 3. Most likely under level 10. That's typical for a Tier 1 Dungeon," Brand explained. Reivyn nodded his head in understanding.
The two went back to their tasks after the short interlude. Knight-Lieutenant Brand was busy with his own reports and planning, and Reivyn tried to get back into reading the book. The talk of the Dungeon had distracted him, however, and he was having a hard time concentrating on the words on the page. There was something nagging him once the subject of the Dungeon had been brought up, but he couldn't quite place it.
He tapped the desk with his pen as he went over the events of the previous day. They had started off with chow like normal, then went through the tunnel in the butte to enter the Dungeon. Brace had repeated the information he knew about the dungeons on the trek, and then they had scouted the above-ground portion which had been a perfect mirror of the outside world.
Wait... A perfect mirror? Reivyn set his pen down and looked up to the Adjutant.
"Sir, there's been something nagging at the back of my mind for a while now," Reivyn broached the topic. Knight-Lieutenant Brand motioned for him to continue as he kept working. "When we entered the Dungeon, it was like a perfect mirror to the outside, minus the base."
"Mhmm," Brand acknowledged. "Dungeons have the same environment and details as the local area they're found in."
"But, sir," Reivyn said with a bit of apprehension. "There was a giant underground cave system right under our feet in the Dungeon."
Knight-Lieutenant Brand froze with his pen mid stroke. He maintained that stance for a moment before looking up at Reivyn with his eyes wide.
"We completely overlooked this point!" He exclaimed. "Let's go," he abruptly stood and headed out of the tent causing Reivyn to scramble to keep up. The two men quickly headed to Knight-Captain Reifold's tent. One of the sentries standing post outside the commander's tent moved to inform Knight-Captain Reifold, but Brand waved him off.
"Emergency," he simply stated. The man stopped his movements and went back to standing at attention.
Reivyn followed the Adjutant into the tent. It was sparsely furnished. Moreso even than Knight-Lieutenant Brand's tent, if that was possible. The Knight-Captain, knowing his Adjutant wouldn't barge in without being announced unless it was for a good reason, immediately stopped what he was doing and placed his full attention on his XO.
"We've overlooked something, sir," the Knight-Lieutenant stated without preamble. "Reivyn brought to my attention that there is very likely to be a replica of the underground caves here in the real world."
The Knight-Captain shot to his feet. Reivyn noticed a small twitch in the man's eye as his face tried and failed to form a grimace. That's the most expression I've ever seen on his face, Reivyn idly mused.
"Take me to the entrance of the tunnels," Reifold commanded. He quickly came from behind his desk, and Reivyn realized he had been talking to him. He turned and headed for the tent flaps, but he lost his footing and nearly collapsed.
The ground wasn't where it was supposed to be. Reivyn crouched low to get his center of gravity as close to the ground as he could as the earth itself started swaying side to side. An extremely loud, sustained roar the likes of which he had never heard drowned out all other sounds, and he was vaguely aware of the other two men swaying about to maintain their balance.
The noise and motion had appeared out of nowhere. There was no buildup or crescendo. One moment everything was peaceful, and the next the ground was trying to shake them off. It sounded like the land itself was screaming.
An intense vibration accompanied the rapid side-to-side motion of the mountain, and the earth tore asunder. It was like it had turned into a giant, gaping maw. The crack had appeared in the center of the tent, separating Reivyn from the other two men and tearing the canvas to pieces as the stakes were violently yanked apart.
The swaying of the land and the appearance of the crack caused the ground beneath Reivyn's feet to collapse, and he felt himself falling into the chasm. He desperately dug his hands into the dirt slowing, and eventually stopping his descent. He could hear and feel his heartbeat pounding in his head as adrenaline pumped through his system. The motion finally stopped, and Reivyn gave out a sigh of relief that he hadn't completely fallen into the hole.
He held on tight to the side of the wall and lowered his head as he panted. He wasn't out of the woods yet, but he still felt the relief of surviving a disaster as he was confident in his ability to climb back up to safety without issue. A shadow fell across him as he rested there.
Reivyn looked up at what had caused the shadow, and his eyes opened wide in horror and despair. A giant arm, covered in brown and glowing red scales with individual fingers larger even than his entire body, reached up from the depths and grasped at the land above. Another arm followed a distance away, and, as they bent, a giant head followed.
It was a scene out of a nightmare, and Reivyn felt his grip holding him aloft go slack as just looking at this creature filled him with abject terror. Its entire body was made up completely of the same brown and glowing red scales. A fire blazed in the deep pits it had for eyes set in its skull.
Reivyn was incapable of moving his body, but his eyes refused to leave the creature as it appeared as if from the abyss. It raised its head and gave a loud, screeching roar that had a visible shockwave to go along with it. Blood began to seep from his ears, and Reivyn could feel that the roar alone had shaved off some of his Health.
His grip loosened, but the rest of his body began to seize, so much so that he couldn't even operate his lungs to draw in a breath. There was nothing in Reivyn's world but fear.
A gentle pulse originating from his heart spread throughout his body, and where it passed, his body returned to normal. It moved through him in an instant, and if he hadn't been so consumed by fear, he would have noticed what had returned his bodily functions to him.
He had no time to think or consider the monstrosity as he desperately clawed his way up to the safety of solid ground. A vice like grip suddenly clamped down around his ankle sending searing pain shooting up through his leg. He screamed in pain, and he instinctively began kicking as hard as he could at whatever had grabbed him. He knew it wasn't one of the officers. They had been on the opposite side of the crack in the earth.
The grip loosened, and Reivyn was able to yank his leg up as he moved faster than he ever had in his life. He scrambled up the wall faster than he would have if he had been running.
He attained the top, and he spun around onto his back as he crawled away from the hole while keeping an eye on it. The giant monster's attention had been grabbed by something on the other side that was sending out astounding waves of mana. If Reivyn had been able to think rationally, he would have realized it must have been the Knight-Captain.
Reivyn watched with wide eyes as he continued to scramble back from the edge of the precipice as a gloved hand, this time, to the somewhat relief of Reivyn, normal sized. It moved unnaturally with sudden jerks and fits, and a body completely obscured by a black robe appeared from below. It stood with a sudden motion and its head turned in small, quick jolts to focus its attention on Reivyn.
The humanoid thing was completely attired in a black robe, and there were zero parts of its body exposed. There was only shadow underneath a hood, but there was no denying that its gaze had locked onto Reivyn. His heart palpitated as it felt like icy fingers were digging into his very soul.
It took a stuttering step towards Reivyn and suddenly had a sword in its hand. Reivyn hadn't even seen it move its arm to draw the weapon from wherever it had been. It was dented and rusty, covered in chips, and it looked like it would fall apart from a gentle breeze, but a sense of danger screamed through his mind at the sight of it.
Reivyn finally scrambled to his feet. It was customary to always carry a sidearm, and, due to the incident with the assassin, Reivyn had gotten used to always lugging his shield around with him as well. He was lucky that the assassination attempt had instilled the habit into him.
He assumed a ready stance with his sword and shield. He had the sinking suspicion that if he turned his back to this thing to try and escape, he would get stabbed in the back before he could take more than a few steps. He had no choice but to engage.
He watched the thing lurch towards him, and he noticed that it always had a short pause after any movement. He timed his attack for exactly such a moment, and he stepped forward and performed an overhead chop, taking care not to overextend. His sword came down hard, and then it bounced back with equal force. There was no loud clang as if he had struck some sort of armor under the hood, and there was no vibration to indicate he had hit anything hard. The sword strike had just been repulsed by some invisible force.
Reivyn's eyes opened wide in alarm, and he raised his shield on instinct. A tremendous force crashed into his shield, knocking it back into his face and throwing him several feet in the air to land rolling end over end. His head swam and his vision was blurry as he came to a stop. His Health had a significant chunk carved out of it even though he had technically succeeded in blocking the strike. It had come so fast that he hadn't seen any movement.
He staggered back to his feet and regained his balance. The creature had resumed its slow, jerking gait towards him again. Reivyn took huge, gulping breaths as he tried to think of a solution. He felt something off in his offshield-hand, and he looked down at his shield. As he looked down at it, it suddenly cracked in half and fell apart. It had not been able to absorb all of the impact damage from the strike.
Reivyn looked back up at the horrifying entity. It took another step towards him, and it was suddenly right in front of him with no warning. Startled, Reivyn tripped over his own feet and fell down as he tried to back away. He felt the wind of a slash that he couldn't see pass mere fractions of an inch above his head. He had been extremely lucky, but he couldn't count on it for a repeat performance.
He once more scrambled to his feet and backed away. What to do? What to do? Panic was beginning to set in. He was completely not a match for his opponent. He knew that his sword wouldn't be able to do anything to it, but it felt unnatural to toss aside his only semblance of security, so he kept it in his hand.
With no other options, Reivyn allowed his instincts to take over his actions, and, his body remembering a maneuver he had performed several days ago, a fire whip coalesced in the grip of his off hand. He whipped it out in an attempt to bind his foe, and not meeting the same resistance as his sword strike, it neatly wrapped around his enemy.
Reivyn saw the black robes smoke and char around where it made contact with his mana construct, so he pumped more mana through the whip like a conduit. The robe caught on fire, and Reivyn felt a moment of elation as he appeared to have stumbled upon a solution. Elation quickly turned into dismay, however, as the robes completely burst into fire and turned into ash, revealing the grotesquerie it had been hiding.
A skeleton appeared before him. Bits and pieces of rotting flesh were still attached to it in places, and wisps of silvery hair adorned the top of its skull. The same abyssal flames from the giant monster's eyes were present in the empty sockets, and its jaw moved up and down in a rapid motion as if it was laughing at him.
A chill ran down Reivyn's spine as all of the hair on his body stood on end. He lost his concentration, and as the fire whip dissipated, the skeleton took another jerking step towards him. Something that Knight-Lieutenant Brand had said to him entered his mind.
"Your best bet is to use a blunt weapon to smash its knees and immobilize it."
Reivyn didn't have a blunt weapon, but he did have earth mana. If he could make a whip out of fire, why couldn't he make a hammer out of earth? Reivyn kept backing up as he focused his willpower to summon earth attuned mana into his hand.
He imagined a sizeable warhammer, and the mana slowly gathered and started forming the shaft as he maintained his distance and eye contact. He was worried that if he looked away again, it would perform the same move and instantly appear beside him once more.
A huge roar sounded out from the giant monster once more, and Reivyn's body locked up as the shockwave passed through him, once more shaving off some of his Health. He didn't dare look, but he knew he was below 50% Health just from the three attacks he had suffered obliquely. He lost his concentration, and the shaft that had been slowly forming dissipated, and he couldn't help but flick his vision towards his hand involuntarily.
Alarm bells went off in his mind as he sensed the impending danger. The creature had taken his momentary lapse in keeping his eyes on it to once more appear right in front of him. Reivyn had been standing with his knees slightly bent, and having just been stunned for a moment, there was no way he could properly utilize the force in his limbs to dodge the inevitable strike coming his way.
He made the only move he could think of, and he allowed his body to collapse to the floor, and once again he felt the wind of a sword slash pass over his head. He had no time to think as he surrendered himself to his mana and formed the most appropriate weapon of earth for the situation. It quickly appeared in his hand, and leveraging every last bit of power he could from his awkard position, he slammed his open hand into the joint of the skeleton's knee.
A brick conjured out of mana slammed into the joint, completely obliterating it. The damage was so devastating, that the lower portion of its leg separated and flew off into the distance. The skeleton collapsed on the ground next to Reivyn, having lost its ability to maintain its balance. Reivyn quickly backed away from the downed creature.
Reivyn attained his feet once more, and he watched in fascinated horror as the skeleton tilted its head back in an unnerving manner and started to crawl towards him, pulling itself forwards with its arms. Using the same timing as before, Reivyn leaped forward and brought his makeshift bludgeon device down on the shoulder of its sword wielding arm.
Reivyn heaved a huge sigh of relief as the shoulder crunched and the arm fell to the ground. Capitalizing on the situation of the skeleton losing its ability to attack him with its weapon, Reivyn repeatedly bashed its skull with his brick. Cracks formed on the skull, and he could sense a disgusting mana begin to seep through the wounds. He had no idea what element it was, but it was revolting.
In a move of inspiration, he formed a side of the brick into a sharp blade, and he drove it through one of the cracks. The orb of mana situated in its head that was the source of the nauseating mana leaking through popped like a bubble, and the skeletal body froze. Reivyn stepped back, wiping sweat from his brow, as he watched the bones disintegrate before his eyes.
Reivyn nearly collapsed in relief, but the sounds of combat reminded him that he wasn't safe yet.
He was surprised that nobody had come to his aid during the fight. While it hadn't been a prolonged struggle, it wasn't short either, and there had been two sentries right outside the tent. He looked around, and everywhere he could see, the soldiers and levies lay collapsed on the ground.
They weren't dead, as he could see them struggle to breathe, but they didn't have the protection that he had had from whatever had caused his body to seize in terror earlier. The only people that weren't collapsed on the ground were him, Knight-Captain Reifold, who was engaged in combat with the giant monster that remained in the hole with its upper body towering above, and Knight-Lieutenant Brand.
The Adjutant stood valiantly by the Knight-Captain's side as he defended him from the encroachment of more of the abominations that Reivyn had struggled against. He was holding his own fending off three of them at once, but Reivyn's stomach dropped as he witnessed dozens more begin to crawl out of the giant chasm.
Brand was out fighting the three still-robed skeletons, but he was having the same problem Reivyn had had. His weapon wasn't doing any damage. Reivyn couldn't reach him if he wanted to because of the hole, but it would have been foolish for him to join in that fight anyway. The only thing he could do was call out the weakness he had discovered.
"Knight-Lieutenant!" He cupped his hands around his mouth and shouted. "There's an orb of mana in their skulls. You have to use mana to pierce through it, and that'll kill them!"
"I can't use mana like that!" Brand called back. Reivyn stood there in indecision as he tried to think of a solution. It would be suicidal to run over there. He had barely survived one, and the Adjutant was fighting three with dozens more converging on the two men.
Suddenly, a bright light expanded out from Knight-Captain Reifold. He had pushed the giant monster back for a moment, and using the opportunity, he leaped back and raised his sword into the air. Golden light swirled around before dozens of sharp, golden lances struck out and pierced through the skulls of all of the undead. He had apparently heard the shouts while fighting the huge creature.
Another, much larger lance of light shot up into the sky. This move had apparently drained all of the commander's energy, as he collapsed to a knee, panting, after he executed it. The giant beast sensed the weakness in its opponent, but before it could act on it, a giant sword of light penetrated from the clouds and cleaved into its skull.
One last mournful shriek escaped from the monstrosity as it burst into golden flames that quickly devoured it.
The three men that had stood to face the horror finally collapsed in exhaustion. Silence suffused the land, but they had survived.