A note from Kyfe

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Reivyn dashed forward and stabbed his sword through the skull of the foremost Revenant. The hallway was clogged with a shambling horde of eight Revenants, six more lying on the ground behind the surging mass, never to rise again. Various weapons and pieces of rotten equipment were strewn along the ground in the wake of the undead.

The standing Revenants struggled to move forward as their jerking motion didn't allow them to maintain their balance very well on the Slick ground. Occasionally a short wall of ice would spring up and cause one or two to stumble and create another obstacle they had to bypass.

Sweat poured down Melissa's brow as she maintained her focus on casting the crowd control spells. Worry furrowed her brow as her mana reserves dipped dangerously low. They had moved in such a way that she was able to maintain her mana pool at a sufficient level for every encounter, but this time they had miscalculated.

The second floor of the Dungeon had been straightforward up until this point. There was one other pair of rooms a little further down the first hall they had walked along, and the interior of both contained what they expected to find: a small room with one Revenant sitting in repose in front of a cauldron. Sadly, these cauldrons had been empty of any prize. Reivyn was disappointed, but he realized he couldn't expect to find the remnants of the abominable alchemic rituals in every room.

Reivyn had led the group further into the dungeon, Erik relegating himself to being the last stand between danger and the two girls. Just a little way after the second pair of rooms the Party had encountered a stairway spiraling down further into the depths. Reivyn could feel the increased mana density wafting up into his face from the opening leading down.

The group had traversed the spiral staircase, Reivyn leading from the front. A hallway could be seen branching off to the side, a rotten door barely hanging by the hinges partially blocking the view. The stairs continued further down, but Reivyn didn't want to leave anything behind them. It would be a disaster if something snuck up on them while they were battling a pair of Revenants.

Reivyn led his group into the hall, the door collapsing into splinters as he attempted to open it silently. They froze in place, listening for anything that could have reacted to the noise. After a few moments of nothing appearing, Reivyn glanced at the other three with an embarrassed smile before continuing into the hall.

"Cast an Ice Wall here at the entrance to keep anything that might be coming up the stairs from ambushing us," Reivyn said. "Can you lock it in place so you don't have to concentrate on it?"

"I can anchor it to the ambient mana, but without a proper fuel source, it'll dissipate in about ten minutes or so," Melissa replied.

"Ok, that should be long enough. We can always come back and set another one if we really need to."

The group continued into the new floor, and it turned out their worry about wandering patrols was unfounded. The hallway was similar to the branching rooms containing the orc living quarters on the first floor, but this one ended in a cul-de-sac with three rooms about fifteen yards from the stairway, one on each side other than the hall. The doors were in various states of disrepair, but nothing like the rotten ones they had encountered on the stairs. These were much more sturdy. Probably for the privacy of the people living here at the time, Reivyn thought.

Reivyn silently walked up to the door on the left. He paused as he turned back to the other three, and he indicated for them to keep their eyes on the other two rooms. He turned back and slowly opened the door. Luckily, this one didn't collapse at the first touch, though it did give off an annoying squeak as the hinges were rusty with neglect.

Reivyn didn't open the door all the way, and he peered in through the crack. He could see a bed on either side of the room with skeletal remains lying in them, two chests at the foot of the beds. This was the first time he had encountered any kind of chest or container. It was obviously not a System reward, but they were part of the original environment.

Reivyn stood in place and observed the skeletons, which he had positively identified as Revenants, for a moment. When they didn't react to his presence, he slowly closed the door once more. He stepped back and signaled for Erik to check the room on the right.

Erik performed the same actions, and he quickly nodded his head while holding up two fingers. Reivyn nodded and approached the final door in the center. His eyes lit up when he saw that the last room wasn't a residence like the other two, but it was instead another alchemy room like they had seen above. His excitement was dampened a little when he saw that the cauldron in this room was guarded by three Revenants.

He closed the door and the Party retreated down the hall a ways.

"So, a total of seven Revenants. Any suggestions?" Reivyn looked toward Melissa.

"I can do the same thing I did at the stairway. Cast Ice Wall and cover up to two of the rooms while we tackle the first one. If the Revenants in the other rooms are alerted, the Ice Walls will give us time and warning. They'll have to destroy them in order to get to us, and that should give us ample opportunity to either handle the first pair or to escape to the stairs if we need to."

"That sounds like a good idea," Reivyn agreed. "Don't dissipate your Ice Wall at the stairs yet, just in case. You can always get rid of it in case we need to run."

"Alright," Melissa replied. She followed it up by casting the Ice Wall spells, one after another, in front of the middle and right doors. The group stood and waited for a moment to make sure that act in itself didn't activate the Revenants resting inside.

In a moment of inspiration, Reivyn reached down and picked up a piece of rubble. He silently opened the door, tossed it at the Revenant lying on the bed on the right side of the room, and closed the door once more. The wail that always accompanied the activation of the Revenants was greatly reduced by the barrier of the door preventing the sound from traveling. Reivyn saw Erik nodding his head in approval out of the corner of his eye.

Once the wail subsided, Reivyn opened the door once more, and he had to immediately bring his mana-covered shield up to block the blow from the Revenant that had already made it to the threshold. Every action has its consequences. We gained some respite from the sound of them activating, but that caused nobody to have eyes on them, and they were able to make it to the door at a much faster speed, Reivyn realized in a flash.

He let the force of the blow knock him back into the little cul-de-sac, and Melissa took the opportunity to cast Slick and Ice Wall to control their movements. The four members of the Party walked backward down the hallway as Larissa engaged her Inferno Spell to weaken the skull of the first Revenant, and Reivyn was able to end its existence after a short moment of controlled retreating.

All of their preparation paid off, and the group was able to clear out the three rooms without any worry or surprises. The Revenants were dangerous, but as long as they controlled the initiative and worked using the plans they had come up with to deal with small groups of them, they weren't much harder than the other monsters they had encountered in the Dungeon. They just presented different obstacles to overcome for those armed with the ability to use mana Skills or Spells.

"Alright, let's see what's in these chests!" Reivyn said with a gleam in his eyes.

"Oh, oh, oh, I'll take the right room," Larissa exclaimed as she jumped up and down. She took off running once more without a care. Reivyn just shook his head as he headed to the left room, and Melissa and Erik went to inspect the alchemy room.

The boarding room was bare of any decorations. Though there might have been some however long ago it was that these things were alive, Reivyn speculated. The beds were rotting and wouldn't provide any sort of comfort to the living, and the chests had holes eating through the wood as they tried to withstand the ravages of time.

Reivyn flipped over the lid of the first chest at the foot of the right bed. It was filled with crumbling scraps of cloth and not much more. Reivyn frowned as he inspected the contents of the container. I knew it was for personal effects, but only ruined clothes?

He bent down and tossed all the scraps out onto the floor. He knocked on the bottom of the chest to see if there was a hidden compartment, and his hand went right through the feeble wood. Well, that was easy, he thought as he brute forced the bottom to give way.

Underneath the top portion containing the clothes was a hidden bottom filled with sparkling, bluish sand. Reivyn sifted through the sand, and he was able to find three Damaged Experience Crystals. He inspected them and found they were exactly the same as the ones they had found previously, containing 1,000 Experience each.

Reivyn walked over to the other chest, and with the experience from the first one, he quickly exposed the bottom compartment containing similar blue sand. The second chest contained two whole crystals.

This bluish sand must be the remnants of other crystals that disintegrated over the years, he thought. I wonder if this is of any value? He threw an Inspect at the sand.

Experience Essence

Well, that tells me a whole lot, Reivyn thought with a wry smile. It was obviously something useful, or the System would have Identified it as something more mundane. I don't really have anything to hold this stuff in. Reivyn shook his head as he walked back out of the room. There was nothing else to inspect. The covers and pillows that would normally adorn a bed and provide a hiding place had long since disintegrated into dust.

Larissa was standing in the small area between the rooms with a sullen look on her face, kicking at the rubble while grumbling incoherently under her breath.

"Didn't find anything?" Reivyn asked. Larissa peeked up at him through her hair as she kept kicking at loose pebbles.

"No! Just rotten clothes," She said petulantly.

"Did you not check the bottom compartment?" Reivyn asked with a frown.

"Bottom compartment?" She looked up in surprise, a twinkle once more in her eye. She dashed back into the other room, and Reivyn heard the sounds of the chests being obliterated before a triumphant shout came forth.

"Aha!" Larissa said as she came out of the room holding her hand aloft. "There were three Experience Crystals in there."

"What about the sand? Do you guys have anything to carry it in?" Reivyn asked.

"The sand? Why would you care about the sand?" She tilted her head to the side as she shot him a questioning look.

"It's Experience Essence. I don't know what it's used for, but it might be valuable."

"I wouldn't know," Larissa said. "Maybe Melissa does. Either way, I don't think we have anything to carry it in."

"Another time then."

The two looked up at Melissa and Erik coming out of the alchemy room. Melissa shook her head to indicate they hadn't found anything.

"It's alright," Reivyn said with a smile. "Your sister found three Crystals in her room, and I found five in this other one." Melissa's face brightened into a smile at the news. "Also, the chests were full of blue sand that the System says is Experience Essence. Know anything about it?"

Melissa tapped her chin as she thought about it. "I think I've heard something about it somewhere before, but I can't think of it at the moment. We'll collect some the next time we come down here."

"Alright," Reivyn said. "C'mon, let's continue."

The Party went back to the stairway, and they encountered another three similar living arrangements with the same situation as the first one. The only difference was that in the last one, there were four Revenants in the alchemy room. The tactics they had devised in the first corridor continued to work, and they reaped the benefits.

Not all of the chests contained whole crystals, but their overall haul was still nothing short of amazing to Reivyn. They managed to find another twelve crystals. They had a total of 22 Damaged Experience Crystals, 22,000 Experience waiting to be assimilated to whoever used them.

They had agreed to split the crystals evenly between the groups. Reivyn was the only one from his group that continued on to the lower floor, so he questioned whether or not it was appropriate for him to receive an equal share.

"Even though you're the only one down here, it's only you, me, and my sister participating. Erik is just kinda here right now because of the nature of the monsters, and while we're down here exploring this floor, your companions are up top mining and organizing the ores. With those things in mind, it's not a stretch to appoint half of the Experience Crystals to your group."

Melissa made some good points that put Reivyn's mind at ease. He didn't want to feel like he was getting more than he had earned, and her explanation helped appease that thought.

The staircase ended with a new hall moving off perpendicular to the original direction of the first hallway if Reivyn's sense of direction was accurate. The group moved down the hall at a sedate pace, ready for any monsters that might be patrolling the depths. With the increase in the mana density and what they had seen so far, Reivyn was fairly certain that any patrolling skeletons found from this point on would be Revenants.

A break in the wall about chest height on the left side came into view as they moved further along. It was a long opening that continued along the wall for ten yards, and it was about three feet high. Reivyn glanced through the opening as they approached it, and he quickly yanked himself back out of view at the sight that greeted him.

He had only glanced for a fraction of a second, but the scene was burned into his mind. The opening was some sort of observation window that showed a giant quarry. Hundreds of Revenants populated the enormous room, and before he could make out anything else in particular, Reivyn had ducked out of sight.

"What is it?" Melissa whispered as she sidled up next to Reivyn.

"Hundreds of Revenants," Reivyn answered back with a nod of his head toward the opening. Melissa frowned as she looked up at it from her squatting posture.

"Look at the opening with your Mana Sight," she said after a moment of inspection. Her frown had gone away.

Reivyn followed her instructions and activated the Skill. A solid wall of bluish light greeted him. It was so thick and compact that he couldn't see through it at all with his Mana Sight activated. He reached out his hand to touch it, and it was a solid barrier.

"It's like the barrier that separates the Dungeon from the real world on the outside," he said in surprise. He deactivated his Skill and stood at the opening to get a better view of the scene below.

"That must be the third floor. We have to beat the boss room on the second floor to gain access," Melissa surmised. "Once we beat the boss room, this barrier should go away, even all the way up here."

Reivyn nodded absentmindedly. He watched as the Revenants below appeared to be quarrying a giant cavern. He could make out a new type of monster roaming about acting like supervisors. The new entities were ethereal. They glowed a faint blue, and they floated about instead of walking on the ground.

He frowned as he continued to watch, though, as something about the scene seemed odd to him. He couldn't quite place it at first, but then it suddenly came to him.

They're not actually doing any mining, he realized. They look like they're locked into the actions that they performed before they died. What in the world could they have been doing down here?

"It seems safe enough to travel down the corridor," Melissa said.

"Are you not curious about what they were doing down here?" Reivyn asked.

"Of course I am," Melissa replied. "But we're not likely to find out any answers here, are we?" She chuckled.

"I suppose you're right," Reivyn said with a smile. "Alright, then. Let's continue." They resumed their pace down the hall, but before they got too far, Reivyn turned back to Melissa. "What are those floating, blue things down there?"

Melissa took a quick peek at what Reivyn was referring to. "Those are Spectres," she answered. "They're the same Tier and Level as Revenants, but they're completely incorporeal. If you don't use mana to coat your shield or armor, their blows will go right through it and damage your vitality directly."

Reivyn nodded as they continued walking. He remembered experiencing that type of damage when the demon had attacked the base.

Either a similar demon will be the final boss of this Dungeon, or this is a reality where they didn't actually successfully summon a demon, he mused. Those thoughts were for later, though, and Reivyn refocused his attention on what was in front of him.

"We've been down here for a couple of hours, now," Reivyn said. "We should think about going back up soon."

"Yeah, that's a good idea. We don't want your friends to worry," Melissa said. "We'll go just a little bit further. The hall curves up ahead, so let's just go see what's around the bend, then we'll call it quits."

"Sounds like a plan," Reivyn said.

They hadn't encountered anything in the new corridor up to this point, but Reivyn never let his guard down. He had learned his lesson about getting complacent in dangerous situations, and he wasn't about to forget it.

Despite having his guard up, though, there were always unexpected surprises. The group turned the corner to the last place they were going to explore, and they were immediately beset with a torrent of wails as they came face to face with a patrol of fourteen Revenants.

"Retreat!" Reivyn yelled without taking his eyes off of the Revenants in the hall. They were almost within striking range as soon as they had encountered them, and Reivyn noticed that their jerking motions were considerably faster than any of the previous ones they had fought.

"Melissa! Crowd Control," Reivyn yelled as one of the front Revenants slammed a spear into his shield, knocking him back a few paces. "Larissa, use Inferno. Attach it to the ceiling and torch several at a time. We need to thin them out!"

Ice quickly covered the ground and continued to follow Reivyn as he made quick steps back. Short, compact walls sprung up all over to impede the movement of the Revenants, and they had a hard time maneuvering around them with the hallway being filled with the mass of skeletal bodies attempting to get at the living. The ones that tried to go over the short walls lost their balance and fell down when they stepped back down on the Slick ground. They weren't smart enough to learn from their mistakes, either, and it happened over and over again.

Blistering fire above soon accompanied the freezing cold below. The two sisters worked in tandem to keep the temperature differences from diminishing their spells. The increased effort added considerable strain to the two sisters, and their mana dropped swiftly.

Reivyn knew they didn't have much time with them expending so much mana, so he immediately began accompanying his retreat with quick lunges forward to down a Revenant. Each lunge forward to kill one of the foes coincided with a slam into his raised shield from a retaliatory blow. Reivyn had to use everything he had with his Balance Skill to stop himself from joining the Revenants on the floor due to the Slick Spell.

The Revenants knew no fatigue or fear, and they followed the group as they made their way back down the hallway with the large opening. The encounter eventually became bearable after several minutes of desperate fighting as more and more Revenants were put down for their final rest. Reivyn slowed down the tempo he used to kill the Revenants, and he only moved forward to kill one after Melissa managed to trip one or the other in the lead.

Finally, after what felt like an eternity of heart-pounding action, the last Revenant fell. Reivyn leaned against the wall as he gasped for breath. His Stamina had almost reached 40% by the time the combat had ended. They had been in the Dungeon for many hours, and his Stamina depleted faster and recovered slower in a reflection of his tired state.

He looked back to see Larissa laid out on the floor, her forearm covering her eyes as she groaned. Erik helped Melissa sit down and then stood over the pair to keep watch.

"That was too much," Larissa complained.

"Yeah, that was entirely too close," Melissa agreed.

"Well, you did say you wanted to only explore one last corridor before we go back up," Reivyn said with a chuckle.

"How can you be in a good mood?" Larissa moved her arm slightly to peek at him.

"Because we survived," Reivyn said simply. "Do either of you need help with a headache? You guys used a lot of mana."

"No, we're good," Melissa denied with a shake of her head. "Even though we used a lot of mana, we did it in a controlled manner. While we're a bit light-headed, we're not going to get a headache as you did from using most of your mana all at once."

"Good to know," Reivyn nodded his head. The group fell into silence as they each focused on recovering. Reivyn pulled out a piece of dried meat to eat while they rested.

"Alright, it seems the floor becomes incredibly more difficult from this point going forward," Reivyn said after several minutes. "I say we don't go any further until we've raised our Levels a bit."

"I agree," Melissa said as she and her sister regained their feet. "We'll need larger mana pools to be able to fight groups that large on a consistent basis. An increase in your Strength will also allow you to hit them harder, requiring less mana from Larissa to cook their skulls to weaken them."

"I like the sound of that," Larissa said. Erik grunted in agreement when Reivyn looked at him for his opinion.

"Alright then," Reivyn said as he began walking back towards the first floor. "Let's go meet up with Teilon and Kimberly. 22 Experience Crystals is a good haul in my book."

"Just a friendly reminder, don't use too many of those at once if you or your friends choose to," Melissa said. "Your friends have Tier 2 Classes, so you and they can use them, but if you gain too many Levels too fast, your Skills and Life Experience can't keep up. You guys should be good, what with you being conscripts and all that you've done that a normal Tier 1 wouldn't, but it's always good to get in the habit of moderation.

"Our family only provides us a small boost once we reach Tier 2, and the school requires us to go out and get School Credits to purchase any from them. The Academy has been doing this for a long time, and they've carefully balanced the rate of earning Credits with the rate of gaining Life Experience for good Classes.

"We're probably not going to use any of these, ourselves. They can be sold for a lot of money in the Capital, and our families will also give us good benefits if we turn them in."

"Thanks for the reminder," Reivyn said with a nod.

Teilon and Kimberly don't really need a lot of Life Experience to get a more powerful Class, as they're going to transition into a regular Tier 2 Class, but I'll definitely have to drag them down here in the future before they Tier up again. With us able to basically mine Experience, we should be able to move through Tier 2 pretty quickly.


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