Melissa watched the young man they had entangled themselves with out of the corner of her eye as he did calisthenics in the hallway. He always moved with purpose, and he never let himself sit still or let any time go to waste.
He was an enigma.
He's far more hardworking and inquisitive than any of the other young men and women in the Academies. They've been raised with resources, opportunities, and tutors their whole lives, and that breeds a certain expectation out of life. They mostly do the bare minimum to gain their graduation certificates, and that's it.
That's obviously not true of every student, but that's the current trend of the majority. Even the ones who go above and beyond pale in comparison to the drive he displays.
From what Reivyn had said, and the stories he and his friends shared, she had gleaned quite a lot of information from them. Reivyn and Teilon came from Adventurer backgrounds, so it made sense that they were so enthusiastic about working on their Combat Classes. She wasn't sure of the background of Kimberly, but she was also present during the excursion that set up the base to this Dungeon.
He's only spoken a little bit about the incidents that happened, but I had Erik do some digging, and there's a lot more to it than he makes it seem. He participated in a Tier 4 Battle while in Tier 1. I'm sure he got an amazing Achievement for that. The System doesn't discriminate when it calculates participation and rewards. His defeating a Tier 3 Revenant on his own would label him a main combatant of the battle even if he never even got close to the giant demon the commander fought.
Reivyn moved with an air of calmness and competency that belied his young age. If Melissa didn't look into his face all the time, she would never believe he was only ten years old. He had obviously spent long hours working on his Physical Stats in order to gain such a physique at such a young age.
He probably doesn't know and hasn't noticed, but only Stats gained through effort affect the physical body. The Stat points gained through System Achievements or Leveling work differently. They work completely internally through the meridians of the body, and while they have some function on the density of the muscles, it's more like they act as a multiplier and increase the efficiency of the body rather than directly enhancing it. There are many examples of old and decrepit Combat Classes with immense Strength, yet withered bodies.
She watched as he laughed and joked with his best friend before they moved to the dungeon boss. She was sure, from his personality and other context clues, that Teilon was adamant about not setting foot on the second floor at all, at least until he was firmly in Tier 2. And yet, just after an additional week of leaving them behind, here he was with Kimberly.
He has natural Charisma to him, and he's obviously unlocked the Stat. He probably already had some before he even got the Achievement for the Tier 4 Battle - which obviously gave him a full Stat boost, I mean it was a battle that spanned three Tiers for him. It's probably quite high, and I've noticed the effects of the Inspire Skill whenever he's led a battle, which is most of the time.
He's a natural leader, and he doesn't even seem to realize it. Not only do his two friends easily follow him, but he's even quietly inserted himself as the leader of the group as a whole. We started off sharing that responsibility, and I know that he hasn't tried to edge me out intentionally, but he's just naturally taken on the role of commander. Oh, he still asks for opinions, but he makes the final decision, and he issues the commands.
I don't resent him for it at all, Melissa was a little surprised at the realization. She had been groomed her whole life to be in a position of authority, and she was quite good at being the leader of her three-man group, but she found herself relying on Reivyn's steady demeanor more and more completely unconsciously.
Reivyn's background was a little suspect. He had mentioned that his father was a Combat Class and that his Mother was a Caster Class, and while it wasn't out of the ordinary for one of humble beginnings to be able to use mana and garner decent Classes and Skills, it was highly improbable for one to do so without a proper Teacher.
Reivyn had never mentioned that his parents were actually Adventurers, and the circumstances behind him not being a Peasant Levy was very suspicious.
I threw out that comment about a noble family living in another country to test him, but he didn't reveal anything when I mentioned it. Either he's not, or he has a Skill that affects his mentality. It's not actually important, in the grand scheme of things, but if I want to recruit him to our family, it's better to know everything about him.
And I obviously need to rope him into the family. His two friends, too, but to a lesser extent. The entire point of the higher Tier regions poaching the talented graduates from the lower regions is to infuse talent into their society, and there's no harm in emulating their behavior. If we can get him to join us, I can see our family moving up to bigger and better things.
Melissa looked at her sister, and the wheels turned.
"Go, go, go," Reivyn said. Melissa and Larissa drew up the rear as their group walked into the boss room. They all kept their heads on a swivel as they searched for any enemies about to launch an ambush on them.
After walking several steps deeper into the room, the unholy setup of the pit being tended to by the undead came into view. The very sight of the Spectre induced fear into Melissa, and she noticed, out of the corner of her eye, Larissa literally shaking, clutching her staff to her chest with her arms instinctively held in a way to make herself as small as possible.
Her gaze was unable to tear away from the scene before them, and she also noticed similar reactions from everyone else. Everyone but Reivyn. He was still able to look around the room without seeming to be affected by the aura given off by the Spectre.
The macabre scene of the ritual slaying played out and tingles shot down her spine as the Spectre laughed at their party. She had serious thoughts of retreating once the rest of the Revenants made themselves known.
This is far more dangerous than I was expecting. I don't know much about Spectres, but if its debilitating fear is any indication, I don't think we can handle the boss room right now. I need to tell Reivyn we should leave and come back later.
She had the will to open her mouth and advise retreat, but she wasn't able to move. Then Reivyn opened his mouth.
"Erik, you and Larissa smash the ones in the center! Kimberly, Teilon, you engage the ones on the left. Melissa, crowd control the ones on the left. I'll get the ones on the right," Reivyn's calm voice issued forth.
The aura of fear that was gripping the Party dissipated with his commands, and Melissa noticed that even Larissa relaxed and assumed a "business as usual" stance. Melissa marveled for a second at the young man's ability to instill confidence and boost morale just from some simple tactical instructions. He even had the forethought to remind everyone to be wary of the Spectre that had disappeared.
Melissa attended to her duties of disrupting the Revenants that Kimberly and Teilon held back. Now that she was in the thick of battle, all of her other worries disappeared as she focused on the task at hand. She occasionally kept an eye on Reivyn to see how he fared by himself.
He is an absolute beast. He's doing just as much damage to his group of Revenants as the combined efforts of Erik and Larissa.
An explosion sounded out behind them, and then a bony hand grasped for Larissa and managed to make contact with her.
"Aahhhhhh!" Larissa screamed as she leapt a foot in the air.
Melissa quickly turned her head and noticed the impending ambush from a group of Revenants that had been sealed away before the battle. She threw down an Ice Wall plus Slick combination, and then she grabbed Larissa by the elbow and ran with her toward the center of the room as Erik finished off the last of his group utilizing the lingering effects of Larissa's Inferno Spell.
Erik quickly recognized the danger and expertly intercepted the new opponents. Melissa noticed Reivyn had repositioned himself so as to be able to observe the entire room.
As soon as he realized he needed to be able to surveil the entire room, he immediately positioned himself to do so. No hesitation. Melissa nodded as Reivyn displayed the characteristics of a battle commander.
The fight continued on in a controlled manner, and Melissa was hopeful they would be able to clear the boss room without any hiccups.
Then the Spectre reappeared and possessed Teilon. The shout from Reivyn had drawn her attention, which enabled her to keep her eye on the remaining Revenants as Reivyn was knocked down while protecting his friend. She watched the terrifying scene of Teilon getting jerked around like a toy.
Reivyn managed to solve the situation in short order, but he quickly informed them that the Spectre was targeting Eric next. Melissa and her sister redoubled their efforts to destroy the last remaining Revenants just as Erik was possessed.
"The Spectre can be forced out with pure mana," Reivyn called over. "I'll pump my mana into Erik. Melissa, throw up some Ice Walls all around to box it in and prevent it from moving about. Then we can bombard it with magic to destroy it." Melissa nodded at the plan, and she noticed Larissa release some pent-up tension at the instructions.
Quickly identifying the situation and resolving the problems, Melissa heaved a sigh of relief. All of the Revenants lay destroyed, and only the Spectre remained. Reivyn had already calmed them down and laid out a plan of action to end the threat.
Things didn't go as planned.
The Spectre controlled Erik to charge at the girls, but Reivyn managed to notice at the last second and managed to insert himself as a shield between them.
"Wark!" An undignified sound escaped Larissa's mouth as Reivyn crashed into the three girls, knocking them out of the way. She was horrified as she watched him sail into the magical soup that was bubbling and frothing in the pit.
"No!" She took an involuntary step forward, her hand extended. Kimberly kept her head on, though, and she tackled Erik to the ground as the Spectre tried to reassert control over him after he had stumbled from the impact.
"Get him!" Kimberly shouted.
Melissa didn't have time to worry about Reivyn for the moment, and she latched her hands on either side of Erik's head and pumped pure mana into him.
"Larissa, get your Spell ready!" She shouted without looking up.
"I'm ready!" Larissa replied.
Melissa was a bit more Skilled with her Mana Manipulation than Reivyn was, and after watching how he dealt with the possessed Teilon, she had some ideas of her own. Instead of just pumping the pure mana into her companion, she created a loop, and as the Spectre came screaming out of Erik's body, she tightened it like a noose and lassoed the Spectre in place.
The Spectre shot up into the air and tried to get away, but it was tethered to Melissa through her mana rope, and it screamed in agony as it circled about above her head. The visage of the Spectre changed from a fuzzy image of a long-haired middle-aged man to a skull with its mouth open in a gruesome grimace, the hair standing straight up in a frightening display.
"Now!" Melissa cried.
A ball of condensed fire shot up into the open mouth, and a huge explosion sent a shock wave out, rattling the bones of the Party members and causing dust to shower down from the ceiling. Larissa wasn't satisfied with just releasing her Inferno Blast Spell, though, and she followed it up by pumping even more fire into the maelstrom of red fire and blue Spectre mixed together.
Larissa nearly emptied the rest of her mana into the Spells, and she collapsed to her knees as she finally finished. The only thing that remained was some dust and ectoplasm falling to the floor with a plop. Melissa and Kimberly looked at each other as they panted, and Erik rolled over as he groaned in pain.
A red light shot out in a ring with the pit as the epicenter, and Melissa returned her attention to where her new friend had disappeared into the alchemical concoction.
"Reivyn," she whispered. The liquid bubbled and frothed, and Reivyn's body suddenly shot to the top.
"AAAAAaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhh!" He screamed in torment as his body convulsed and thrashed about.
Melissa ran up to the pit and tried to reach in to grab him, but an energy barrier, composed of red hexagonal lines, materialized and prevented her from getting closer. The three girls watched on as their leader suffered from unspeakable torture, his voice ripping through them and carrying an ethereal quality that conveyed a fraction of the pain he was in.
Melissa helplessly watched as the bubbling brew seemed to come alive as it climbed up his body that was bobbing on the surface and drilled into him. It entered his body through all of his orifices and even seemed to absorb through his pores. It completely covered his body until all that Melissa could see was a red humanoid form.
The liquid drained at a visible rate, and after several minutes that felt like an eternity, Reivyn was revealed at the bottom of the pit. Not a single drop of the liquid remained.
Reivyn continued to thrash about wildly and moan in pain. His convulsions weren't ending, and Melissa could tell that he was still suffering even as his mind broke and entered into a comatose state to protect itself.
"The church!" Melissa yelled as the energy field disappeared. She jumped down and lifted the shaking teen up to Kimberly who reached down to help pull him up. Erik slowly struggled to stand up, and he took Reivyn from Kimberly and threw him over his shoulder as Melissa climbed back out of the pit. "We need to get him to a priest to purge any corruption out of him!"
Larissa groaned as she held her head with one hand. She took a few steps before she had to stop and dry heave from the migraine that accompanied her expending all of her mana so fast in the final burst that killed the Spectre.
"I'm fine," Larissa said to the inquisitive look Melissa shot her. "We have to go. I can make it."
The four of them ran towards the front of the boss room, ignoring the possibility of loot or any other reward that might be present, where Teilon was slowly getting up.
Kimberly rushed up and helped him to his feet, and half carried him on her shoulder as she helped him walk towards the exit of the Dungeon.
They started off hobbling at a fairly slow rate, and Melissa was practically dancing on the balls of her feet as she knew they needed to get to one of the priests as soon as possible. They slowly picked up speed, though, as everyone recovered on the way. They went from a staggering limp to almost a full-on sprint as they made a mad dash for the exit.
After an eternity of running through the tunnels, they finally came into the light of the wide-open space of the mountain ridge, but they were still in the Dungeon, so they didn't hesitate to continue running.
They burst forth from the Dungeon and made a beeline for the waiting church members. Erik gently placed Reivyn, who was still plagued with tremors, at the feet of the robed priest who quickly finished inspecting another Adventurer and turned his attention to Reivyn immediately, temporarily halting his inspection of the rest of the other group. Melissa saw the leader of that group step forward and open his mouth to say something, but a glare from her shut his mouth, and he quietly ducked his head and waited his turn.
"I'm sorry," the priest said after straightening up from inspecting Reivyn. There was no change in his status. "There's nothing I can do for him."
"The taint is too strong?" Melissa's face fell and she felt the beginnings of tears form in her eyes.
We got here as fast as we could! They must be able to help him.
"No, that's not it," the priest clarified. Hope rekindled in Melissa. "There's no taint present in him. None at all, actually. What he's suffering from is something different. You'll either have to take him to a Healer, or he'll have to fight through it on his own."
Erik picked Reivyn back up with a nod from Melissa.
"Thank you," she said as their group turned to head to the healers. "We'll be back for proper inspection. I promise, but we need to go."
Melissa was vaguely aware of a crowd forming as more people came from within the Dungeon and the surroundings as they rushed off to the infirmary.
It's good that he's not suffering from any corruption. He has to pull through. He has to. She was slightly surprised at how attached she had grown to Reivyn and his friends in the few weeks they had been together, but with everything else associated with him, it had just come naturally.
Josn walked out of the Dungeon, followed by his group of fellow Sword-Priests and the two Priests that accompanied them. He was covered in dry sweat from the exertions of fighting the Revenants on the second floor. While most of the Sword-Priests were unable to use mana Skills, their weapons and gear were Blessed with Divine mana, and so they were uniquely qualified to fight the denizens deeper in the Dungeon.
Ugh, it'll take three days of bathing to get the stink of the Dungeon off of myself, Josn thought to himself. He examined his men with a critical eye as they moved in search of the inspection team on duty. Even with the blessings of the goddess herself, these men aren't quite ready to go much further into the second floor. If it wasn't such a great opportunity for them to increase their Skills and gain Levels, I would never set foot in there myself.
Despite the church being antithetical to the creatures and nature of the Dungeon, that didn't mean they would completely ignore a resource available to them. They regularly sent teams into the Dungeon to gain Skill Levels and Experience. The Life Experience of fighting the creatures of the dark was also a huge benefit for ones such as them.
Several teams had traveled quite far into the second floor, but Josn viewed it as his duty to accompany some of the weaker members so that he could oversee their development. The Sword-Bishop had led a team that cleared the second floor, but even he had shied away from exploring any deeper for the time being.
The Experience Crystals found on the second floor were a huge discovery, and Josn could barely understand the decision of the Adventurers to ignore the warnings in the face of such wealth. This wealth wasn't in money, but in strength, so Josn could grudgingly concede the point.
It still doesn't justify literally throwing their lives away. What good does the opportunity do a dead man?
The church was well-positioned to supervise the extraction of the Experience Crystals. Josn could see the church gaining untold wealth and increased power by charging a simple percentage fee - Just one crystal per group - for removing the taint from the Crystals so they could be safely used.
They weren't like the Adventurers, though. They kept a careful watch on the level of corruption that seeped into them and regularly dispelled it even while delving the depths. They even insisted on having a third party cleanse everyone once again once they left.
You never know if the corruption could affect the Spell of the priests who go in there and let some of it slip by, so better to have another round of cleansing to be 100% sure.
Josn noticed a commotion as they drew closer to the inspection team. He saw a group of Adventurers take off running in the direction of the infirmary.
Hmmm, some of those Adventurers look familiar... Where have I seen them? He couldn't quite place why they looked familiar, but it wasn't that important, so he put it out of his mind as he approached the inspection team as the priest finished his inspection of the group he was currently attending to.
"What's the situation, Priest?" Josn asked. The robed man looked up at his voice, and, noticing who it was, he snapped to attention and offered a salute. Josn returned the salute with perfect precision and awaited the man's response.
"A group of Adventurer's came sprinting out of the Dungeon carrying a man in a coma. Even in his unconscious state, he was wracked with convulsions, so I, and apparently the Adventurers, assumed he had fallen to the taint." The man shook his head as he spoke. "There was no taint in him, though." He looked at Josn dead in the eye. "None. And they just came out of the Dungeon."
"Really?" Josn said as he looked in the direction the group had run off to. "Interesting."