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A hole opened up on the sidewall, and his nana came sliding in. Somehow she'd lost the spear and now had the spoon. It would have to suffice.

Yilena landed with more grace than him, followed by another six goblins. She brushed the dirt from her leathers, eyeing the featureless room. "I guess our day has finally come."

Urock nodded, feeling conflicted. He'd begged every calling for the dungeon to choose him, but he'd never imagined it would be like this. There came a shifting of stone, and they started moving. The ground acted as a moving platform, the stone separating before them as if it was soft.

"I guess I'll take the front. Somebody has to," Yilena said.

"You are not so tanky as I," a large goblin said, lumbering in front of her. Yilena made no protest. After about thirty seconds, they formed a tight three-by-three formation, with Urock and his nana at the back.

Urock's Mana was full, he'd used his skills thousands of times, but he felt like he would forget everything as soon the fight started. If they even had to fight? That was one of the theoretical scenarios he'd played out in his mind, and now was the time to share.

"So..." Why did speaking to a group make him so uncomfortable? " I think attacking should be a last resort," Urock said.

Yilena turned. "You think the delvers might be friendly? If that were the case, why then has no one returned?"

Because they're all dead, and so are we, he thought.

"There is no way of knowing. But I would offer the unknown welcoming arms. If we can avoid bloodshed..."

"You're wise for such a small head. I agree with this idea," the large goblin at the front, Turon, said.

His nana suddenly looked around. "Where are we? I don't like this." She stumbled toward the back wall, where the soft stone merged into a point.

Urock grabbed her wrist, pulling her back before she might get stuck in it. "You need to stay with us."

"I wanted you to try my stew. How do we go back?"

The worry in her eyes broke his heart.

"It was the best stew I ever had, wouldn't you guys agree?"

Everyone nodded their agreement. Yilena reached back and grabbed Urock's hand. He tightened his grip in response, savoring the feeling. He wished he had told her more. He wished he hadn't been so afraid.

Urock eyed June to his right. She was always small and silent when things got serious.

Suddenly, the moving stone hardened, and a passage opened up before them. A fire stick lit the tunnel beyond. The crackle of flames was the only noise.

Exit the transport cell!

The back of the room began to knit together, pushing them out. So they had no choice but to go.

Urock guided his nana with his hand. "You might have to use that as a weapon."

She nodded as if understanding and held her spoon with a double grip.

Then came the waiting as they faced down a shadowy hall. Urock rubbed his sweaty hands on the coarse fibers of his robe, ready to activate his skills in an instant. He was torn between locking Mana into his Energy Shield or saving it all for offense. Seeing that he was the backline, it made sense to focus on damage, but he was also far away from another level. Without an imminent level up, the dangers of taking hits or overcharging Mana were tenfold.

He locked 40 Mana into ES, giving him an equally sized shield that could regenerate, and the exact amount of Mana needed to maintain a remnant and cast [Magic Weapon] repeatedly.

A warm draft flowed past him, carrying smells he could not comprehend.

"I smell the flowers," June peeped.

What were flowers? A laugh echoed down the tunnel. One deep voice, and two higher ones. They almost sounded friendly. The voices drew nearer, sounding as if just around the corner. He could now hear-

Someone stepped around the corner in brilliant head-to-toe armor, followed by one in a black robe, and the last in a tunic. The unarmored were females and looked highly feminine, almost obscenely so.

Level 92 Baldric329

Level 82 XFinalRose

Level 87 SilverArrow11

Such high levels! And what strange names. "They're too strong. We have to reason with them," Urock whispered into Yilena's ear.

Yilena opened her mouth and closed it wordlessly. "Hello!"

The one named Rose giggled in response, but the hunger in her eyes told Urock it wasn't friendly.

"Looks like I'll be finishing my quest after all," Baldric mumbled under his helmet and drew a sword.

"We mean you no harm," Yilena said. "Whatever it is you want, we..."

The armored one started forward at a walk, accelerating into a jog. Almost by reaction, Urock released a magic spear aimed right at the knight's head.

Deflected! 0 damage!

Urock frowned and summoned Ninjeck. His brother flung a sticky trap at the knight's feet.

The knight's metal boot slammed down onto the tar. When he went to lift it, the stick was strong enough to send him falling forward. The two girls laughed behind him.

"Run!" Urock shouted.

The formation responded a touch slow, but it didn't matter. As he turned around, his face smacked a magical barrier. He summoned a spear to strike it. Nothing. Ninjeck gave it a good jab too. Nothing.

"We're trapped," Urock said as the other goblins battered against it. Was this the fate his family members had faced?

"Behind!" Yilena shouted. The knight had recovered it seemed, and was sauntering over.

As a momentary blur, the knight charged forward to slam into the spears with his shoulder. He shattered them like a boulder, elbowed the tank on the head, then used the shifting momentum to strike the other two.

All three hit the ground, dead.

Baldric rolled his shoulders, then pulled out a knife to remove the fallen goblin's heads.

"Just need five more!" Baldric shouted back to the others.

"Can you not understand us?" Urock asked.

The armored one looked up. "Sorry, little guy, but I need your head for my daily elixer."

That was all their lives amounted to? Some daily quest?

Urock lashed out with everything he had. Ninjeck landed two quick blows on the knight's helmet, then swung in a great leaping strike.

Deflected!

Deflected!

Blunt force succeeded! 1 damage!

Baldric swatted away the remnant as if it were a fly. Only 1 damage? Urock didn't bother to resummon his brother's remnant. Instead, he chugged all three Mana Pots, which restored his Magic completely, then brought in Stonek, his father.

Even Baldric looked momentarily surprised by the mountain of shadow before him. His father had been a magical tank with no weapons and a great stone slab as a two-handed shield.

"Impressive. It'll be a shame to kill you," Baldric said.

"Then don't," Urock said softly.

Baldrick chuckled and started forward.

"I know the way forward! I could show you!" Yilena said. "You only needed five more right?"

It took Urock a moment to process what she meant. And when he did, he swore his heart blackened further. "How can you say that?" Urock hissed.

"Please choose me," Yilena cried. "I don't want to die."

She would just give them up like that? The woman he'd loved!

"No, thanks," Baldric said. "I have a map."

Urock saw the hope die upon Yilena's face, her spear trembling in her hands. And his nana? She watched the whole thing with a blank stare.

Before the knight could reach them, the dark sorcerer pointed her staff and shot a black fireball. Stonek stepped in its path. It exploded against his shield, evaporating Stonek's form and flinging Urock against the wall. He hit the ground as pebbles rained down.

"I blasted the fuck out of 'em lul," Rose said.

"Friendly fire much," Baldric groaned from the ground.

Urock heard his nana crying in pain. He turned in horror to see her crawling away, tears streaming down her green cheeks, her health bar down to the critical levels.

How dare they! He unleashed a [Magic Spear] and it soared toward the mage, hitting her Energy Shield.

475!... 487!... 500/500 ES!

Just like that, the sorcerer's shield recharged fully. He didn't miss her satisfied look from afar.

Yilena. Oh, Yilena. She had stood and was walking toward the females, hands raised.

"Don't..." Urock croaked.

"Whatever you're after, hear me out," Yilena said. "Our cavern has ample... It..."

The second female raised a giant bow, the string creaking as she pulled it back.

Yilena managed a short, blood-curdling scream right before-

Crunch!

The giant arrow jutted from Yilena's back. She fell to her knees, choking on her blood. He thought he'd known her. Her final actions proved he hadn't.

He crawled over to his nana and tried to help her to her feet. She rose about halfway, then collapsed.

"Why is this happening? I just want to go home," she cried. He held her hand as the knight approached from behind.

"Don't do it," Urock said firmly.

The armored one towered above, holding his sword at the side.

"I need one more." His sword flashed downward.

"No!"

Blood spattered Urock's face, and his nana's grip slipped free. He stood there shivering, too afraid to look down. He already knew what he would see. The knight leaned down to retrieve his quest item. Urock felt his vision lose focus. It was as if the pain were so great that his mind no longer wished to stick around.

 

[Shattered Remnant] acquired! (Salewa)

Detecting increased depths of anguish! Recalibrating Soulcore.

 

Blackened Heart

+2 to all stats!

 

The glowing blue words hardly registered. He would give every last stat point to bring his nana back. Why wasn't that an option? Baldric finished tying another head to his waist, adding to the mass of fallen victims, then angled the sword tip at Urock's face.

"Wait!" a female said, running over. It was Rose. She was seemingly small for their kind with chin-length black hair, yellow eyes, and cat ears sticking from the top of her head. She was the one who had shot the fireball.

Urock's grief slowly turned into pure molten hate as he faced down the murderers.

"Huh?" the knight said.

"I need one for my thrall skill!" Rose said with a voice that reminded him of a snake.

"Wouldn't they need to be dead?"

"It's more effective if I sacrifice them alive."

The knight sighed. "What is it, like a 2% difference?"

"4%."

"You're such a minmaxer, my god."

Baldric walked past, his boots clinking.

Rose shuffled over and cocked her head, her yellow eyes glowing in the shadows. "Isn't he cute?"

"Look at his face!" Silver laughed. "They're such good actors."

"Not really. It's all scripted," Baldric said.

"By the way, I might need to log off," Silver said. "I've got homework to do."

Log off? Urock sounded out the words in his mind. "You murder us, then you just... log off?"

Rose leaned over, grinning. She smelled of roses, a terrible smell to match the person. "He's so deep. I love it."

Urock spat right at her face.

She squeaked, then wiped away the saliva. "Why does that smell like shit?"

Baldric leaned against his sword, facing Silver. "Log off if you want. Me and Rose will get the dungeon core all to ourselves."

"I can always call in sick." Silver shrugged. "My professor accepts late work."

Rose summoned a glowing blue rope that formed around Urock's neck, then fastened it to her waist. When she started forward, it yanked him painfully.

He turned back one last time, searing the terrible sight into his memory.

At that moment, all of the pain and hatred concentrated into a singular purpose. He would make them pay in blood. They would know the pain that he felt. They would lose their loved ones, and after he was done with them, he would find every last delver and do the same.

Urock... June whispered softly in his mind. I'm sorry.

He squeezed back the tears. Be free of me, June, he sent. This is not a darkness you want to be around.

I'm never leaving you.

For all the countless hours she'd annoyed him, he'd never been so grateful in his life to see those words.

 

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