They had been teleported to the top floor of a spire, the openings in between the large pillars supporting the conical roof gave a perfect view of the city below. There were many houses and spires built everywhere, on top of each other and in weird places and alignments. Chaos was the only word that came to Sofia’s mind as she tried to make sense of the entanglement of structures.
Everything was built out of clean cut rectangular blocks of the same ice blue opaque crystal that made the key-ring. Only dimly shining purple polyhedrons levitating around in some places brought some nuance to the shades of blue.
The 'outer ring' mentioned in the dungeon name was separated from the supposed 'inner ring' as well as the ‘outside’ by tall smooth walls. They were higher than the spire Sofia was in and every other spire she could see. This part of the city was indeed like a large doughnut ring, there was about one or two hundred meters of space between the two walls. it was hard to tell with the square houses and round towers all stacked on each other. I bet it’s like this exactly because there’s no space, Sofia thought, this would be hard to navigate.
Alith proposed to scout the place in ghost form, only to find out the hard way that she couldn’t. It was like the very space around her was working to prevent her transformation. She toggled her [Human form] skill multiple times, to no avail.
Although it was a city, no movement of any kind could be seen anywhere save for the polyhedrons hovering up and down. No signs of life. The light in the city was strange, uniform. Through the empty window frames, it was clear that inside the houses and the outside shared the exact same brightness. It was unknown where that came from, but certainly not from the pitch black void looming over the city. Even the abyss in the church’s dungeon didn’t give me this feeling of emptiness. I don’t like it here. At least the atmosphere was fresh, despite the lack of wind.
Alith and Sofia wondered what they should do. They were a bit worried about the dungeon’s level, that meant the average level of monsters in here was over one hundred. It would give great experience if they could safely hunt them down. They had no choice but to move on, in search of something, anything. They would try to reach the main street first. It looked like a winding snake down below, trying its best to avoid all the buildings that had sprouted around and over it. They could have jumped down with the slow fall ring but they didn't feel safe doing so.
They knew nothing about what they might find which was unnerving, especially since the city was so quiet. Their every step echoed around on the walls. The houses were empty. No furniture, no doors in the door frames, no garbage or scrap on the ground, no remnants of previous occupants, not even dust. As if it had all been expertly cleaned up. As if everything but the walls had vanished out of existence. The only trace of the city actually being lived in was the clear wear and tear they noticed here and there. A hole in a wall, traces of heavy furniture leaving tracks on the floor, and the rare undecipherable scribbles carved on the facades.
Due to the city’s strange labyrinthic layout, reaching the main street proved to be quite the challenge. Most houses had multiple exits to and from other buildings or their roofs. Some had doors or stairs that led nowhere. Houses were also sometimes linked by stone bridges or even more stairs. Whoever lived here didn’t like slopes.
After searching for a long while it seemed there was no way to reach the street below. It was still three floors down, which was quite a height. It took them a while to notice but Alith eventually saw a floor of newer looking stone blocks right at the end of a flight of stairs. Once they realized that, it wasn’t hard to find many more such condemned ways, all paths leading down were blocked. Or was it the paths leading up?
“Do we still try to get down?” Alith pondered, looking down, bent over a railing. At first glance there wasn’t anything more worthy of their attention on the ground floors, every house looked empty. They could still get down with the slow fall ring, but they wouldn’t be able to come back up.
Alith jolted up. “I saw something! Something moved down there!” she said in a panicked hushed voice, pointing at an alleyway on the ground floor.
“Not another purple floaty?”
“No it looked just like the walls, the same colors, I didn’t see it until it moved, it was like… like two of these large bricks stacked vertically on top of each other. It just slid on the ground in between the buildings!” she described, unsettled. “Do you think these things could be up here too?”
Sofia looked down but she couldn’t spot anything that looked out of place in the ambient chaos. “Can’t say, but I’d guess there’s a reason no one lives here anymore, and we probably just found it, so it’s likely the upper levels aren’t too safe...” she scanned her surroundings once more. “If the monsters look like the walls, we need to be very careful.”
They kept walking around on the rooftops above the third level. Pareth was leading the way, Sofia checking the walls around their path clad in her bone armor, while Alith watched for any movement on the lower street.
Maybe I should still find some sort of weapon, for me and Alith both. Guess I’ll use my woodcutting hatchet, she can keep the knife.
The small group kept going around the city. They had approached one of the purple hovering things at one point and couldn’t find anything interesting about it. If Sofia had to guess, they had crossed about a third of the outer ring. They didn't spot any other moving wall.
They reached a point that was particularly hard to cross. It was a place with many towers going high up, and they didn’t really have entry points from the floor that they were on. They still found a house with an entrance, hidden in a corner, the interior was L shaped. They had gone through many such houses, they always had a second door on the opposite end. This one had no windows, due to how it was sandwiched between a large tower and the ring’s outer wall, not that it mattered considering how it was lit all the same, even inside.
As Pareth turned the corner, he stopped.
Pareth’s intelligence had grown a lot at this point. It was still a 'mindless' skeleton but the thousands of orders Sofia gave it over time to level up the skill had compounded. It developed into a functional situational awareness. If Pareth stopped it meant he had spotted something unexpected and didn’t know how to proceed.
Doesn’t seem like it’s an enemy or he would be in a battle stance already.
Alith didn’t wait and followed the skeleton. “Oh. Dead end.” she revealed, surprised. It was the first house they explored in Zangdar that had only one entrance.
Sofia turned around to exit the house. The door was gone.
Pareth perceived her distress and had used his consecrated ground ability, he rushed to her side. Alith had also noticed.
“They’re really walls. What do we do?”
[You have been poisoned]
What? How? Sofia took a deep breath, trying to keep her composure.
[You have been poisoned]
She started to feel dizzy.
“The door we entered from, attack the wall there!” Sofia commanded.
Pareth was faster than Alith, he struck the wall with his sword. It left a deep cut spilling white liquid. Definitely not a crystal wall. The ‘wall’ wriggled and screamed, it moved out of the door frame it blocked, revealing more of them outside the house.
Sofia grappled this injured ‘wall’ that had slid closer to her, and ordered Pareth to fight the ones outside, where a pillar of healing light was waiting for him to stand in.
The thing grew four long appendages from its back, like thick ‘crystal’ tentacles ending with three smaller tentacle feelers arranged in a triangle. She had barely managed to tackle the thing that looked like a square piece of wall to the ground by leveraging the weight of her armor. She dug her hatchet in the open wound as violently as she could. White fluids splashed everywhere. The tentacles were banging on her back and arms, bashing the armor, leaving deep dents and cracks in the white bone.
Sounds of scuffle came from both sides. Alith is fighting too.
With every breath, she felt more and more lightheaded, it became slower when the thing left the door but it was still there. Every inhalation was met with the same message.
[You have been poisoned]
As Sofia’s vision got increasingly blurry, she struck in the deep wound of the monster stuck under her one last time.
‘You have defeated [Lesser Phageid - lv. 104]’
She lost consciousness.