They continued through the dungeon. Every room was different, pieced together in random order. Hallways branched in every direction like a labyrinth to main points of interest: indoor gardens, lavish rooms, servant quarters filled with old beds, and some kind of prison.
The further they explored, the more challenging the monsters became: skeletons with red bones and shivs for arms; ceiling beetles that dropped like spikes; plants that twisted around their legs and shot spines with jagged edges.
Every corner led to a new adventure, a new challenge, an enemy that required teamwork to overcome.
And . . . there was something else, something that loomed in the darkness, a sound when nothing was there. Did the others feel it, too?
They stopped after a time in an old kitchen of sorts to recharge Stamina and Resource. Orbs of fire hovered at the ceiling near polished metal plates, staring astonished black eyes down at them.
Dull counters lined cracked walls. Vines wrapped around cabinets filled with dust and dirt. Rusty chains were strung across a bloodstained table with old bones that seemed happy to stay inanimate.
Jantonon drove his polearm down against the bones, and the table shattered. Plumes of dust filled the air, and everyone coughed.
“They weren’t movin’!” Ruben said, fanning the dust. “Ya don’t gotta bash everythin’, ya know?”
Jantonon grunted, then swung his polearm back up to rest on his shoulder.
“Entin,” Lourne called, “how’s your inventory looking?” He applied a salve to a pink damage mark that had turned red to indicate bleed damage. Little -20s and -30s rose from the cut every few seconds.
Entin summoned his inventory full of mismatched junk. “We have fourteen open slots, so about half full. Eight scyl and twenty-one chyps.”
It was more money in one day than he had ever seen. Split four ways, his take was over two scyl. Bailey couldn’t stay mad at him once she saw the payout. Never again would he fight over a handful of chyps for a stupid market Run.
“Not bad!” Lourne said. “Not bad at all. But we ought to start heading back. Longer we stay, the more risk we lose everything. It’s a good pull for the day.”
“Yes,” Jantonon replied in a deep baritone voice.
“The man speaketh,” Ruben said. “Got anythin’ else to add? Hmm hmm?”
Jantonon shrugged and opened his game screen that glowed orange.
“Well,” Ruben said, snapping his fingers, “we also got junk! Who knows how much that’ll go for. Got any rotten hides in there?”
Entin shook his head. He made his inventory visible for everyone else, rotated it, and anchored the window so it wouldn’t follow him.
“Three gobs of earwax?” Ruben laughed. “Oh, en a livin’ slug. Didn’t know you could store something livin’. Kinda cool.”
Something gleamed on the far wall of the kitchen. Entin stood and walked closer. It was a green bead of sorts, embedded in the stone. It shimmered, and when he touched it, it dissolved away into a stream of pixels.
The others were laughing about something but abruptly stopped when the stones that made up the wall pulled back like fabric, tearing and warping to reveal a hidden room lit in blue light.
“Ha!” Ruben yelled, jumping to his feet. “Entin found a treasure room. I knew you were lucky!”
Lourne sighed. “I’m the one who hired him.”
“But he’s my protégé.”
“Since I called it.”
“Good, then you can pay him.”
“Woah woah woah!”
“Quiet,” Jantonon said, his single word cutting straight through the argument. He pointed his polearm toward the treasure room and everyone hurried over.
Water flowed down from the left and right sides of the room like waterfalls with space behind them. The water escaped through narrow gaps in the stone floor, making very little noise. Behind the streams of water on both sides were a dozen or so blue fireflies, fluttering in random patterns.
The far wall had a painting of a naked woman, kneeling. She took up the whole wall with her arms spread to the side walls to envelope the entire room, stretched and warped with pigments of teals and browns.
At the very center of everything, mounted on a stack of stones—carved with arcane, glowing symbols—was a perfectly circular basin.
Water trickled over the rim and down the stonework. A ripple spread across the surface from the center, and when the ripple reached the edge, a new one pulsed.
Entin touched the bowl, and the ripples stopped. Streams of silver swirled into the water and formed words.
Lourne stepped close and read aloud, “Cursed are my hands that are not equal. Cursed are these thieves in minute’s sequel.” He scratched his head. “Bah, I hate riddles.”
A dull and distant clicking reverberated within the walls. The entrance zipped shut, and the room started to rumble. The floor stones at the corners shifted and fell, splashing into something below, followed by a chorus of hisses.
Minute’s sequel, Entin thought. “We have two minutes to figure out the riddle!”
The others jumped into action, pushing on random stones. Ruben slapped the woman’s breast, then grinned. “Ya never know, right?”
Entin didn’t move, he stood at the center running the words through his mind. Cursed are my hands that are not equal. . . .
The woman’s hands took up all the space on the left and right walls. They aren’t equal? One is bigger than the other?
The blue lights danced about, seemingly unaware of the shaking room. More stones gave way, and something down below—something black and hairy—moved with yellow eyes, dozens of yellow eyes.
Jantonon rammed his polearm against the wall where the door had been. The stone chipped, but remained very much solid.
Another stone slid loose, and the creature below skittered up the wall. It was a spider-like monster as big as a child. Yellow eyes covered its body and twisted around its many limbs.
Hands not equal. . . .
It was getting hard to think with all the commotion. If only he had a moment of silence!
He looked to the left and right walls, searching for differences in the painted hands, counted the fingers, evaluated the curves and angles. They were identical as far as he could tell.
The black creature wasn’t alone. More of them spilled into the room. One jumped—a blur of a shadow—toward Lourne. He batted it out of the air, and it crashed through the stream of water, scaring the little blue lights that shot toward the far end of their enclosure.
Thirteen, Entin counted. Thirteen blue lights on the left and . . . eleven! on the right. That’s it!
He Dashed to the left and snatched a fluttering blue light. It burned in his hand with orange damage numbers streaming -12s and -15s. He sprinted to the other side and released it.
The floor stopped rumbling. A doorway opened, stone sliding up where the woman had knelt, her image now gone. The doorway led to a new room, and propped at the far end on a pedestal, glowed a golden chest with a blue triangle at its front.
Lourne ran into the room. “I’ll get it! You guys hold—” The door slammed shut, cutting off his voice. More of the black creatures pushed out of their holes with enthusiastic energy; there were adventurers to kill.
Entin toggled Roll just as one of them pounced toward him. His arm slid across the underbelly of the creature, its hair thick and coarse, its yellow eyes, watching.
Jantonon smashed one into the floor, spraying black and yellow pixels across the room. He then activated something that made his weapon glow, spin, and strike two additional monsters. They, too, exploded into a mixture of pixels that faded along with the -276 and -312 damage numbers.
No loot dropped from these mobs. Of course, they were summoned. They wouldn’t stop coming until the challenge was completed. And by the sound of all the hissing that echoed out from the dark space below, they needed to hurry.
Ruben danced between the spider-like creatures, launching arrow after arrow at near point-blank range. As each creature died, the arrows respawned into his quiver.
Three of the hairy, disgusting monsters surrounded Jantonon. He kicked one, then lost his footing and crashed to his back. The monsters squirmed on top of him, biting as they went, undeterred by his attacks, leaving frenzied pink marks and a mixture of red and yellow damage numbers.
Poison. . . .
It just kept getting worse! He had to help, somehow. Entin took a step toward Jantonon.
“Stay back!” Ruben yelled. “You’re more important than he is right now.”
Jantonon’s polearm clanged to the floor and his body fractured, shifting to pieces of light that shot through the stone ceiling. His bag materialized with the rest of his gear.
The treasure room’s door of stone reopened, forming a rectangular hole. Not more than a few feet into the room hovered a fat bag that rotated slowly: Lourne’s items.
Their party leader had died, and so had Jantonon. It was only a matter of seconds before Entin joined them.
Ruben let fly a series of arrows that took out three of the spider-like monsters blocking the door. “Get his stuff, man!”
When his arrows ran out, waiting for the previous arrows to return, he used the ends of his bow to swipe at the never-ending swarm.
Entin Dashed, draining 10 Stamina, and immediately tapped Lourne’s bag. All of the man’s gear was there, and with a swipe of two fingers, the items shifted into Entin’s inventory.
The door slammed shut behind him. He spun and smacked a hand against the cold wall.
Stone scraped against stone to either side of him. Holes. The sound of a whoosh was all the warning he had. Three arrows shot from left and right.
He triggered Slide. His body shot down toward the ground, and his back arched. Two slits of damage marks cut across the skin at his ribs, stinging and dropping his health to 873/1,000.
He stood, and the ground shook. No . . . not the ground, it was the tile his foot pressed against. It sunk into the floor and clicked. A thick blade sliced down from the ceiling.
Entin spun to the side, narrowly missing it. Then, seeing there were two slits in the ceiling, stepped back to his original position, just as another blade sliced the air.
Stone ground against stone again, and without looking, he Dashed forward, feeling his Stamina drain from another ability.
Arrows shot through the room diagonally this time. One took him at the arm and stung like a sharp pinch. -212 in red, slid up toward the ceiling and faded. Dagnabbit!
He slammed his hand against the treasure chest, and the room fell still. After a few seconds, the traps clicked and receded, then an inventory screen appeared.
- 1x Spherical Emerald
- 1x Dagger (Swift Light)
- 56 scyl
56 scyl! That was more than he could have ever dreamed to have made in a month, let alone a single day. Even after splitting it with the others, his portion would surely help the orphanage a lot, maybe get them some clothes or games or books! Ohto would love that.
The door opened. Ruben’s bag lay amid a room teeming with black and yellow monsters. They hissed and tapped their many limbs on the stone floor. A dozen of them shot into the room, yellow eyes darting in a frantic need to find more prey.
Entin took a step back. His breath caught in his throat. With a quick swipe of two fingers, he pulled the treasure chest items into his inventory, then summoned the dagger. Its weight solidified in his hand, replacing four of his lower-priority movement skills with level-1 dagger skills.
A monster flung itself at him, and Entin triggered Slice, draining 10 Resource. The blade shot . . . to the side! His feet twisted around each other and he fell to the ground, narrowly dodging the monster.
What was he thinking! He’d never used a weapon before, and there were so very many of them. He shoved the blade into a sheath that had materialized at his side. As soon as he did, his movement skills returned.
He triggered the second variant of Dash, allowing him to Dash twice for 20 Stamina instead of waiting for the cooldown. The world blurred in black and yellow as his form shifted through the creatures.
A fraction of a second later, he stood next to Jantonon’s bag. He tapped it and pulled the items into his inventory, then triggered Roll to close the distance to Ruben’s bag.
With a tap and a swipe to pull Ruben’s items, he moved to leave—hisses coming from behind—but his inventory flashed red.
Your inventory is full.
Crap! He materialized Ruben’s items and wrapped an arm around leather armor and a bow. His skills automatically shifted, prioritizing the bow’s default skills, and leaving him with only Dash and Sprint.
The wall was solid, but at the center sat a single, gleaming green bead that hadn’t been there before. He slammed his hand on it, and the wall unknit itself, stone-by-stone, twisting back like a torn wrapper.
One of the monsters snapped its fangs around his ankle. Prickles of pain shot up his leg, and after the initial red damage numbers, a stream of yellow -7s and -9s leaked from the wound.
Entin kicked and kicked until the blasted thing fell away. His health was depleting quickly. He didn’t have any armor like the others did. 561/1,000 . . . 552 . . . 544.
He triggered Sprint and ran.
Maybe it was an item he picked up—or maybe it was the army of pursuing monsters—but there was a noticeable speed improvement.
The monsters chased from behind, jumping through the old kitchen, knocking cabinets off the walls. It was a storm of hissing, moving as if it were a single entity with a single focus to rend the life from him.
He raced around the corner, sliding and hitting the opposing wall. All he had to do was retrace his path back to the start of the dungeon. This hallway connected to the small jail, or was it the garden first?
He summoned the map and a white dotted line revealed the path he had taken with the party. He selected the exit portal as his goal, and the shortest path appeared as a solid line.
Something slammed against his back. He looked to find a face full of fangs bite down on his neck, plummeting his life to 414/1,000. The poison damage . . . doubled! to -14s and -18s.
Entin screamed and tore the creature from his back, dropping Ruben’s bow in the process. He didn’t have the time to grab it. The hallway behind him was full of the black spider-like monsters and their hundreds of wild yellow hungry—very hungry—eyes.
He sprinted through hallways and their disjointed rooms, a lone adventure way beyond his depth. The slapping of his feet echoed against stone followed by hisses. The rooms blurred, one after the other. At the last corner, he charged into the massive room with stained glass windows.
Entin jumped over a fallen table and smashed through a chair, stumbling and losing his grip on Ruben’s armor.
The black creatures thrust themselves high and far, landing on old furniture and scattering bones. One crashed through a chair, sending rotten splinters of wood across the marble floor.
He triggered Dash toward the stairs. Three-fourths through the movement, his Stamina depleted, sending him sprawling toward the steps. The wave of exhaustion hit, seizing his muscles, burning his lungs, and worst of all, slowing his movement.
Ugh! He was so stupid not to watch his Stamina. But he still had a water vial. With the motion of two fingers sliding to the left, he summoned his inventory directory.
Before he could select the consumables category, a blur of black and yellow arced down from above. He reflexively triggered Roll, though nothing happened. . . . No Stamina, no abilities. Dagnabbit!
The monster landed on his chest and sunk fangs through his shirt. No! He was so close! He pushed a hand against the warm, hairy body, arm shaking, his strength sapped.
He still had the dagger! With his other hand, he pulled it free and without activating a skill, shoved the blade into the creature’s underbelly, over and over, until it shrieked and dispersed as pixels. Little rainbow cubes of light slipped into his dagger: +72 XP.
Entin willed his body to stand, to run, to ascend the stairs. A Flash message revealed his health had depleted to 112/1,000 and poison was still eating through him.
He was going to die. . . .
But not until he made it out of the dungeon!
His lungs burned like the poison had consumed them. He panted and pushed legs that shook with each step. The hisses motivated him to keep going, keep running!
Entin made it to the storage room and pointed two fingers at the wall marking the portal. He rotated his wrist and without reading the message, slammed his finger down on the Accept button.
The wall peeled itself back and filled with a glorious teal light of crashing waves.
He dove through the cold water and hit dirt, lit in brilliant sunlight. He rolled to his back, gasping for air. The poison . . . had stopped, leaving his health blinking red at 44/1,000.
“And that, Ruben,” Lourne said, “proves I’m a dungeoneering savant!” The trio of men stood over Entin, grinning, wearing nothing but their underwear.