Food shortages continue to plague the City of Creannan. The government is a shell of its former self, stuck in endless debates and no action while its people starve once again.
Entin hurried around a corner as quietly as he could. White balls of flame—trapped in hovering glass orbs—watched everything he did with an astonished expression as if he didn’t know death loomed from all around.
Very much so.
They also illuminated the white marble monastery, a labyrinth of ornate detail. Corridors ran every which way with vaulted, ribbed ceilings. Arched windows looked out to quadrangle gardens filled with greenery and bright blue flowers.
Entin took two steps into a corridor, bare feet on the cold stone. He held his breath and pressed himself back into the small space between the columned wall and window, hoping against hope that his impatience didn’t catch the notice of one of the many ghostly sentries, an Osayla.
The air stirred with a sort of whooshing sound.
Any fraction of a movement, and it would be over. He waited, praying to all the constellations his father had shown him years ago to please not die again.
Black bone fingers, their ends sharpened like knives, clacked against the stone column a dozen or so feet above. A skull peered over the side and down the corridor. Little flickers of its previous self projected around the charred bones of its face, screaming in tortured silence.
After a moment—apparently not sensing the enthusiastic drummer in Entin’s chest, thumping to a rhythm of fear, dread, and unbottled excitement—it straightened its lengthy form of way too many vertebrae and floated into the corridor.
Most of the Osaylas wore old muddy-brown robes; their tattered ends swept the floor as they drifted above it, like a breeze of merciless evil on a frigid winter’s day.
It passed, and Entin exhaled. It had taken over an hour to get this far in—hiding in every nook and cranny he could find—and he had yet to locate a single treasure room or any random chests that weren’t guarded by a squad of the wrathful phantoms.
Maybe tackling the dungeon by himself wasn’t the best of ideas. Lourne and the others were busy, saying they’d attempt another run next week. But with the food prices constantly climbing, the orphanage didn’t have a week.
Where once a single scyl could feed a handful of kids for a few days, now it was barely enough to feed one person for that long.
How do you tell kids it’s okay to starve?
They watched their families wither and die in the colony, and now it was happening again, except in this world, they didn’t need food.
Of course, no one wanted to starve; it was darn uncomfortable. The game sent constant urges to eat-eat-eat. Some people tried chewing bark or eating flowers, and one old man even went so far as to jump from the city’s wall, only to find that his Satiated value after death didn’t reset.
And so, sure, Running the dungeon alone might be stupid, but there was loot here. All he had to do was take it and get out. Besides, one successful Run in a dungeon would make more money than all the market Runs for a month.
He wasn’t wrong.
He just had to figure out how to make it work.
With that bit of renewed determination—and now that the nightmarish Osayla was out of sight—Entin steeled himself, then lightly jogged down the corridor, which connected to a large room of multiple floors.
Marble columns raised up the sides toward a domed ceiling made of what looked like gold. If only he could take a chunk of it home. . . . One gyl was a hundred scyl; certainly, a chunk of pure gold would be worth enough meals to keep an orphanage happy for a long time coming.
Or did gold not translate to gyl? One was a resource, the other a coin. It had to still be valuable, right?
But it was a piece of the dungeon. Try as he might—and he absolutely did try—you couldn’t take pieces from the dungeon, only loot. The golden dome was a rude tease, showing great and unattainable wealth.
Three floors overlooked the main one. Their walls were covered in books with small balconies and alcoves for studying. The main floor had aisles to either side of the center nave, which was full of wooden pews, each featuring ornate carvings of skulls in their armrests.
Osaylas were everywhere. Some were in different colored robes, some with swords that stretched unnaturally long like their thin yet very tall bodies.
This was all quite disturbing and new, except for one tiny, distracting thing: across the room, embedded in a pristinely white wall, was a black bead that glimmered.
A treasure room!
And . . . of course, at that precise moment, an Osayla drifted around the corner and stopped. The hollow eyes of its black skull lit up in a sort of fire that glowered down from above. It breathed in blue energy and then screamed a wailing blast of a sound.
Having already died from the paralyzing attack twice today, Entin triggered Dash, paying the 10 Stamina, leaving him with 82/92 Current Max. The world shifted and blurred for a fraction of a second, then he was beyond the Osayla and its nasty effect.
Naturally, this placed him right in aggro range of half a dozen others. They all turned at once, their eyes lighting up as if the mere sight of him had ignited their souls.
One Osayla with a sword chattered its blackened teeth and lunged forward, swiping its large blade through pews. The others were sucking in blue breaths, readying to blast him out of existence.
Oh, cogs! This was why he avoided them in the first place! Dash was on cooldown, so he jumped and triggered Wall Kick against the back crest of a pew, paying the 5 Stamina.
The force of it sent him five feet to the side, almost entirely out of range of the blade, but not quite. It tore a solid line through his right thigh, filling the gap with a frenzied swirl of pink light and producing a -314 in red to drift toward that blasted golden dome.
Entin landed, then threw himself over the back of a pew at the same time as five blasts of wailing sound slammed into the wood, missing him entirely.
He ground his teeth. A swirling viper of dread coiled in his chest. Everything he had done for the last hour was about to get reset. Again. But this time, there was a place to escape to—the treasure room—if only he could get there. . . .
The pew cracked and filled with tiny blue and purple ice crystals. And though that was all very fascinating, Entin didn’t stay put. He crawled with the tenacity of a mouse escaping an army of hellish undead cats.
Chunks of wood broke from behind, chopped and blasted. The cooldown for Dash completed. He pushed himself to his feet, then immediately Dashed through the swinging sword of glistening steel.
At the other side of the row of pews, he raced to the wall—deathly aberrations in tow—and slammed a hand against the black bead. Twinkling purple dust burst out to the sides, then the fabric of reality changed; the white marble wall unzipped, pulling back like a tent-flap from old Earth where people actually slept outside.
Entin jumped forward and triggered Roll. New blasts of sound came from behind, though the wall quickly reformed, leaving nothing but silence. Silence . . . and a new room, one even larger than the last, a treasure room, and a room that would, no doubt, be full of traps.
He quickly stood, straining to hear anything besides the blood pulsing in his ears. It was a rectangular room with a dozen columns on either side, running down the full length. Black and white tiles checkered the floor, each about three feet wide.
Light shined down from a blue-painted sky. The clouds moved, the sun felt warm, and a breeze whiffled through as if from a nice spring afternoon.
At the far end of the room, shimmering in radiant gold, presented on a marble platform, was the main attraction: a treasure chest featuring a blue triangle at its front. And . . . nothing else: no riddle, no challenge, no—
Well, nothing other than the dozens of white flames in glass orbs hovering near walls and columns, all giving him their undivided attention like he was the performer in this thrilling adventure, and they, the audience.
“Do you always have to look so astonished?” Entin asked, glaring at the closest orb, its mouth hanging open, wide black circles for eyes.
It closed its mouth, then nodded.
“You understand me?”
It nodded again.
Intelligent torches. . . . Huh. “Are there any traps in here?”
The little flame looked like it was thinking, eyes scrunched up. It leaned to the left then right as if to say, Maybe there are, maybe there aren’t.
Pfft. “That’s not helpful,” Entin said and sighed, not knowing what he had expected from the mute flame.
It shook its flame body, expression looking sad. Most of the other orbs mimicked the reaction. Some laughed silently. Others still wore their astonished expressions as if he’d die at any moment.
He took a tentative step, and when nothing clicked, whooshed, sizzled, or anything else that sounded his doom, he took another. Step by step, he passed white columns.
Nothing moved except for the clouds painting the floor with their shadows and the little black eyes of engrossed flames. If the challenge wasn’t in getting the treasure, it had to be in keeping it.
He now stood next to the chest, close enough to reach out and tap it, close enough to claim its contents. It gleamed in the sunlight, casting golden reflections onto the wall. This was what he had worked for, and despite that burning need to know what it contained, he also knew the moment he touched it, something terrible would happen.
Entin let out a breath. He couldn’t just stand there all day. Stop being a cog! He tapped the chest, and an inventory window appeared.
- 1× Black Gloves [Unique · Rank 1]
- 1× Bag [Standard Bag · 10 Slots]
- 1× Vial [Pig Snot]
- 14 scyl
Yes! That was a chunk of money. And an extra bag? That’d catch a nice price at the market. Now all he had to do was escape the room and hope the Osaylas weren’t waiting for him.
He swiped all the items into his inventory.
The sky immediately darkened, casting the chamber into night beneath a blood-red moon. Black clouds flashed and thundered. The pleasant breeze turned into a howling wind, carrying the scent of rain.
“You steal from me and risk my wrath?” a booming, deep voice yelled, reverberating off the walls. The sky flashed, and the ground shook. “Accept death or choose the right path!”
Streams of blue pixels sifted out from the edges of all the checkered tiles between the treasure chest and the gleaming black bead in the far wall. The pixels around different tiles started to change from blue to yellow to red, then the tiles burst apart, revealing a deep, dark hole below.
All the little flames seemed to be screaming the same thing: Run!
Entin triggered Sprint, paying the 10 Stamina, noting that he had 80/90 Current Max. He charged across the floor, bare feet slapping the stone.
More tiles fell away in a cascading effect like dominoes, tumbling in a wave that only left three dozen or so tiles hovering in a sea of blackness. Below—far, far below, only visible when lightning flashed—was a pit filled with thousands of spikes, sticking out in every direction.
Something else was down there, something big.
Entin jumped to a tile and scanned for available paths. It wasn’t just finding the next best jump but understanding where that placed him in the maze. It didn’t help that the tiles were still breaking apart, rendering one ideal path here or there as worthless.
A loud scraping sound came from below. Enormous black bones slithered along carved walls that led up to the main room. It was an undead snake. It had hundreds of curving ribs, the tips dragging across stone.
The tile he wanted burst apart, leaving him with only two choices. Dagnabbit! The snake wasn’t a direct danger; it was a distraction, a distraction that had worked.
Entin took the left path, jumping just as his tile dissolved into pixels. The next tile was way too far for any normal adventurer, but it connected with the correct path. He triggered the second variant of Dash and paid 20 Stamina to move twice the distance.
The world blurred, and he landed at the direct center of the tile, then immediately jumped to the next. He was back on the right path, which was great! Great . . . except for the tiny fact that these tiles were now outlined in yellow.
He charged across two more tiles, their outlines now red. The third tile floated just a few feet ahead but would be gone in a fraction of a second. Instead, he used the extra speed of Sprint and launched himself nearly ten feet, arms rotating as if slow motion, lightning clashing overhead, whitening out the room. . . .
He caught the edge of the tile, and the force pulled his body under, swinging precariously over all of those spikes far below. The next tile wasn’t even that far, then two more jumps and he’d be across.
But. . . .
The blue pixels that streamed up and over his fingers glowed brighter, warmer, an internal light begging to escape, then . . . pop!
They were yellow. The seconds ticked loudly in his brain as if he were at the end of some timed Run, on the verge of failure.
Entin pulled his weight up and caught a knee on the edge. The pixels turned red. . . . No no no! He triggered Roll, finished on his knee, then shoved off just as the tile became immaterial, robbing the force of his jump.
He arched forward, stretching out a hand for the next tile, knowing full well he’d miss it. Dash’s cooldown completed. In desperation, more than any logical thought, he threw his weight backward, missing the tile, then triggered Dash from below.
In a blur, he was suddenly above the tile—streams of twinkling red pixels flowing from its sides—completing a vertical Dash, something he had never even thought he could do. He twisted in the air, then fell through the tile, flakes of red light scattering.
He sucked in a breath. His stomach lurched. Every muscle flexed, frozen. A tingling sensation washed over him like he had plunged into cold water: shock, denial, fear. . . .
He reached out to nothing, reached out toward the thrashing night sky of painted shapes, toward the glaring red moon. The snake snatched him from the air, a fang through his torso, his health gone in a blink.
All the colors lost their vibrancy: the red moon turned gray; the yellow and red pixels of the remaining tiles sparkled white. A freezing chill shot through his veins, and he couldn’t move. Everything dimmed. Even the white flames and their horrified, sad expressions darkened to blackness.
From that darkness, the fragments of him shot skyward, through the dungeon walls, through the mountain and rocks and rivers and trees. He shot into the sky, into the Celestial Plane of stars.
Dagnabbit! He was so close this time.
The now-familiar voices of death murmured around him as if in constant discussion, but the words were too indistinct to discern. Warmth filled him, reassuring him that he would be okay, that death was not the end. This was the normal cycle of life.
Hundreds of Lands floated between the Celestial Plane of stars and the End Plane of ocean. The Lands, worlds in their own right, stretched out so far away in all directions that they lost their colors, becoming distant shapes, hiding their mysteries.
Why couldn’t anyone go to them? The developers were withholding information that might be helpful to everyone, but they chose silence. It just didn’t make sense. . . .
A map materialized. It revealed the City of Creannan, nestled in the corner of the Land next to a large lake and green fields. Most of the map was covered in unexplored darkness, only revealing the city and the small hike to the dungeon’s entrance.
You have died. Please choose your respawn location.
- City of Creannan
- Troken Dungeon
Entin moved . . . in a way. His body existed as an outline of stars as if he were one of the constellations he so enjoyed hearing stories about. He tapped the option for Troken Dungeon.
Everything stopped. The sound of a thousand people inhaling pressed in from all sides. The Lands blurred and warped. Colors stretched as if he had used a waypoint stone.
And then the world snapped back together. He had a body again, standing on dirt beneath a warm sun. Air rushed into his lungs, and after a long moment, enjoying the sensation of having lungs again, he exhaled a breath of disappointment.
It’s just another death. Part of the cycle. . . .
He leaned against the perfectly smooth stone that marked the dungeon’s entrance and slid to the ground. Cool mist churned about him like trapped clouds.
A dialog window pulled together from blue shapes of light, revealing information concerning his death.
- No equipped items were damaged
- Lost money: 14 scyl
- 1× Black Gloves [Unique · Rank 1]
- 1× Bag [Standard · 10 Slots]
- 1× Vial [Pig Snot\
And this was why he didn’t equip anything, not even clothing beyond the default tan shorts and shirt everyone had.
While Swift Light, his dagger, would give him +1 to his Speed attribute, it was worth way too much to risk. Maybe he should just sell it. What was the point of keeping a fancy dagger if he was never willing to use it?
The only thing he really lost was Stamina. The scyl and items would be right back where he had found them, waiting for his return. But his Stamina? He now had a Current Max of 85 out of his normal 110.
He sighed. The afternoon sun sifted through the trees. A far-off monster snorted somewhere. Birds whistled, playing on branches, flapping their wings every so often.
He’d just take a small break and recover some Stamina. The horrors within the dungeon could wait a few minutes. He closed his eyes and listened to the Wilds until something cracked.
Entin jerked up, already on his feet, slightly crouched in a Runners’ stance, dirt between his toes. He zeroed in on the sound instantly . . . a small group of adventurers.
“What have we here?” a heavyset man asked. He was likely the party’s leader, a tall man with olive-colored skin, brown hair, and carried a scabbarded longsword, unattached to anything. “Washed out of the dungeon, boy? Waiting on your party to bring you your gear?”
“Um . . . something like that,” Entin said.
The group only had three members: a young woman, maybe in her early twenties with long brunette hair, carrying a bow, and an older woman that didn’t look much different besides a few wrinkles. A family?
“Tough luck. We’d invite you to our group—always needing more adventurers—though, without your gear, you’d be rather useless in there.” The man pointed his index and middle finger at the dungeon’s entrance and twisted his wrist. He tapped a dialog box that appeared, and the portal opened, shimmering in blues and teals.
“Say,” the man said, turning back, “what group are you running with? Maybe I know them.”
Entin thought to say Lourne’s party, but that wasn’t right. Dying and sitting out here wasn’t Lourne’s fault. Saying so might make the guy look bad. And, well . . . saying nothing was just rude. “By myself this time.”
“By yourself?” the man said with no small amount of incredulity, then laughed. “Thought you’d conquer a dungeon all by yourself? Guess no one’s bringing back your gear then.”
“I . . .” Entin said, then stopped. Why was he telling them what he was doing? It wasn’t a dumb plan.
“Got some spunk, kid. What gear did you have? If we find it, I’ll get it back to you.”
Entin fidgeted. “I didn’t have any gear.”
The man barked a laugh and shook his head. “Got ourselves a bona fide newb. Wandering through dungeons without party or gear?”
“Pretty stupid,” the young woman said. Her gaze lacked any warmth, unapologetically hard, uncaring, and entirely unlike the man, who was still grinning broadly.
“And we can’t fix stupid.”
Entin crossed his arms. “I’m a Runner. It’s not stupid at all.”
“A Runner! Like in the market? What in Redeemers’ stupidity were you hoping to accomplish out here?”
“Dren, Ava. . . .” the older woman said sternly.
“What, hon? I’m not being rude, only curious, is all.”
Ava stepped up to the portal. “We’re late as it is, pa.”
“Right, right. Well, good luck Runner, with whatever you’re trying to do.” He laughed a final time and followed Ava through the portal.
The older woman had the most pitying of expressions, like Entin was a starving stray in need of a good warm home, a home she couldn’t provide. She offered him a small smile to solve all of his problems, then stepped into the portal.
The colors of the portal swirled, waves of magical energies clashing. This portal had a light-red X blocking passage. He wasn’t in their party, so he couldn’t join their instance. After a moment, the black crystals pulled away from the corners, and the central white crystal returned.
What did they know about being a Runner? It wasn’t stupid, and he’d prove it. If he had to die a dozen times every day, he’d do it and crack these dungeons until they spilled their treasures.
He thrust out his fingers and summoned the dungeon’s information.
- Dungeon Reset: 3h 24m
- Treasures: 5/5
- Leaderboard: Unclaimed
- Modifiers: None
Five treasures left. . . . No one even tried to claim them. Too dangerous. What would they think if a gearless Runner succeeded where they couldn’t?
He tapped the Accept button, and the portal spiraled to life. He’d make it happen. Today, tomorrow, next week? It’d happen, and when it did, all the adventurers would know about it.
He stared into the swirling colors, nodded once, then stepped through.