Chapter 7 – Page 5

“Lex!” Seven screamed. He was drowned out by the patrons’ screams as they tried to scatter. More heavily armed soldiers flooded in from every possible entrance. From what he could see, a red hatchet marked their left breasts. His eyes widened. He knew that symbol. He knew it too well. His breath came in shallow bursts as he looked frantically around for an escape route. The dark recesses of backstage beckoned him. He launched himself in that direction, only to find himself once more on the floor.

People screamed all around as he struggled up, finally noticing that his neck chain had been attached to a solid ring on the floor at some unknown time. He yanked at it, but it did nothing. He jerked as the first shots of gunfire rang out. He looked up and noticed the soldiers shooting wildly and several patrons falling into puddles of blood.

A bullet whizzed by Seven’s head, and he heard a grunt behind him. The oily, not-so-meek man who had brought him on stage crumpled with a gurgle, blood pouring from a bullet hole piercing right through his neck.

The well-dressed man on the stage barely took any notice of this. He was instead yelling incoherently at the top of his lungs as he waved with wide, angry motions at the men pouring out from the bowls of the auction house. Those men, while not as heavily armored, looked much more murderous than the invading soldiers. The chaos only deepened when they jumped into the fray while the well-dressed man disappeared off stage.

Bullets fired, people scrambled out of the way, and the chandelier broke. It fell like a boulder, slamming heavily into the gilded seating, skewering both armed and unarmed alike under its hulking weight. It brought about a brief lull in the fight, only seconds worth, but it was enough for Lex to make it to the stage with Rowan right behind him, providing cover. (more…)

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Fly West

My world is unsteady,
a living, breathing thing.
Though I’ve lost all control,
it still continues to sing.

It’s still dying, though,
A slow and painful death.
It loses something, something
with each and every breath.

A parasite lives off it,
sucking, slurping up its soul,
every time, a little more,
widening the hole.

With only one option left,
I turned then towards you.
The hope I gathered up
And placed, it slowly grew

And blossom into a savior,
Though, it’s my fault you suffered.
But you stayed strong and steady.
Like a sea wall, you buffered.

My joy, you conquered,
And a hero returned,
Saved all these wounded souls,
Yet your own soul, it burned.

Well done, my dear brave one.
I must now lay you to rest,
Though it grieves me, you
On the last wind, fly west.

Overgrowth

I am not sure what I’m feeling
As I, once healthy,
Walk through the thicket. It
Reminds me of the growth
Defined by overgrowth, of
The cancerous sort, a line drawn
In the sand that marks those
Alive and those even more
So.

I am not sure how I feel.
The feeling rages until it
Is looked for. Then, it all
But disappears, leaving me
Exhausted, confused, and alone.
Well, it has happened once
Before.

Back, long ago, when my hair
Grew past my knees, and
My elbows were always
Skinned from running,
Tripping, falling in glee.
Those were simple days,
Until the day where it all
Came spilling down, and
I was lonely.

I stared at walls,
Washed white like bone dust
And caking like mud in
Those volcanic mud pots.
It smelled like it, too,
Maybe not the rotten egg
Sort of smell, but one just
As stomach turning.

I’d always fiddle with the
Edge of my sheets–tears,
Well, they’d threaten to
Fall as the doctor came and went,
Sometimes sticking needles in
My sore, worn, bruised crook
of the arm. Too many have been
Stuck there before.

I ached. My bones ached.
Everything ached,
But, I hated the nurse more.
The doctor at least was
Apathetic. He would tell me
Directly–no softening of words–
Exactly my plight. She, however,
Tried to cushion it, covering it
With a heavy layer of sugar
And pity.

I would ignore her and stare at
Those powdery white walls, trying
Not to feel for hair long gone,
Like the ghosts that line the
Closets of my dreams, the ones that
Come out to play at night. Instead,
A bare–no, let’s be real–a bald
Head would meet my hand.

I wouldn’t say that I am
Better now. I’ve recovered,
True, but that roller-coaster
Of emotion, I am still strapped
On it. They say the cancer is
Gone, but there is always
That fear, lingering, hiding
In the corner of my mind
In a mocking manner, and
Because of it, I cannot
Sleep.

Instead, I stare at powdery
Blue walls, and contemplate
Exactly what it is I am
Feeling, until the feeling
Runs away amidst the memories–
Ones between it and I–of a
Time when I once ambled through
The same thicket as I did
Today–a child once blissful.
And now I wonder, was it then
That I lived a life without
Pain? And where did that
Bliss go?

4.2 – The Ikwir

Luyo lxats’ben won diri so Ikwir. While not as dangerous as the Rhew in terms of the environment’s ability to kill, I assure you, the Ikwir is no less deadly. The cold doesn’t dampen hunger there, and no one seems to know why the things in the north grow so big. I did try traveling through the place to see if I could discover the original city of Automaton. You know, Dig and I found on our Yat’al’ that we can hold our own in a fight against almost everything we come across, at least long enough to run away, which is more than most can say. But the wolves there… I’m not to keen on ever meeting them again. That was  too close a call, huh, Dig? I wouldn’t want to run into a Fenrir there.

—  A Yat at his ariyaqori festival

 

[Ambient Aura VIII] –> [Ambient Aura IX]: You’re ability to use auras has almost reached its highest level. You are beginning to realize the truth of auras. Partings do not last forever. Every soul is connected. (Due to the strength of your longing, due to your pain and your loss, you have found a way to connect to the River of Souls using your combined auras to form |Aura of Rebirth|)

 

This… What is this? No, I’m serious. What is this? I can feel it. My hands are starting to tremble. Is this…? Can I really? Is this what I think it is? Will I be able to…?

I take a deep breath and hold it, letting my mind go blank. I sit like that for several seconds, then I let it all out in a massive puff of air. Alright. Let’s try. It can’t hurt, can it? I trigger |aura of rebirth|.

I jolt as the world suddenly goes black.

No, not black. It’s more like I’ve been cut off from the outside world and completely confined within my core. I can’t see anything, but instinctively I know not to panic. It feels different from the time I spent all my mana. That was an overwhelming, suffocating darkness where I couldn’t see, hear, or feel anything. While I can’t see or hear anything, this time I feel… a flow. A current. It moves and swirls around me in a similar way that mana does, only more subtle. If mana was a river, this would be a breath of wind, constantly moving in swirling eddies around me almost like it wasn’t there in the first place.

I reach out and touch an eddy next to me with a tendril of thought. It dodges my tendril and swirls a bit away and then closer again, brushing up slightly against my core before racing out again. I laugh a little. It feels strange, alive, maybe even a bit mischievous. I chase after it with my tendril. It swirls in loops, always dodging my tendril by just a hair. I laugh again.

Then, the eddy stops. I slow my tendril in confusion. I feel it turn and swirl in spot once before slipping next to my tendril. It reaches out and takes a hold of my tendril like it was grabbing my hand, then launches off towards the sky. It moves so fast that my tendril stretches and thins to the point of snapping. I know it. I know it to the bottom of my core that that’s bad. It’s a very, very bad idea to let it break. I can’t let that happen.

Hurriedly, I feed more of my thought into my tendril so that it’s no longer threatening to snap like an overstretched rubber band. But, now I feel myself thinning as I’m drawn out of my core by the eddy. It’s almost to the point where I can barely hold a grip to my core. I’m starting to panic a bit now. I don’t know where this eddy is dragging me, and it’s grip on my tendril is too strong for me to let go, but if this keeps on much longer, I’m going to slip right out of my core. I don’t know what’s going to happen if I do. Am I going to die?

Right about when I feel my grip slip, the eddy stops, and I’m left gasping and heaving. Too close. I’m stretched so taunt that it’s like the last rope holding up a breaking bridge. It feels like any breath of wind will break me now.

I feel something else now though, something moving fast. Both the eddy and my tendril are buffeted by the current. My stretched out thought-body strains. Ow ow ow. Am I a kite string now? The eddy begins moving against the current, more carefully now, so as not to break me. It touches me to something that feels almost solid amidst the flow, like a rock or a pillar. My tendril sinks into it, and almost instantly the tension on my body dissipates. My drawn out body starts to dissolve in the middle, slipping back into both my core and the pillar. Suddenly, it’s like my body is in two different places at once. Like it’s overlapping in two different dimensions. Or maybe it was actually my soul…

That was something to ponder later. I give a shake as I open Dial’s eyes. I can see the world again through the statue. But now, I can also feel the current buffering around me. It feels right almost like it’s always been there. A screen pops up.

 |Aura of Rebirth| has been activated. You have successfully formed a connection with the River of Souls. You have earned the achievement – |River Keeper!| – As a caretaker of the River of Souls, you are the first. You know this river. You know its currents and its bends. You know when it is healthy, and when it is sick. ({Aegis (0/5000)} path; [Forewarn III] -> [Forewarn IV] – feel the state of the world through the River of Souls; +basic understanding of the thoughts and feelings of souls; due to karma, you’ve gained a special reward: +100 aegis points – you can choose to spend them this once or wait (the more points, the bigger the soul you can reincarnate; the skill –[Rebirth]–  is a locked skill under {Aegis (0/5000)} and can only be used once due to the effects of karma))

 

Before I can even have the chance to really read the screen, another screen pops up.

You have detected a soul that has refused to leave your side. In doing so, it has resisted the pull of the River of Souls. It’s overwhelming need to protect you has caused it to begin degrading over time. It will eventually revert to its original state. Warning, this will reduce the soul to pre-reincarnation status. It will no longer have intelligence if allowed to continue.

 

I whirl around me, searching for the soul.

“Oroesi? Oroesi! Why are you still here?!” I see him now, faint, flickering like a dying candle in the breeze. “No! You can’t do that! You need to go! You need to leave right now!” I yell at him. He shakes his head and slips inside Dial to pat my core.

“Stop. Why would you do this? You’ll stop being you.” My understanding of this world’s reincarnations process was still limited, but I knew that if he kept being here, he would lose everything that defined him. He would be something else, the basest form of soul with no thought or feeling.

He grins, then mimics a sobbing face and pats my core again. His body flickers again. He’s fainter than before. Urgency fills me. He doesn’t have much time. My eyes dart around, desperately searching for a solution. A line on the first screen catches my eye – soul you can reincarnate. The words feel like they lodge in my throat. I look at Oroesi and without hesitation:

You have chosen to spend 99 Aegis points to reincarnate: Oroesi»|. Please wait…

 

A flash of light surrounds Oroesi. He looks at his immaterial arms in confusion before he’s flung out of Dial and into a whirling mass of ice and snow, which begins to condense around him.

My core lodges in Dial’s throat. Anxiousness assails me. If this doesn’t work… If I’m doing this wrong, and it’s actually going to hurt him… The sharp stone nails lining Dial’s fingertips dig into his palm. I’m clenching it so hard, the claws are starting to puncture through to the other side of his hand. With a bit of conscious effort, I relax the giant hand, then look up at the whirlwind surrounding Oroesi.

The wind has picked up now. I have use Dial’s hand to shield Rosehip–the poor, confused little snowdrop dragon–from being pulled into the icy tornado. Most of the snowdrop flowers and a good portions of the rose-bush rooted on Dial’s head tear off and fly into the cyclone. I look down at the Devin golem down by hiding behind Dial’s feet. She’s trying the best her semi-autonomous mind can allow her to not to get sucked in as well.

Then, as sudden as it began, the wind stops and the snow flutters to the ground, revealing something within the eye of the once whirling cyclone. The tiny thing in the center begins to fall a beat after the drifting snowflakes. I reach out and gently catch it in Dial’s hand.

Oroesi»| has been reincarnated as a [Winter Axolotl] (infant)

 

“Oroesi, you’re…” I stare.

So tiny. He’s about the size of a kitten. He’s pale, very pale, so white he could blend in with the snow, with wide set black eyes above a dorky, grinning guppy mouth. Three tendrils fan out like palm fronds on either side of his face and he has a tail like a tad pole’s.

“Rrrrrriiiiiiiiiiiiiieeeeeeppp!” He chirps at me as he slaps one of his front feet a couple of times from where he rests on Dial’s palm. Of course, I don’t feel a thing, but it’s cute to see, nonetheless. He puffs out his fronds like he’s proud of himself. I give a laugh. That’s my Oroesi. Always trying to prove he’s a tough guy.

I lower him to the ground, then transfer my conscious back over Devin just so I can hug him. My core is still in Dial, just my mind is back in my old golem.

“I’m glad you’re back,” I say, squeezing him a little more that I should. He gives a dissatisfied grunt, but bares with it. I feel like a huge rock has been lifted off my shoulders. I’ve lost a lot of my family, but at least Oroesi’s back. Albeit in a much different form… Though, this one makes me want to cuddle with him always.

I snuggle with him for several minutes more before I sigh and push some mana into him. I’m careful. I haven’t tried this before, because I was too nervous. It felt kind of wrong to directly interfere with another creature, and I was really scared that I would make a mistake and ruin them forever, but now I think it’s worth the chance. I don’t want to lose him again, so this time, I’ll make him stronger.

Shakily, I guide the mana into his body. He shifts uncomfortably in my arms, but otherwise stays still. I close my eyes and feel how his body breathes and pulses. It feels me with a sense of wonder and joy that I spend several minutes more just watching him. He’s alive!

I give a grin, and wander a little deeper. I can feel his hidden talents, there buried underneath the beating of his heart, but for now, I leave them be. I focus on his bones first, and there I discover something that makes me extremely happy.

Mana is stranger than I thought. I’ve always been using it more as a third hand. Well, actually as my only hand if you only look at my core… I create and shape things like I would on a pottery wheel, slowly working it until I have a decent vase or whatever. Either that, or the effects trigger automatically in a mana fueled skill without me really understanding how it works.

Maybe it was because Oroesi’s mine, because my mana helped recreate him, or maybe that he’s been with me for a long time now, but working the mana felt different inside him. I thought I’d have to reshape his bones, maybe even reinforce them with diamond, which I honestly don’t know if that would be a good thing or not. He might have collapsed under the weight, now that I think about it.

The mana falls like snow on his bones, melting into them. As I feed in more, sprouts emerge from the mana and bone. They grow as more mana is added. I twirl them around and around and thread them through the cells of the bone. The mana seeps in even deeper, carving out slight groves to allow the mana to flow through the bones easier. It looked almost as if someone had decorated his bones in with carved vines.

[Oroesi]’s bones have become Mana Strengthened. (+2 to strength and defense, +20 health, 10% more mass)
Ever wonder why dungeons only seem to have one type of monster? – Ifanc, explorer of oldCongratulations! Late bloomers and the most beautiful.

[Dungeon Evolution]: With the amount of time it took for you to learn this, you would be the runt of the litter if there was one. (Allows for dungeons to evolve their creatures in the direction they wish. No technical knowledge required.)

 

Wait for it.

Wait for it…

I facepalm. I stand there for several seconds, then groan, rubbing my hand over my face. I tilt my head back and stare at the sky.

“You could have told me earlier!” I yell. “You could have told me so many things earlier! It would have made everything soooo much easier!!! Thanks SOOOOO much for that! All this time, here I was taking the freaking slow route! Through Natural Evolution!!”

You’re Welcome

 

“Ha! You think you’re so funny!” I say with a frustrated, suppressed sort of half scream. [Dungeon Evolution]. [Dungeon evolution]. That implies it’s a skill for dungeons. What am I? A level 32 dungeon that has just learned freaking [dungeon evolution]. Sound familiar? [Mana absorption] ring a bell? Anyone? Anyone??? I grind my teeth.

My thoughts flash back to what little I remember before I came a core. That one instant, single point in time that I couldn’t even tell if it was real, where a mass amount of strange feelings came pouring into my being. I fought, raged, against them, pushing most of it out again. The little bits that were left were the strange instincts of a newly born dungeon.

That meant the rest of those life saving instincts had flow out the window. Including all the stupid skills like [dungeon evolution] and [mana absorption] that I know for a fact I was supposed to have learned long ago. All out the window. You know. OUt tHe FreAKINg WinDOW! I almost died several times, THANK YOU VERY MUCH!

Oroesi rubs his head against my cheek as I stew. He’s definitely gotten bigger since I strengthened his bones. Now he’s more of a small house cat, maybe little dog sized. The type that bark incessantly.

“I’m glad you didn’t turn into one of those,” I say, looking down at him, before returning to my glowering at the screen mocking me with “You’re Welcome.” Oroesi gives a giiiiiiiirrrrup sound, kind of like he’s gurgling and blowing spit bubbles at the same time. It’s a weird sound, but kinda cute. He rubs his head again, and his frills tickle my cheek.

“Don’t worry, I’m not sulking,” I say. “But, just so you know, if I ever somehow meet whoever is behind these screens, know that I WILL beat him, or her, to an inch of their life. It’s just a tiny bit of payback, nothing harmful.” I smile sweetly at Oroesi. He cocks his head up at me.

Please don’t.

 

I sigh and look to the sun that’s just starting to peek over the horizon.

“You seem to be talking more.” I look back at the blue screens. “Hey, are you an actual person?” I get no response.

“Figures. Alright, Oroesi. Let’s leave this place. It’s been attacked way too often for my liking.” I carry him over to Dial, and we ride his hand up to the top of his head like an elevator. I carve out a bit of Dial’s stone helm to look a bit like a crest, which also functions as a nice reclining chair. I sit down on it with Oroesi on my lap. Rosehip flies over and curls up for a nap on my shoulder. I pat her head. She’s had a rough day. Or couple of days, now that I think about it.

“Alright, Oroesi, which way to you think we should go?” He gurgles as he pats my left hand.

“West it is.” I start directing Dial to walk. Already the sun is starting to climb low over the horizon to the south. In the next few hours, it’ll be dark again.

“Should we head a bit south? It’d be nice to have more sunlight?” I rub my chin. “Or I guess we could just wait until summer. The sun’s up all the time then. I don’t know how long away that is though. Hm… Welp I miss the sun. And green things. Heading a bit south shouldn’t hurt. I’d be attacked by those worms no matter where I go, anyway.” I shift Dial a bit more towards the south.

We sit in silence as we travel. I hesitate a bit as we reach the furthest point where my domain has ever spread. The feeling assaults me that the first time in my life I’m going to be moving outside  my domain. The thought scares me, and for a moment, I want to run back to the place Harbor once stood, the place I opened my eyes for the first time, the place where I had live all my life so far. It’s only been a few measly months, a half a year at most, but the place has always been my home. I look longingly back, and even though there’s nothing there but ice, I feel like I can almost see the mountains that once rose up.

Oroesi crawls up onto my shoulder and rests his head on mine, looking out over what was once my domain with me, then he pats my eyebrow comfortingly. I sigh and pat him back.

“Yeah, I know. We should go.” I start Dial walking once again, holding my breath as we cross the nonexistent barrier at the edge of what was once my domain. For a second there, I had a feeling, a fear and a hope all mixed together in one, that I wouldn’t be able to cross that line, much like long ago, I wasn’t able to leave that first igloo I made.

I look back at the invisible line receding behind us and marvel at how much I’ve changed since then. I scrunch up my face then turn back around again, moving Dial to quicken his pace.

“And off we go.” Oroesi gives an agreeing blleeek and crawls back into my lap. I lean back and return to pushing mana into the axolotl, this time, threading it through his muscles like a shuttle through a loom, humming as I go. He, on the other hand, starts to practice blowing spit bubbles. I smile and shake my head a bit.

Watching him, however, I notice that his bubbles are getting larger and more opaque as he blows, until eventually, they detach and began to float away like true soap bubbles and pop. He keeps at it until they last longer and longer before popping and soon we’re surrounded by floating bubbles. They trail after us like a gossamer shawl floating in the wind. He gleeks in delight.

I reach up and pop one of the bubbles with a finger. A light mist from the bubble coats my finger. I stare, shocked when my finger begins to stiffen. I try to move it, when abruptly, my finger snaps off, bouncing off Dial and falling to the snow behind us. My mouth hangs open at the missing finger on my hand. Oroesi stares too, his eyes wide in horror at what his bubbles had done. He hurries over and begins to lick the stump like he’s trying to make the finger come back.

“Oroesi,” I say, “Your bubbles are freaking scary. That’s some freezing power they have, somehow insta-freezing even ice… You know, I’m not even going to question how that’s possible. I don’t even know anymore.” I shake my head and reform Devin’s finger out of mana, then turn back to working mana into Oroesi. While doing so, I subtly push a bit of air around us to make the bubbles avoid us.

Oroesi licks my finger in apology.

“Don’t worry about it.” I pat him. “Actually, keep practicing. It’ll keep you safer in the future.” I grin down at him and finish feeding the last bit of mana in to his muscles.

[Oroesi]’s muscles have become Mana Strengthened. (+2 to strength, +3 to endurance, +20 health, 10% more mass)

 

I smile as Oroesi grows a bit bigger. Oroesi gleeks and shakes his legs a bit to get used to the new size. I look around a notice the sun about to set. I have been at it longer than I thought.

The landscape has changed too. It’s still very icy, but bits of rock are beginning to poke up out of the ice. The wind blows through the land differently as well, carving out strange ice formations as it swirls from further north. Curling arches and hanging cliffs appear as we head south. I stare jealously at ices caves with mouths lined with sharp icicles. If only I had been born in one of those instead.

Something else catches my eye. It’s small and stunted and shriveled looking, but that’s definitely a tree. I know that Dial has massive strides, and that we’ve traveled quite far in the last few hours, but I still wasn’t expecting to find one so soon.

I start as a blue screen pops up.

You have left the Rhew and entered the region known as the Ikwir, or the Northern Border. Life flourishes. Take care to watch for increased traffic in monsters.

 

“Okay…then,” I murmur. I stare as we slowly pass the tree by. I look up to my right, up on top of a rising bluff carved out of snow. I squint against the setting sun and can almost make out something standing there. Light ripples of the snow, and whatever it was is gone.

I give a shudder. If I wasn’t just seeing things, that thing was massive. Oroesi bleeks at the bluff.

“You saw that too? We should be fine. Even if it’s huge, we have something just as big.” I pat Dial on its massive head. “Let’s keep going.”

The landscape gets stranger as we go along. We pass under icy overhangs that creek and groan, straining under the weight of snow piled on top. We pass by thick pillars of ice carved by wind into shapes that vaguely resemble growing creatures or buildings of a far distant age. Hillocks, smooth and covered in blankets of snow remind me of sleeping giants or monsters like up on the bluff.

Snow slips off as we pass another of these hillocks resting off a ways in the distance, and for a second, I swear I saw an eye starting at me from underneath. I stop and stare at it as the last ray of sunlight disappears from the horizon, some time after even, until some sort of bird hoots in the distance.

“We should keep going,” I say while turning away. I start us moving again. I’ve never had problems with the dark, usually surrounded by various glowing things, ut now I’m hesitant to light anything up. Things are beginning to move in the dark. This wasn’t something I had thought would happen considering the extreme cold. Every little sound makes me start. Even Dial’s slow crunching through the snow brings no comfort. I have to fight the urge to stop Dial every time I hear something.

A few paces later, and my breathing is even heavier. Oroesi crawls back up to my shoulders to stand as lookout. He croons and pats my head worriedly. Rosehip has continued to sleep through it all.

A few more steps, and I’m feeling woozy. White spots flicker in my vision, and non-existant bile rises in my throat. The feeling rises straight from my core. Both the sentinel and the golem are affected. Devin slumps where she’s sitting as Dial’s steps begin to falter. He can barely support his own weight anymore.

Oroesi gives a surprised graaaaaak as the next step sends us crashing down into the snow.

“I think, maybe we should stop for the night,” I say, wiping off a face full of snow. The sick feeling settles a bit now that we;re not moving. We all freeze when we hear a wolf howl from very, very close.

“And that settles it. How much are you willing to bet those wolves are much nastier than I think they are?” My voice cracks. I scramble up, only to crash back over into a pile of snow.

Warning: Domain Sick – you have gone too long without the support of a domain. Time spent outside an established domain will result in Mana Degradation.

 

My head swims as I try to read the words on the screen that just appeared. I’m distracted as another howl sounds, this time even closer.

“Dial!” I yell, “Dig!” I struggle to point to the snow bank in front of us. At this point, I’m barely even thinking clearly, much less controlling the sentinel. This results in  dishing out a series of increasingly slurred commands. as my head pounds like a drum.

“Ooroeesi,” I twist over to look at him shaking off the snow, “Where iss Rosehhip? Finnnd Rosehipp.” He looks over at me with a gleek, and then bounds off looking for the tiny dragon. She’s going to be hard to find. I grimace, and try to flip myself over.

A few attempts later, and I successfully roll myself out of the snow drift I landed in. Oroesi snuffles in the snow, digging awkwardly. He pauses every few seconds to stare into the darkened distance, before returning to digging with renewed vigor. Dial digs behind me, sending large handfuls, or more like boatfuls, of snow and ice flying yards away.

I sway woozily, watching as it flies through the air, before turning to stare off into the dark. I squint. Those are… eyes? Yellow eyes p-popping up one after another, growing brighter as it gets even darker. If it weren’t for the eyes, I don’t think I’d be able to see them. They blend into the snow so easily, that you couldn’t even tell they were there even when they moved. I am staring at, easily, over thirty wolves the size of grizzly bears. I shiver as they slowly circle closer. Oroesi digs even faster.

“Diiiiaaaaaaaaaaall!” I yell. “Dial, Wooollvvvves!” He spins around from the bank just as the wolves launch themselves forward. Oroesi bleeks in shock, digs as fast as he can for a second longer, then lunges to grab the freshly uncovered Rosehip out of the snow.

Dial drops down onto all fours as Oroesi makes a mad dash back towards me. Dial roars. The wolves flinch at the sound, giving Oroesi the second he needs to make it back. he drops Rosehip in my lap before scuttling back to make an aggressive stance in front of me.

I wince as Dial makes clumsy swings at the wolves. I;m going to have to teach him how to fight later. I launch long magma projectiles at the wolves, nailing a couple of them. The rest, however, nimbly dodge the spears. They hiss and sizzle in the snow, but provide a dim, glowing barrier between us and the wolves. They hesitantly circle around it.

I send more projectiles out as Oroesi begins blowing a large amount of bubbles. The wolves dodge my projectiles while ignoring the bubble drifting towards them. Or at least, they did until one of the bubbles pops against a wolf’s head. It promptly freezes everything the bubble’s mist touches, a good half the head, which then crumbles to pieces when the wolf tries to move. It then keels over. Everything but Dial freezes at the sight. I don’t think even Oroesi was expecting that kind of power from the bubbles.

Dial manages to bring a palm swinging down and smashes five wolves during that time period. The wolves launch themselves at the sentinel, clawing and smashing chunks out of its skin. And, Dial just stands there. This isn’t working. I stare nauseous at the scene as Oroesi blows out more bubbles. A few wolves detach themselves and send blades of light from their claws, popping swathes of bubbles. I try to launch more projectiles, but motion sickness overwhelms me. I didn’t know dungeon cores could get motion sick. I think manipulating mana makes me more sick.

Alright, trying different approach, since Dial doesn’t know how to fight properly. I concentrate, trying my best to ignore the dizziness, and shift my consciousness back over to Dial. I takes me a second, but I manage to slip in. I swallow down the need to faint and open my eyes.

It hurts! I can feel the stupid wolves biting me! But, this is good, good. It’s waking me up. I grit my teeth and howl at the wolves. I unfurl Dials tail and send it swinging at the wolves slowly getting closer to Oroesi through the field of bubbles. They squeal oddly as they are launched into the air towards me. I smack them down into the snow. They sit there twitching. One was even buried up to his neck in snow.

A bite on my thigh brings me back to the ones swarming me. I rip one off my arm and send it flying into the bubble field. Several bubbles burst, and the wolf practically disintegrates into chunks of ice. I rip another two off and send them flying as far as I can. They disappear into the night, leaving only faint yelps from when they land seconds later.

Annoyed, I glare at the wolves below me, smacking a few of them as they came in from different angles. They slam hard into the icy side of the bluff, hard enough to stick. Then, I jump. The movement shakes wolves off my legs and chest, and one was unlucky enough to be directly below me when I fell back down. I avoid looking at the squished pile of wolf.

At this point, I’m starting to run out of steam. The pain is no longer enough to keep me from almost keeling over, but I hold steady as best I can. There are just less than half the wolves left, but they are clearly less enthusiastic about attacking. We form a impasse, each side staring at the other, warily waiting for the other to move. Before they can start gathering their courage for another attack, I lean forward slightly and roar in their faces.

The wolves yelp and scatter into the dark. Moments later, so does my consciousness.

Status Menu
Name: Haven [Locked]–Dial Race: Legendary Dungeon Level: 32 Attribute: Green
Health: 583/852 (13/min) Mana: 87/1136 (15/min) State: Dungeon Sick; Mana Degradation – Severe nausea, confusion, motion sickness; difficulty directing mana, stored mana dissipates*
Biomes: 3 Floors: ?%Ξ] Named Monsters: 3
Monsters: 0 Animals: 0* Plants: 0*
[Ξ]
Path Points: 13; Aegis Points: 1*
Paths: {Beginner VI (0/30)} {Ingenuity V (0/130)} {Valiant III (0/200)} {Defender VI (0/100)} {Architect III (0/150)} {Strategist III (30/95)} {Survivor II (30/50)} {Destroyer I (55/100)} {Failure III (14/30)} {Aegis (0/5000)}*
Skills:  [Ambient Aura IX] [Gardener VI] [Karma IV] [Natural Projectile VII] [Core Teleportation] [Epithet] [Elemental Manipulation X] [Biome Creation] [Fluid Floors] [Golem Creation] [Loyalty] [Tranquility] [Warding V] [Forewarn IV]* [Mana Absorption] [Standstill III] [Cooking II] [Purity] [Create] [Bravery] [Dungeon Evolution]*
Achievements: |Ingenuity!| |Powerful!| |Dauntless!| |Against the Odds!| |Crack Shot!| |Breeder!| |Safe Guard!| |Creator of Wonders!| |Leader!| |Besieged!| |Bloody!| |Fall of a Domain!| |River Keeper!|*
Causes:  Against the World»| — 5
[Ξ]
Auras: |Aura of Light| |Aura of Warmth| |Aura of Fury| |Aura of Souls| |Aura of Protection| |Aura of the Lost| |Calming Aura| |Aura of the Seed| |Aura of Rebirth|
Fire: Main, Magma, Lightening Water: Main, Ice, Acid, Liquid Nitrogen Earth: Main, Plants, Minerals, Metal, Wax, Chalk, Jade, Diamond, Amber Gold Air: Main, Toxic Gas

 

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4.1 – The Lonely Sentinel

Farewell, I bid you
Again, like once in a
Random occurrence
Ever so long ago.

This nostalgic scene
Happened by coincidence,
Either that or by fate’s
Ernest, heartfelt wishes.

Wring not you hands, and
End all your worries.
Let us meet anew in
Lands we’ve yet explored.

— Severa of the Adlet; A Song of Parting

Screaming out my lungs really clears the cobwebs in my head. I take a deep breath and slap my cheeks, then step back to take a look at Dial, my new sentinel. Honestly, it’s not my best job, all hard lines and no grace, but at this point, I don’t care. If a strange, massive, armored thing works, it works. Still, he almost reminds me of that type of monkey…an…an ape, except with a tail. A very angry ape thing… But his fierce face fills me with confidence, like I finally have something I can rely on, which is surprisingly hard to come by in this world.

Well, enough of that. I’d better look through my screens since I’ve put them off long enough. With all the commotion and crazy stuff happening, I just haven’t had the time or the mood to actually look through them. In retrospect, that might not have been the best idea…

I shake my head as they all flicker into view at once, and I’m reminded why I didn’t want to do this. It’s a wall of text several screens thick. Ug… not to mention, they’re all jumbled together. I’m not even sure what order they’ve popped up now. It’s been a whole month, after all. Let’s see… I wonder if the contents will clump together if I…There! (more…)

3.10 – Encroaching

Hm? What is this? A lizard? There’s something weird about it. It looks funny. Why are its eyes yellow? Is it… It’s crying! But a lizard crying? What in the world is going on? There must be something wrong with it. Wait a second. Let me get a bit closer. Is that… is that blood? Ug. What’s that smell? It’s horrid. Urg. I feel sick. No, stay back there. Don’t come down here, Dmetr. Something’s weird. I don’t like it. We need to get out of here. 

Ban, at Fare Caolan 

War. It’s been coming steadily. I can feel it as I gaze at the at the setting sun. Something far to the south is building strength. But then, so will I. I’m no longer hesitating. I decided that needed to get as big as I could as soon as possible. And by big, I meant my forces. I needed more people at my back. The only way to do that is to expand, open more rifts to strange places no matter the danger involved.

War is coming. Of that, I have no doubt. There have been little signs. The gwisin was the first real sign, like the first snow of winter coming much too early. He wasn’t the last. This month has been war, only it was just the beginning of something that is frightening.

It’s not just the things I consider little now, like the increasingly frequent eira attacks. Two days ago alone, there were four separate waves that invaded my territory. They had been attacking consistently as far back as when Namena appeared, only they would get lost and subsequently most often fall in the lava pits. I hardly noticed them until one of them managed to break through almost all the way to Harbor. They’ve been learning. If only it had just that.

I look down. My hand trembles. Too often. Too often I’ve taken lives now. A disaster. I clench my fist. It wasn’t just the eira that I pierce through with projectiles. It was the lives of those things, and of my own.

The first came through shortly after I planted my next dimensional ice tree, not long after Namena left–the first step of gathering more under my cause. It was little. A small, almost fox-like thing with sandy fur and large, bat like ears. I only had a glimpse at it as it entered before it launched itself at my face. A projectile later, it was writhing on the ground with a hole through its lungs. It was then I got a good glimpse at it. It was frothing at the mouth, bleeding from its eyes and ears and nose. A strange smell wafted up from its flesh. It was sweet, like roasted almonds, but sickening so with hints of rotting plum. I gagged. Even my sliver fish wouldn’t get near it, and they’re carrion eaters. I cremated it in lava and cut off the connection to that ice tree. It swiftly withered.

(more…)

3.9 – South Pass

Vermis Harenae, the common sandworm, most often found in the deserts of Suon Kiin. Legends often characterize sandworms as massive worms bent solely on eating man (or caravan). There has only been one known case where a sandworm has ever attacked a caravan. This was due to several reasons including a severe drought, being driven out of its own territory, and idiotic provocation on part of the caravan. Rather than caravans, the main diet of sandworms are rocs from the Milana Mountains, which come down to eat cicada foxes of the desert. Sandworms and cicada foxes have a unique, symbiotic relationship. Cicada foxes have a distinctive call they sound when attacked by rocs. It vibrates at a distinct frequency allowing it to penetrate deep into the sand. Sandworms will pick up that sound and come to eat the rocs, often rescuing the cicada foxes in the process. Sandworms themselves are solitary creatures. It is rare to see more than one at once except for annual mating migration, a three-month long process which redefines their territories. As such, sandworms do not raise their own young, leaving them out in the desert soon after birth. Cicada foxes will often take it upon themselves to raise the sandworm larvae (often called cicadas) to adulthood. 

– Compendium of Monsters, 778

 

South Pass? That mean big wall? We take long to walk across much grass to it. It big, strange. Long wall packed hard sand. Tall as Home tree. Wide as many, many Home tree. Air dry. Not like. Make scales rough and thirsty. Group walk up to wall. Something make ring sound from inside wall.

“Who goes?” Man at top of wall shout.

“Members of the King’s Guard of Seven Cities,” Shiny say. Small door opens in big, big gate in side of wall. One. Two shiny men rush out and push group inside.

“Better hurry,” one man say. “Storm’s coming. Nothing good happens if you’re outside when it hits. We’ll check your documents inside.”

Group walk inside wall. More shiny men inside. Too many shiny men now. Can’t tell apart! How will I know my shiny men from new shiny men? Fish Tail! Help! Too much shiny. Make I dizzy! I slip from Fish Tail head, but he catch so I alright.

“Hey, what’s wrong, little guy? Excuse me, could I ask for a cup of water?” Fish Tail ask.

“What is that?” Big shiny man say. More shiny men follow him. He wave man to poor water into weird bowl and hand to Fish Tail.

“I believe it is an evolved sliver fish.” Fish Tail slide I into bowl. Water feel nice. Skin much to dry, but it soak water now. I feel better. Thanks, Fish Tail.

“A sliver fish? This far south?” Big Man say. He lead group down hall and to door.

“Yes. Strange things do happen from time to time.” Big Man laugh.

“Here, you can have your men rest here. If the leader of this group would follow me. Yen, you too.” Much of group go into room. We not follow them? No, look like Fish Tail and old friend Shiny follow Big Shiny Man into different room.

(more…)

Qwerty

Quarter staff in the mind is no simple timid thing.
Wallow in the rind of the water’s tepid gleam.
Ever you will take the hollow breaker’s fright
Right from the drake and the early morning light.
Tender is the pine of the elk and spittle short;
Yonder comes the silk from the spider’s sodden port.
Up in the rafter reigns the queen of dungeon be
In quiet softly sheen to take the wilted patterns three.
Often breaks the morn under blood red moon undone
Privy to the horn of the ship of glory none.

As to seven brides that right what once was wrong,
Seven deadly sides to ponder all along.
Do not go asunder in the murky after thought;
Forgo the sudden plunder of the wicked and the rot.
Grand burnt daydreams fill the city’s underbelly
Holding silver in the seams and gold within the lily.
Jitter poster-boys deep within the well
Kill time and ploys while lauding the padded cell.

Let not hidden rings turn toward bidden doors.
Zap and topple kings in the mists of molten moors.
X-ray certain windows from the long begotten souls
Coming from the willows and the fighter of the holes.
Verily I say to the woman in the sea:
Burn down the chapel and raise up the tree.
Never shall I walk down that dark turned placid lane.
Muster up the sound of that callow gritty pain.

3.8 – Island Oasis

Hallowed souls,
We see thee,
Struggling on the edge of decay.
How may we free thee?
Like broken bowls,
We mourn for thee,
Shattered into dust at the end of the day.
How must we save thee?
Oh hollowed holes,
We hold thee,
With trembling hands to rest we lay
Thy fragmented body.

— The Lament, Hymn of the Temple of the Sun

It… What? How?

I have no idea what’s going on right now? There’s a… but dead? No, wait, I must be dreaming. There’s no way a skeleton can move. No way this thing in front of me is a skeleton. It’s just a really nice person, in a creepy mask, smiling, holding a hand to help me up. Yeah. That’s it. That’s what it is.

The figure leans down further, its hand stopping right in front of my nose. The glove on its hand does nothing to cover up how freakishly bony its fingers are. Nope Nope Nope! This is not happening right now. I don’t do skeletons. I can handle ghosts. Mummies and skeletons are just nope! I struggle in vain to scramble away from the skeleton, still not able to move a muscle. I want to cry when I notice it’s because my [golem creation] skill is on cool down. As a result, we’re stuck in this awkward situation where neither of us are moving. We just continue to stare at each other.

What am I supposed to do in this situation? I know I’m an idiot already! There’s no need to keep making me confirm it! I mean it’s like I open a window to my house and a swarm of wasps fly in, like I find a diamond and suddenly every thief is after me, like I wander in the woods only to get lost and run into a mountain lion, get on a boat and it sinks! It’s not fair! Nothing like this ever happens to anyone else! How was I supposed to know something would walk in right when I opened a door–er planted a tree. It’s not supposed to work like that! Why is my luck so awful? Why am I stuck with a skill like [karma]. I could really do without it! I don’t need it! If it weren’t for it, none of these horrible encounters would keep happening! Raaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!

My train of thought freezes when the skeleton suddenly cocks its head. It pauses, then it shakes its head in a weird way, clacking its jaws together rapidly. The clattering sends shivers across my core. What a creepy sound. The skeleton stops chattering and continues its staring contest with me. I don’t think either of us will win at this point. The skeleton has no eyelids and I…well, I’m pretty much just a frozen block of ice. My eyes aren’t blinking any time soon. The awkwardness of the situation increases. It is beginning to feel more surreal than anything else, like it’s a dream. What am I supposed to do?

Finally, I couldn’t stand the silence any longer.

“Um…Ah…Hi?” I say with a weak voice.

Claclacclalaclacllaclaaccllaclaaak. The skeleton shakes its head again, its jaw clacking as it does. I get the strangest feeling that it’s laughing when it does that. I could have sworn a glint flashed in its eye sockets. The skeleton makes another gesture with its hand to help me up. (more…)

3.7 – Way Point

Yeo’ena Bay. Locals call it Lost Bay. Area wise, the bay is small, yet somehow, every year people manage to get lost wading through swamp and the cypress trees. As of yet, the death rate is rather low, unlike many other ominous places people have managed to find themselves lost in. The bay only claims those of low health, most others find themselves wandering around for a few days, perhaps weeks, before finally finding their way out again. Not many monsters live in the bay. The ones that do are hardly a threat to an armed traveler. Because of this reason, many choose it as a tourist destination. Great interest is placed on unraveling the bay’s mysteries. That said, be wary out those running from the law. Many seek refuge in this mysterious swamp.

Ashton Delan’s Travelor’s Guide

 

“Ouch! Really, stop biting me! You can stop now. I’m trying, so be patient. Timp! Come scare these stupid things off of me!” I call as snowdrop dragons swarm over me. I’m trying to concentrate on making a snowdrop plant, but they keep messing me up.

I figure the plant is in their name, so maybe they’d like them better than the roses. Though, they do seem to like the roses, or more specifically, the rose hips that have started growing. That, I don’t like so much. They eat the rose hips, but spit the seeds at everything, including me.

“Will you stop it! I don’t need more seeds in my hair! Ow stop! Will you listen to me?! Timp! Help!” I swat at the pesky dragons buzzing around my head, little seeds hit me like bullets. I had asked Oroesi for help earlier. He’s hiding from them now because of it. He tried. He really tried. Only it wasn’t long before they were chasing him around hitting him with seeds. He was bawling his eyes out when I finally managed to get them away from him. Timp on the other hand, enjoys chasing the white dragons. She’s not so easily intimidated by them. Only, she has such a short attention span that she forgets she’s supposed to keep them off me, so I have to keep calling her.

The banana palms seem to sway in amusement at my predicament. Ever since [green thumb] leveled, all my plants feel more alive. I swear they’re laughing at me right now. I glare up at the trees as Timp launches herself at the dragons. The little things shriek as they scatter. Sighing, I turn back to the pebble in my hands. After a minute or so, I finally have it. The pebble gives a little pop as my aura grasps onto my image, and I have a snowdrop bulb.

I make more and scatter them throughout the valleys along with a blanket of concentrated |aura of warmth| to get them started. Almost immediately they start popping out of the ground like daisies–er… snowdrops. They’re cute. I finger the pale glass-like flower. Reminds me of little white tears. The dragons launch themselves at the flowers. Timp trails after them, occasionally nuzzling the new snowdrops.

Watching them, I chuckle a little. The dragons use the snowdrops to make strange little nests, weaving the flower’s leaves into domes. You almost can’t see the nests unless you look for them.

I smile. Well, they’re out of my hair now, so now I can concentrate on more important things. Namely, my paths, but more importantly, the disconcerting state of my health, which hasn’t regenerated at all since the stupid gwisin came. And there’s a little thought which has been bugging me that I want to try out, even though it may be dangerous… (more…)