As they hid Rainer looked out towards the now fading black fog before he got an idea. Grabbing Luna and running forward he stopped just at the edge of it.
“Luna heal me with everything you have.”
Luna immediately understood what Rainer wanted to do and drew her Faerie Fire in preparation. Kara seeing the scene was too stunned to act until she saw Rainer reach his hand into the fog. She rushed forward keen on stopping him but it was too late.
Rainer mobilized all the mana and Arcane energy within him to try and resist the effect. With the addition of Luna’s healing, the pervasive death aura never went beyond his finger, though the feeling was not pleasant. However, he didn’t believe in his ability to dodge all the magic of whoever attacked him and knew he needed to do this. This took the entire focus of the two.
Kara ran over and just managed to pull Rainer out as he saw the message he was looking for.
[Skill Gained: Death Resistance lvl 1/10]
“Rainer what the hell are you doing! You saw what that…” She paused seeing Rainer’s hand completely recovered.
Is Luna’s healing this powerful...No! It took a decent amount of time to heal Rainer after he had been attacked by the boss, and his shoulder is still hurt... How is this possible?
Kara moved Rainer’s hand with her own and inspected it from all angles. Before she dropped it slightly embarrassed at her actions.
“Rainer what happened?”
“I gained [Death Resistance].” he spoke without much thought before realizing it wasn’t such a simple thing to say
Kara looked at him blankly.
“You gained [Death Resistance]...just like that and you simply gained…” She mumbled while recalling how quickly and suddenly Rainer learned her blade style.
Her face, however, returned to normal right after.
“So how are we getting inside?” Kara asked as if pretending absolutely nothing strange happened.
Quite happy at how Kara glossed over such an irregularity Rainer contemplated when he’d tell her more. Though for now, she was right to focus on the task at hand. If their enemies hadn’t known about their existence before, they certainly were aware now. If they run they may sooner or later find themselves beset by thousands of undead. They need not even have a class or level and could just be ordinary citizens of the Nalmar. Numbers would crush them either way.
And then there was the problem of sustenance, Rainer thought as he stared at their supplies that were in the midst of the receding black fog. Even if they looked safe afterward there was no guarantee. This forest lacked almost any life, they could survive on roots and plants for some time sure, combined with Luna’s water, maybe months, but could they fight eating such a thing?
He went over as the black fog faded and looked through their supplies. They seemed to be fine. They weren't technically alive and the fog had an effect of draining rather than decay. But as of now, it wasn't worth the risk.
Rainer looked out towards the tower. This time, he tried to remember the feeling of that magic as it approached him. That was just it, it was just a feeling. He wanted to sense who cast, when it's being cast, from where it's being cast. He focused looking towards one of the undead manning the walls.
It took nearly 10 minutes of concentration before he finally sensed something. That thin thread of magic that connected this undead to their master. Some threads lead directly to the tower, most giving a foggy impression of coming from a long distance away.
And with it came a reassuring message.
[Skill Gained: Magic Detection lvl 1/10]
No one interrupted Rainer as he stood out staring, assuming he had been thinking of a plan. He focused first on finding Luna’s position solely through her mana. It was easy enough but how much of that depended on their familiar bond?
He took that same sense and tried to expand towards the tower. He felt almost as if he was moving towards it himself. For but a moment he could sense something that felt like empty mana pools but the feeling was quickly lost and soon he found his target.
[Skill Gained: Mana Detection lvl 1/10]
Yet it was not a joyous occasion. The depth of the mana pool had an immensity to it he had only felt once before. It reminded him of his grandfather’s. If he were a small backyard pool, this was a lake. Rainer soon felt drawn into this lake, two ghastly eyes boring into him before he’s brought out by Kara’s hand on his back.
“Rainer, have you thought of something?” Kara asked not knowing what he was thinking.
He turned around, face visibly pale, much to the shock of his two companions.
Luna flew up straight in front of him and asked in a knowing tone.
“You sensed it, didn’t you…”
“Yeah…” He said shocked by her soon chipper face.
“Luna says you shouldn’t be too worried.”
He just looked at the fairy strangely.
“It hasn’t recovered at all Luna says.”
“It hasn’t recovered..?”
“Yep. It was far larger when it fired that scary spell. But it hasn’t budged even an inch.” She said proudly at her own insight. Though just as she was about to say it…
“That means his mana pool is abnormal but he is not. If he were extremely high leveled his mana would at least recover faster than mine. And he likely could have used far faster and powerful magic.”
“Rainer should let Luna talk when Luna discover things.” She said slightly distraught.
Ignoring her Rainer looked back towards the gate of the fort and then at the wall wondering how difficult it would be for Kara to climb them.
“Kara do you think you can get up those walls?”
“Unlikely. They look similar to the walls most cities and forts bordering demon territories have. They are made in a special way that makes them resistant to penetration rather than against catapults.”
“Then we only have one option…”
Rainer knew even with the presence of this new enemy they needed to act. They would never have a better chance. The dawn approached and even with the overcast covering as far as the eye could see the visible brightening gave hope.
The sound of arrows as if they were cracking against stone resounded around Rainer. He used his [Arcane Blade] and slowly cut through the gate. Trying to create a hole large enough for Kara to pass through in her transformed state. Protecting him was exactly Kara empowered by both her werewolf form and Luna’s [Gift of Stoneskin]. The [Skeleton Archers] that while weakened during the day weren't too weak due to the overcast. Yet their arrows could not penetrate the combination of Kara’s demonic form and Luna’s gift. Luna herself was inside Rainer’s tunic only her head sticking out.
Though Kara did mutter out several curses complaining about how she’ll be quite bruised.
All the while Rainer split part of his attention on using [Magic Detection] on the Mage, or likely some form of undead, above him.
The gate had a magic to it, slowing down the progress of Rainer’s blade, but in the end, the Arcane progressed steadily through. An ugly looking hole had been created and with a simple push opened to the other side.
Kara grabbed Rainer holding him to her and sprinted forward. Luna began casting [Gift of Lightning] as planned. The moment they were within the tower she planned to finish the cast as two gifts couldn't overlap.
Assorted buildings came into view as they entered the fort. Likely serving as warehouses and barracks. Arrows continued to bounce off Kara though there were only a few seconds remaining of [Gift of Stoneskin]. Not only that but Luna had forgotten to mention it could only be used once a day until the last possible moment.
The tower was the tallest and the widest building within the fort. Its white stoned enchanted form extending far into the sky. Nearing the tower the double doors flung open and various undead began pouring out. Rainer did a quick check with [Mana Detection] to determine there was only the single mage who attacked them earlier. He, however, had still not acted.
Kara used the last of her [Gift of Stoneskin] to barrel through the undead and pass through the now opened doorway. Just as the enchantment ended Kara set Rainer down. He began releasing his armed [Arcane Bolts] on the undead still pouring down the stairs.
Kara herself now finally receiving the [Gift of Lightning] buff from Luna swept away a few of the undead blocking the door and now shut it. The undead’s preemptive attack serving against them.
After Rainer had destroyed the few coming down the stairs he rushed himself over and seeing more undead coming for the first time unleashed his newly level 10 [Cone of Arcane-Fire]. It combusted straight up the narrow hallway containing the stairs. Not only had the mana cost been significantly decreased its range and combustion improved greatly.
It seems the amount of undead that had been rushing down the stairs truly surpassed expectations. Judging by the experience Rainer had gained his spell grew heavily in effectiveness. He had originally abandoned his hope of reaching level 9 before completing this quest, but it may not be impossible now.
[Total Experience Gained 31%]
Seeing Kara had just finished up cleaning the remaining undead inside Rainer headed up the stairs. Though not before nearly crying seeing a bookcase being used in the process. Several of the old books fell down and were ruined as Kara inadvertently stepped on them. He steeled his heart and hoped the greater treasures would be at the top like any proper tower.
“Kara quickly let's go!” He yelled out, more so in hope of saving all he could.
As he ran up Luna finished her second cast of [Gift of Lightning] onto Rainer. He climbed and rearmed the [Arcane Bolts] he had used getting here. He took a quick glance at each floor he passed noticing that some were of armories while higher up they contained different types of storage chests and crates. Most floors contained doors to likely other rooms befitting such a wide tower. Reaching the higher floors there were undead that blocked his way but a quick burst of his [Cone of Arcane-Fire] stopped all of them quite easily. He noticed many of the higher floors seemed to be designed as places where Mages would attack from. Having shielded balconies and the insides seemed to have places of rest.
Finally, Rainer reached the final floor, a small door blocking his way. He looked back at Kara before she nodded and took the lead.
He took one last look at his messages before he was a bit disappointed. Though in reality his combustion effect from the [Cone of Arcane-Flame] worked wonders in such a narrow stairway. Judging just by the number of bone’s he’s had to avoid he killed a significant amount. Whether it was the level 10 tier 2 spell, The combination of Arcane and Fire, or Arcane magic’s ability to seemingly destroy other magics, the magic here being necromancy, Rainer couldn’t be sure. It was likely a combination, he thought.
[Total Experience Gained: 24%]
He still needed 30% more to reach level 9.
The door was a bit short for Kara but with a swift kick it flung open as she crouched her way in, seemingly sure there wasn’t an ambush right behind it. Rainer too felt magic but it wasn’t aimed in their direction.
Rainer quickly used [Appraisal] on the two figures in the room.
[Undead, Male, Death Knight lvl 14]
He grew shocked at this one. But when he realized the undead lacked both the size and strange armor of the boss fight in the dungeon he gained some confidence. More importantly, he could sense a thin thread of magic connect this undead to the [Lich] standing next to him. So long as Kara could keep the [Death Knight] off of him long enough it wouldn’t matter. The [Death Knight] may become completely unintelligent or gradually lose power. Though Rainer couldn't be sure, he didn't exactly understand necromancy.
[Undead, Male, Lich lvl 17]
The [Lich] was strong, but Luna’s inference had been right. At the very least it wasn’t a 2nd ranked class.
Rainer couldn’t help but grow confident as he saw what magic the [Lich] cast. Surrounding the undead were several translucent blue barriers. No different than that of the goblin mage. Though there power clearly higher from the Lich’s huge mana pool.
“Kara keep the [Death Knight] off me and this will be over in an instant.” Rainer confidently exclaimed. So long as that [Lich] trusted in his barriers he stood no chance.
“I had expected a true servant of Origin but to think a mere ant and his tamed dog were sent to do its bidding! Let us see you dodge once more!” He spoke in a ghastly voice that seemed to radiate from all around the room. A powerful magic began radiating off the [Lich]. The light entering the windowed room seemed to draw towards the [Lich] as he cast.
Kara now with [Gift of Lightning], a full pool of Demonic Aura, and another level under her belt charged towards [Death Knight]. At a tremendous speed, Kara clashed with the [Death Knight] neither side seeming to have an advantage as she moved out of the line of fire between Rainer and the [Lich]
Rainer just stared at the [Lich] slowly casting his spell incredulously. He had thought the [Lich] would put some faith into his barriers...but this much?
Rainer put his palm forward and with the assistance of the [Gift of Lightning] quickly cast an [Arcane-Fire Bolt]. It flew far faster than the Lich could react to before slamming into his barriers. After several loud cracking noises, it sent him flying back. The dark magic had been stopped and instead of the numerous barriers only a single one remained.
“Ignore the demon, kill the mage at any cost!” It seems even a [Lich] could panic as it was clear in his now wavering voice. Yet strangely his servant ignored him completely.
The [Lich] quickly expanded his mana forming stronger and more numerous shields yet just as he was about to cast again Rainer was but feet from him. Using the cover of the explosion from his magic he had rushed forward. Reaching the limit to his mana he infused all he could into a powerful [Arcane Blade].
The [Lich] fired a small but quick spell yet it collided immediately with one of Rainer’s armed [Arcane Bolts]. The [Lich] fired more and more dark spells but each was blocked with Rainer’s armed bolts. Of course, he didn’t simply watch as this occurred. Every slash of the blade would break through the [Lich]'s powerful mana shields fueled by his massive mana pool. The [Lich] in a panic backed away.
To the side, Kara still clashed with the [Death Knight]. She was being injured with shallow cuts yet Luna on her back would quickly begin healing them.
As Rainer’s last armed [Arcane Bolt] clashed with one of the [Lich]’s dark spells the [Lich] found a wall to his back. With a single powerful thrust the [Arcane Blade] pulverized the remaining mana shields and stabbed into the [Lich]’s head. Rainer feared this wouldn’t be enough but the Arcane energy of the blade reacted strangely before causing a minor explosion in the [Lich]’s head forever dimming its pale blue eyes.
[Experience Gained: 11%]
He saw the experience increase but noticed the quest had not yet completed. For a moment he thought they might not be in the right place. The [Lich] was level 17 after all. 2 levels higher than the maximum recommended level of the quest. He spun around and looked towards Kara and her battle. He still wielded his [Arcane Blade] with the little mana he had left.
Yet the situation changed. Suddenly the [Death Knight] jumped back.
“Wait! Hold yourself, traveler, I am free from my bonds!” Contrary to all expectations following the death of the [Lich] the guarding [Death Knight] called out. His powerful voice echoed and spread throughout the hall.
Kara paused in her assault confused at the strange language and Rainer as well stopped himself.
Rainer hesitated for a moment, wondering if the designation of traveler referred to him coming here for the quest or if it was something else. In the end. he stopped his current plans of attack and decided to see what the [Death Knight] had to say.
“Kara step back, we might as well take the time to recover.” Rainer said quietly to Kara not yet understanding, she, in fact, had no idea what was said by the [Death Knight].
Seeing them step back unexpectedly the [Death Knight] dropped his sword and shield before kneeling on the ground. Rainer noticed then when he no longer held the sword and shield they seemed to contain magic. He quickly realized that perhaps the enchanted items of Nalmar would not work on undead. He looked at the ring on his finger as he thought this. The symbol of a sun with two spears crossed behind it carved in gold on the ring. The ring itself a steel, likely the blessed steel that the other reward mentioned.
“I am a once-paladin of the Nalmar Knighthood, Gunthar. I beseech, you travelers, to allow me to assist you in your goal.”
Rainer looked at him contemplating before Kara said something that convinced him at least to give Gunthar a chance to explain.
“Rainer, what is he saying?” Kara asked aware of Rainer’s and Luna’s shared translation ability.
“He’s asking to serve us, that he was once a paladin of Nalmar.” He said now realizing she couldn’t understand him.
“Perhaps we might give him a moment to explain. I had felt there was something wrong when we were fighting as if he was far too weak. What was my imagination may now be explained.”
Rainer took a long look at this Gunthar before deciding on his next course of action.
“I’ll give you a chance to explain your circumstances, but keep your distance and move away from your weapons.”
“I thank thee Sorcerer.” Gunthar replied before moving across the room and staring out towards a window, his back towards Rainer.
“I Imagine you are travelers otherwise I cannot see how you ended up so deep in this accursed land. It seems the holy one has deemed our land beyond saving, and we have truly fallen. “
Holy one? Perhaps different societies all view the controller or creator of the system in different manners. Or maybe there is more than one in control…
Rainer could only stare at his mana pool and hoped it would recover quicker. If Kara was right about him holding back Rainer had some hope for him being an ally but he wouldn't let down his guard. A tireless and strong one, it was certainly an advantage in such a place.
Rainer heard a noise similar to a sigh before Gunthar continued.
“It had started as but a single necromancer found experimenting on civilians. He had been eliminated simply by the mages of our order...or so we believed.”
“The Necromancer’s soul had possessed one of our mages and with it discovered our city’s greatest secret, the Mana Well, as we called it. It was a secret not even the Holy One’s chosen could discern”
Heroes? So this object can't be appraised?
“I can even guess what the final reward that was offered to you is…”
At this Rainer became curious. The Main Quest had listed it as [????] and now he might…
“It's unknown. Is it not?”
Rainer didn’t answer but a quickly swiveling skeletal face turned towards him and saw his face.
“I was right then. The mana well is to be your reward. I can imagine nothing else that the Holy One’s grace to be unable to determine.” Gunthar said reading the expression on Rainer’s face.
“Our city grew in power and strength and while in truth we were apart of the Holy Empire, we were more akin to a city-state. Using the Mana Well our mages made years and years of enchantment take only days or even moments. Even common [Soldiers] would wear a hidden version of the ring you currently wear. They did not know, of course. You are quite lucky we put in fail safes that prevented undead from using them.”
Lucky indeed...Rainer thought as he appraised the sword and shield Gunthar had dropped.
[Paladin’s Shield: An enchanted shield of blessed steel. +4 Constitution, +4 Strength]
[Paladin’s Blade: An enchanted blade of blessed steel. +3 Strength, +3 Dexterity, + 3 Aura Control]
The descriptions were lacking compared to the one’s provided by the dungeon reward system, but they showed enough. How much of a level difference could these two items alone surpass? Rainer thought as he appraised the entirety of Gunthar's armor. Now that he looked at it was a gold and steel full plate armor though it lacked the luster of the now dropped sword and shield. The enchantments seemingly suppressed by something. Its helmet had an open face and square top.
[Paladin’s Full Plate Set: An enchanted full set of plate armor and helm of blessed steel: +9(0) Constitution, +9(0) Endurance, +9(0) Strength, +3(0) Aura Attunement]
The 0 must mean that it isn't functioning.
Rainer looked at the armor with a cold sweat. Is this representative of the rich and powerful of these worlds? He sincerely hoped Nalmar was a rare case. It was when it came to frequency but Gunthar had mentioned nothing of the actual strength of enchantment being improved by this Mana Well.
“I myself was able to maintain my consciousness due to research done by my father. Most had scorned his research as little different than the black magic we stood against. Perhaps they were right...it has been but a tortured existence these years. As even if I could hold myself present I was still mostly controlled by that evil creature.”
Rainer looked over to the [Lich]. He saw numerous rings on the [Lich]'s fingers and his robe in particular, is undamaged. He’d have Luna appraise before he tried any on lest they be cursed. She had a higher [Appraisal] level.
“We could do nothing to stop the capturing of the Mana well. The [Arch-Lich] used it to assist in summoning and controlling countless undead. Our greatest power unraveled by a single mistake. Yet even now I imagine he cannot use its power directly, just like our mages could not. Casting a spell from it was a far cry from simply using its power to assist in enchanting or maintaining an undead horde under one's command.”
Gunthar passed a moment before turning around and asking.
“What is your time limit?”
Seeing no reason to hide this information Rainer responded with the truth.
“6 Months until other parties are invited.”
“We must make haste, it's likely the Holy One believes the [Arch-Lich] will succeed by then. You may be the only party he could send right away. Where is the rest of your party?”
“Right here.” Rainer says a bit awkwardly remembering the 25 limit.
If a skeleton could make a surprised face, he’d most assuredly be showing one.
“Those who hold out their hands in prayer cannot choose the miracle that comes to them…” Gunthar quietly spoke.
Rainer felt a surge of power as the skeleton’s sword and shield flew towards Gunthar. Yet now different from before the magic didn’t seem to be dimmed and instead the enchantments seemed fully activated. Rainer became a bit worried and Kara stood on guard before their thoughts were eased
“Do not underestimate my father’s research.” Gunthar gave a small skeletal laugh before walking towards the exit of the room. In the first place, Rainer had no idea how he was talking.
“Come, we shall clear this fort, I will do all I can to teach that demon to control her aura better and I will lead you to the tomes of magic held here. You were lucky to head to Sunlight’s Keeper. Let us hope you are as fast a learner as you are one who can transcend common sense with your magic.”
“I still have a decent amount of strength left before I will need to attach myself to you sorcerer as my summoner. You can make the choice to trust me or not then. In reality, I may be able to last for 6-month time limit if I don't overexert myself. Most of an undead's strength comes from the soul. The mana is just for initial costs and control. I, however, can only maintain my sanity with mana. Perhaps a flaw too large in my father's research..."
"We'll rest for a bit first." Rainer spoke before sitting down. With his enchanted gear and Rainer's lack of mana the [Death Knight] was certainly beyond them. No point in being on guard he thought.
"That is fine, I'll monitor the situation and grant those of this tower their rest. Even with this overcast daylight shall be the best time to strike. We do not know when the other [Lich]s shall move against us. At the very least the [Arch-Lich] will be focused solely on the Mana Well."
“To think I’ll be training a demon…” Gunthar spoke to himself before repeating his earlier mantra.
“Those who hold out their hands in prayer cannot choose the miracle that comes to them…”
With a renewed vigor the skeleton walked down the stairs towards the doom of his fellow undead.