Chapter 11: Behind the Smoke
Adam was walking around with Jack. They were going to enter the dungeon a few hours from now and the two decided to go about buying supplies and necessities like food and extra clothing. The sun still hadn’t risen either, they woke up extra early to prepare well for the upcoming expedition. He had an ecstatic grin on him as he walked, the sword Jack got him was pretty good. Light and sharp, perfect for the combat style he used. He wasn’t doing nothing on their way to Gram after all, Dagon had been training him with ruthless efficiency the whole time.
Magic wasn’t his strong suit, only going as far as to act as buffs or subpar attack spells, but as the undead knight had said, he found his footing in melee combat. It would not be wise to estimate his combat prowess solely from the simple leather armor and longsword he carried.
Jack walked to the bartender who was still setting up shop in the square. Normally, he’d get rejected, but it seemed he knew the guy as he got a quick, fair deal after they exchanged greetings. The bags the black-haired young man carried were the last of what they needed to buy, so they walked back to the city gates. The sun was about to rise, rays of white light piercing into the dark sky and tainting it a vibrant mix of violet and blue, indicating they were right on time.
As they arrived, it wasn’t hard to catch sight of the group they belonged to. Jack spotted a blue-haired young man exchanging jokes and banter with his sister and friend, Sarah and Zev. These new guys were pretty nice people, he felt. It wasn’t hard to befriend them at all.
A frown couldn’t help but enter his face upon seeing the young man with white streaks on his black hair idly observing the gates alone though. The hooded figure that constantly followed this young man gave Jack the chills whenever he caught sight of whoever that was. Furthermore, it seemed that this guy named Alen seemed to have a good relationship with Sam and Adam as well, so he didn’t understand why this person refused to join the conversation when his friends were right there.
He shrugged, it was no use thinking about it like this. Jack guessed he was just uncomfortable entering a place like the dungeon with a person he didn’t know anything about.
“Hey Zev! Get over here and help me carry all these bags!” Jack shouted, waving the bags on his arms about. The blonde-haired young man left Sam and Sarah to talk amongst themselves, waving in greeting to them.
“Yo,” Adam yawned, exchanging a nod with Zev as the blonde fire mage took some of the bags he carried as well.
The three of them walked to the group and had everyone gather.
“Everyone ready?” Zev said, watching everyone nod. “Alright, let’s go. We have reach the 7th floor by the end of the day, so all of you better not hold anything back.”
Sam yawned and leaned on his staff. “Let’s head out boys.”
Sarah beside him shook her head, securing her wand to her hip and following behind the rest as they headed out. This dungeon was famous for taking the lives of many adventurers, beginners and veterans alike, so her magic would play a big role in this expedition.
She would absolutely not let this party down.
“Sam!” A black bolt of darkness flashed past Sam’s face as Adam shouted in warning. Instead of the usual ball, it was a pointed tip akin to spear that penetrated the head of the fly-looking insect that crept up behind their ice mage.
Quickly, the insect rapidly withered and emanated an aura of decay that slowly faded. Sam glared at Alen behind him. “What the fuck! You almost blew my damn head off!”
“I saved you dumbass,” Alen laughed, his spell wouldn’t hit Sam anyways, he was exercising full control over it.
Adam sighed and immediately afterward, Jack and his sister rushed into the room. “We heard a scream. Anyone got bit?” Sarah spoke urgently, her staff glowing in a soft white light.
“Chill, Sarah. I have a higher chance of getting killed by Alen than these things,” Sam said, prodding the corpse with his foot. Seeing this, Sarah sighed in relief. She’d been on edge ever since they entered, her new teammates choosing to randomly split with the group and attack some insect hordes without warning. It was a miracle they hadn’t been bit yet. Even though Sarah was confident in her magic, it had to be administered in under an hour considering the effect of the poison on level ten adventurers like the youths in front of her.
Come to think of it, she’d never seen the youth named Alen fight. Apparently, he’d been using his magic a lot, but she hadn’t even caught a glimpse of it on their way to the seventh floor. That was saying a lot, because they were right about to enter the sixth floor.
Jack scratched his head. “You guys need to stop separating from us. You can definitely beat these monsters, but getting lost is very much possible. The only reason we enter is because we have Sarah, who knows healing magic.”
Adam nodded, he’d been getting careless lately, the same going for his teammates as no one noticed the enemy that almost attacked Sam. “Alright, sorry about that,” He said.
The mace-wielding warrior nodded, “Come on, we found the entrance to the sixth floor. Try to preserve your mana as well because the seventh floor has this dungeon’s first of three bosses.”
Sam’s eyes widened as he followed Jack out, moving past stalagmites and stray rocks to get to Zev who was apparently waiting by the entrance. “The dungeon has three bosses? How large is this place?”
“Oh? You’ve never heard of Gramshal’s 21 floors?” Sarah said. “There’s a large leap of difficulty after each boss, that’s why adventurers usually never go past the thirteenth floor unless they’re dead set on clearing the dungeon.”
“And I’m assuming there’s a boss every seven floors or something?” Adam said.
“Yeah. After we beat the first boss and earn a few levels, our party’s going to try our hands in attacking the floors after floor seven,” Jack replied.
Alen stayed quiet as they walked, Dagon doing the same as he walked behind the necromancer. His help hadn’t been needed so far, the enemies too weak to pose any significant threat to them. Before entering, the necromancer and himself agreed that his help wouldn’t be necessary until they encountered a threat beyond their current capabilities. He’d warned Alen on their way to Gram that his magic was usually scorned and looked down upon by most people, so they decided to only use necromancy when absolutely needed. Alen wouldn’t be getting as much experience in his new skills and spells, but Deathbolt had proved effective so far. Any more of his magic and the priest would begin to notice what school of magic the emerald-eyed necromancer utilized.
Dagon stared at the priest. This girl would not look kindly at his existence, the holy teachings of the church despised the dead and the demons the most.
They soon reached Zev who was looking down at the descending stairs, his staff lighting up the surroundings as a small, but bright flame flickered above it. He glanced at his teammates and looked back down.
“I don’t know why, but the lower floor gives me a really bad feeling. Is it just because it’s our first time going past the fifth floor?” He said, frowning.
“Well, we’ll have to advance eventually Zev. We definitely aren’t going to stay at the dungeon’s fifth floor forever,” Jack said, spitting on the ground a distance away.
“I guess you’re right,” Zev said. “Shall we go?”
Everyone nodded, noiselessly descending the flight of stairs with Jack in the lead, followed by Adam and Sam. Zev, who was in the middle, eyed the walls carefully. Even though traps were uncommon in the spaces between dungeon floors, they were definitely not unheard of. They had no information regarding the next floor either, deciding that a map was too pricey for their current financial states.
The staircase finally ended, a wet, mossy smell entering their noses as Jack took his first step into the floor below, a low splash resounding out as his foot sunk into a puddle of water. The seven of them stepped into the wet floor, Alen, Sarah, and Dagon going in last.
“There are puddles everywhere…” Zev said, worriedly glancing at his fire. If the bugs in here had some sort of resistance to fire magic, his pyromancy would be useless.
Sarah shivered upon entering, a chill running up her spine. “I… Don’t like this place. There’s something wrong in here, my mana is going crazy. It feels like it wants to burst out.”
“Let’s keep going,” Jack said, eyeing the hooded Dagon and feeling a sense of unease. Was it because he was so calm? Or something else? Even Jack himself felt the creeps in this place.
They advanced at a steady pace, one step at a time. The droplets of water that fell from the ceiling and plopped into the numerous puddles below, almost in sync with their footsteps. A steady plinking and plopping followed them and the beacon of light on their fire mage’s staff. This place was strange, a swarm of bugs would usually attack them by now. Where… were they?
Adam almost jumped as a splash suddenly came from the darkness, echoing out and ringing in their ears clear as day. They immediately got into a makeshift formation, Adam and Zev in front of the ranged fighters, Dagon staying beside Alen who silently formed two bolts of inky green mana on his hands.
The splashing continued, and soon, an insect a bit bigger than the ones on the fifth floor stumbled towards them. It looked unsteady as it crawled, bumping into rocks and falling over itself in its attempt to walk to them.
Sarah narrowed her eyes, something was wrong with this thing. Her mana felt like it wanted to purge it, destroy it completely, and that was not her hatred for bugs talking.
The insect stopped in front of them, just a few meters away. Adam frowned, he was about to walk to it when Jack blocked his way with his arm. “Zev, toss a fireball at that thing,” He said.
Immediately afterward, a fireball flew in an arc and landed on the bug. Smoke began to rise and only the crackling of flames on smoldering flesh filled the air around them. As the smoke reached them, Adam suddenly gasped. “Don’t breathe it in!”
His warning came too late. The smoke wasn’t poisonous to a lethal extent, but the effects became apparent as the party’s vision swam. Tears and a stinging sensation filled their eyes as the smoke reached them, blurring vision and causing them to rub at their eyes like a sickness. Sam screamed as something grabbed his shoulder and roughly pulled him to the side.
A low hissing soon followed after a splash, Dagon’s shouting filling everyone’s ears. “Get behind something!”
Adam stumbled and fell, barely crawling behind cover as another volley of putrid green liquid splashed and melted the floor. Sam was unable to react in time, and just before one was about to hit him, one of the floating lumps of ice behind him exploded and formed a semi-circular shield around him, his new defensive spell saving his life.
Dagon sliced apart some acidic spit and tossed Alen behind cover as well, running toward Sam and taking the ice mage with him as he dived behind a large stalagmite as Sarah conjured a shield of light that protected her and her party. Squinting and barely able to see, the shielded three staggered behind cover as well.
“Sarah! Detox!” Zev screamed, a circle of light expanding out of their raven-haired priest and cleansing the poison blurring their vision.
Immediately, he threw a fireball to the ceiling, the fireball staying still and crackling in bright, powerful flames that made their surroundings glow in a fiery orange light. Jack shouted something and Zev abruptly ducked, a mace gliding over his head and crushing the head of the pale white bug that dived towards them.
An explosion suddenly rocked the side as a large amount of ice formed and froze two bugs. Next, a thin, almost invisible black miasma spread across the ground and covered the area around a squinting Sam and his party, making sure to stay away from non-hostile beings. Numerous blades of wind and bolts of decay flew out from the rocks they used as cover, some missing, and others producing disgusting splattering sounds. A frantic prickling sensation covered Alen’s back as a pale ant-like bug crawled up his shoulder.
Alen was about to detonate a large amount of mana to get rid of it, but Adam’s foot travelled with unparalleled speed as it kicked the bug away, his sword following soon after and cutting the bug in half.
The necromancer uttered a short ‘thank you’ before running off and sitting behind a rock, gathering large amounts of mana in his hands.
“More are coming, prepare yourselves!” Dagon shouted, brandishing his ivory greatsword, but refraining from reinforcing it with his mana. The battle wasn’t dangerous enough for him to interfere, he’d see what these youths would do in a situation like this.
“Break!” Jack screamed, slamming his mace to the ground and shattering a large rock, the sharp, splintered pieces flying towards the disgusting insects that rushed towards them in large numbers. A low hiss rang out as a sweating Sarah maintained her shield, the acid sizzling and destroying her holy magic like—
“Death! Death magic! That’s what I felt!” Her eyes widened in realization. “These bugs aren’t normal! They’re undead, and something’s resurrecting them!”
“Zev, you hear that!?” Sam shouted. “Your magic’s more effective than mine in clearing them out! Don’t worry about the smoke, Adam can control wind to a lesser degree, it won’t be a problem for us!”
Adam let out a loud ‘oh!’ and started channeling his magic, preparing to blow away any poisonous smoke at any moment.
Jack held his mace in a two-handed grip, a white light radiantly shining on his weapon. “Zev, go!”
His friend immediately responded, expending a large amount of mana to form multiple exploding balls of fire. He hurled it towards the bugs, Adam and Jack destroying insects that got too close, their weapons stained in black blood tainted with the filth of decay in the light of the crackling orange flames.
A powerful gust of wind came from behind them, Adam grinning as his hair chaotically flew in multiple directions, dispelling the smoke and revealing what hid behind it.
Their faces suddenly froze.
Behind the crackling flames and ebony ash-clouds, an army of white bugs stood.
But this wasn’t the reason for their snow-like complexions and expressions of fear.
Standing at the back of the army of the dead, a skeleton in black robes stood.
Curled around this undead sorcerer with the piercing blue eyes of flame was a centipede the length of multiple trucks, coiled around its new master and glaring their way with similar blue flames in its eyes.
The overpowering stench of decay flooded their noises as the centipede let out a roar, the army of bugs and itself surging forth like a raging typhoon.
The first dungeon boss of Gramshal was coming, and the souls of the living in front of it quivered in despair.