Stepping through the void the scene in front of Rainer altered completely. A hall of massive proportion extends in front of him. Large beacons of blue fire line the gray stone walls. The ceiling extends several stories and looking to his left and right the hallway was as wide as it was tall.
All of the group stared in wonderment at the eerie beauty displayed. A significant distance down the hall stood a tall double door, closed shut. It's dark silver gleam reaching throughout the hall.
Rainer noted that each member carried a wooden shield on top of their supplies with the exception of Kara. Even the [Archers] carried as such. The group moved their feet forward carefully as Rainer gained a sense of foreboding danger.
The movement of stone and mechanism signaled this exact danger. Beneath every beacon of fire moved a false wall. The gate across the hall began opening.
“A gauntlet” Rainer whispered.
All had similar thoughts as Leaf yelled out orders.
“[Archers] and [Hunters] draw shields. Kara and Lewis to the left flank, Han and Tanis with me on the right. Rainer hold your fire until the end.”
Bodies shuffled as the first monsters drew forth from the formerly hidden passages. Undead. Eyes filled with the dim light of the same eerie blue flame. They glanced at the intruders for a brief moment before the hitting of bone to stone resounded throughout the room.
The Winter’s Guardians ran towards the newly opened exit, that seemed even farther away with the Undead coming from all angles. They ran forward, Kara like a whirlwind moving ahead and tearing through the skeletons, while the rest remained closer. Rainer managed to spare a moment to use [Appraisal] on a few.
[Undead, male, Lesser Skeleton Soldier Lvl 1]
They all were of a similar variety. Yet more and more kept pouring from the open passages. Behind them already no longer a path back from the sea of undead. In front a path was being cleared by those who managed the flanks. Any loose undead that got too close were ganged up on by the shield-bearers. The pounding of bone to stone and metal drowned out all thoughts as they ran forward.
Minutes passed within the madness, as they neared nearly three-fourths of the way there. Most of the undead poured more freely behind them than in front. So long as the frontline cleared a way and the shields held, they’d make it to the opened door.
Even amidst the noise, the grinding of more stone could be heard.
Up above the beacons of fire new stone passageways had opened and jutted out a wide platform. [Lower Skeleton Archers] ran out, and prepared their bows to fire.
“Rainer, up! Quickly! Left and Right Flank, shields!” The formerly quickly moving frontline backed up as they drew their shields off their back. From the left flank Kara moved out in front, eyes gleaming. At the ready to deal with any arrows coming towards her.
As accurately as he could Rainer opened fire with his armed [Arcane Bolts] aiming towards the four nearest platforms. 3 of 4 hit while Rainer prepared an [Arcane Bolt] in his hand and fired towards the missed one. Each bolt that hit shattered the first skeleton taking aim and the force of the flying bones interrupted a few others.
“Prepare for the next platforms! Flanks Forward!”
Rainer did his best to keep up with the running pace while arming 4 more [Arcane Bolts]. The arming of one taking significantly longer than just casting a bolt, but he did not need to fire them right away.
A few arrows flew towards them from behind and to the side as new [Lesser Skeleton Archers] came out but the group had already traveled too far. The few that reached them were blocked by well-placed shields covering their heads.
A ghastly roar that could even drown out the noise of hundreds of skeletons blasted down the hall as an Undead Creature walked out from the darkness of the opened door. The entire group staggered for a moment as the roar seemed to vibrate within their heads. Rainer with [Mind Resistance] recovered the quickest and began charging up a stronger [Arcane Bolt]. Blood seeped from everyone’s ears and noses as the Undead creature continued to roar. The Undead behind them no longer at a reasonable distance. And the previously opened passageways closer to the door began their own waves. Rainer fared not much better, though he managed to keep his focus on finishing the [Arcane Bolt].
He stared down the Undead Creature at the root of this as more and more Arcane energy gathered.
[Undead, Male, Lesser Ogre Ghoul lvl 5]
Though its skin may have been green in life, in death it was a putrid greenish yellow. The ribs of the creature visible and stuck out of its flesh.
Needing both hands to stabilize, Rainer held out a single palm with the arm supported by his other. The [Arcane Bolt] fired as if out of a cannon and slammed into the still screeching abomination.
It tumbled back to the doorway. The pressure vanished. Kara, the least affected besides Rainer, was already moving forward before Rainer’s spell.
“Go!” Rainer yelled to the still partially stunned group.
It took them but a moment to return to formation, Kara moving forward at a rapid pace, her black hair freed from any ties flew wildly behind her as she sped forward. A maelstrom of blades that seemed to slightly extend beyond their length with a white glowing aura obliterated a dozen [Lower Skeleton Soldiers] blocking their path.
Just as the Undead Ogre managed to stand the Winter’s Guardians were already upon him. Kara slid between his legs slicing them as she went through the doorway. Each Warrior gave a blow as they ran forward, the rotted skin still having a tough resilience, however. Just as they all got past, the Ogre jumped at them with an unexpected speed and grabbed an [Archer] in the back, Yun, the youngest of the group, and held his body high in the air. He coughed blood as the Ogre squeezed about to slam him down.
For what felt like an entirely Rainer watched the scene, trying to decide if he should save his armed [Arcane Bolts] for what lay ahead or fire them in a hope to save him. He hesitated for far too long as the Ogre slammed Yun’s body. It continued to smash the now lifeless corpse as Rainer was dragged forward through the doorway by a [Hunter].
Rainer followed along in a daze. They headed down a spiraling staircase, the sounds of Undead still behind them. Before going down a short hallway and entering a room. There were 5 tunnels with 5 blue-flame braziers that were attached to the upper walls.
Rainer did not mourn, for he knew little of Yun, but he cursed his inaction as he saw what lay ahead. The moment they all entered the room a stone door slammed shut leaving them in safety.
They stood at the ready for a brief moment before cheer erupted and many sat or laid down. Rainer however, stood silent. Perhaps they hadn’t realized what happened he thought.
“What are you doing? Behind us…” But Rainer was interrupted by a disapproving look from all of them.
Confused he sat against a wall, a blue light shining down on him. Kara walked over before sitting beside him. She didn’t say anything for several minutes and just stayed there.
Rainer finally spoke.
“I knew they were prepared to face death, but this…”He whispered.
“What is the alternative? Not even a body is left behind, any focus on that loss now will only bring further death.” Kara replied quietly back.
“But I could of…”
“Could have what? Used that spell of yours that allows you to store magic? What if in front of us was a worse situation? “
“It wasn’t. It's completely safe, he didn’t need to die.” Rainer found himself getting irrational. He didn’t care that much about Yun, he’d never even spoken to him, yet the guilt of inaction hit him harder than he ever thought it could. When he had seen the slaves in the mine he felt that was different. There was truly nothing he could do for them, he even had thoughts only of revenge and couldn’t care that much about helping them at all. He couldn’t understand why he felt this way now.
“Rainer, do you see the shields that we carried?” Kara replied back.
“Yeah, they saved us dearly.” He responded a bit annoyed. Without them, all the [Archers] and [Hunters] of the group would have been useless. Adding to the few arrows they managed to block as well.
“And what if they were useless? What if they only slowed us down as wolves chewed at our legs or swamp mugged our footing? Just because the outcome is favorable or unfavorable does not have any reflection on the choice. A stupid decision can lead to the greatest of fortune. Just as a correct one can lead to the death of an ally.”
“You did not do wrong.”
Rainer looked forward, seeing some of the men already telling exaggerated stories of the event behind them. He calmed his heart and tried to relax. What Kara said wasn’t a hidden truth, and he knew what truly bothered him. His choice was correct and yet the world proved him wrong.
He had underestimated the existence of a dungeon. He had even occasionally thought he could go through it alone despite the warning of all those who told him. Just that final monster guarding the door alone would wipe out any group that couldn’t interrupt or defend against his mental attack. He chuckled a bit realizing the Hunter’s Guild plate had actually saved him.
“We’ll rest for an hour before moving forward.” Leaf spoke out before joining the rest in sitting.
Rainer finally took a look at the messages that appeared as they entered this room.
[Gauntlet has been passed. 5% Static Experience Gained for the first time having cleared it]
[First to pass through the Gauntlet of the Fallen City of Nalmar. 10% Static Experience Gained]
Now Rainer understood why they sought this place. Sure to a level 1 or 2 among them, it wasn’t too impressive. But to someone like Leaf who reached the first Level barrier of Level 3, who knows how much time that represented? How long would it take to go find proper monsters or enemies to level otherwise? Were it not for Rainer’s titles and ability to get skills would he even be close to the level he is now? Rather, without [Sleep Learning] he’d likely be dead.
He wouldn’t underestimate this world again. Unabashedly he laid down his head on Kara’s thighs sitting next to him. Surprised at the comfort given her fit but lithe figure. Though, he thought, recalling the scene from behind her, certainly endowed. The view above him now wasn't too bad either.
“Wake me up when it's time to go.” He said to Kara.
Shocking the rest of the Winter’s Guardians who looked over, Kara did not even react, herself closing her eyes after giving an annoyed look to all the watchers.
Rainer thought of bringing up a clock screen before him after he heard yet another too exact reference to time. And his wish was granted. [10:31:47].
He closed his eyes and, due to his late night trying to progress on his new spell, fell asleep within minutes.
[Sleep Learning] put to its full use for the near hour he had.
How many times had they seen this same room? After their break, the Winter’s Guardians had chosen, at random, a tunnel and proceeded forward. There were no foes, no traps, just a long pathway before once again the stone closed behind them as they entered the next room. The room looked identical and after the second time, they returned they decided to leave a torn piece of cloth behind.
They picked another path and once again returned to the room they now knew as the same. The torn piece of cloth where they left it, and facing a direction as if they just came here for the first time. They tried not all entering the room but without all of them there any attempts to enter a different pathway would be instantly blocked.
Rainer became slightly excited at this prospect. Not only that but no one in the group has ever heard of a similar puzzle before. So while that induced panic in the rest as they may run out of supplies and never even get past here, Rainer grew excited as he inspected the room looking for the solution.
He looked up to the 5 braziers and noticed something that he thought was in his head earlier. All 5 were currently at different intensities. It was slight but upon inspection with the knowledge that they may have some importance, it could be seen.
Seeing Rainer stare the torches as if he was a moth to a fire brought a slight chuckle to Leaf and the rest. Kara however, was just happy to see him back to his old self.
“I think I figured it out.” Rainer suddenly spoke.
“Each tunnel likely alters the flames, making some brighter some dimmer. The goal I’d imagine would be to either snuff all of them out or put them to their brightest….maybe. No wait, tell me if you can even see any difference between them.” Rainer realized he could be imagining it completely.
Rainer’s knowledge of Earth may have finally given him some advantage in this world.
Some only gave a half-hearted gaze while most, Kara especially, stared at the flames even more intently than Rainer had.
“They are…” Leaf, surprising himself, said.
“Which means now we just have to figure out which tunnel changes what and how many at a time. As far as I can tell we get reoriented as if we entered the room for the first time every time we go through a tunnel. “
“We’ll keep entering the farther left until we can track how the braziers change from that tunnel. I’ll write it down from a rating of 1-10.” Rainer said while taking out a piece of paper and marking the current fire levels based on his estimation and the differences between them.
And so they headed repeatedly down the leftmost tunnel, which they named tunnel 1, until Rainer figured out how it changed the braziers. Which took dozens of attempts. It increased the 3rd brazier while decreasing the 4th and 5th by a total larger amount. Rainer collapsed onto the ground, realizing that going through a long tunnel so many times was certainly not the puzzle experience he desired. And now they had to test every single one. And after testing, they had to check both brightening them all as much as they could and snuffing them out…
He looked over [Arcane Bolt Armament] one more time as the group pretended to officially take a minor break due to Rainer’s dramaticism.
[Arcane Bolt Armament lvl 6/10: Forms an armed Arcane bolt at the desired place near the user. The Arcane Bolt may be set to release automatically at desired presences and/or at the users will. Bolt damage and mana cost is improved by the level of the spell [Arcane Bolt]. Current Max: 6]
He noticed earlier hostile had changed to desired when he made alterations to its automatic targeting runes. He could now also cast them a bit faster and cheaper after the level up. The added two to max were a good addition. The passive decrease to his max mana remained at .5, however.
While technically the training speed would be slower than just [Arcane Bolt] he now has [Arcane Energy Manipulation] compared to before and could with the limitless “fake” mana available improve the rate. [Arcane Energy Manipulation] remained at level 4 though.
Kara went up to Rainer and picked him up in a princess carry as they now intended to record the changes with the second tunnel. She had the idea of teasing him, as he often did to her, but contrary to all her expectations he only looked completely relaxed. Not willing to change her plans however she ended up carrying him for the entire testing of tunnel 2 to the laughs of the rest. Which also had no bearing on Rainer to Kara’s disappointment.
Tunnel 1 Increased the 3rd while decreasing the 4th and 5th. Tunnel 2 Only decreased the 3rd. Tunnel 3 Increased the 4th and 5th while decreasing the 2nd. Tunnel 4 decreased the 1st and increased the 2nd. Tunnel 5 Increased the 1st and decreased the 2nd and 3rd.
Rainer decided that dimming them should be first and decided the order as Tunnel 4 until the 1st was snuffed out. Tunnel 3 until the 2nd was snuffed out. Tunnel 1 until the 4th and 5th were snuffed out. And finally, they repeated Tunnel 2 until the last brazier lost its pale blue flame and they were plunged into darkness. Taking a total of 6 hours just to complete the final phase. A puzzle, in reality, was an exhausting affair, Rainer lamented.
Following a disorienting feeling they appeared in an entirely new place and with new messages
[Removal of the Light has been completed. 5% Static Experience Gained for the first time having cleared it]
[First to complete the Removal of the Light of the Fallen City of Nalmar. 10% Static Experience Gained]
[Arcanist has leveled up to lvl 7/25. Standard Attributes have been distributed.1 Attribute and skill point have been rewarded]
Rainer immediately noticed the difference in language. Wondering how the first trial could have been done differently. He also wondered if the second trial was a reward or punishment for only "passing" the first. Were it not for Rainer having knowledge of similar puzzles would he even notice the change in the braziers? Would they not starve or tire out in those endless tunnels?
All 12, 13 if you counted Luna she thought as she silently complained having to be hidden for so long, looked cautiously at the new scene before them. Were there windows of any sort Rainer would liken it to a large church or cathedral. A bit surprised at such a similar architecture, but he gave it no more thought.
The place was only lit by the radiance of Rainer’s armed [Arcane Bolts]. All the braziers on the wall were dark. Leaf looking at Rainer lamented his decision to bring along a few torches having a human one shining so brightly.
As they moved forward into the building the light of the Arcane soon shined upon 15 chairs at what seems to be the focal point. To their left and right were pathways that led to unlit braziers. They all stood in the center staring at those 15 chairs. All but one were empty…
The farthest to the left soon moved his eyes awoke with a pale blue flame. His appearance exactly that of their fallen [Archer]. Yet he wore a dark metal armor and wield a cursed looking bow on his lap. He jumped into the air in an instant. Rainer expecting such an occurrence once he saw the 15 chairs had prepared to fire his armed [Arcane Bolts].
“You left me to die!!” The Undead roared. Yet such a tactic was ineffective to Rainer who hadn’t even known Yun well at all.
The moment the accused Undead drew his bow and an ethereal pale blue arrow formed Rainer fired his bolts. All 6 in a swirling formation honed in on the aloft figure. The figure ripped apart into separate limbs. Yet, even expecting the situation Rainer had been too slow. The arrow managed to be released. Erik moved in front of Rainer with his shield up, having been the closest. Yet the arrow went straight through into Erik before his body instantly erupted into blue flames.
“Back!” Rainer quickly yelled understanding what was to come next and pushing down his failure once more for a later date. This time, Leaf had been among those who faltered. Erik had been with him since the beginning, but Rainer’s yell brought him out of it.
Rainer as quickly as he could, formed an [Arcane Bolt] charging it with more Arcane Energy while still running further away.
The figure no longer burning wore a similar Armor yet held a small dark ax and shield. Erik’s originally long brown hair dyed to a pale white.
Rainer had time to appraise him now.
[Undead, male, Lesser Death Knight lvl 9]
Erik twisted his head unnaturally as his pale burning eyes faced down Rainer. Arrows were unleashed and axes thrown. Kara and Leaf headed towards Rainer’s direction seeing where the figure was looking.
The arrows and axes bounced harmlessly off the armor, though an arrow had grazed the figure's head causing a slight scratch.
The Undead merely gave a laugh, twisted its body to face the same direction as its head, and charged towards Rainer as he unleashed his empowered [Arcane Bolt]. It hurled through the air yet Erik had diverted it with his black metal shield staggering the Death Knight only slightly as the shield cracked and the bolt broke part of a support pillar.
Erik continued forward launching Rainer into a wall nearly 20 feet away with his shield, just before Kara had slashed her sword and beheaded the [Lesser Death Knight].
Rainer smashed into the wall as Erik died for a final time. He gasped for air as he felt a severe pain in his chest, back and ribs, though it seemed his resistances saved him from death for now.
Kara not even checking the state of the Lesser Death Knight ran over to Rainer.
“Rainer quickly heal.” Kara replied knowing the existence of Rainer’s fairy and a few of her abilities.
“Its...fine...its...not...somthing I can…” He coughed a bit of blood up before he could finish.
Luna had begun healing him regardless of protests, she had covered herself in a thick screen of Fairy Fire and was unharmed. Though it was certainly not a shielding method that would work for anything larger than her.
Flying outside of the overcoat pocket Luna began wielding her Fairy Fire, the injuries more severe than Rainer’s ever had and taking longer to heal.
The rest of the group had already rushed over, many fearing Rainer as the next to rise as Undead, but to everyone’s relief he survived. But upon seeing the fairy they all gave strange looks. Rainer’s next words put off an explanation for now.
“Don’t relax...there’s no message...it's not over.” Rainer said as he pointed to the corpses that were now burning with a pale blue fire once more. Instead, their bodies were engulfed by it and drawn into a floating ball of fire. The fire flew around the room yet ignored the braziers instead gathering into the center into a maelstrom of flame.
The rest of the group began making a formation around the figure. They spread out dropping their supplies and shields. The [Archers] and [Hunters] surrounded the figure from all sides a decent distance away. Bows already drawn. Lewis, Han, Tanis and Leaf formed a square formation close to the figure as the [Warriors] of the group. Leaf himself recently advancing to level 4.
Kara remained at Rainer’s side as Luna continued to heal him. He didn’t know if the next figure would target him first once more, and Kara was fast enough to reach them and assist in time in any case.
Kara stood with her back faced to him and while Rainer looked at Luna desperately healing him.
They know now…
People who’d give their lives to achieve a higher level knew of his fairy. While Rainer still didn’t understand what was so valuable about fairy dust he didn’t think anyone other than Kara above trying to take Luna from him, not even Leaf. It clearly brought harm to get it from Luna, or she’d likely have given him some already, and he had no interest in such a thing.
The flames brought out from within a figure twice the size of a man. In his left, he wielded a large ax. In his right a larger version of the second Death Knight's shield. His entire figured covered in armor and a helmet that let only the pale blue light of his eyes leak through.
[Undead, Male, Death Knight Lvl 9]
“Rainer their armor is a reinforced magical construct. Any sort of damage can eventually dissipate its protection.”
“Any damage to this wretched creature will eventually break its armor! Fire at will!” Leaf yelled out after hearing what the fairy had said.
Rainer checked his mana before he began arming more [Arcane Bolts] as he was being healed.
[Primary Classes: Arcanist Lvl 7/25]
[Titles: Arcane Scholar, Fae Contractor, Arcane Elementalist]
[Skills: Sleep Learning lvl 9/10, Appraisal lvl 2/10, Goblin Anatomy lvl 1/10, Fae Anatomy lvl 4/10, Long Jumping lvl 2/10, Sprinting lvl 1/10, Bare-Fist Fighting lvl 1/10, Weightless Blade Mastery lvl 2/10, General Blade Mastery lvl 2/10, Muknar Language 3/10, Faaran Runic Language lvl 3/10, Fae Language lvl 1/10, Mana Manipulation lvl 2/10, Arcane Energy Manipulation lvl 4/10, Fire Manipulation lvl 1/10]
[Toggled On Skills: Pain Resistance lvl 1/10, Physical Resistance lvl 1/10, Burn Resistance lvl 1/10, Fire Resistance lvl 1/10, Mental Resistance lvl 1/10]
[Toggled Off Skills: None]
[Skill Points: 5]
[Talents: Excellent Arcane Affinity, Human Growth, Gift of the Fae(Luna)]
[Stamina Regen: .1% per second]
[Mana Regen: .0026 per second]
So long as it's not focused on me I can…
The moment the [Archers[ and [Hunters] loosed their arrows the [Death Knight] made a sharp turn cutting down with his ax to where Leaf had been standing just a moment ago.
“Kara go, it's not paying attention to me. I’ll be fine until I attack.”
She hesitated for a moment before rushing forward. Rainer immediately questioned her loyalty to this group wondering how she ended up traveling with them. Other than a few almost business-like conversations, she didn’t seem close to anyone.
The other three [Warriors] within close range all striked at the [Death Knight]’s flanks staggering him slightly yet immediately he whirled his ax in a circle, killing Tanis who was too slow to jump away. Instantly his corpse began to burn with the same flame as the others though at a slower pace than before.
Kara rushed over to the newly forming [Lower Death Knight]. Yet different from before as the Undead formed of a [Warrior] he had the speed to dodge her beheading blow and strike back with his own sword.
As Kara moved around striking all across her target the rest focused on the [Death Knight].
He moved in bursts of speed and while fast, his actual speed was far slower. Clinks against his metal armor rang out and cracks began forming, the magic weakening. Luna still healed Rainer but now he stood up, 6 bolts already finished arming. Kara had just finished off the [Lower Death Knight] as well.
Saving his armed ones he instead began empowering an [Arcane Bolt]. Just as the [Death Knight] was about to strike at another [Warrior] his head swiveled towards Rainer but it was too late to change anything.
The [Arcane Bolt] exploded out from Rainer and finished off the armor shattering all of it leaving behind a ghastly undead figure. Arrows immediately penetrated the figure wearing only torn cloth pants, but soon he completely changed. Pale-blue flame erupted across his whole body and he roared out, dropping his shield and ax. He leaped to his left quickly grabbing the group’s remaining [Hunter] and threw him towards another [Archer], life and death undetermined for the [Archer]. The Winter’s Guardians began as 13, now 9.
He then began a maddening rush towards Rainer. Immediately all 6 armed bolt were fired yet the figure spun in mid-air dodging three of them and only losing an arm to the rest. He landed harshly yet continued towards Rainer. The cracking of bone could be heard in the background yet Rainer could only see the monstrosity in front of him.
The figure swung its large bony hand downwards yet just before it was Rainer’s end a black shadow traced by a baleful red aura clawed down. The Undead different from the tank of before, sidestepped avoiding 5 long claw marks that cleaved into the ground.
Standing in front of Rainer stood a Demonic-looking Werewolf several feet taller than himself. Rainer had not even been frightened for a moment seeing her familiar golden eyes, though the right had turned red.
The one armed enraged [Death Knight] regained its footing and charged at the transformed Kara. The rest of the group formed a formation unable to get in between the battle of these giants of haste.
As Rainer began reforming his armed [Arcane Bolts] he used [Appraisal] on Kara.
[Half-Demon/Half-Wolfkin, female, Blade Dancer lvl 6, Demonic Werewolf lvl 3]
Something had hidden her true race. Rainer gave it no more thought as he looked for his opening. Yet their speed of combat was truly too fast as he witnessed the true usage of Kara’s skills. A red aura extended every time she swiped with her claws, her form and movement in the same spirit as when she wields two blades.
He had not noticed the strange looks on everyone else's faces, even Luna’s. They were not the appearance of someone who had been saved.
It was in the moment Kara had lost her footing that Rainer found an opportunity.
In a burst of speed even beyond the [Death Knight]'s current, the enraged Undead swept with a spinning leg knocking the transformed Kara off her feet. Yet just as he was about to slam down a powerful [Cone of Arcane-Flame] erupted over Kara and onto the [Death Knight]. Sounds of combustion rang out as a burnt corpse flew backward landing unmoving in front of the rest of the group.
The fallen [Hunter] which had just been about to finish becoming a [Lower Death Knight] collapsed.
Messages appeared for all yet Rainer quickly ran over to the fallen and reverting back to her wolfkin form,Kara. Seeing everyone looking this way Rainer removed his overcoat and put it on her. Yet just as he was about to celebrate their victory a panicked voice rang out behind him.
“What are you doing Rainer get away from that vile thing!” Luna, to his surprise, screamed out.
He had thought to chastise her for taking her words a step above harlot when he noticed that the entire group wasn’t peeking at the formerly nude form of Kara.
They stared at her instead with an unmatched hatred.