Chapter 20 – Reunited

Editors: genericIntent, Shieldbasher, Vincent, Scott
Author’s notes: *cough* This is a little awkward *cough*. Sorry for being late everyone. Not only has there has been a lot going on but I allowed myself to get distracted far too easily the past few weeks. I have a lot of back log in writing to do to make it up to you all so I will be giving my 100% over the next two weeks. I will add a little bit about my distractions in the next part of the ‘About Me’ page later tonight. But for now, what you have all been waiting for! The fully edited version of chapter 18 will be up tonight as well! In case any of you are interested.
Also, as a full chapter release. It is greatly appreciated if you could take a minute of your time to follow the link and vote for End Online at TopWebFiction.com!
Editor’s notes:…     (Still nothing from these guys! Maybe it is stage fright!)

-Lost-

The wedding ceremony and reception carries on throughout the night, only ending at first light. Without logging off or sleeping in the game, I start to feel fatigue weighing me down. I decide to ignore it and just get some rest later.

Under the rising sun, all the elves emerge from the bramble houses and begin their daily routine. Countless elves are gently chanting to some of the damaged houses with voices that seem to interact with nature itself. As they place their hands on the natural structures, the walls come alive and regenerate any damage sustained due to lack of supervision. The entire city begins to repair itself before my eyes. With all the elves’ melodic voices in the background fueling the change, even I can’t help but feel my heartbeat climb.

The walls on a few of the houses split and dilate open, turning into shops for all sorts of equipment and items. There are no lamps, torches, or any other forms of lighting along the streets at all. As I witnessed last night, the city is graced by condensed moonlight, showering everything in a silvery night that sparkled off any dust in the air.

Bringing my attention away from all the reconstructions and developments in the city, I head off towards the Eltreant castle. Everyone in my party follows behind me silently, staring wide-eyed at all the elves and the peaceful atmosphere surrounding us.

We walk straight along the main road to arrive at the castle as soon as possible. With the large stone keep in front of us, we enter without hesitation.

There aren’t a lot of elves in the castle. Whether it is a result of memories from being enslaved here or something else, the corridors are nearly deserted. The only counterpoint to the mood inside is the echo of birds chirping from outside. The interior is also well lit now. Since reclaiming the city, the elves had hung fist-sized, yellow-white stones from the walls, creating a soft light similar to the sun.

We arrive at one of the innermost rooms and knock on the gold leaf inlaid door. It slowly opens and reveals a large antechamber. This isn’t the throne room where three elven elders reside to govern the city, but the residence of the newlyweds, Hon’ar and Shai’en.

“Hon’ar,” I say politely to the elf as he fully opens the door. “We have come to say our goodbyes. We will be leaving this morning.”

Hon’ar looks a little surprised at us leaving so early, but a hint of understanding shows on his face.

“Yes, I am sure you have plenty to do elsewhere. I… no, the entire elven race is grateful for what you have done for us. We have finally reclaimed our homes!”

He bows at a 45 degree angle from the hips, showing his utmost gratitude to me.

“Oh, I had almost forgotten!” He calls out before we have a chance to turn around and leave. “I had these passed down from the elders. We are not ready to lower our barrier and allow others to enter the village just yet, but we would still like to gift this to each of you.”

He holds up four string necklaces, each with a single reversed aquamarine tear drop on them.

Necklace of the Elves
A necklace given to elves upon their coming of age
ceremony. It allows the wielder and any fellow party
members to be unaffected by elven illusion magic and 
also grants a resistance against negative mental effects
and illusions.

Requirements:
Level 10

Armour Type: Accessory(Necklace)
Durability: 25/25
Weight: 0.4 lbs

Abilities:
- Immune to elven misdirection magic.
- 4% resistance to negative mental conditions.
- 4% resistance to illusion magic.
- Cannot be stolen and will not drop upon death.

A necklace appears in not just my inventory, but everyone else’s too.

‘Hmm, it’s only rare,’ I think to myself as I look at the orange border around the item.

“Wait, did you say you are not going to let others in yet? Does that mean you plan to?” I ask in surprise.

“Yes. There was a big meeting between the elders and the leaders of each community. We came to the conclusion that this whole incident stemmed from the enmity between elves and humans. We feel that this is the best way to bring our races closer together. We will even allow some to become elves and join the city.”

At these words, Mason’s eyebrows shoot up in shock.

“Does that mean I can become an elf? Are there any benefits in changing race?” He raises his voice as he is overcome with enthusiasm.

“Of course,” Hon’ar responds with a smile. “Elves level at a higher rate, almost twice as fast as you humans. We also have certain skills that only Elves can learn, such as ‘Elvish Archery’, which adds a high bonus damage and accuracy to our arrows. Do you have a compact soul gem on you for the process?”

“Ah. Sorry, I don’t. Can we do it without one?”

“Unfortunately not. It isn’t that I don’t want to help you, but can’t. A compact soul gem holds a piece of your essence within itself and is then placed within our city keep. Not only will you then revive here in Eltreant, but the magic of our race will envelop your soul fragment and cause you to be reborn as an Elf. Any old compact soul gems are also turned to dust upon the formation of a new one. As you can understand, this whole process is simply impossible without a compact soul gem.”

The glee on Mason’s face fades as he comes to understand that right now, becoming an elf is impossible. He truly would be great as an elf, considering his speciality with a bow.

“Thank you Hon’ar,” I return the earlier bow he gave me with one of my own.

At that, our party leaves the elf behind as we make our way outside of the castle.

Before leaving Eltreant, we do a little exploring of the city. Much to my surprise, there are, in fact, elven blacksmiths which can repair all of our equipment. Unfortunately though, the stores haven’t been restocked and we can not purchase any health potions, herbs, or arrows.

Outside of the city, I lead the party south, back towards Grenton. The once mist-obscured forest has since lost its deathly aura, and natural sunlight has begun to break through the canopy of the forest. The small patches of illuminated ground show signs of fresh foliage, sprouts of what will eventually become small bushes and a myriad of spring flowers.

“I can understand why the elves are said to create some of the most visually appealing structures and architecture. It isn’t so much their great artisan skills, but the ability to affect mother nature. In terms of beauty, nothing compares to that.” I think out loud.

Half a week passes as we quickly cover the distance to Grenton, arriving just outside of the eastern side of Eldenweiss Forest.

“I wonder if that illusion magic still takes hold now that the elves have left?” Mason asks while raising one eyebrow in the direction of the forest.

“How could we tell? It wouldn’t affect us anyway, now that we have these necklaces,” I chuckle while responding.

“Not if we don’t equip them.”

I am shocked into silence over how simple it is. I simply didn’t think it through at all, so the fact that not wearing the necklace would negate its abilities didn’t occur to me.

‘If only my intimidating aura could be turned off like that.’ A resounding sigh echoes in my mind as I think about the inconvenient skill.

While Mason and I are considering the options of testing whether the forest is still under the influence of the elven magic, Matrix nudges the two of us.

As we turn our attention to him, he nods toward a small group of players fifty meters to our right. We see them conversing with each other while constantly looking over at us. Unfortunately, we are too far away to be able to hear what they are saying.

“Something doesn’t feel right,” Mason whispers to me.

“Agreed,” I say back.

“Why… are they… looking at us?” Fen chimes in from behind.

“I don’t know,but how about we go over and find out?” I don’t wait for a response as I start walking towards the group of players, the rest of the party in tow.

We barely even pass a quarter of the distance before they turn around and start running off.

“Fen,” I gently call out.

The wolf girl already understands my intent, suddenly moving at breakneck speed next to me as we rush towards the fleeing players at our top speeds. I move slightly faster than Fen, who can only keep up with my afterimage.

The fleeing party’s eyes widen in surprise as Fen flashes in front of them while I seemingly appear out of mid air.

“Excuse me, can I please ask you a few questions?” I put on a smile while asking, before realizing they can’t see it under the shroud of my hood.

Only showing a moment of hesitation. The players immediately take the initiative to attack Fen and I. A player from the back instantly casts a flame spell that causes three fireballs to arc towards each of us from a different direction while the party leader leaps through the air at us with his axe held high.

The leader’s axe emits a pale yellow light as it glides through the air to land on the ground between Fen and I. What seemed like a light swing suddenly crashes down with the force of a mountain, not only knocking the two of us back several meters, but also doing considerable damage from the rock shards flying through the air as shrapnel.

‘So strong!’ I think to myself after seeing his attack.

They have incredibly poor teamwork. The attack from the leader causes the mage’s attack to miss without us even having to move an inch.

“If you won’t talk and simply attack us for no reason, then don’t blame me for what happens next!” I say loud enough for their whole party to hear.

Almost like a silent signal is sent up, my whole party jumps into action.

I create false mirages of myself as I instantly close the distance to the leader and start swinging my shortsword at the player’s vitals to score critical hits. Fen seems to be in an excitable mood, staying by my side and using two daggers of ice to hack and slash with no rhythm or technique.

From behind, Mason start firing off arrows with his new ‘legendary’ rarity bow. I am already aware of the increased range of the bows, but the speed of the arrows themselves also appear to be considerably faster than normal.

Matrix casts a few minor spells, but nothing compared to what I know he is capable of.

The party who provoked us never had a chance, barely lasting moments before there is but a single player left alive. The last player is a middle-aged man of scrawny build in leather armor with a dagger tucked into his belt. He is slowly backing away while constantly sending glances behind him, almost as if he expects one of us to appear from behind him.

“P-please wait,” the shady looking player cries out with his arms stretched out to halt us.

“I don’t want to die. It will take me too long to recover the lost stats,” he explains while I continue to advance.

I can kill him without suffering any repercussions at the moment. After all, one of the members of his party attacked us first so we can retaliate against every member of that party without falling into the player-killer status. A true group of PK’ers would know this, and wouldn’t form a party together for this very reason.

“So why did you attack us then?” I ask curiously.

“We were afraid you would attack us, so we took the initiative in hopes of winning. We planned to hide until the player-killer status faded away.”

“I don’t see why you think we were going to attack you,” I furrow my brows.

“Aren’t you the ruthless player killer from the forest outside of Grenton? There are plenty of rumours about the player with the white fur cloak and hidden face.”

My head turns slightly dizzy and I take a step back in shock at his words. Since when have I become such a notorious figure?

“I don’t know what you are talking about,” I respond once I regained my thoughts. “And I have never heard of any such rumours.”

“Me either.” Mason sighs.

“They started recently. Apparently there were some witnesses saying that a figure in a white fur cloak with player-killer status ran out of the forest here right after it caught fire. Most people even say that you started it.”

Under my hood, my face pales even further. I can imagine the crime in the game that such destruction must entail. My character may be locked up in a cell and not able to play. If that were to happen, I’d be lucky to only have my character locked up for a month minimum!

“Alright, you can go now,” I nervously say.

Without hesitation, the shady character quickly rushes off into the forest behind us.

“Let’s hurry up and see what the situation in Grenton is,” Mason speaks for the party as we start walking in the direction of the city, sticking close to Eldenweiss Forest.

We come within range of the city and there are a few people eyeing our party off to the side. I can also see some form of checkpoint at the city gates; the guards are checking every player who enters and exits the city.

“… You should stay here. Just in case,” Mason murmurs to me.

“… Agreed,” I say while Fen automatically moves closer to me, indicating she will stay as well. Quietly, I head off into the outskirts of Eldenweiss Forest.

***************************************************
***************************************************

-Mason-

I am extremely nervous about entering Grenton. If anyone recognizes me as one of Lost’s group-members, rumors of me being an accomplice to the forest fire could start.

Matrix and I eventually arrive at Grenton’s gates, where a small crowd of players is waiting to be screened by the guards before entering.

I glance over towards where Lost and Fen are hiding in the forest, hoping that they remain hidden for the time being at least.

“Next!” An NPC guard calls out.

Realizing Matrix and I are up next, we hurry over to the man.

“You, have you seen a man wearing a white fur cloak with his face hidden? There have been reports of him being sighted in the nearby hills.” He says while looming over the two of us in an intimidating way.

“S-sorry,” I stammer out. “I haven’t seen anyone who looks like that.”

“Are you sure? Don’t lie to me now!”

“Y-yes, I am sure. Sorry I couldn’t be of more help to you.”

“Fine,” the guard sighs, dropping his overbearing demeanor. “If you do see or hear something, make sure you notify the nearest patrol in the city. This man is our prime suspect for causing the fire in the neighboring forest and also starting a smaller fire in the city which claimed six entire buildings.”

With a wave of his hand, the guard passes us through and we enter Grenton without any more issues.

With the city gates behind us, we head straight for the nearest general store. I don’t pay much attention to which store I lead my brother to beyond making sure it isn’t one I have visited previously.

“Excuse me, I would like these items,” I say to an enormous man that may be half bear. I lay an assortment of health and mana potions on the counter in front of me, and prepare to pay for the items.

The bear-man doesn’t say a word, but grunts once before a trade window opens in front of me to confirm the exchange.

“Thank you,” I say before quickly disappearing from the shop.

***************************************************
***************************************************

-Lost-

While Mason is gone, I sit in the forest brooding over not being able to enter the city. I know that somewhere along the wall there is the small hidden tunnel that Verde followed the innkeeper’s daughter through. The problem is that the wall is immensely long and Verde isn’t here.

The worst part about being unable to enter the city is that I am extremely anxious to sell my legendary bow, but I don’t know how to get it to the auction house. I need to sell the bow while it is still a top-tier weapon. As time goes on, there will be better equipment available, so I won’t be able to sell the bow at a premium.

Two hours pass before Mason and Matrix reappear at the outskirts of the forest. I spent a lot of time avoiding the few players that entered the forest near me, but now that the brothers are here, I reveal myself to them.

“Did you get what you need?” I ask Mason while restraining my inner turmoil.

“Yes, we have stocked up on potions and other consumables.”

“…”

“You know,” he continues after listening to my silence, “I know of a good dungeon off to the west. There are actually a lot of players who travel there to train, but they only stay on the first three levels as it gets far too dangerous afterwards. Maybe we can dare it.”

“That is a good idea. Afterwards we will head for Swordbreak.” A new plan forms in my mind; I will sell my goods in the capital of Dalbe.

“Let’s go, then.”

Fen and I follow the two brothers deeper into the forest while I check my friends list to contact Prince Charming one last time before leaving.

My eyes widen in surprise when I notice that everyone in my short list of friends is online, including Verde. Without a moment’s hesitation, I send a private message to her.

“Verde! What happened? You haven’t been online for so long!” I almost shout through the private line to her. In truth, it has only been about two weeks. But when you are used to seeing someone practically every day, two weeks can be a long time.

“Oh, Lost. How are you. Has it really been that long?” She replies monotonously after a short break.

“Not really. Only a couple of weeks. But it feels longer for some reason.”

“Have you been well?”

“Of course. And yourself?”

“Same as always. Hey, why are you messaging me?”

“Huh? What do you mean?”

“Well, why are you messaging me out of nowhere? No particular reason, I am just curious.”

“Is everything okay? We have travelled together for so long. What is strange about me messaging you?”

An awkward silence follows as I think in confusion about her questions. Something isn’t quite right, but I can’t quite put my finger on the cause of this strange feeling.

“Of course! Sorry, I’m just feeling a little lightheaded lately. Did you want me to come back to your party?”

“Since when were you not a part of my party? We have all been working together for so long.”

“Yes, I just mean… uhh… do you want me to come meet you somewhere? I am currently in Grenton.”

“Do you want to meet us at the forest on the eastern side of the city?”

“Yep! I will see you there!”

An hour passes idly by while we wait for Verde to arrive.

“I’m here!” A nostalgic voice calls out through the trees as Verde’s form reveals itself.

My breath escapes me as I once again witness her alluring beauty. From the curve of her hips to the way her brown hair sways in the wind; I find myself entranced by every aspect of her. The most shocking part of her appearance is that her hood is down, revealing her flawless ivory skin, boundless brown eyes, and perfectly balanced eyebrows.

“Verde, it is good to see you again. Has all been well?” Mason speaks politely after noticing I am at a loss for words.

“Yes, I have been well. Just a little busy with real life lately.”

“…Verde! It is good to see you again!” The moment I open my mouth to say the words, my stomach clenches up and the result is short, abrupt sentences.

“Yeah, you too!” She replies with  a blank smile on her face.

“Ahem!” Mason clears his throat to get our attention. “Now that we are all together, shouldn’t we be heading off? I assume Sir Laurence won’t be joining us. If I recall correctly, he decided to leave the party.”

‘He has a fair point,’ I think to myself silently. ‘But Prince Charming only left because Verde wasn’t here. Now that she’s back…’

“I will be coming.” Almost as if my thoughts took physical form, a man in shining armour appears from behind one of the nearby trees.

“Sir Laurence, a pleasure for you to join us.” Mason speaks in a tone that can’t be taken as anything other than insincere.

“Save it,” he grunts, barely looking over at the older of the brothers. “My lady, I am humbled to be in front of you again.”

He goes to one knee in front of Verde, who shows the utmost shock and disgust.

“W-w-who are you?!” She cries out abruptly, causing us all to feel surprised.

“Did she not recognize him? Or refusing to do so?” I speak over party chat to the others. Nobody replies, seemingly at as much of a loss for words as I am right now.

The prince looks up at her, surprise and confusion battling in his clear blue eyes.

“I am but your humble servant. A knight to act as your shield.” He says, returning to his usual gallant tone of voice.

“I-I see. My apologies, it has been a while and I was just a little surprised.” Verde coughs gently into a closed fist while looking for a way out of the situation.

I immediately send invites to the two newcomers, bringing everyone’s attention away from the awkward moment that just happened.

As soon as the two accept the invitation, I am greatly shocked upon seeing Prince Charming’s level. It is well above the rest of us at a massive 178. A hint of pride shows in his face as he sees my surprise at his high level. I almost ask him how he leveled so fast before deciding it is best to not feed his enormous ego.

“Well, we are all reunited once again. Let us be off.” Turning away I start to walk north before slowly angling myself to travel around the circumnavigating wall of Grenton.

We finally reach the western side of Grenton after two hours. There are no entrances to the capital of Forste on the west wall, only on the south and east sides of the city. Eldenweiss Forest starts at the north east side of the city, wrapping around counter clockwise to end just before the southern entrance. Any plans to build a north or west gate are blocked by semi-dense forest.

“Mason, I will leave it to you to lead the way.” I laugh slightly, rolling my arm out in a gesture of inviting him to walk out front. The brother also has a slight chuckle as he steps out in front and starts walking westward.

Fen, Mason, Matrix and I all have our ‘Necklace of the Elves’ equipped, so even if there are any traces of the elven misdirection magic remaining in the forest, we should be able to easily pass through. Mason told me earlier that apparently people normally travel to this dungeon by leaving from Grenton’s south gate and travelling around the outskirts of the forest.

The angle of the rays of light entering through the gaps of the canopy slowly extends as the day presses on, eventually fading away as night descends upon us.

“We are nearly out of the forest,” Mason stops abruptly and says. “Let’s set up camp for now and rest for the night.”

“Sorry, I couldn’t go into Grenton so I couldn’t buy sleeping bags for Fen and myself. We will log off and meet you here again in three hours.” I say to him, thinking I should have asked him to purchase two for us when he went into town.

“Hah, funny you should say that.” He operates his inventory menu and withdraws a dark blue sleeping bag with a laugh. “I remember that you were short a sleeping bag from last time. I brought you a present.”

He throws the sleeping bag directly at me as if it is an arrow, leaving me no choice other than to either let it hit me or catch it. I choose the latter, raising my hands at the last second to take a firm grasp of it.

“Thank you, Mason,” I say sincerely.

We all unroll our blankets, getting ready to rest for the night.

“Lost,” Prince Charming calls out right as I am about to climb into bed. “I think you should stand guard tonight, don’t you?”

“What!? Why?” I ask, astonished.

“You were just given a new sleeping bag for free. It is only natural that you should stay up tonight to stand guard so everyone else can rest.”

I notice a strange glint in everyone’s eyes as soon as the prince speaks those words. Almost as if the same idea occurs to them all in the same instant, they jump into their sleeping bags. I stand as stiff as a statue, dumbfounded. Only Fen, loftily standing next to me, has yet to get into a sleeping bag.

“I’m… still here.” she speaks, her voice like a sharp crystal ringing in the night.

“Go to bed, Fen.” I sigh at the girl.

There is no point in both of us staying up to guard the others. Then two people would be feeling exhausted the next day. We also never have Fen take guard duty anymore either, considering that she simply climbs into my bed the moment all of us are asleep.

Fen crawls into my original sleeping bag, refusing to use the new one for some reason. With nothing left to do, I drift to the outskirts of the camp. Everyone should be well and truly asleep now with the system’s assistance. No matter how much noise I make, they will not wake up unless I intentionally try to wake them or this area becomes a combat zone.

Next to one of the trees, I perch on top a large rock. While losing myself in the sounds of the creatures of the night and the wind causing trees in the distance to groan, I feel a sense of foreboding overcome me.

I am immediately alerted to my surroundings, searching for any movement in the area. Gazing through the gaps in the trees around me, however, I fail to notice anything. I can still feel my body burning, like I was being watched from somewhere nearby with bad intentions.

“Tch,” I click my tongue as I look down at the sleeping party. Except, there is one that isn’t sleeping. Fen is lying there, almost trying to burn holes through me with her stare.

“You should be asleep.” I whisper to her once I get a little closer, crouching down next to her.

“I can’t… protect you… if I’m asleep.”

“I don’t need protecting.” I silently chuckle to myself, before standing up and walking back to where I came from.

Upon reaching the rock, I still have the feeling that there is someone watching me. Turning around to look at Fen, I see she is facing the other way.

‘Hmm. Perhaps I am just being paranoid.’

***************************************************

“Ahh!” Mason yawns while stretching his arms up in the air.

“Please. There is no need to exaggerate.” I say wearily, scoring a smirk from Mason.

“Come to think about it, you never did the overnight watch before, did you? How are you feeling?”

“Tired…”

I close my eyes for a moment, wanting to go to sleep, but the system keeps me awake. Only once my physical body is in a more dire need of sleep or it is night in the game will I be able to sleep again.

“Enough of the fun,” Mason says with excitement. “It is time for us to enter the greatest dungeon of all time. Everyone ready?”

We all confirm, ready to follow him wherever he leads us.

It takes us barely five minutes of walking before the morning sun breaks through the tree line and illuminates the open world. It is too bright from where we are standing, but as we get closer and our eyes adjust, everything comes into focus.

Hills, ranging from ten to twenty meters in height with long, slow slopes are visible as far as the eye can see. On top of each and every hill is a singular tree. They stand about one and a half times as tall as a standard tree, but more surprising are the vivid pink leaves that cover them. They almost seem like giant sticks of cotton candy.

“There is a road over there!” I call out to the others as I was first to the top of the hill.

A small dirt road, enough to fit perhaps four people abreast, winds in and around a lot of hills. I puzzle over why it doesn’t pass over any of the hills, but perhaps it is simply a quirk of the designer.

We walk over those hills in a straight line to the West. It turns out that the reason the path avoids the tops of the hills is that each tree here houses scores of dark grey vultures. Each vulture is around level 100 and will only attack once we pass underneath their tree.

Battling them isn’t very difficult. We rely on Mason’s archery and Fen’s ice bolts to take them down in swarms. It is only too bad that doesn’t leave much experience for the rest of us.

After a day of travelling, a large mountain range comes into view on the horizon. The mountain peaks pierce the clouds and a hint of snow can be seen on the caps.

“Hmm, that’s odd. Why is that one mountain peak flat? Almost like it has been cut off,” I say aloud.

“Battle Peak,” Mason replies. “At least, that’s what people call it. There are rumors that it used to be the tallest mountain in the range before the devil-king Asmodeus cleaved a third of it off. It was later turned into a battle arena where only the bravest can challenge the darkest incarnations of the underworld. Unfortunately, nobody knows how to get there.”

He sighs dramatically, clearly wanting to go up there.

“How do you know all this stuff?” I ask him sincerely.

“I read a lot of books in the library back in Grenton,” he shrugs his shoulders indifferently.

Three more days pass before the distant mountain range starts to loom over us. The sheer size of the range is stupefying. Even in the real world, there isn’t a range as enormous as this.

“I understand what you mean by nobody knowing how to get up there,” I murmur to Mason, who is unsurprised at the sight before him.

There is no possible way for someone to climb this mountain. The only way up would be with special gear and infinite stamina, or the ability to fly.

“Well, enough of that. Maybe someone will discover a way up there in the future. We are at our dungeon now, though.” He points toward two large doors built into the mountain wall. The doors are easily fifteen meters tall, and covered in carvings of ancient battles and gods.

The doors are slightly ajar, wide enough to allow two people to enter at a time.

“It’s kind of hard to miss. Isn’t it?” I laugh while looking at the massive entrance in front of me.

“It is also the passage from one side of the mountain range to the next. As you can imagine, it is naturally always packed full of players.” Mason explains with modesty.

“If it is so busy, how are we going to secure a hunting spot? There will be lines of people waiting inside.”

“That is only on the first few floors. It is supposed to be this game’s biggest dungeon, so there should still be lots of room on the lower levels. Besides, with that skill that causes all enemies within range to come under your aggro we have no need to secure a spot; we will just steal everyone else’s prey.”

“That’s not funny Mason, players get incredibly irritated over that. I have enough trouble as it is.” I reply sincerely only to have him laugh in return.

We all enter through the large double doors, arriving in a large corridor, about twenty meters in width. The grey stone walls are lined with wide, three-pronged candelabras which flicker every time a gust of wind comes in from outside.

The pathway is well lit, but the numerous candles cause numerous shadows to form, creating a moderately spooky atmosphere. We walk in silence, waiting for a group of monsters to appear at any time.

“Haha, no need to worry,” Mason laughs, creating multiple echoes in the distance. “The first floor is mostly a passage between the two sides of the mountain. There aren’t many monsters, and those that do appear are only around level 100.”

We all breathe sighs of relief. Our caution level is currently at its highest, considering we are venturing into a dungeon that we have never been in before. Carelessness will easily lead to death.

After ten minutes of walking, I widen my eyes in shock as we finally leave the passageway.

‘How can such a place possibly exist underground!’ I think to myself.

The passageway opens up into an enormous cavern. The diameter of the space is at least ten kilometres wide, and stretched upwards farther than the eye can see in a jagged cone like formation. In the centre of the cavern is an enormous 18th century gothic cathedral. Immeasurably tall spires of blackrock pierce the darkness above and wide arrays of buttresses branch between different sections of the building.

The entire structure is supported by multiple pillars below. Each pillar is easily fifty meters thick and extends all the way down into the endless chasm below.

We walk out onto a stone brick bridge as a torrent of winds buffets us from the side, threatening to blow us into the chasm below. I glance off the edge of the bridge and suffer a violent surge of vertigo. The bridge has precious few supporting pillars, spaced considerably far apart. I feel like the ground beneath my feet starts swaying and the whole world tilts over. In a panic, I stumble backwards and fall on my rear.

“Umm… I’m not too good with heights either,” Matrix says quietly to me as he extends a helping hand up.

I don’t say anything but I do accept his hand, using it to pull myself back to my feet. While we are busy standing at the start of the bridge, another group of players comes out from the passage we just left. They mustn’t have been far behind us in the walkway, but I never even heard them coming.

“Let’s go to the third floor today! I recently bought a new sword that is twice as strong as my last one!” The swordsman in front vigorously spoke to the three behind him.

“Yes! We could all gain at least ten levels if we go there!” A player behind him who appears to favor the bow replied.

They pass by us without sparing a glance our way. Clearly they must consider us a bunch of weak players and not worthy of their attention. I notice the other two players have large shields equipped. They must be defense specialists who protect the party.

“If they are going up to the third floor, they must be around level 200. Their equipment is quite good too.” Mason says while nodding his head.

“Are the enemies that strong?” I ask him.

“For the average player, yes. Most players have difficulty and will try avoid fighting monsters above their level. You guys are just freaks!” He exclaims.

“So the monsters on the third level should be level 200?” I ignore his accusation.

“Indeed, the first floor monsters are roughly level 100, and every consecutive floor up that level increases by 50. But then again, I have never heard of what is on the fifth floor and above.”

Hearing this, I start to get excited and want to explore the fifth floor, but I realize that my power is probably lacking to do so.

Judging from outside, a hundred thousand players could possibly use this training ground with comfort. but with only the bottom three floors being used, less than half of that can actually be here.

Without wasting any more time, we all walk across the bridge towards the looming cathedral. A few bats fly off from a balcony high above us, screeching throughout the cavern as we enter through the front doors of the building.

Now entering: Lords' Cathedral

Inside the main entrance is a large, gilded hall. There are a few doors leading off to other areas, but the polished marble floor and stained glass windows decorating the walls attract the eye. A few groups of players are off to one side, fighting little black-winged gremlins.

I immediately look at a player training by himself amidst all the teams. He is using a pillar to skirt around the goblin and stay out of its attack range while using his far superior reach to occasionally strike back at the monster. I chuckle to myself before abruptly stopping when I see the back of his right hand. There is no sigil indicating which kingdom he is from!

‘He is below level 50! He must be above the average player to be able to hunt here.’

I reminisce about when I started hunting wolves, and the treacherous tactics I had to employ in order to win. Fighting may be about a head-on collision of power where strength comes out on top, but victory is determined by tactics.

“Gahh!” A player off to the other side cries out as a winged gremlin suddenly appears from the wall, fluttering over and attacking him from behind. He must have been nearly dead already because his cry was in frustration at dying. Instantly, nearly a hundred players look over at the corpse with eyes full of greed. Killing a winged gremlin may give several silver coins, but a dead player can easily have over a hundred gold.

One of the player’s party members immediately picks up the two sacks of gold on the floor when the corpse turns into mist and disappears. He sends a threatening glare at all the people around, warning them that if they attack they will be met with steel and arrows.

“Let’s head on up.” I say, not wanting to be around here in case all these players decide to start some kind of battle royale.

With all the current monsters in the hall occupied by the players, we easily pass through the room. Pushing open one of the doors at the end, we enter into a corridor leading to other areas. The layout is quite simple; the hallway extends straight ahead, with doors on the side every thirty to forty meters.

“Which way now? There isn’t much point in staying on the lower levels.” I look towards Mason, the knowledgeable one of the party.

“We travel straight through. Then we pass through another hallway on the right. The staircase up is on the right hand side of the building.”

“You certainly know your way around. Have you been here before?” Prince Charming asks curiously.

“No. I simply did my research. I know the general layout of the first three floors.” Mason replies in a mysterious tone.

Following his directions, we travel straight to the entrance of the second floor. We encounter a few players along the way, half of which are complaining about overcrowding and not finding a good place to hunt. The other half are celebrating all the loot they received and levels gained.

“So this is it!” I exclaim in amazement.

“Two hours of walking. This place is simply too large.” Verde lowers her head and sighs.

The room is easily twice the size of any of the other hunting areas. A carpeted staircase spans a third of the room, running in a straight line up to the second story. Large quantities of empty bookshelves are lined against the left hand wall of the room, while the right hand side of the room has rows of innumerable stained glass windows.

A shiver runs down my spine and I can almost feel the presence of a pair of malevolent eyes resting on me. I stare up at a few of the stained glass windows, trying to see through them and into the endless abyss behind them.

Unfortunately, with all the light being brighter inside the room. The only thing I can see is the reflection of the ceiling.

“Am I the only one that feels like we are being watched?” I nervously ask out loud.

“I’m sure you are just imagining it.” Verde gives a slight smile.

“This is a boss room after all,” Mason says while nodding. “Perhaps you are getting weird vibes from that?”

“No. It actually feels like something is watching.”

“I have no idea then. I don’t have any strange feelings of someone watching.”

With that our conversation ends. We walk up the staircase and enter into the second floor shortly afterwards. The second floor is the same as the first floor. The layout of corridors and hunting room as well as how crowded it is almost makes me feel like I am still on the first floor.

The only difference with this floor is the monsters. This floor has red-winged gremlins and some form of shadow demon that can hide itself in the shadows and render physical attacks useless. It is a very difficult enemy for someone like myself who relies on physical attacks.

Just like on the first floor, we ignore the enemies and players around us and head to the next room. We follow this process until we finally reach a staircase leading to a higher floor.

Entering the third floor, I notice an immediate change. The light level here is considerably lower than that of the levels below. The decorative patterns along the ceiling and other small things have changed slightly as well.

‘No point worrying about it too much,’ I think to myself while following Mason’s lead.

We leave the upper staircase room and enter into some kind of cylindrical antichamber. The ceiling is the standard ten meters tall, but it has lifelike carvings of people crawling over each other and waging war with each other. The sight is incredibly disturbing and it distracts me long enough to not notice the approaching enemy which easily lands a sneak attack, removing nearly half my health.

“W-what!” I cry out, staggering back away from the creature. “Creature Analyze!”

Name: Little Devil
Level: 207
Health: 4215
Magic: 790
Stamina: 0

??

I hurriedly retreat away from the ‘Little Devil’. It is a small, one meter tall humanoid demon wielding a pitchfork taller than itself. Its skin is pitch black, much like you imagine a demon would look, with a few white tattoos on the side of it’s face.

A look of shock appears on my face when the devil suddenly vanishes in a wisp of black smoke. Another short burst of smoke and it reappears next to me, trident poised to thrust.

As the killer attack pierces the air in front of me. I don’t have the time nor skill to silently cast one of my skills before the attack hits me. All I can see is the cruel look on the devil’s face and a flash of black.

A faint tremor passes through the ground and into my body. Immediately before the attack hits, my body pulses with a pale blue light, and a cobalt sigil shaped like a shield appears in front of the attack. The weapon collides with the shield and sparks fly, but the defense outweighs the offense. The devil’s weapon chips slightly from the collision and the attack is completely nullified.

“Wow! That was incredible!” Matrix exclaims towards Prince Charming.

‘He must have been the one who cast that defense!’ I immediately piece together what happened in my mind. ‘It only lasted a moment, but that was an absolute defense.’

“Hmph,” the prince snorts while turning his head away, but not before sending me a challenging look of pride, as if to say, “Just look, I have become even better than you!”

I open my inventory and withdraw a few healing herbs while turning away and looking at all the other players in the area. They are all currently busy fighting their own ‘Little Devils.’ Each and every single party has at least two heavy tanks that will fight with their shields up and cover at least two directions. While covering as much area as possible, it makes it difficult for the enemy to suddenly teleport into a blind spot.

A few players who finish their battles send a glance or two toward us. Most of them simply go back to their own business. But a few start to murmur.

“Hey, isn’t that…”

“…Yeah, I think it is.”

“Is the bounty still active…?”

“It is! I just checked!”

“Be careful! He is supposed to have some strange abilities!”

I may not have paid attention to the first few players, but how can I possibly not notice when so many players are whispering?

“Everyone. I know it may be beyond us, but I want to go up to the fourth floor,” I say through the party chat.

The rest of the party also notice the dangerous looks I am getting and immediately agree.

We hurriedly rush out of the room and into a corridor. There are shining grey suits of armour lined up along the corridor, but at least there isn’t a creepy carving on the ceiling in this  room.

“I trust you know the way to this portal?” I ask Mason, who is standing slightly in front of us

“I do.” He says with conviction.

We pass through the corridors slowly, more alert than on any of the other floors. There are notably less players on the third floor, and as such, a lot more rampant monsters waiting for prey, so we must be careful.

We encounter a few more Little Devils along the way. We all team up to jointly kill the first two, while Fen, Mason and I handle the second two. I fight a fifth devil all by myself, redeeming my humiliation from the first ‘Little Devil’. It was a tough battle thanks to the devil constantly teleporting into my blind spots and firing pitch black flames at me.

“We are finally here,” Mason says while looking at the door in front of us, puzzled.

I walk forward and attempt to push on the door but Mason interrupts me. “Sorry, but I don’t think we can go any further. The door is completely shut, meaning the third floor boss inside must have revived.”

“We will go slay it then!” Prince Charming draws his sword and walks over to join me.

Fen is already beside me, so now the party is split in half.

“I want to join in as well.” Verde chimes in with a stunning smile. She walks over to me and tips the balance of the parties decision 4 against 2.

“Fine!” Mason cries out. “But don’t complain to me when we all die!”

I lean my hand against the door and gently push it open. With a crisp click, the door swings on it’s hinges and the empty room suddenly sucks in all the air from outside, sweeping us into the room in the process.

The room is pitch black at first, but slowly a few, large, candlelight chandeliers light up and illuminate the space.

At the far end of the room, standing in front of the massive staircase is a suit of armour three meters tall and wielding a blood red axe just as big.

“Creature Analyze!” I call out.

Name: Quicksilver Warlord (Boss Class)
Level: 248
Health: 18,480
Magic: 0
Stamina: 7,500

??

“He appears to be a melee fighter. Everyone, be careful of his sacred arts!” I call out to the party, readying myself to attack at a moment’s notice.

The door behind me silently swings shut, and upon closing, releases the sound of a lock falling into place.

Next Chapter

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33 Comments

  1. Maybe you should try offering your editors a metaphorical muffin to get them to talk? I find that metaphorical muffins and cyber cookies are good for cooperation. 😀

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  2. LOL, you’re absolutely correct, I didn’t see that writing speed coming, one day it’s at 16% then *BAM* 100%

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      1. Haha Vincent has been through it already, genericIntent is real busy with work at the moment and hasn’t had time (He is expected back this weekend). I assume the other two miscreants are a little busy at the moment as well. Well, if they work quick we may be looking at two chapters released shortly one after another ^.^

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        1. Your editors just know that you never feed leechers too quickly, because being quick just once means they’ll for ever bitch whenever they don’t get the next one just as quickly.

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  3. Hello everyone! Just finished my archive binge.

    I really like the story, at first the MC seemed a little week, and the story a bit too SAO-esq. However the MC has developed tremendously, and the world is unique and interesting. Love it!

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