Chapter 15: Staging

Chris snuck over to one of the stalagmites, hiding behind it, then he tried his quest screen again. Nothing. Status. Nothing.

The System didn’t work here. He still had his strength, his speed, his dashing goodish looks, but no System. Even his mana and Beast Soul Weapon worked, but the screens had just… died. He probably wasn’t even getting levels or System Coins for this. Which was absolute b*******. And likely the reason such quests were mandatory.

Hopefully he’d get some good rewards out of the experience. Maybe a title or two. That thought lifted his spirits as he peeked out from behind the stalagmites.

It was strange that the demons by the campfire hadn’t noticed him or the two individuals he’d killed next to the portal. Then he noticed a secondary shimmer in the air, farther away. This part functioned as a beachhead for people invading the Dungeon, preventing them from getting portal camped. Not that the demons looked to be expecting visitors. Their Dungeon had just spilled its occupants out into the world.

He moved up to the boundary of the second distortion, ready to charge at any moment. Then he waited. The demons really couldn’t see him.

They each had tall square shields nearby—which reminded Chris of the kind Roman legionaries used—and broadswords at their waists. He wondered what had happened to the weapons of the demons that went through. Had they been disintegrated? He shrugged, not his problem.

He stowed his mace in his belt and summoned the khopesh polearm. Then he charged.

He made it halfway to the campfire when they spotted him. The demons scrambled for their shields, bringing them to bear just as Chris reached them. He pulled one’s shield away with the inside edge of his curved blade, then turned his hand and went for a decapitation with the axe-like edge.

His finishing blow was stopped by a sword one of the demons had pulled from its sheath—to his surprise, it wasn’t made of iron, bronze, or steel, but a glistening black stone. Chris’ blade bit into the dark stone and blade scarred it deeply, but the enemy’s weapon held.

The third demon had used Chris’ attack to circle around and attack from the side. Chris swung his shield around to block the blow, then swung at the other two demons with his weapon to keep them at bay.

He charged the third demon with his shield held out and was satisfied to see the spiteful creature go flying away against the impact. He grinned. Divide and conquer.

The fallen demon used its wings to lift itself back up and forward, but Chris was ready for the move. He stepped back and swung at the monster, hooking its shield out of its grip. A cut with the inside of his blade severed the tendons of its leg, just as the other two demons stabbed at him with their broadswords.

Chris twisted. One point bounced off his armor, but the other reopened the wound he’d sustained back in the forest.

He gasped and moved away. But he’d already done the necessary damage. One of the demons was effectively down.

He powered between the two remaining demons, using his shield and weapon to separate the two and ward away their swords.

Then he turned and lashed back with his foot at the leftmost demon, sending the monster flying backward. The right demon stabbed, but its broadsword was deflected away by the rim of Chris’ shield. Then he vanished his weapon, raised his hand, resummoned it, and stabbed down. His weapon buried itself in the demon’s neck, just as his mana ran out.

There was one demon left in fighting shape. Now he drew his mace as the final demon came sailing toward him—only to be smacked back by a blow to its shield. Chris jumped after it, slamming another blow into its shield as it tried to raise itself for a second time. Then he dropped his mace, grabbed the sword in his right hand and ordered his arm to activate Stone Form.

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The sword became trapped within a cage of stony fingers, while the demon’s shield was pressed firmly against its body.

Chris wiggled his shield free, then began to slam its rim into the demon’s bat-like head. Soon the demon fell still. Chris released the sword, picked up the mace and went to finish off the other demons. The one whose throat he had slit was gasping weakly on the ground, while the one with the injured leg was flapping around chaotically, trying to push itself upward, only to fall from its wounded limb. Both went down without much of a fight.

He reached into his pocket, remembering the maybe-health-potions. He pulled one out, thinking about where it had come from. He’d received two quests, one to enter the Dungeon, the other to seal it. The potions must be a reward then. Just like how the ‘Join a Beast Horde’ quest had ‘rewarded’ him with protection against the other monsters. One easily completable quest to necessarily prepare the quester for a harder one.

At least he hoped that was why he’d gotten the potions. The vials seemed to be made of a similar crystal to the Mana Manual and the Soul Gems. He tried drawing the crystal into him. It sunk into his hand, forming a tattoo—just like the Beast Soul Weapon—then returned when he tried to retrieve it.

Awesome, that would save him from having to worry about broken glass. He removed the crystal stopper, paused and dripped a tiny drop onto his Slime arm. He remembered something from his time in the laboratory, and wanted to test it out.

The droplet hung on his arm’s surface, wobbling as the surface tension prevented it from rolling off. He commanded the Slime to consume the droplet. The liquid sank into his skin and he felt wellness spreading from the area.

He pressed his right hand across the bottle’s opening and commanded the Slime to drink the rest. A stream of goo entered the bottle and in moments absorbed the potion into itself. Nifty.

Compared to the single drop, the entire bottle was far more effective, and just like in the laboratory, the potion began diffusing into the Slime that filled his flesh and veins.

His wounds began to itch, closing at a rapid pace. He smiled. Health potion, indeed.

He pulled the other four bottles from his pocket, then stored them in his arm one by one, creating four tattoos with dots of red in their center.

He began breaking open the crates. Weapons and shields spilled out—made of the same dark stone. In others there was stored food, but Chris didn’t dare test if it was edible. There were even tents, and posts, and tarpaulin sheets packed in a few. He left most of it where it was. There was little he could actually use.

He crept through the room, then continued down a wide corridor. Unlike the staging area, there was no firelight to illuminate the surroundings. Instead, small veins of golden stone exude a faint luminescence that barely dispelled the worst of the darkness.

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Soon the sound of rushing water greeted his ears. He forged ahead as the sound intensified. He turned the corner, coming to face a stone bridge that spanned a roaring underground river. At its other end was a tower of black stone that stretched upward, ending in a sharp peak—purple runes like the one he’d seen on the obelisk covered its surface. The cavern continued above it, narrowing into a shaft along which glimmerings of sharp sunlight could be seen.

He’d already known that he was underground, but this confirmed it. As he looked on, he saw a small wooden platform descending, suspended by thick rope and packed with demons. It was hard to tell in the dim light, most of them looked like the bat-faced creatures, but some looked more skeletal—gangly and spiderlike.

Chris moved forward. The bridge had stone sidings to prevent those walking along it from getting pushed off. At the closest side, a stone gargoyle had been carved on top of each siding.

He smirked, remembering the rock trolls. “Yeah, no way I’m falling for that.”

He walked up to the first gargoyle and whacked it with his mace. The gargoyle crumbled into gravel at the blow and dark smoke rose from the broken rock.

Chris turned to the next one. It hadn’t moved. He grinned, put down his bone shield and held the mace like a baseball bat. He tapped his foot against the bridge, watching the gargoyle intently.

The moment his shoes touched the masonry, the gargoyle twitched almost imperceptibly, its eyes moving ever so slightly, then more as it saw a grinning human, poised with a weapon.

Chris swung for a home run, sending shards of gravel and bursts of black smoke flying into the river.

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