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Getting closer to their destination, Sera noticed that the air got more humid. Distracted by the new experience in the forest realm which had gotten a bit boring by now, she quickly forgot that she was in the middle of a conversation with their new team member. Ignoring the other two and concentrating on her environment, she also started to hear the gushing of water in the distance. Judging that her sister was probably safe for the moment with Nia around, she ran ahead. The direction of the water and their goal seemed to overlap, so it shouldn’t cause issues and, if someone attacked the two who remained behind, she could probably return in time.
It didn’t take long for her to find the source of the noise. The land of the forest broke away and a sinkhole opened in front of her. She estimated it to be over a hundred meter wide. Following gravity a lot of smaller and bigger streams of water, some from above ground, hidden by brushwood, and even bigger ones from below the surface, created cascades as they flew into the hole. Its depth was hard to judge as a dense fog covered its ground. A few tall trees and rocks which managed to break through it let her however assume that it was fifty to a hundred meter deep.
Being captivated by the view, her teammates managed to catch up to her. “Come, we unfortunately don’t have time to watch the view all day long.”
With a comment from their guide, she tore her eyes away from the scenery and followed the two girls. A few meters away, hidden by trees and undergrowth, they found stairs excavated from the border of the abyss and partially overgrown with moss. “There are a bunch of those stairs leading down. However with the direction we came from and the vegetation around, this path should be unused. I would also be careful that you don’t slip and fall, they can be quite wet, especially further down.” Nia warned the twins.
Sarah was about to go down, when she noticed a spell circle in front of her sister. She couldn’t detect any changes at first, but then spotted that the moist rocks of the stairs started to dry up. Nia must have come to the same conclusion of the purpose of the spell. “Or you can do that. Though i would still be careful, no idea how stable the structure of the rock is.”
The way down turned out to be pretty uneventful. Sarah’s magic easily removed the water from the stairs and further down redirected waterfalls which would have otherwise flooded their way. Sera and Nia meanwhile guarded her, though as nothing attacked them, they had little to do aside from checking for weak footholds.
Reaching the ground, the fog still impaired their vision, yet they could see more than from above. If they could generalize their current environment, most of the sinkhole was flooded. Islands covered in grass, bushes and trees were the only landmasses, though the weather did a good job in hiding them. A path made out of rocks, placed too regularly to be of natural origin, lead them away from their current island.
Curious about potential fishes or other aquatic beings, Sera carefully spied into the water, ready to retreat at any moment. Yet before she could see anything, Nia interrupted her. “Not sure what you are looking for, but you won’t find anything in the water aside from some plants. In general this area is devoid of beasts. From time to time one makes it down here, but those either get subjugated or vanish on their own. Unless we are very unlucky we should be pretty safe down here, though not as safe as in the dungeon in the center of the lake once we cleared a floor.”
The party quickly crossed the islands connected by the linear but winding stone path. This whole region must have looked wondrous, if it wasn’t for the fog giving it an eerie and mysterious mood. Overgrown stone structures, which couldn’t qualify as ruins anymore, drew the twins attention from time to time, yet they continued on their way without pausing. They had a dungeon to clear and nature probably had reclaimed anything useful eons ago anyway.
Reaching a bigger island, their path changed. No longer was it a trail leading from one stone path over the water to the next. Stone tiles covered the ground and invited them. Not that the trails they used until now were as bad as they would have been in their old world. Some principles of the world seemed to prevent them from becoming muddy or this whole area turning into a swamp.
A few windings later their path led them to a plaza. Four other, similar passages also merged into the plaza, however the three didn’t pay much attention to that. A sixth path led to a fissure in a cliff a few meters away from the plaza. A haze covered the entrance of the cave and made it hard to peer into its depth. “This is the easiest way to identify system-managed dungeons. All of them have a haze at their entrance. For the other ways one would need to enter and examine it, which could result in some unexpected outcomes when the dungeon is owned by someone else. Best case you have a new dungeon, worst case you are dead and your friends at war with a large organization. Though the latter shouldn’t happen in the lower realms.”
Throwing a quick explanation to the twins Nia entered the dungeon and the two followed.
[You have entered the Foggy Grotto in the Forest of eternal Twilight.]
Walking through the haze they quickly found them-self in a somewhat illuminated room, similar to those from the cave where they were summoned in. Also similar to that cave, this one was filled with fog. Again. While it wasn’t as dense as the one created by her sister, a dungeon with fog in the name and fog as weather most likely had creatures lurking in it, waiting for prey.
Nia had already warned them that the beasts here were beings with low defensive but high offensive abilities which relied on alternative ways to sense their surroundings, like spiders and bats. As the former didn’t rely on nets to capture their prey, it would be a good hunting ground for the two agility focused assassins. Though it wasn’t that optimal for Sarah. However Sera secretly liked that part, as it offered her an option to level her Bodyguard class.
Unfortunately it didn’t change the fact that the fog was getting annoying.
“Hey sis, you don’t have any convenient spells to get rid of the fog?”
There wasn’t a verbal answer to her inquiry at first, however she could see that the glowing spell circle still in front of her showed signs of change. Yet not long after, Sarah actually replied to the question. “No… it doesn’t seem like my water affinity can do much against the fog without draining too much mana. The water to air ratio…”
At that point Sera decided to mentally skip the muttered monologue of her sister and let her intuition handle the rest, as usually.
“… don’t have enough mana or time.” The scientist finally finished her speech.
“So no way to get rid of the fog…” The swordfighter concluded with a sigh.
“I unfortunately don’t have answers for everything…”
Giving up on finding a way to increase their vision in the dungeon, the trio started their exploration.
Or they would have, if not four bats appeared from the fog and attacked them on their first step into the room.
[Grotto Bat Lv 15]
The two of the other ones were 14 and one 12.
They looked mostly what one would expect from bets, small beasts with short fur and leather wings. Though evolution or whatever created them on the Realms seemed to have given them a few more weapons in the form of bigger teeth and long dagger-like claws one would expect from a bird of prey.
To prevent them from surrounding the party, the three quickly stepped back into the passage they just came through, then Sera fired a few small fireballs in the direction of the bats. Not primarily to hit them, but more as a distraction and to get them to focus on her. Her fire wouldn’t have done much in the moist environment and without fuel anyway.
As a counter the bats tried to send the weak flames back with the help of their wind magic, yet the wind and flames were easily overpowered by the focused assault of water from Sarah.
Unfortunately, in the end the bats were still mobile airborne enemies and easily evaded the aquatic projectiles. They quickly dispersed, before the three bats regrouped and tried to bypass the sword user to get to the mage.
Sera questioned where the forth one went, but couldn’t spare any thoughts. Trusting in her instincts and intuition to warn her, if anything dangerous was about to happen, she focused on holding the bats back from reaching her sister, who had drawn their aggression with her water.
From time to time she threw small fireballs to further distract the enemies, but generally she was more focused on the sword with which she had more experience. It’s speed was also superior to her magic, though the missing range hurt against the flying enemies.
She had to admit that fighting against this different kind of opponent proved to be challenging, for now. Her experience came from fighting against humans, mostly slower and less agile than her, not some flying beasts which were much smaller and could easily move in all three dimensions. The two bats again came closer. Two? She quickly attacked them with her sword, anticipating their dodge. A knife had already left her left hand which she had until now mainly used to direct the fireballs. One of the bats, not expecting the much faster projectile, was easily pierced, though the other one planned on exploiting the resulting opening and attacked the sword fighter.
However as the other two bats before it, a dagger from a in darkness clad person quickly ended it’s life.
[Your Bodyguard class has reached Lv 1.]
[Your Fire affinity has reached Lv 7.]
[You killed a Grotto Bat Lv 14.]
[Your Gladiator class has reached Lv 2.]
[Your Swordsman class has reached Lv 3.]
[You have reached Lv 3.]
[Your Warrior class has reached Lv 3.]
[Your Bodyguard class has reached Lv 2.]
Having finished their opponents, there were a few questions on Sera’s mind. While she did ask herself why the girl was using her darkness magic even though there were no places to hide around, much more important was a different question.
“What was that? I thought this was an easy dungeon? Okay, we probably could have taken them out much faster, if we were willing to take a few injuries, but that already at the start? What will we encounter further down in the dungeon?” The sword fighter shouted angrily at their guide.
“First of all sorry, i didn’t expect that. Normally only one or two bats around level 12 appear around this area. The level 15 ones and bigger groups would then appear in floors further down. Should we postpone the delve or search for a different dungeon? Though then we probably have to cut the visit to the town…” Nia tried to calm Sera down.
“But didn’t you two just beat them? So we should be able to continue on, especially if we consider those four the exception to the encounters.” Sarah unexpectedly entered their discussion and Sera had to admit that she was right. They killed the bats, she gained a bunch of levels and points. If that continued, she should be able to handle the beasts by herself in a few encounters. Even more so with her getting used to the new enemies.
“Fine, let’s continue on. Whatever is waiting for us can’t be that much worse.” Sera replied, now that she had cooled down a bit again.
Synopsis: Somewhere in the universe, there was an altar. On it, laid a bloody eye as big as the sun itself. It burst with light and bathed the entire star system in red.
"The aura of an ancestral artifact!" Someone's voice rose in surprise.
The Great Galactic Era had begun.