Chapter 31: Dire Tombs
Stepping into the dungeon, I felt the temperature suddenly drop as we descended down a slope. I stood to the right side of Brald, who had his shield up in position and his sword drawn.
Jasmine and I did some research on the Dire Tombs dungeon we were in now. It was a unique place, even amongst the mysterious dungeons. The beasts that made their homes here have been described in the records as undead. I’ve never heard of mana beasts that could come back to life. Because of this, one of the hardest aspects of clearing this dungeon seems to be the endless amount of undead mana beasts.
Digging deeper, some Adventurers and mage guilds even speculated that inside the bottom of this dungeon might be a special artifact that can reanimate dead mana beasts, but no one has been able to prove it.
Clearing the dungeon meant that the area has been explored. It’s different from conquering the dungeon, where the mana beasts inside have been defeated and the treasures looted.
This dungeon has been cleared, or at least it was until Brald discovered the hidden passage, but never defeated.
“We’re approaching the first level of the dungeon, stay on guard. The mana beasts here aren’t strong, but there’ll be a lot of them. Don’t waste your time trying to collect the mana cores from the beasts…they don’t have one.” Brald declares.
I hear a faint muttering from Oliver, our healer, who’s complaining about the lack of rewards from this dungeon.
While the goal of defeating a dungeon is to loot the accumulated treasures high-level mana beasts have collected, most of the profit, usually, comes from collecting the beast cores on the way down. In most cases, even if parties can’t defeat or even clear a dungeon, they can still come out with a hefty sum from just the beast cores, which could be sold for a high price. One of the reasons this dungeon is so unpopular, and why our party is the only one inside the dungeon, is that the mana beasts here have no cores. This meant a big chunk of revenue from trying to clear the dungeon would be gone.
I narrow my eyes and focus. We just reached the end of the descending passage and into an underground cave around 50 meters in diameter. Looking around, the whole cave is glowing in a dim blue color. Above us, the cave was covered in stalactites that seemed to threaten us with their sharp tips gleaming. There were around 20 mana beasts that looked like big bats, except with no wings but instead four limbs. The hollow body of the bat-like mana beasts had their ribs fully visible and inside it, where the beast core should’ve been, was a cracked rock.
I guess it was true.
“Batrunners! They’re not strong but they attack in groups. Minimalizing the usage of our mana is going to be the key inside this dungeon! Get ready!” Brald roars over the growling of the Batrunners, all of them positioned to pounce, with their patches of fur standing on end and their teeth bared.
“Form and torment the foes around! Fire Cyclone!” I hear a yell from behind me and I realize it’s Lucas who casted the spell.
Suddenly, four twisters of fire 3 meters high swirled into life around our group and spread out.
Many of the Batrunners were eaten up by the fire tornadoes and were burned up. The ones that were fortunate enough to escape the tornadoes fled, trying to circle around and attack us.
I could hear Brald click his tongue, dissatisfied that Lucas just ignored his orders and casted a spell that wasn’t needed.
The fire cyclones killed most of the Batrunners and the ones left were badly burned so defeating the rest were quick.
“Next time, follow orders and don’t waste mana like that. Your spell was overkill.” Brald growled.
Lucas just rolled his eyes, “I don’t see the problem. We killed them fast enough so that everyone else could save their mana.”
Shaking his head, Brald just ushered us forward to the other end of the cave. Before going into the next room, I hear crunching noises behind me and to my surprise, the Batrunners that were just killed dug themselves out of the ground, looking rather unhurt, aside from their ribs sticking out.
Dire Tombs…What an unfortunately fitting name for this dungeon.
We just ignored them and went into the other room while Elijah quietly casted a wall of rock over the entrance so that the Batrunners couldn’t follow us.
The opening on the other side of the cave lead us through another dark corridor that was around the width of 4 people, standing shoulder to shoulder.
I could tell everyone was a bit more relaxed upon leaving the first cave but I couldn’t shake this uneasy feeling.
“Clang clang clang!”
My shortsword blurred as I instinctively parried the projectiles aimed towards Samantha.
“T-thank you…” even under the dim blue lighting, I could tell that Samantha’s face paled as the earthen spikes that almost killed her landed on the ground beside her feet.
“Something’s wrong…there were no traps last time.” Brald picked up one of the pointed rocks to study it but was baffled.
The presence of traps meant that there were high-level mana beasts capable of conjuring spells with activation requirements.
“Stay alert everyone.” Jasmine already had her twin daggers guarding her vitals but Reginald and Kriol readied their weapons as Samantha inched a bit closer to me, her hand pinching my sleeve, her free hand gripping her wand.
Fortunately, we reached the end of the hall with no other traps deterring us. The next cave that we arrived in front of was similar to the previous cave, but twice the size and there were suspicious holes scattered on the ground.
“Don’t get near the holes. They’re geysers that shoot extremely hot streams of gas up. It should be fine as long as you’re not in direct proximity of the blast.” Brald announced, looking around for any signs of mana beasts.
As if on cue, the cave trembles and from the ground pops up something that oddly resembles a worm, except it was a glowing red and about a couple meters thick and unfathomably long, countless rows of teeth circling the hole on the head.
“Was that here last time Brald?” Kriol looks at our leader.
“N-no…I don’t get what’s happening. It doesn’t make sense for new mana beast species to enter a dungeon like this.” The handsome knight has a wavering look, losing his confidence.
“Cheh. It’s not a big deal as long as I’m here.” Lucas just flips his blonde hair.
However, the gigantic red worm doesn’t attack us but burrows down, creating another hole.
“It doesn’t seem to be after us.” Muttered Elijah while his sharp, bespectacled eyes studied the giant worm.
The red worm-beast is now burrowing itself into the walls of the cave, creating more holes from all different angles, never confronting us.
“Are we just going to stand around watching the worm dig or are we going to go?” Oliver, our lanky Emitter, just pushes past Brald and me, confidently striding towards the other end of the cave.
He wanted to show is confidence in front of Samantha is what I assumed.
“Get back here! We need to assess what’s happening before we go across!” Brald gets more and more frustrated at the arrogance displayed by the Conjurers as he steps forward to go after him.
Suddenly, the whole cave shakes and we hear a light fizzing sound.
“LUCAS! HEAT WAVE BARRIER! NOW!” I scream at the confused blonde noble.
The holes. The holes existent in the beginning and the holes on the ground, roof, and walls made by the giant worm all trembled and released a fiery blast of gas.
The giant worm was making the holes in order to kill us and we just let it happen.
I managed to pull Brald who was just in arms length of me before he had the chance to run after Oliver.
The shield was erected in time to shield us from the gas but Oliver faded out of sight.
The eruption of gas lasted for a couple of minutes until it sizzled down.
Lucas released the weakened barrier and we stood in silence at the scene in front of us.
The only thing left of Oliver was the gem on top of his staff.
“FUCK!” Brald shouts, grinding his teeth at the loss.
Oliver didn’t mean much to us as a person but he was our healer. That idiot ran off, not even casting a barrier spell on himself.
Samantha’s face looked sickly as she covered her mouth with her hands.
Before we had the chance to step out, Lucas pushes past and picks up the gem that was a few meters in front of us.
“Tch… his gem isn’t even good.” He just tosses it back towards us and Brald picks it up who then hands it to Samantha, who studies it and replaces the gem on her wand with the one that Oliver had; her hands trembling the whole time.
“We need to move before another eruption occurs. That giant worm beast is making more holes. I don’t think Lucas’ Barrier will hold for another wave.” Our leader states as he moves forward.
I look back at Jasmine and she just solemnly nods at me. We were all frustrated by the turn of events.
We were half way through the cave when Elijah, who was right next to me asks, “How did you know Lucas’ Heat Wave Barrier would be so effective against the steam?” I could see Lucas and Samantha turn their eyes towards me, waiting for an answer.
“I’ve been through a similar experience before and a heat barrier seemed to negate a gas attack the best.” I just shrug.
Around us, the giant worm that was creating more holes when it suddenly stopped in front of us.
Without warning, it whipped its head and smashed at the ground we were at before.
Kriol, who was at the back, stepped forward and with Samantha, created a water barrier the cushioned the blow while Elijah erected a flat shield of earth to stop the weakened attack of the worm before crumbling.
“Impact Blast!” Reginald’s giant hammer glowed a bright yellow as he swung at the worm beast.
The worm’s whole body shook as Reginald’s skill sent ripples of mana into its body.
I followed up, drawing my short sword and willing flames to surround the blade while activating mana rotation.
I tore through the underside of the worm, welding the wound as my blade burned through the flesh.
The worm let out a shrill screech before it collapsed next us, part of its body still underground.
“The oversized worm wasn’t even strong.” Lucas just shakes his head, disappointed, when all of a sudden we hear another rumble.
The worm wasn’t trying to kill us; it was trying to delay us in time for another eruption from the holes.
Lucas couldn’t erect his barrier in time as his eyes widen in surprise.
“Phoenix’s Cape.” A surge of fire surrounds my body protecting me against the gas. I look back in relief to see that Jasmine has erected a swirling aura of wind around her that dissipated the steam.
The gas dispels to reveal an injured Brald. Kriold managed to protect Lucas and Elijah under his gigantic shield augmented with water but Brald’s sword arm was obliterated from the elbow down while he tried to shield Samantha. It seemed like Brald only augmented his shield in flames instead of his whole body to protect Samantha. Reginald had a few burns over his body but he was okay. He probably was barely in time to surround himself with earth attribute mana.
Our leader’s sword was on the ground, as his stump of an arm was burned black at the end.
Gritting his teeth, he drops his shield and picks up his sword with his left arm. “MOVE IT!”
We arrive at the front of the next hall, which was a lot wider this time.
Taking a moments rest, the group all sat down while Samantha used part of her robe to create a makeshift bandage for what was left of Brald’s right arm.
Even AA class Adventurers that had their body augmented couldn’t completely handle the abrupt gas attacks from the holes.
Looking around, everyone had discouraged looks on their faces. This wasn’t even half way through the dungeon but we were already in a poor state, our leader critically injured.
“This is why I said to stay alert Lucas! If you had stayed focused and reacted in time to set up a barrier, I wouldn’t be in this state!” Brald’s handsome face was nowhere to be seen as he lashed out at the noble boy. His career as an Adventurer was probably gone after this. He’ll probably be demoted from his class once the Guild finds out of his crippling injury.
“Don’t blame me! It was your fault you couldn’t protect yourself in time!” He argued back.
“Are you fucking kidding me? Kriol had to save your ass! You didn’t do sh*t and you’re saying it’s my fault?” Brald yells as he prepares to swing his sword at the boy.
“ENOUGH!” I roar. The whole party turns silent at the power of my voice.
“There are a couple of choices we need to make. Reginald’s body is a bit burnt but I don’t think it’s that bad but Brald, you need to make the choice of whether you want to continue or not. We’re only a bit more than an hour from the surface so you can probably make it back up by yourself.” I state, staring at our leader through the slits of my mask.
“I’ll keep going. This will probably be my last dungeon raid so I might as well make it last.” He just turns his body and sits a couple feet away, cradling his right stump.
I turn my gaze to the noble boy who had a face that says he did nothing wrong. “Lucas. You need to get your act together. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a light yellow core or God himself. Right now, the only thing you are is a liability. If you continue acting out on your own, you might as well just go on by yourself.”
He glares back at me but bites his lip, not knowing how to refute.
“Samantha and Elijah. We need you guys to stay focused to set up a barrier at moment’s notice.”
“Let’s get a couple hours of rest before we continue on.” I sit down next to Jasmine and take out a sack of water from my bag.
The group remained in silence before I go up to Brald. As minutes dragged into hours, his arm missing was getting to him. The confident, charismatic face was nowhere to be seen, replaced by a crazed look. “I think either Jasmine or I should take charge of this party. You’re in no condition.”
Brald’s eyes, dull and weary, study me before he starts eying everyone else in the group, who just looked away.
“Tch. Okay.” I didn’t like the mental state he was in. It wasn’t stable.
After a couple hours, we got up with our mana replenished and continued marching down. This hall wasn’t as long as the previous ones but at the end of the hall was a big, double door with chains locking them shut.
“I-I don’t get it. Even this part is different. The door this time wasn’t locked and it definitely wasn’t this big.” Brald shakes his head.
“The only thing that was the same was the first cave, where the Batrunners were.” He continues, studying the lock. He tries to touch it but with his dominant hand gone, he just swung his stub in the air. After realizing, he just grumbles and goes to the back.
“Well, no use complaining about it now.” Reginald lifts his hammer and slams it against the door.
I could see Reginald visibly shocked by the sturdiness of the door.
“Impact Blast!” The door shudders but stays firm.
“Impact Blast!” The blow this time was harder and the lock crumbles. Stepping forward, he pulls the handles of the door and opens it.