A special thank you for this chapter to my new patron Adurna!
Chapter 19: The Reality of It All
I closed my eyes cross-legged on the yard overlooking the vineyard.
“Become one with serenity,” I whispered in an attempt to soothe myself.
My face suddenly contorted from a twinge of pain.”Fuck me.” I couldn’t help but curse.
Cursing helped, but the words I whispered where useless. It wasn’t as if I was suffering from mana shock, that was an otherworldly pain, but I sure as hell was not feeling pleasant.
[Just grit through it Lucid you are still are half supplementing mana with pills.]
I nodded my head as I tried to stop the sudden twitches from the passings of pain. I had already, very clearly, learned I couldn’t supplement all my mana with pills so I worked it down to half. However, it was now two and a half hours before I could try again instead of just the half.
“Accept my offer Lucid. I have plenty of high-quality lustrating materials. I’ll add a supply of sleep replacement pills along with everything else I’ve offered too.”
“Still thinking about it Eugene~” I replied. My greed wouldn’t let me outright refuse anymore.
The pain passed and as the time passed — I was back to full.
Time for another round. This pain was nothing I couldn’t handle, but I still found it easier to complain about it than just bottle it in.
I stood up walked to the center of the yard outside the shade I had been sitting in. Eugene, of course, followed after me. He has been following me ever since our agreement.
Except, I was the one with the dark circles forming under my eyes yet he looked as pristine as ever with the use of sleep replacement medicine.
[If you want to avoid the pain you could use the 3 vials you have left that Eugene gave you.
I’m certain those contain high enough quality mana, Lucid.]
No! I am using those for actual lustrating. I will not forgive myself if I wasted the rest of those vials like I am the pills. They’ve helped increase my manabody tremendously.
I want to to get to 80 as soon as possible there is maybe three, no, two weeks at most before we get dangerously close into having this sub-floor collapse in on us.
It has been a couple days since I first began load training I was now at 60%. It could have been higher had I not have to cut down to half a percent increments, I went into mana shock trying 59 from 58.
Pray, I don’t have to cut it down by half again before I get to 80 Eurval…
I sighed and shot at fiery arrow filled with 60.5% of my total mana.
There was another good thing about this training — I had become quite expert at gauging my mana. No longer did it work like my stomach where I only had a general sense of fullness.
[Pain strong enough that it made you wish for death will do that Lucid.]
I sat back down once more swallowing two violet pills then waited. And once more two and a half hours passed. I stood up bringing Eurval in hand.
I turned my head and stopped myself just as I was about to summon an arrow. It was rare, no a first, Eugene had never stopped me before I thought all he wanted was to watch my internal bodies move.
“I think I sensed someone coming from that way.” Eugene’s face turned serious as he pointed off into the distance.
“Are you sure?” There had been no sign of anyone. I was beginning to think this was a sub-floor well off the main route.
“I’m pretty sure, I sensed their mana shoot up for a brief moment, probably to break the mental magic. It was too fast and too strong to tell how many, but it’s more than one person.”
I knew what that face meant. I got up and clutched Eurval in hand then cast a charge of Rainer’s movement spell. Both of us stood ready and waiting. While the people coming could be friendly, the side of caution was always better.
“Fire an alert arrow into the sky it doesn’t have to be strong, but it’s best if it looks like it.” Eugene looked at me.
I summoned a fire arrow with about 10% quickly nocked it then shot it up into the sky towards where Eugene had sensed the next party.
A fireball exploded in the air. I focused my eyes on the small hill in the distance. A couple of heads came into view as they climbed up. That armor was familiar…
Is that crim-
[I believe that is Crimson Claw, Lucid]
Crimson Claw and the rest of his party came into view. The group of six all walked down a separate vineyard lane. There was no way they didn’t see my explosion, it seemed they just didn’t care.
Eugene and I waited in the yard as they finally arrived. I didn’t notice on tv, but Crimson Claw’s armor was huge it had to make him at least 10 to 12 feet in height. Each red and gold plate making up his suit of armor looked about an inch thick too.
His party was no joke either wearing similarly thick red armor albeit a bit shorter in height. None of them had their helmets equipped. Much like my ring they could recall it in an instant if they wanted to.
“Looks like a couple of Laurent rats managed to sneak their way here.” I had guessed how he was through the television, but it seems he was much worse. Crimson Claw threw us some insults. It was obvious they knew we could do nothing at their provocation.
I wonder if I should have removed the uniform under the chest piece. Too late now.
It seems his grudge against Laurent didn’t stop at Laurent himself. I just hope it isn’t enough for him to kill us. Eugene and I were participants of the dungeon now, unwillingly of course. So the oath meant nothing now.
“Greetings Crimson Claw, I am Eugene Rook the son of Hilda Rook heir to Rook Chemical.”
Crimson Claw’s look changed a little, but it seemed they already knew who he was, but now they were sure. Nice namedrop Eugene!
“Hmm, that loose woman got married and settled down to raise a kid! Color me surprised.” Crimson Claw sent an intimidating aura at Eugene as he slapped his head in fake disbelief. I could see the half-hearted attempts from his party to hide their snickers, only the mage looking man kept a stoic face.
Please don’t do anything Eugene. I don’t want to die. It was an obvious attempt to fish for a reason to kill us. I was more surprised Crimson Claw was looking for the reason. I think he is scared about having no evidence to defend killing Eugene if Rook’s family ever went after him. Eugene’s family must be much more powerful than I thought since it would be hard to know who killed Eugene from inside the dungeon unless someone saw it.
As for me? I was probably just a bystander at the whim of the consequences Eugene is to receive.
A silence filled the space between use and Crimson Claw’s party after that exchange. I sighed in silence. It was a relief, Eugene’s face stayed collected. Seeing he wouldn’t be able to get a rile out of Eugene his face turned into a mocking one.
“I kid, I kid no need to be so serious boy.” Crimson Claw tapped Eugene on the shoulder then shook his head signaling someone else to speak.
A woman dark-haired woman stepped forward.
“Tell us where the passage is and hurry we don’t have time to waste.” The woman barked at us.
Her foot tapped the ground making it obvious she wanted an answer fast. Her eyebrows sharply angled and her gaze severe as if any unsatisfactory reply would receive punishment.
They want to leave this floor already… This bastard.
I was positive that the log was a one-time thing. Once it was lit the passageways into here would shut and the exit out would be temporary.
I wanted to make a sour face hearing their decisions but kept a pitiable expression. I’m was not ready… I haven’t even used spread shot once.
[You can complain as much as you want, but it will not change the outcome Lucid.]
Even Eurval understand the yes or yes later dilemma.
“It is in here. Follow me.” Eugene kept his tone cold and professionally pleasant.
“Good boy.” The dark-haired woman grinned at the subservience. They probably understood that neither of us was excited about exploring unknown parts with our measly strength.
I stayed silent as we followed Eugene inside. I wasn’t even on the radar for these people, like a fly on the wall. Honestly, I didn’t mind. Might be more tiring to raise the hand to kill than to actually kill me if they see me as so.
As we walked up the porch their armors shrunk a bit to allow them through the door. I wanted to laugh but forced myself to remain silent.
“Once this log is lit in the fireplace. The passageway to the next floor of the dungeon will open up.”
“You best not be lying to us.” Maybe they were in a hurry because their expressions changed once they heard about the exit.
[They’re probably scared Laurent or another party might conquer this place before them.]
Ahh, that made sense. It seemed every second counted which is why they opted to intimidate us right off the bat so we would comply. Even with that reason, I still think they’re assholes though. Still, I think Crimson Claw wanted to kill Eugene for some reason. Maybe Eugene is part of Laurent’s faction? I could only guess.
Crimson Claw looked over at one of his party members wielding flaming wooden mage’s staff embedded with dozens of red-pupils eyes still blinking along its length. It was the same man that had kept a straight face. I wondered if that was his grimoire.
The armored mage crouched down and examined the log tapping it once with the bottom point of his staff. With no chant or time, a complex magic circle of vibrant red appeared and passed through it.
“They’re not lying. What they said is the truth. Once lit on the fireplace the passage will appear.”
“What are you dallying for then, light it now!”
The mage’s expression stood stable it seemed like he was used to the brash tone. With a swish of his hand with his burning ebony staff, the mage sent a small flame igniting the log.
An impossible amount of pure black smoke began to billow out filling up the entire farmhouse.
“What have you done, Lumbre, you damn idiot!” Crimson Claw yelled out trying to shoo the dark smoke from his face with no avail.
“It is the passageway forming, do not be alarmed.” Lumbre, the mage, answered calmly. Standing close to him before the smoke hid his face from me I could see him snicker at Crimson Claw’s reaction.
The black smoke continued to pour out completely darkening my view until I could see nothing. There was no particular scent from the thick smoke I wondered whether it was even being breathed in.
[Eugene is requesting to send a message, accept?]
Yes, accept it Eurval and all future ones.
[Eugene: Hey Lucid I’m not sure how long the passageway will last once it forms I’ll be going once it fully forms will you be staying I think we should go?]
Hell no, I am not interested in waiting for my death if I got stuck here.
[Lucid: No I’m not, let’s team up together?]
While I was significantly weaker than him. It would still be better to be together. Better to ask.
[Eugene: Of course, lets also become fellow employees at Rook Chemical together?]
[Lucid: Hmm, still thinking about it!]
I really have to awe at his tenacity.
The billowing suddenly stopped and the black smoke began to return to the fireplace condensing in front of us forming into a large ellipse. The black smoke returned and began swirling turning into a dark portal.
Once the portal stabilized, one by one Crimson Claw’s party members went through it with Crimson Claw being last.
These jerks didn’t even give a second glance at us as they left. They really don’t care whether we lived or died now forced to move forward.
“You ready?” Eugene looked at me. With Crimson Claw gone we were free to speak.
“As much as I can be.” Literally.
When the hell will I ever be allowed to do things at my own damn pace it’s not like I’m particularly slacking!
Together we faced the portal. Black darkness so deep it was hard for my eyes to adjust to it in front of me. Little wisps of smoke occasionally rose up then returned into the swirling darkness. Once inside there was no turning back, at least through this portal.
[Other passages will appear that loop back into this sub-floor after it reforms, Lucid if you wish to return.]
Me? Looking for the route back in here instead of running for the exit? That’s not happening. I don’t care if some godly holy sword appears back here when it reforms I’m not entering another dungeon for a good while if I get out.
Since neither of us where wearing gigantic armor both of us could fit at the same time.
We both took the step and walked into the darkness. My vision was completely blacked out by total darkness as I walked through. Even the presence of Eugene besides me disappeared. All I felt was a pane of thick warm smoke pass over and suck me forward.
It didn’t matter what direction I walked once inside a passageway. I could even walk backward if wanted to, the end result would be the same. I would end up on the next floor.
Eurval I need you to hold my hand again.
The longer I walked without being able to see anything the more freighted I got. I just hope the next floor is warm and sunny like the last one. With a view just as nice and a home just as cozy too.
The temperature suddenly dropped. The warmness the dark smoke had given off left. If I could see, I was sure I could see my breath. Unfortunately, not even light from magic could help here.
With another normal step, I was suddenly blinded by a bright light.
Yes, the exit!
My eyes slowly adjusted to the sudden change in brightness. This light was promising, a little cold, but that’s okay. The floor finally came into view.
Did I jinx myself?
We stood on a small black plateau overlooking a dark marsh below. Eugene looked torn by the sight, understandably so. Shaking his head. A vast misty marsh laid before us. The bleak grey clouds coated the entire sky and a dense fog stopped us from seeing too much of anything below us.
There was one thing we could see, a see of undead aimlessly walking when the fog allowed us to see.
The fog seemed to stop at a certain height, directly ahead there was a familiar dark smokey portal inside a stone archway on a plateau some miles away. To move to the next floor I had to traverse the damn foggy ground making sure I don’t stray.
Direction wouldn’t be hard with the help of Eurval. The bigger problem was the sea of dead moaning, bloated, and covered in mud that could be seen walking right below us.
“Lucid… those people are…” Eugene finally spoke it was the first time I heard his voice shake a bit.
“Yeah, I think so…” I replied without saying, we both knew.
Eugene let out a regretful sigh at the tragedy. Many whose rotting faces hadn’t sloughed off yet carrying a look of shock at their sudden deaths on their cold grey skin.
Maybe neither of us wanted to think about it, but the reality was now here. We are just two of tens of thousands in the city who were thrown into the dungeon. I could only imagine the crisis going on outside.
Low wails begun to fill the dungeon floor as the sea of dead noticed us. They began walking and clawing at us, but unable to climb up the steep rocky wall to us. Men, women, children all had their vengeful gazes focused on Eugene and I as we stood at the edge looking down.
Just off the edge of the plateau, I could see scorch marks, it seems this floor was nothing for the likes of Crimson Claw and his party. I was sure many of these undead were not strong at all, being normal people, but this was a numbers game.
Luckily we had the benefit of appearing up here having come from another floor, I was sure they suddenly awoke in the wet marsh below as I had awoken in the vineyard.
However, there was a bigger question on my mind.
“What killed the people?” I let out. I saw no grapes or anything similar.
Eugene shook his head. I’ve been relying on him too much, of course, he wouldn’t know. Neither of us did.
“Wait, happened to the people who ate the grapes or picked the mist ivy?” I looked at Eugene as I came to the realization.
“Lucid. They died. They shared the same fate as the people here.”
Of course, I should have known. I just didn’t want to know was probably more correct.
The pretty view was all lies. How could I have not thought about it before, there were countless that never broke through the mental magic and died before Eugene could sense them.
Shit, should I have lit the log sooner and saved normal people who made it to the sub-floor from their death? I clicked my tongue, do I just not care about others? Was I always this cold?
[Lucid, if you opened the entrance sooner the sub-floor would have reformed and appeared sooner it would have little difference.]
I knew that, but I couldn’t help but wonder if it was me or Lucid making me feel this way.
There is no point in thinking about it right now. I couldn’t let my mind wander. I had to focus! I shook my head in an attempt to clear it of confusing thoughts. I had to focus on making it out of here alive first.
[You shouldn’t attach yourself to those who died they didn’t have the strength to save themselves, Lucid you played no part.]
I wish I could explain to Eurval my real gripe at the situation, maybe it could help, but opted to stay silent. I had to survive this dungeon first.
I looked over to Eugene. “How do you think we should attempt to cross?”
“Just gun it in a mad dash?” I said jokingly to lighten my mood.
“What, no.” Eugene sent me a puzzled gaze. It seemed my humor didn’t translate.
[I’m sure his MAGI performed a perfect translation in context, tone, and humor.]
“Let’s scan the area first maybe we can learn something.”
I agreed, I was already doing that anyway.
The mana in the air filtered through me. The essence of darkness was strong here, even I could sense it. Obviously, it was caused by the overwhelming amount of vengeful dead waiting for us to set foot below.
The sound of a gong being hit suddenly sounded out throughout the entire floor. I saw the undead shake in fear at the sound.
At the same moment, I felt the vitality in my body be drained just a little.
Eugene and I looked at each other at the same time the moment it happened. I could see the skin on his face wrinkle a little and age a bit. I’m sure mine was much the same or probably worse.
“I don’t think we can stay in this floor for very long Eugene.”
Eugene nodded his head.
“I probably have a little over two hours to make it across, you less than maybe one. Your face it’s… concerning…”
I could already guess how gaunt I looked. I didn’t even want to confirm if I was ghastly before I probably really looked like white-haired pale undead now.
Our question was now answered. The thousands here died probably in one or two ticks of this powerful curse, instantly their bodies gave way and their hearts stopped before they even knew what they were supposed to do. They stood no chance.
Fuck me. I have one hour to live. Some damn sick joke. At least my daily essence training really showed up this time. Well, it’s not like mages didn’t have a way to slow the curse.
“Eugene I have to go now, I can’t waste time any longer. My body might not be able to handle the running if I wait.”
It was a do or die for me now. No planning, no thinking, no way around this I had to go and get to the next passageway as fast as I could.
Eugene sent me an odd glance tilting his head. “Do you think I am going to let you go alone? I still need you to agree to become a Rook Chemical employee.”
I was a bit surprised, maybe the only the weak deserve death was only a subset of the culture in this world.
“You, your alright Eugene.” I made a mental note, I misjudged again. Eugene was a decent guy, odd, but decent.
“Okay then, let’s go!” I yelled out as Eurval instantly appeared in my hand. Eugene similarly brought out his two daggers
We took a couple steps back then dashed forward. Powered by Rainer’s movement spell and my mana I shot out from above at an incredible speed passing over the stacking undead piling at the rock wall below.
Bits of flesh, blood, and entrails shot through the air as my fire arrow detonated the mass of undead as I flew over. While I had an a less than an hour I was sure it was half that if I wanted to use all my strength.
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