Chapter Fifty-five: The Enigma of the Fourth Floor
“What the hell is this?” Sirai asked in confusion.
The fourth floor was nothing like the ones before it. For starters, it was not even a cavern. Polished tiles lined the walls and ceilings. Everywhere you turned, there was a statue or mural of some sort adorning the place. It did not even bother with the standard layout. Instead, it featured a single chamber with a massive central staircase that rose at least a hundred meters into the air.
Geoffrey walked close to a plinth on his left. It featured a lady with a longsword cleaving her opponent, an axe-wielding man, in two. He spun on his foot talking a quick look at their surroundings only to find similar scenes being depicted on the walls or enacted by statues. All of them featured men and women in combat. One mural even depicted a full-scale war. In it, mages riding flying beasts or flying on their own power were peppering their opponents with spells whilst warriors and cavalry charged from opposing sides of the battlefield. In another, the battle was fully joined. Blood, discarded weapons and severed limbs littered the battleground but those who remained alive to fight did not seem to notice.
The warmonger’s eyes narrowed on a man waving a standard with a frenzied look on his face. He could almost see the events play out in his head. For a brief moment, he was there, the smell of the acrid blood and spilt guts clogged his nose. His ears caught the sounds of clanging metal, the neighing of beasts, the yelling of combatants and screams of the dying. He could feel it; the frenzy of the battle, the thrumming of his own heartbeat, the pumping of his blood, the weariness as well as the excitement. Life and death decided by strength, endurance and skill. It felt…pure. The warriors beside him were the same. They fought with their all. There was no room for anything else.
“I do not like the feel of this place!” Teca exclaimed, breaking his reverie. “It is weirding me out!”
The ranger’s trained instincts were going haywire. When they strolled through the field of the floors above, she had been at ease, in her natural habitat. There were animals in the brush, more than her companions knew and their sounds and smells were comforting to one who spent most of her time outdoors. This was different. It held no life that she could sense and it felt like no dwelling she had ever been in. The air was filled with a strange aura that set her on edge.
“I agree!” Ogbad said. “This place…it feels consecrated somehow, like a shrine or a temple.”
“Like The Temple of the War God!” Geoffrey added finally realizing what was so familiar about this place.
His words made the entire party pause. The warden quickly made his way to the front.
“Stay close to me!” he commanded.
They did as he asked, shooting each other nervous glances as they fell in line behind him. None of them failed to notice that for the first time since they entered the dungeon, the warden was walking with his weapon out.
Gauwyn advanced cautiously. Everything about this dungeon defied common sense. Masterworks given as loot. Rank four bosses appearing above the fifth floor. Creatures with advanced skills and tactics. Variants around every corner and now this? ‘What was holy ground doing in a dungeon?’
He led The Bloodsoaked Foxes to the foot of the stone staircase. The edifice was more akin to a tower with a staircase cut into the side. More statues and murals lined the path to it. It was not just humans fighting. There were all kinds of creatures featured; chimeras, dragons, lions and tiger. Giants, dwarves, birdmen, elementals of every flavour and grotesque toads began to pop up as well. A strange mural depicting a bunch of small fae – ‘Sprites!’ his mind supplied – fighting a giant troll caught his eye. It was not a matchup you saw every day.
Within moments, they reached their objective and there, carved into a large way stone were the words: The Trial of Will. Scrawled neatly under this was a helpful note. “Climb to the top!”
“That’s it?” the assassin asked. “Just climb up? That can’t be all!”
Gauwyn silenced the group before they could begin chatting, scanning the area with a wary gaze. In truth, he agreed with the rogue. They were missing something.
“Keep your eyes peeled!” he commanded.
Following that, he went to where the steps began and scanned it. His prized skill told him nothing. There were no traps, no magic, no enchantments to be found and even if there were, he could not sense them. This had the unintended effect of making the warden all the more wary. He had to be missing something. After minutes of fruitless searching, he conceded to the sign and put a foot on the first step. Immediately, a formless weight settled onto him. Quickly, he snatched his leg back.
Further scans of the step and the staircase as a whole continued to reveal nothing. Cautiously, he climbed the staircase again. The sensation came back, manifesting as a pressure that sought to pin him to the ground. Thankfully, it was a weak force, allowing him to shrug it off with ease. However, it increased steadily the further he climbed up the stairs. It did not take long to figure out what was going on.
‘Trial of will indeed!’
With the warden taking the lead, The Bloodsoaked Foxes climbed the staircase together. The formless pressure it exuded was a spiritual phenomenon aimed at crushing the weak-willed. It had no actual effect on the body but weighed heavily on the mind making it difficult to think and move your limbs. Ordinary actions like breathing and walking had to be consciously willed into actions or they run the risk of simply slumping to the ground with breathing difficulties or fainting.
It was the first time any of them, the warden included, had ever encountered such a thing but they struggled gamely on. The warden with his high-grade parameters had an easy time of it. The mages and the cleric did too thanks to their relatively high WILL but the assassin had trouble at the later portions. Geoffrey managed it with sheer stubbornness moving his feet mechanically and resisting the mental pressure with constant growls and yells. The Bloodsoaked Foxes were sweaty and mentally exhausted by the time they made it to the top but once they did, the pressure vanished as if it had never been there to begin with.
“Congratulations on passing the trials!” came an unfamiliar voice. “With this feat, you have proved that you too are elite and deserving of questing in the realm of valour. May your future endeavours adorn you with power, wealth and glory!”
With a loud groan of moving stone, the speaker revealed itself to be the large lion statue that dominated the plaza at the top of the edifice. They stared at it intently with their weapons ready waiting for it to attack but it did no such thing.
“Place your talismans on the altar and congratulate yourselves on a job well done!” it told them in a dull mechanical tone.
Warden Gauwyn scanned the construct.
Bright Lion Construct | Race: Construct
Rank: — | Sex: — |
Occupation: Usher to the Fifth Floor
Gauwyn did not understand. The construct was not the boss here. From what he could tell, it was not even a combatant. It had no traps, no rank, no affinities, no nothing. It was merely an animated gatekeeper. He could accept that there were no fodder monsters on this floor but no boss as well? That went against everything he knew. Still, he did as it asked, placing the transport talisman he received on the first floor onto the altar in front of it. The Bloodsoaked Foxes followed suit. The talismans were enchanted tokens used by some dungeons that allowed adventurers to move between floors they had conquered so that they did not have to beat every boss each time they wanted to travel to another place in the dungeon.
Once placed onto the alter they glowed for a second with a strange symbol appearing on their faces. Then, a simple silver band of silver appeared over each talisman hovering in midair.
“Your rewards!” the lion said dispassionately.
Name: Spatial Ring | Rank: Three | Grade: Masterwork
Affinities: Space | Durability: F
Description: A wondrous item found only in the elite dungeon located on the western slopes of the Basilean Battlehammer Mountains, this spatial ring holds a small pocket dimension within it. An unknown spatial magic has been worked into the metal to make this possible allowing it to hold 36 cubic metres of space within it. A touch of mana is all that is required to store or remove items placed into it. Additionally, these rings possess a security feature that makes it so they can be attuned and bound with magic and blood making it impossible for anyone but their owners to access their contents. However, this protection ceases to exist when the binder dies. Users are warned to take good care of their rings as all items stored within will be lost forever if the ring is ever destroyed.
Requirements: MAG G
- Pocket space: This ring contains a pocket dimension 36 cubic metres large.