“There we go, good job.” Drake jumped off his ground dragon with a soft thud, before turning around and neatly scratching it under its chin, a gesture that it seemed to enjoy quite a lot. He had grown quite close to the thing over the past few days, and it seemed to equally enjoy his own company. The soft cooing from the creature made assured him of that.
“This is it, huh? It’s a lot bigger than I was expecting.” As they finished lashing their mounts to various sources, Luke grabbed Drake’s attention, and the rest of the group gazed towards the ruins.
The midday sun shone bright in the sky over what could only be called a multitude of ruined structures. They lacked almost any color, rather, the buildings looked to be made entirely of a white, marble-like stone. Various roman columns jutted out from the ground, with large, winding roots twisting around them completely, as if they were the only thing truly supporting the ruined structures above them. The sheer size of the various buildings made them quite grand, but Drake could tell at a glance that they were without a doubt not something that was here just a few months ago. It was as if they simply sprouted from the ground, acting purely as a place of intrigue and gathering.
Such structures were awe inspiring as Drake and the others slowly walked through the ruins. However, one thing that immediately stood out to him, and even the others to some extent, were the large, statue-like beings on several of the columns. They stood over the place like guards, each one resembling a twisted tree root that had taken human form, the layers constantly mixing among one another to form a full structure.
Drake looked to them with some suspicion, and in a moment, quickly called out to Yami.
[Yami, what are those?]
She quickly returned Drake’s knowing glance, her own eyes filled with a sense of caution.
[A sort of golem, I suppose. They’re alive and well, but seem to be waiting for instructions. And, given who their master is, they will undoubtedly attack if they feel the fountain is under threat. Among other reasons.] She ended skeptically.
“Heh.” Drake let out a crude laugh, as they continued forward.
Despite the appearance of a desolate ruin, not all the structures were in such a state of complete disarray. In the center of the dilapidated structures, looked to be a large, wide pool of crystal clear water. The pool itself looked to be made of stone, with twisting roots and green moss marring the otherwise perfect, marble-like stone. If any normal humanoid looked it at, such as the other members of the group, they may have simply passed it off as a normal pool of water, despite its almost holy appearance in the center of the ruins. However, the sheer magnitude of the mana emanating from the pool quickly showed it to be something else.
“So, just what exactly is this thing, Drake?” Peter asked, while looming suspiciously over the pool with a stern face. “At a glance, I can tell it isn’t normal, but from what you told us, this seems like the sort of thing that might be poisoned rather than help us.”
As Peter asked the question, Drake quickly stifled a smirk he looked to the others. While they were certainly surprised when Drake told them that there was a dungeon beneath the location they were headed to, they accepted it rather easily. In a world where anything was possible, what point was there to doubt him until they saw it themselves?
Despite that however, they were still cautious of how exactly he learned of such a thing. The ruins had just appeared recently, which was the whole point of their expedition. He had managed to wave away their initial concerns by telling them that Yami had sensed something as they had come closer, but he could still tell they were suspicious of him.
Still, I’ve only known these guys for a day or two. I can’t rely on them being willing to risk their lives to help me out of the goodness of their heart. Besides, Yami said these ‘tests’ are supposed to have a reward at the end. If we make it that far, they’ll view this all as a bonus. Drake thought whimsically to himself.
“Just think of it as a mana well, that’s what Yami calls it.” Drake fibbed. The shape of the large pool of water reminded Drake of a mana well that was in a very prominent war-related game back in the old world. He wouldn’t have been surprised if that’s where the inspiration came from at least. “If we drink from it, then the dungeon will open, and we’ll be able to explore it.”
Drake was rather cautious of being too detailed. Truly, he had no idea of what to expect, or even the exact effect the mana water would have on him. Still, he was pushed this far. There was no turning back now, especially given how he was probably being watched by the dryad at this very second.
The others in the group took to the explanation quickly, before looking to the mana well itself with some foreboding. What Drake had told them was that they would receive a significant boost of power, but when even the process of that was unknown, they certainly wouldn’t be the first to test it.
Guess I’ll be the guinea pig. Drake sighed sadly to himself. No matter. Yami already told me what to expect.
Bracing himself, Drake cupped his hands together before dipping them in the water. As he did, he could feel an intense surging of power around his hands, as if the mana in the water was concentrating at that one point.
“Amazing.” He muttered to himself in that brief moment. A vast amount of power was flowing in-between his fingers at every moment, as if encouraging him to drink.
As he withdrew, he slowly brought a cupful of water up to his mouth, and in one motion, drank the water in one large gulp.
“Auughh…” Drake’s eyes widened intensely, as he suddenly collapsed to one knee, as an almost crazed, glee filled look filled Drake’s face.
No other source of mana, even when he ate several cores at once, could even compare to this. It was as if his entire body was burning with energy, and at every moment, he could feel the muscles in his body constantly drawing in the mana, soaking in the force, before quickly returning to draw in even more.
His demonic core however, was what truly reacted at this moment. Like an impoverished man, dying of thirst in the desert, his demonic core quickly commanded the lion’s share of the mana, as it attempted to fill itself completely with the energy that was surging throughout his body. Looking deep within himself, he could see the misty, formless void that his mana core was in was beginning to overflow entirely.
Rather than his demonic core simply taking up a small, somewhat isolated space in this region, it now forcefully expelled its influence into all reaches of the area. The black void that once surrounded his core was now continually being filled with a deep, red mist as the mana from the water was converted into Drake’s own. As Drake looked into the crimson jewel that the core was made of, he could also begin to see a distinct shine as the demonic mana that made up the entire region seemed to compress upon itself, and concentrate on the core, before repeating the entire process.
“Drake. Drake! Are you okay?!” Peter rushed to his side, only to recoil as a shock ran its way through his body when he touched Drake. A confused look quickly overcame him, as he only looked to Drake worryingly. Both Morgan and Luke kept their distance as well, only watching in stunned bewilderment as their companion looked to be undergoing some sort of change.
“I’m fine!” Drake shouted, entirely unable to keep his emotions in check. For him, it was as if an enormous power was welling up inside, and he could barely keep himself from cackling the power only continued to grow within him.
The power kept surging and surging, and he felt almost as if he was going to go mad. Then, just as Drake felt that the power was going to reach its limit, it stopped completely, the core itself seeming to rebuff the excess mana from the mystical water, as the rest slowly seeped into Drake’s muscles and bones, enhancing them both considerably.
Drake took a deep, long breath, taking a moment to calm himself for what seemed like the first time in forever.
[I was right, I was completely right.] Yami looked on, a starry-eyed expression clear in her eyes.
Yami knew that demons could only advance through the power that cores provided, that was a solid, iron-clad rule. However, demons also were eager for power, and often looked to take in as many sources of mana as possible to increase their own power in-between steps. As Drake was a Draconian, it was slightly different, as the mana also funneled into his body alongside his core, but the sheer amount was still enough to push him to his limit. Within a day, possibly two, Drake would undergo a Rank Up. After his core was fully formed, he would then have to acclimate the demonic mana fully with his body, but that process would take just as long as the initial Rank Up itself. There would be plenty of time for that.
[I feel it, Yami. The full force of my mana.] Drake had a crazed expression on his face, still adjusting to the massive surge in energy. [It’s like it wants to billow out from my body, it’s intoxicating.]
[It’s understandable. Just give yourself a moment. Be careful not to let any of your mana out until you feel you can control it.] Yami looked on with approval, the warning only to make sure Drake was aware of the possibility.
[Of course, I won’t use any mana for now.] Drake fully agreed.
The vague warning from the Dryad concerning the mystical water of the well was correct. Such a massive influx of power would be enough to make anyone addicted to its effects. That a simple band of goblins managed to evolve half their members into hobgoblins before the effects made them addicted was proof of that.
The mana well that they drank from was, in a matter of speaking, intelligent. Being formed from the massive draw of energy to the Aesir tree below, it had been gifted awareness to help further serve both the tree itself and the Dryad who oversaw it. It wasn’t necessarily intelligent in any calculative manner, but of simply being aware of those who came to it.
It portioned out mana according to what it felt was correct for the bodies that approached it, giving each individual an increase in power according to their own baseline. The idea that goblins would receive the same amount that Drake had would simply make them explode with energy, or go insane.
Of course, there was also a point where the mystical water would be useless, as the individual in question was too strong. For a dragon, even those in their teenage years, the water could be said to be nothing more than a quenching drink. Lower tier species however, still fully enjoyed the benefits.
“Drake… are you alright?” Peter looked to Drake with a fair amount of suspicion. To the others, it was almost as if Drake had turned mad for a moment, as his face was twisted in an expression of utter joy and power. Of course, they truly had no idea how momentous this moment was for him. The potency of the water had been even more effective for him than the wyvern core would have been.
“Y-yes… I’m fine.” Drake kept his words short, not attempting to speak aloud for too long. He needed to at least keep up the appearance of normalcy. Otherwise, he wouldn’t be able to stop himself from reveling in the feeling of power. “Just adjusting.” He finished.
Drake breathed in deeply once again, calming himself as best he could before turning to the others with a confident expression.
“Finally have a handle on it. I’ve never felt anything like that in my entire life.” Drake admitted gleefully. “Peter, you go next. Just a warning though, it takes a bit to get accustomed to.” He said with a distinct smirk.
“Right…” Peter took the advice in stride, only stopping to glance at Drake with a worried look before he took a deep breath, and looked to the large pool of mana.
“Peter, are you sure about this?” Morgan rushed forward, placing her hand on Peter’s shoulder worryingly.
“If we have to do it, we have to do it. Besides,” Peter glanced at Drake for a moment, before staring at his hand, “I want to know what that was.” He muttered quietly, thinking back to the sudden shock from Drake’s body.
Peter walked hesitantly up to the pool, before mimicking Drake’s action and crouched down to touch the pool of water. Looking closely, Drake could indeed see there was a welling of magical energy whenever Peter touched the water, although strangely, it was significantly less than Drake’s own. Roughly half, if he had to give an estimate.
Peter followed Drake’s example, and quickly swallowed the water as well.
“A-ah..” As Peter drank, he visibly staggered in place as his body began to shake. Unlike Drake, whose vast majority of mana went to his own core, Peter had no such thing to absorb mana. All the energy he would draw in, would go straight into his body, strengthening his muscles and making his body more powerful.
“Ahhh… graah!” Peter collapsed suddenly to his knees, clearly in pain from the process. Even with the limited amount he absorbed, it was still far more than what Drake endured from the process. Simply increasing magical power was a far simpler process than improving the body itself. However, it also came with the added benefit of improving the body far more than would be otherwise possible at once.
There was a distinct rippling of bone and muscle, leaving Peter to cry out once again in pain as he collapsed to the ground. As time passed, and he was able to make it back off the ground, a look of wonder began to show itself in his eyes. Peter was clearly becoming accustomed to the increase in power the longer he endured the pain. Truthfully, it had only been less than a minute, and his appearance had improved considerably.
“Peter…?” Luke approached him cautiously, unsure of the strange look on his face.
“Luke… Just do it.” An excited grin suddenly appeared on Peter’s face as he managed to pick up one knee off the ground, and clasped his hand together. He could feel the considerable difference in his muscles in that brief moment alone.
“Uh… right.” He responded.
And so, Luke soon went through a similar process. Being both Beast-men, and without any magical capacity, only their bodies were improved. Despite that though, in Drake’s eyes, Peter did indeed have a little more talent. The amount of mana he drew to himself was about was about five percent more, give or take.
Lastly, was the up and coming wizard, Morgan. However, unlike the two Beast-men, Drake could quickly see that something was significantly different. Unlike the other two, the amount that was allotted to her was roughly eighty percent of Drake’s own. Even if he was already partway to the last stage of finishing his core, this was an already an amazing amount for someone who didn’t require such energy.
“A-aahh…” As Morgan drank the mystical water, she suddenly hunched in over a quick motion, as a visible flash of arcane energy rolled over her body. Unlike those who had no magical potential, it could be said that such a massive influx of magical energy was the ultimate gift for a magic caster, especially for one like Morgan, whose body didn’t absorb any of the excess that went into Drake’s own body.
As the seconds passed, another flash of light emanated from her body, and a small cone of energy emerged, completely encircling her in a sphere before suddenly collapsing down into her body again.
“Morgan, are you ok?” Peter looked on, a mixed look clear on his face.
There was no response from her, and both Peter and Luke immediately looked to one another with a worried expression. Even Drake’s own process had been more subdued, given the circumstances.
Then, just as quickly as the waves of light began to roll over Morgan’s form, Drake could see a thin, almost invisible stream of mana snake itself down from the sky, before entering Morgan. In a sudden flash of understanding, an audible laughter emerged from Morgan, as she slowly raised up, and glanced at her hand. Her eyes glowing momentarily with energy, she slowly raised her hand to the sky.
“Hahaaa…” A high-pitched laughter grew even louder. “Look at this! Lightning bolt!” A thunderous bolt emerged from the tip of her finger, before blasting into the sky with thunderous applause.
Lowering her hands, she held them both out in front of her, only gazing in wonder at her newly gained power. For a wizard such as herself, the massive influx of energy from the mana well had granted her enough energy to unlock another spell slot, but of a 3rd tier spell slot instead of the normal two tiers she had been limited to before. That was evidenced by the strong bolt of lightning that had emerged from her hand only a moment earlier.
“Ahh… That felt so wonderful.” A slow, satisfied sound emerged from Morgan, which left the other two Beast-men speechless.
“Are you feeling better?” Luke looked on with worry. In his eyes, Morgan had always been the one of the most dependable in the group. The magic that Morgan possessed allowed them to survive situations that would have been impossible otherwise. But, unlike Drake who seemed to return to normal fairly quickly, Morgan continued to have a somewhat disturbing expression on her face.
“I am.” Morgan returned a brief smile, as her eyes turned to the pool. “Thanks for asking.”
“It really was amazing. I’ve never imagined there’d be something like that.” Again, there was another flash of light in Morgan’s eyes, and for a brief second, her entire eyes were covered in a glow of energy before disappearing.
Drake shook his head. The method humanoids used magic relied on drawing in magic, rather than relying on themselves. This gave them a limit to their power, which seemed to him to be a deliberate way to put a cap on their growth. The massive influx of mana that Morgan drank however seemed to have reversed this concept, even if temporarily. In fact, the power that was circulating through her reminded him heavily of the way that Gwyn used magic.
Gwyn was only one such example, but the method she used was unique to her. Absorbing massive amounts of mana through her horn, before releasing it in massive storms of spells. This also gave her the ability to format her own spells. That Morgan even resembled that level of power for a moment was a dangerous thought.
Give any person that amount of power so quickly and they’ll be likely to use it for the wrong reasons. He may be trouble in the future. Drake thought solemnly. He himself had already gone through such an experience due to the Draconian, although it was also helpful that his body was able to handle the stress of such an increase of magic power with ease. He was still unsure of Morgan, however.
“So, what happened to the entrance that was supposed to appear?” Morgan asked with a sense of excitement. The intense of amount of power she received looked to be making her overexcited. It looked as if she couldn’t wait to use her spells.
As if in response to her comment, a sudden rumbling shook the ground, as a large ripping sound came from all around them.
[Drake, look.] Yami directed him over to the ground, where a circular hole had suddenly opened up in the ground, complete with a large piece of wood that allowed them to climb further down.
“So, he wasn’t lying after all.” Peter mumbled. For a brief moment, Drake caught his words but didn’t say anything.
“What, now we just head down?” Luke chuckled lightly, seeing the practically straight drop. Despite every one of the party members being significantly enhanced, the fear of the unknown was still palpable.
Drake walked over to the edge, before giving Yami a slight nod. Sensing his intent, she climbed on his shoulder, and Drake began to climb his way down.
“No sense in waiting.” Drake muttered to himself. With one hand firmly attached to the root-like structure, he made his way down quickly. Almost thirty feet down, he hit the floor, and quickly looked up to the others. Peter and Luke only continued to look down, unsure of the sudden choice, before turning away from the entrance.
“Listen, why don’t we just leave? We have all we came for, there’s no reason to jump down there.” Luke grabbed Peter by the shoulder and led him away from the entrance, intent on persuading him.
“Luke, we can’t just leave him down there. Besides, look how much stronger we are now. We can handle a few monsters.” Peter replied confidently.
“That’s not the issue here. Look, we can handle small fry, and we can run away from any real trouble with our mounts, but if we get caught up in a real fight underground, we’re at a disadvantage. Morgan can’t heal, and besides, don’t you feel like we’re being used?” Luke’s face dropped into a mask, the worry and fear he felt thoroughly hidden behind it. Drake simply knew too much, and everything felt like this was leading them down a deathtrap.
“Look, I get it. This situation is sketchy, but we came here to investigate these ruins, only to figure out there’s an entire dungeon here. Aren’t you thinking of what we could get from this place? We’ll be careful, and even withdraw if we feel it’s too much, but we might not have even drunk from the well without Drake. Trust in him a bit more. He could have just drank from the well and left, without us even knowing about the dungeon.” Peter said sternly. It was true, he had his own suspicions, but Drake had been nothing but helpful
“Peter, dude, we just met the guy.” Luke couldn’t help but shake his head.
“Listen, we’ll go in and… Morgan, what… are you doing?” Peter’s voice trailed off, his voice suddenly filled with fear.
“Morgan, what…” Drake could hear Peter’s voice it was suddenly cut off by silence.
Drake merely shook his head, as a thought crossed his mind. It’s too late to turn back now. Drinking from that well requires that we follow what the Dryad wants.
“Morgan, get down there now!” A sudden shout from Luke startled Drake, as he looked on.
A frightening, deep roar sounded up from above, and the others quickly began to shuffle down the large root that was provided for them.
[Yami?] Drake asked out of amusement, his tone making obvious what he wanted to know.
[Stronger than the hobgoblins, that’s for sure. If I had to guess, the Dryad was holding them back until she saw them debating on whether to go down. Undoubtedly, she awoke one or two of those tree-like golems.] She replied with equal delight, not attempting to put too much effort into learning the number.
Morgan arrived first, with Luke and Peter not far behind, although the two beast men seemed to be the most upset about being forced down into the dungeon, while in comparison Morgan seemed quite content.
“Dammit!” Peter cursed as he arrived at the bottom, before glaring intently at Morgan. “Those fucking statues above weren’t statues at all! There was a loud crack, and then they just start rampaging out of nowhere, and charged straight towards us.” Clearly, being forced into the dungeon without a way out didn’t make him happy.
Luke mimicked Peter’s look, only shaking his head in frustration. However, as he looked up and began to take in his surroundings, his face shifted into one of wonder.
“Whoa, look at this place.” Luke gestured to the others around him, as their eyes slowly adjusted to the lower lighting in the dungeon.
All around them, the walls, the floors, and even the ceiling were covered in an artful mixture of stone, and wood, with large, twining roots running through the entire room. On the walls, roughly ten feet up, were a long series of sconces, large metallic structures holding an ethereal, blue flame.
The room they were in was simple, directly above them was the entrance, although that certainly wasn’t an option, and in front of them was a single doorway, blocked by an intricately carved door. Green, tribal-like lines ran across the frame, as it seemed to almost glow with energy.
Amazing. Drake looked in awe. However, just as Drake began to walk towards the door, there was a massive rumbling all around them, as if an earthquake had just started. There was the constant sound of grinding stone along with the crashing of roots and wood were all around them, regardless of the small starting room being perfectly sound.
“What the hell!” Drake couldn’t help but yell out in a panic as the noise subsided just as quickly as it began, leaving him to only look at the others with a sense of worry.
“Well, let’s go.” Drake motioned to the others skeptically, imagining what lay past the door.
“Tch. The dragon has headed into the dungeon, so what now Lia? Griff said to keep watch over him.” A young girl’s voice sounded out, clearly annoyed by the predicament.
“We’ll watch for him to leave, it’s about all we can do unfortunately. Get too close and the imp will sense us. Cela told us that, remember?”
“Right, right. Well, I’ll take first shift. They won’t be coming up for a while after what the elf did anyway.”
“Agreed.” With a quick confirmation, and a gust of wind, there was only one left.
<Previous | Next>