SMage 42 – Diving2
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The first floor of the dungeon was a series of caves which have goblin patrols walking around in groups of three to five. Artus recalled that he used to be scared stiff of these small creatures, and these levels of creatures were nothing to him now. This told him how far he had come to this point. 

Anyhow, the point of the first layer was clear to him. He could already see that the real challenge was mainly navigating in the dark and avoiding ambushes. 

It was a great place for new divers to learn the trade. The light stones had proved itself to be critical to any dungeon diving as anyone could have guessed. The dark dungeon was also a great place to scare the shit out of uninformed rich kids and milk their money, trust, or both.

Anyone with the right mind also could tell that wooden torches simply would never be enough for this kind of dangerous, or even deadly endeavor. It would be a disaster just waiting to happen. The torches not only had all the problems as an open fire but also had to be held onto for it to work. It simply wouldn’t suffice.

There was no way this level of civilization could be built if people kept dying for stupid reasons like the lack of proper lighting. The huge city could still be built by a powerful mage but would be empty of people before long.

The light stones were a crucial tool for the masses, but he already knew that it could never be compared to a sensing skill of some kind. He was sure that Verona’s class had provided her such a skill. Maybe she could sense body heat? 

Well, that was a question for later, but if what he assumed was true then the benefit of classes should have been widespread to the commoners for the betterment of the future. It was the most logical thing to do.

However, he was also not delusional enough to think anyone would give up their advantage for the better of others. Especially if it kept the people in power at the top. A lot of death could be avoided, and a lot of progress could be more feasible, but who really cared about progress? Most would only care about themselves.

Alas, a sensing skill and proper lighting would be crucial for dungeon diving. Without them, he would have a very different reaction if he suddenly had found himself in the complete darkness. He would be too preoccupied with his fear of the dark to think clearly. The fear of the unknown was very real.

Felicia’s reveal about sensing skill tiers had pushed the envelope even further. Information was the key to staying alive, and a better all-around dungeon diving experience.

Creating an example out of this fact was simple. He had ‘missed’ to sense a group of goblins after a few encounters, and the young team was reduced to chaos. Kelly was left to fend for herself and one of the guys had even peed in his pants when his throat almost been sliced.

Goblins had leaped out from the dark corners and he was ready to use the shell secretly to keep them alive. Of course, it wasn’t needed when Felicia single-handedly killed two out of three remaining at the critical moment.

Felicia hadn’t known about his cruel plan but her eyes had approved his decision when she realized it. The experienced woman should be able to tell that he had made sure that there was enough space for them to react and the threat wasn’t that dangerous. 

Of course, the older woman had later yelled at the kids for being too reliant on the skill or others. Luckily there was also something like a cleansing solution in a bottle. The rest of the journey or even the entire caves would have reeked piss if not for its existence.

The life lesson had worked when the guys had stopped talking completely and focused more on the dive. They pushed forward to the second layer and it opened to a huge lit cave.

A forest of huge dimly glowing mushrooms filled the cave, and it became both allies and the obstacles here. The mushroom forest was a maze where he could easily navigate with his sensing skill, or simply buy the map from the Guild as Felicia had. This was where he decided to reward the youngsters a little by uncovering a loot box buried in the ground. It was just charity for Artus when there were bigger loot boxes untouched for who knew how long. 

Obviously, he would be back for them later.

The group morale leaped up after recovering said 'valuable' items. It wasn’t that much but it was enough to carry the team of teenagers to the third layer of the dungeon. This was where the journey ultimately stopped. The fight was brutal even when Felicia had helped.

He had warned about the huge headed wolf with massive sharp teeth, but instead of caution, the boys almost leaped in joy. Their first monster with a Core. A Warg. 

The boys were dreaming of making a name for themselves for killing a Warg, and other foolish things like girls and whores. Like whores would give themselves freely because of a story. The boys shouldn’t have been overconfident when the monster was as tall as a man while standing on fours. Its massive maw could bite a man half.

But he understood their eagerness a little when every other dead goblin had only given them one Essence each. It must have been frustrating. 

Gabe took charge of the team and Felicia let it by staying silent. The older sister wanted the boy to learn from his own mistake. Artus didn’t if she cared for the brother or she simply wanted him to suffer. Maybe a little bit of both. 

She gave Artus the look that told him to be careful with what he chose to do next.

Kelly used her skill to open up the fight. 

She pulled three arrows and let them fly after her body glowed a little. He could tell now that the glow wasn’t perceived by his eyes but his affinity to Aether instead. There was no actual light around her when she used a skill or each fight would have been a light show instead.

The arrow flew and took down one of three larger goblins. One of them bounced off the warg’s fur and the other had missed its target. She nocked another arrow before she released and hit a goblin on the thigh. 

Her great opening had left two for the boys to handle.

The warg roared and the boys charged forward like idiots. Felicia shook her head in disdain before the older girl readied herself to make her move.

An ax flew over and Artus had no time to do anything but pulled Kelly’s arm towards him. The blade slashed her other arm right through the leather and she screamed in pain. 

The crude ax might have even nicked her bone if the thick leather wasn’t there. 

Felicia immediately did first aid to stop the bleeding. She slapped something kind of mixture on to the wound before wrapping it with cloth. A wide-spread, simple healing ability might have been very handy in the situation but who cared about a couple of commoner kids. The people in power certainly didn’t care.

A clunking noise attracted his attention away, and it horrified him when he saw Gabe had abandoned his shield. Felicia had the same thought as him with the fowl curses that slipped out of her mouth.

Gabe’s body glowed as he yelled [Cleave]. The young man two-handed his sword as he swung from the side and the sword flashed in a wide arc.

A loud clang echoed. The sword landed in between the warg’s huge clenched teeth. 

The creature threw its large head aside. Gabe was knocked off his feet and he flew almost a good five meters before the cave wall stopped him. 

He coughed out blood while his two friends froze on their feet.

The sword crumbled inside the Warg’s monstrous jaw and it spat the crooked and broken metal away. Its second roar brought Kelly to her knees. From the glow, he was sure that the roar wasn’t normal roars, and from the smell, the girl had leaked right before Felicia cursed aloud.

“Dumb fuckers!”

The goblins were already on top of the two distracted young men as Felicia’s body glowed. 

Two spears flew in quick succession. One of them nailed the paw of the huge monster to the ground while the other knocked one of the goblins of one of the boys. Her aim was unbelievable for the rate she was throwing them.

Artus had to take action to save the other from the rapid stab from the back as the other young man was trying to get the goblin off his back. He positioned the shield right under metal armor to make the stabs appear too weak to get through the protective gear. He could only hope that others were too busy to notice it.

Felicia appeared ‘just in time’ to ‘help’ the poor guy who should have died three times over. 

It didn't look like an assist when she hadn’t held back when she kicked the boy on the stomach.

Both of them flew to the walls, and luckily, the goblin had it worse after the collision with the wall. 

That was one way to do it.

Felicia took out her last spear just in time to block the huge swiping paw with her shield. A loud sound echoed as she was thrown away from her spot.

Artus realized then that the woman had angled it so she would fly towards her other spear. Her flips in the air were as impressive as her forward-thinking.

'God-damn, the woman is good!' he commented inside.

Gabe yelled at her sister for one of the spears and she threw it at him after a brief hesitation. The warg dodged the spear throw for nothing before the spear landed near Gabe's feet. The Warg then turned towards Gabe when the idiot yelled his lungs out.

But it was the monster’s fatal mistake.

Felicia's body glowed again as she leaped up and held her spear with two hands.

The Warg noticed it a little late but Artus could see the counter-attack coming. The spear pierced its skull just as its massive head swung at and hit her. Felicia was sent flying once again.

He knew he had to help when she was thrown wildly instead of controlled flips.

Artus shielded her from landing on top of the sharp jutting rocks. The woman rolled on the ground before she sat up in a mild shock. Her hand checked her back and she was surprised again when she didn’t see what she was expecting to see. 

Felicia was still gathering her thoughts when the monster roared for the last time.

The fight ended with Gabe piercing the Warg through its large eyes. It was already dying from Felicia's quick reaction to attack the distracted monster, but nevertheless, both of them shared the essence as the monster died.

But as he had assumed, it was he who had to drag them all back outside.

The boys had to rest for more than a week as they refused to use the money to pay for a healer. Kelly, however, didn’t think scars would be proof that she was good at something. The girl would rather have no scar at all if she could help it.

It was hard to watch the girl having a hard time parting with her money. It made him feel bad for her. She shouldn’t have had those injuries if he had done something. It wasn’t his money anyway, so why should he care so much about it?

Artus placed a slate onto the table and pushed it towards the healer on duty.

“Artus?” queried Kelly a little surprised.

“Keep your money, I’ll pay for you this time.”

“But why?”

“Because I don’t want to see a scar on you too,” he said smiling. “Just go and get your treatment.”

“Thank you very much!” she said to him. “I’ll pay you back!”

“If you have too,” he chuckled and shook his head. He just wanted the god-damned license to dive, but no, he had to get involved in these people’s business.

The man who had forced him to go through this would better be ready with his license or he would do something he would probably regret.

Kelly had a big smile before the pain took the smile away. She followed the healer to the back before she returned healed and scarless. Artus wasn’t lying because it would be a great sin for him to let her be scared because he had wanted to keep a secret. Women could be really revengeful when the cat was out of the bag.

“Then you won’t mind treating us a meal too, right?”

Felicia’s eyes gleamed when she said that. If she hadn’t been blinking so fast he might have even seen dollar signs in her brown eyes.

“Yeah, sure, I had fun, but the guys had left though.”

“I’m sure we’ll be fine without them, right Kelly?”

“Yes!” the girl yelped after having been woken up from her daydreaming. Her face turned as red as tomato all of a sudden. She might have been reminded of her pissing on him while he was holding her in the dungeon.

“Then, lead the way,” he said after taking the change offered by the healer.

Felicia smiled as she hooked Kelly’s arm and pulled the girl out of the guild’s clinic. The old him would have felt awkward trailing behind two girls as they talked between themselves. There was no surprise when the two knew each other well as they might have been working together for a long time already.

They soon arrived at what looked like an inn with a dining restaurant at the bottom. Nothing remarkable he could point out about the inn as every building on the street was pretty much the same. They all were made from stone on the ground floor and wood for the upper floors and like the Guild, this inn had a third floor.

Inside was warm and cozy with the smell of spice hanging in the air. Immediately he already knew the dinner tonight would be great. The warmth also reminded him of another person. The locals sure knew which shop had the best meals.

Felicia ordered the most expensive meal for the night to Kelly’s horror, but it wouldn’t even make a dent at the bag of coins he had. He had to say something when Kelly couldn’t even touch the meal when it had arrived at their table.

“This meal is me saying I’m sorry, Kelly, eat up, please.”

“You’re sorry for what? You can’t do anything and it was Gabe who had broken the formation and lost his sword.”

Artus sighed. “I could have done something, believe me when I say it. Let’s just say I’ve gone through much worse than a Warg.”

“I thought so,” Felicia joined in. “You just went in for the license but Gus forced you to take a tour, right?”

“I don’t know if I can fully blame him, but yeah, that was basically it,” he shrugged.

“But you look so soft and so -”

“So weak?” Artus finished for Kelly. 

“So girly,” Kelly corrected him and she giggled. “But yeah, I don’t think you could even hold a fight with a goblin, one to one.”

Kelly hid her red face by drinking after her very correct claim. He didn’t think he could fight with anything without the [Arcane Shell] protecting him. He wasn’t as burly as the other guys in the small team of these commoners.

“You’re right,” he said to her. “If I had used an ax and shield.”

“You're also pretty bad with the crossbow,” Felicia helpfully added.

“Yeah, that too,” he laughed it off. “My set of skills is very different from others. Anyway, let’s eat first before the meal becomes cold.”

The girls nodded and they began eating in the earnest. Eating good food after a tough adventure was the best.

-

“I have an offer to make,” he said. Artus asked the girls after they had done eating.

“I’ll be glad if you want to make a team with me,” Felicia replied.

“Not exactly that," he chuckled. "But we’ll get to that later. I’m asking any of you to explain everything or anything I ask about the status, classes, anything, and in return, I’ll depart some of my wealth.”

It wouldn’t hurt to have more points of view. He could confirm his theory about the System itself from their input. Dealing with girls for information was a lot easier as men had their attitude and ego to get through. Not many of them would have the patience to explain everything or be willing to teach anyone of the same sex. He knew this because he was one of them.

The girls looked at each other, “we could only tell what we know.”

“That would be enough.”

“So what are your skill sets?” Felicia asked, trying to dig information out of him. Exposing cleavage while asking wasn’t going to work on him. Not anymore.

“I don’t think it is something I should tell strangers, I know we have been in the same team and all that, but still,” he shrugged.

“Then why not we get to know each other,” she said and he knew the look she had in her eyes. “Of course, not in the long boring way.”

Kelly yelped at that statement and Felicia giggled.

“I’m flattered, really, but you don’t want to get that side of me.” 

After seeing himself in the three other boys who rather get laid than get their injury treated, Artus realized his shortcomings as a teenager. Testosterones, it had the better of him, but not anymore.

“I’m not your type or something?”

“Not really,” he chuckled. “But I don’t think it would be a good idea for now.” 

Getting too close this early would only mean trouble. He had been with enough women to know that as a fact. One-off like Mrs. Han was a different category though. He had only wanted the lady to cooperate willingly and that was the only way she would have listened. 

Not like he must follow through his ‘promise’ to that lady.

“Why is that?” Felicia asked.

“Because you are still haunted by your break up,” he said the truth to her face. 

Felicia's mouth opened agape.

“Yes, I could tell,” he added to her surprise. He would be a true fool if he didn’t see that all over her body language.

-

Felicia was stumped when he pointed out what she was doing. She wanted to yell at the young man for being a busybody, but he was right. 

She was looking for a replacement for the man she shouldn’t but still fell for. 

She had just wanted to use him and that was not fair. She used to hate that man who used her body as payment for his tutoring to become a silver tag, and she didn’t know when she even started to like the other man.

Artus said his excuse and left the table after the dinner without even looking back.

 

 

*Next chapter scheduled by Wednesday next week. Cheers.

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