The molten husk of an unknown creature fell slowly to the side, sundering the earth with its weight and sending shock waves over a kilometer around it.
A group of humans sat by its side, breathing ragged breaths, ignoring the ash that filled their lungs. Surrounding them were a field of corpses, hundreds of comrades burnt to a flesh, or sliced in half. Despite their victory, there was no cheering, no joy to be found. Even as the group felt themselves fill with the power of the slain creature, they remained emotionless.
One of the girls sitting on the outskirts fell to the side, her eyes lifeless. Her wounds had long stopped regenerating, and a hole in her chest revealed her motionless heart.
[Congratulations. For defeating the Emperor Ashen Goliath, you have been rewarded, 6,400,000,000 experience. Loot collection is available, a new level in the shop has been unlocked. Happy spending!]
Pained eyes looked at the message that popped up in front of the group, drawing feelings of anger and despair.
The small group of humans was all that was left, the rest of humanity destroyed. They had escaped into the portal, a last ditch effort to escape the destruction of earth, and had lived sustainably for a short while.
Their freedom was merely an illusion, as the inhabitants of the world had finished conquering earth, returning home to find the pest they thought exterminated was huddling in the deep recesses of their home land.
A battle ensued, inevitably leading to humanities loss. What good was strength when these beings surpassed all expectation? The enormous smoldering corpse in front of them was the last of their enemies, a failsafe meant to wipe out everything if its creators were dead.
The humans now owned the land, a stinking, hot, shithole. There was no water, only able to be purchased from the 'shop' for exorbitant amounts. Crops didn't grow, and the previous owners of the land did not live extravagantly. They had conquered a race that cared little for material things, living in large caves made from molten rock.
What little victory they had was shallow, nothing taken was worth a damn anymore.
Slowly, and with great pain, one of the men stood up from the ground, feeling the burning embers that littered his body. He tapped on the message displayed before him, peering through the loot list. If there was something, anything that might bring back humanity, they might have hope.
Under normal circumstances, the loot would have pushed them far ahead in terms of strength. Multiple forbidden items, the highest classification they could go, an endless sea of affixes that enhanced them beyond belief.
The man ignored all but one, noting the special glow that surrounded it.
It was a corrupted secret item, the first he had ever seen. Secret items were two tiers below forbidden items, but varied wildly in strength. Some were weaker than rares, and some on par with legendaries. When he chose it, a small necklace appeared in his hands. At the same time, the list of loot appeared before another member, going around in the priority list.
The man froze as he read the description, his hand shaking as they clasped the metal tightly. Those closest to him closed the loot screen angrily when it appeared, and noticed his shivering.
He held the necklace out towards a woman, beckoning her to take a look. She stood up and walked over slowly, stepping through the puddles of magma without a care.
When she inspected the necklace, she looked up at the man seriously and sent out a message for everyone to gather immediately.
[Item: Necklace of Time]
Rarity: Corrupted Secret
Passive: Able to recall the current time and date immediately.
Active: Send a targeted party member time 5/10/15 seconds back in time. Item destroyed on use. Duration requires 500/1000/1500 Intelligence.
Corruption: +5 to Item. Non-targeted party members die horrifically.
+1: Seconds changed to minutes.
+2: Minutes to hours.
+3: Hours to days.
+4: Days to weeks.
+5: Weeks to years.
The group gathered around, each inspecting the item and looking amongst themselves in shock.
"Fifteen years." The man who had chosen the necklace whispered, looking at the crude metal. The Necklace of Time had been seen once before, a non-corrupted version. They used it to kill one of the enemies leaders, having a party member go back 10 seconds in time to warn of its self-destruction, saving the party of the strongest members.
The group looked around at each other and their screens, noting the insane intelligence cost required to go back. Those in the group who focused on intelligence, the magic and support users, eyed their own values.
"We can only go back 10 years." They said, already knowing who among the living had the highest intelligence value.
The mage that had so was trembling, terrified more of the responsibility that might be shoved upon him then he had of fighting the monsters. The man bit his lip, noting the difference five years would make.
Fourteen years ago humanity was faced with the opening of the 'shop', a worldwide device that opened up like a holo-screen in front of the user. Just about anything was available in the shop, and a small amount of currency, Dos, was given to each person, to use as they wished.
It was just enough to cause havoc across the globes as people traded the Dos for currency, crashing the economy as the value of currency dropped.
Others bought food enough to survive for a couple of years, or a new car. The worst cases bought weapons, increasing violence across the globe dramatically as suddenly even a child could purchase a brand new assault rifle.
Shortly after the shop, came the 'dungeons'. The term was given to them by gamers, and it stuck. Areas of the world were suddenly inaccessible, randomly appearing.
One might enter a building, only to suddenly find themselves in the middle of a jungle. These areas were like earth, but were filled with monstrous creatures and mutated animals.
Dos was earned from slaying these creatures, selling their parts, or loot, to the shop. Clearing an entire dungeon earned an extra serving of Dos, and the area would disappear, returning to whatever it was before. Pioneers, as the system called them, could not leave the dungeon until the boss was killed, or the associated quest completed.
Areas containing dungeons were closed off by military, stopping civilians from wandering in and dying. Squads of soldiers would enter, some returning victorious, others ragged and missing party members.
Problems arose as people fought against the military, claiming they were hogging all the Dos. Some people entered illegally, claiming the dungeons for themselves. Other times the areas appeared in dangerous spots, such as subway stations, or in the White House.
Whilst firearms and stronger explosives served well inside the dungeons, they begun to fall off over time. Unless bought from the shop, or crafted using materials from the dungeons, they became ineffective.
Medieval era soldiers reappeared, using swords and bows collected from the dungeons, specialized in clearing them. Life continued, despite the countless deaths and riots.
That was, until the dungeons no longer remained in a single location. Dungeon boundaries began to expand, encompassing the terrain around them, and incorporating it into the dungeon.
A dungeon entrance might have once covered a small building, but now encompassed the entire suburb. As the dungeons grew larger, creatures started to emerge from within, set free from their confines. Humans needed to clear the dungeons quickly, before the monsters could escape and claim millions of lives.
A trend seemed to form, as the moment humans began to form up in their areas, clearing dungeons that grew too close, the dungeons changed, pushing humanity back out of their comfort zone, and into dire straits.
The dungeon boundaries disappeared, claiming the land they had take over as the new dungeon. Monsters roamed through abandoned city streets and beach side resorts. The dungeon terrain and its spawn location merged together. Towns died overnight as a jungle sprouted up, or a cave system opened up beneath farmland.
Humans, clumped up in the settlements, weathered the attacks that came, pushing back the waves, spending the Dos in huge amounts to keep up with the increasing pressure and power that the monsters possessed.
Again, when humans regained control of their areas, killing the monsters and destroying the dungeons that had stolen the land, a new enemy emerged.
It was 10 years ago that another planet revealed themselves. The remaining dungeons spouted out new creatures. They were a sentient race, like the humans, and also had access to the 'shop'. The Torians. They were made of rock and metal, and took after the image of a rhinoceros standing on its hind legs. They were toxic to be around, as they constantly expelled sulfur into the air.
The invaders had purchased Earth, the entire planet. The dungeons became access portals, allowing them to send over their forces and clear out its inhabitants.
More importantly, they were strong. They had weathered the Dos system much better than humans had, retaining control over their territories, and subduing the dungeons, using them as training grounds.
The Torians were a warrior race, and often fought among themselves. It was only when a new target emerged did they band together, moving in unison to their new hunting grounds.
The humans struggled to hold on, but were slowly pushed back, eventually leaving their planet, escaping to the last place the Torians would expect.
Their home planet, Ysoria.
The state of the planet made it obvious as to why the Torians had purchased another planet, trying to escape the slow death their own was going through. The land was inhospitable, covered in volcanic deposits that polluted the air with ash, evaporated every available water source, and stopped any source of farming. Although made of inorganic material, the Torians were carnivorous, and any remaining organics on the planet had been horribly mutated, beyond the point that even they could reliably hunt.
The Emperor Ash Goliath that had been created to destroy all life should the Torians lose, was once a huge volcano located behind the main Torian settlement, exploding forth when the race was close to extinction, and covering what land remained untouched in fire and brimstone.
The man holding the necklace was the third in command, Tristen. He looked up at the woman who was unofficially the second in command, their back-up tank, Cynthia. Ten years would put one of their party members at the start of the Torian invasion, much too late to save the earth from its fate.
None of them were strong enough at that point to hold off the Torians, and being pushed back to Ysoria would doom them to the same fate.
"Can we purchase enough int gear to reach 1500?" One of the mages asked, looking around at their dead comrades belongings.
They hurriedly opened their shop whilst others checked the bosses loot, calculating how much intelligence they would need to gain to cover the remaining. The mage who reached 1000 was already using high-intelligence providing gear to reach the number, so finding pieces that provided even more was difficult.
Cynthia looked around for a certain body as the party put their minds to work, arguing with each other on which piece was better in the largest display of emotion she had heard in a while.
One body stood out amongst the rest of charred corpses, clear of any ash and still glowing an orange hue despite the lifeless eyes that stared up into space.
"What about Dusty's gear?"
The group stopped their talking and looked over at Cynthia who hovered above a body.
"Dustin…" The woman whispered. She desperately felt like crying, but no tears sprung forth, her body so deprived of hydration. Her hands were careful as she knelt down, inspecting the gear their once glorious leader had worn. The lack of ash or burns covering his attire was surprising, given the volcanic environment that surrounded them.
It was his coat that provided the benefit, keeping his clothes clean. She couldn't help the chuckle that rumbled up her throat. It was classic Dustin, refusing to work in dirty clothing. She counted up the intelligence they provided, then looked up at the mage who was most promising and shook her head.
The mage looked pained and relieved at the same time, leaning against his staff.
"I… I don't think I could go back." He stated, drawing angry looks from the other mages. Despite feeling the same, they all knew that someone had to take the risk, hoping that it wouldn't be them.
Cynthia wanted to scream at him, but there was no energy left in her body as she looked back down at Dustin's body.
She opened her mouth to speak, but was interrupted as Tristen read through the necklace description again.
"It doesn't say they have to be living." He said slowly, skirting around what he truly meant to say.
All eyes went over to Cynthia, who looked down at Dustin. The highest intelligence of all the party members, living or dead, was nearing 2000, and belonged to none other than their leader who laid dead at her feet.
She wanted to say no, looking down at his peaceful face that was sleeping eternally. How could any of them subject someone to relive the experience again, especially one who had already given their life to cause, sacrificing more than anyone else had.
"There's no other choice." Tristen mumbled, bringing the necklace closer. Cynthia's eyes shot up, staring daggers at the approaching tank. He had taken hits from the Goliath and survived, encouraging his members to keep going.
But the look on her face gave him pause, stopping him from getting any closer.
"I know." She interrupted the man speaking and stood up slowly. Without moving an inch the necklace disappeared from Tristen's hands, appearing around her neck instead.
"You should all leave the party."
Everyone was frozen in place as she delicately ran a hand through Dustin's hair, her other hand clasping the necklace so tight they thought she might break it. Everyone had read the description of the necklace, noting the part that the remaining party members would die.
Yet no one left the party, standing in solemn silence as Cynthia said her goodbye.
"We go together." Tristen said, with rest of the party copying his words. Cynthia didn't fight it, and held the necklace up, showing the ability it provided.
[Active: Targeted party member: Dusty. Target will be sent (15) years back in time.]
Her hand trembled over the accept button, looking once more at his peaceful face before she pressed it.
The necklace around her neck began to melt, being destroyed on use as part of its description. The molten silver slithered over to Dustin's body, starting to encapsulate him entirely.
At the same time, Cynthia could feel an uncomfortable warmth under his skin, and looked at her arm to realize that the skin was beginning to peel off, revealing the muscle underneath. The pain was enough to make any sane person scream, but no one made a peep. They watched the body slowly turning silver, praying to whatever sick god had put them through this to let him succeed.
Their eyes were full of pity, not pain, until they could see no longer, their eyeballs melting out of their sockets.
Cynthia felt a single tear escape her burning eye ducts, dropping onto the silver and running down its side. Her hand continued to run through Dustin's hair until it no longer remained, turning to nothing. She leant forward with the last of her strength and kissed the top of his head, feeling what was left of her being torn apart.
The pain grew tremendously, until the party began to scream, sending signals that even Dustin could receive. The silver had covered even the inside of his body and his heart started to beat slowly.
He heard the orchestra of horror outside, despite seeing nothing but darkness, and wondered if it was a dream.
His closed his eyes involuntarily and he and tried to go back to sleep, curious as to why the screams sound like they were cheering him on...