The molten husk of an unknown creature toppled to the side, sundering the earth with its weight and sending shock waves over a kilometre around it.
A group of humans sat by its side, breathing ragged breaths, ignoring the ash that filled their lungs. Surrounding them was a field of corpses, hundreds of comrades burnt to the flesh, or sliced in half. Despite their victory, there was no cheering, no joy. Even as the group felt filled with the power of the slain creature, they remained emotionless.
One girl 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 remained, the rest of humanity destroyed. They had escaped into the portal, the last ditch effort to escape the destruction of the Earth, and had lived for a short while.
Their freedom was 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 Ysoria.
A battle ensued, leading to humanity's inevitable loss. What good was strength when these beings surpassed all expectation? The enormous smouldering 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 purchasable from the 'shop' for exorbitant amounts. Crops didn't grow, and the previous owners of the land lived in perpetual squalor. 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.
One man stood up from the ground, displacing the burning embers that littered his body. He tapped on the message displayed before him, peering through the loot list. They hope for something, anything that might bring back humanity.
Under normal circumstances, the loot would have pushed them far ahead in terms of strength. Multiple forbidden items, the highest classification achievable, 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 in strength. Some were weaker than rares, and some on par with legendaries. When he chose it, a small necklace appeared in his hands. 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. Those closest to him jammed the ‘Exit’ button on the loot screen when it appeared and noticed his shivering.
He held the necklace out towards a woman, beckoning her to look. She stood up and walked over, stepping through the puddles of magma without care.
When she inspected the necklace, she looked up at the man with a frown and sent out a message for everyone to gather.
[Secret Corrupted Necklace of Time]
Passive: Able to recall the current time and date at will.
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 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. Tristen had seen once before the Necklace of Time, a non-corrupted version. They used it to kill one of the enemy's 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 group looked towards the one mage who met the criteria. His skin was pale and clasping tight on the staff in his grip, terrified more of the responsibility that might fall upon him then he had of fighting the monsters. The man bit his lip, noting the difference five years would make.
Humanity faced the opening of the 'shop' fourteen years ago, a worldwide device that popped up like a holo-screen in front of the user. Just about anything was available in the shop, and it gave a small amount of Dos, the system's currency, 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 the currency dropped.
Others bought food enough to survive for two years or a new car. The worst cases bought weapons, increasing violence across the globe as even a child could purchase a brand new assault rifle. Introducing magic to a world without it was devastating, and its unknown nature only added to the fear surrounding it.
One week after the Dos shop had opened, someone revealed the dungeons. The first group of survivors emerged, bloodied and bruised, having defeated the boss. The information trickled out, and soon more groups emerged, escalating the spread of information like wildfire, causing widespread panic. Without warning, areas of the earth were inaccessible, appearing across the globe.
One might enter a building, only to find themselves in the middle of a jungle. These areas were sometimes like earth, filled with monstrous creatures and mutated animals.
Humans could earn Dos 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 they killed the boss, or the associated quest completed.
Areas containing dungeons were closed off by the 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 grew ineffective. 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, specialised in clearing them. Life continued, despite the countless deaths and riots.
The birth of a new species on earth had occurred within one riot, taking place next to a quarantined dungeon. Only, there was no joy among biologists or environmentalists. The creature had devoured civilians en masse, suppressed only when the military showed up in force. From then on, monsters roamed free from dungeons that remained uncleared.
Humans needed to clear the dungeons with haste before the monsters could escape and claim millions of lives. At first, it was achievable. Only a few monsters would escape at a time, and pioneers developed systems to detect when it happened.
Soon they changed again, and the dungeons boundaries grew, encapsulating more and more terrain. The dungeons devoured entire countries, each team sent in unable to clear the growing problem. Humanity grew stronger, more resilient, and pushed back, defending their land.
The trend continued, as the dungeons went through their final transformation just as the earth settled again.
The dungeon boundaries disappeared, claiming the land they had taken over as the new dungeon. Monsters roamed through the abandoned city streets and beach-side resorts. The dungeon terrain and its spawn location merged. Settlements died overnight as a jungle sprouted up, or a cave system emerged beneath farmland.
Humans, clumped up in the defensive areas, 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. Made of rock and metal, they took after the image of a rhinoceros standing on its hind legs. They were toxic to be around, as they expelled a constant stream of sulphur 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.
They were strong. Weathering the Dos system much better than humans had, keeping 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.
Torians pushed humanity back, forcing them to the last place they would expect.
Ysoria, the Torians home planet.
The state of the planet made it obvious 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 the harsh atmosphere mutated the remaining fauna, beyond the point that even a Torian could rely on for sustenance.
The Torians created the Emperor Ash Goliath as a weapon to destroy Ysoria. It lay dormant in a huge volcano 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 the unofficial 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 was 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 mage asked, looking around at their dead comrade's belongings.
Some rushed to open 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 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 felt the urge to cry, 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 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 Tristen interrupted her as he read through the necklace description again.
"It doesn't say they have to be living." He muttered, skirting around the truth behind his words.
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 for eternity. How could any of them subject someone to relive the experience again, one who had already given their life to cause, sacrificing more than anyone else?
"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. Without moving an inch the necklace disappeared from Tristen's hands, appearing around her neck instead.
"You should all leave the party."
Everyone froze in place as she ran a hand through Dustin's hair, her other hand clasping the necklace so tight they thought she might break it. Everyone had read its description, noting the part that the remaining party members would die.
Yet no one left the party, standing in solemn silence as Cynthia told her goodbyes.
"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 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 melted, being destroyed on use as part of its description. The molten silver slithered over to Dustin's body, encapsulating him.
Cynthia could feel an uncomfortable warmth and looked at her arm to realize that the skin was peeling 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 turning silver, praying to whatever sick god had put them through this to let him succeed.
Rather than pain, their eyes were full of pity 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 remained of her being torn apart.
The pain escalated, until the party screamed, sending signals that even Dustin could receive. Once the silver finished covering his body, it dug into the skin, melding with the flesh and bone, rejuvenating the dying cells. When it reached his heart, it flowed over the still organ, washing the chamber in silver.
The liquid pulsed, slow at first, but growing in speed. Each pulse sent blood rocketing in and out of the heart, reanimating the internal processes.
Dustin heard the orchestra of horror outside as his brain came back online, still unable to open his eyes, and wondered if it was all a dream.
The sounds died out after a few seconds, leaving Dustin in silence as a voice echoed around his head, sending him back to sleep.
I love you.