Dustin watched the little girl walk her bike quickly through the portal, not bothering to turn and wave or say goodbye.
He didn't care. The quicker she was gone, the better.
After she had failed to gift him the flame burst skill book he roughly explained the system to her, keeping important information out of the conversation. They agreed that he wouldn't mention her or her giant lizard pet, and she would act like he was never here.
The remaining monsters, and the secret, were left to Dustin as she left. He cracked his knuckles and twirled the metal staff around, slamming one end on the ground, which send a small burst of energy out from underneath it.
And so began the killing spree, piling up the lizards and goods that dropped in his inventory until it was completely full. He had backtracked through most of the ravine, entering back into deepest part, where he had found a hidden crevice, wider than the rest and extended further in, eventually opening up into a small cavern in the wall.
Inside was a dead lizard roasting on a fire, moving slowly in a clockwise direction as it cooked. Dustin was immediately on guard as he approached, already detecting through his tracking that someone, or something, was in the cave.
"Ah! A guest!"
Something from the dark corner called out to him, compelling him to approach. He had to resist the urge, and instead took a seat at the campfire. The voice chuckled, coming closer until it skirted the edges of the campfires light.
It was a devil, one of the demonic beings pioneers could summon to this realm to fight. Dustin wasn't sure whether they were a Dos race, perhaps enslaved to the system in some way, or if Dos just created them as sentient monsters.
It had the heat of a goat, with two long horns curling forward, then down. It was a good two feet taller than Dustin, and its head threatened to scrap across the ceiling.
Dustin kept a tight grip on his staff, but made no move to attack. He wasn't confident in attacking and defeating a devil. Unless the secret was an ex-pioneer trapped inside the dungeon, most secrets did not require killing the target, or giver, of them. They were usually tests, quests, or escorts, which had no problems with asking the pioneer to kill.
If the Mantae had been a Dos created monster, he might have been asked to escort them outside the cave, therefore completing the secret.
The devil didn't seem to be the type to need an escort, especially in this low level of dungeon, so Dustin waited for him to talk.
"A silent one, hm? So imposing." The devil mocked him as it came up beside him. It reached towards the grilling lizard and tore into it with its claws, retrieving a piece of meat.
It held the meat in front of him, offering it with murderous eyes. Dustin declined and took out his own rations that were hidden in the inventory. The devil flashed his teeth and swallowed the meat whole, sitting down to look at Dustin. His legs extended into the campfire, laying against the inflamed logs without a care.
"So, my dear pioneer. What is it you wish?"
Dustin pretended not to hear, and continued munching on his dry bread. The devil remained calm and scratched his beard. When it opened its mouth again to repeat the question, Dustin interrupted him.
"You will make the offer. It must be reasonable."
The devil gave a sour look, kicking a burning log out the other end of the campfire.
"You intelligent species are no fun."
Dustin continued to eat his lunch like nothing had happened, waiting until the Devil finally caved in.
"I require an object for a sacrificial ritual, but alas, I am unable to leave this cave." The devil held an arm against his forehead and looked up at the ceiling dramatically.
"A heart of the Blood Ape shall suffice."
Dustin instantly drew up the image of a Blood Ape in his head, and the expected level he would need to be to kill it.
Blood Apes were obviously in forested terrain, and generally traveled in two or threes. They would appear sometime after level 10, and became a different species towards level 25.
They were one of the weaker monsters, provided they had no special modifiers, and were just a common monster within the dungeon. It was like taking on a strong human, and attributes could be used to bridge the gap just like any other monster.
But of course, deals with the devils were never straight forward.
"Of course, the heart must be of a certain pedigree. Only the finest, and all that. I'm sure you understand."
Dustin rolled his eyes at the Devil, and the secret quest popped up in his display.
"I shall provide you the coordinates to a Blood Ape I have grown a particular taste for. Retrieve this for me, and you will be rewarded handsomely.
[Quest: Heart of the Blood Ape Chieftain].
The Devil, Xorxi, has requested the heart of a Blood Ape, and specified a certain Blood Ape he wishes you to retrieve it from. The Blood Ape Chieftain is located in the Eclipse Jungle, recommended level: 20.
Should you accept, the location of Eclipse Jungle will be marked on your map. The devil will grant you 60 days to accomplish the task. Failure to accomplish the task, will result in Xorxi claiming ownership of your pioneering status. Loss of pioneer status results in monster classification.
Completion of task rewards one item from Xorxi, in accordance with Dos protocol D3V1L.
Dustin looked past the notification at Xorxi's smiling face. Two months of dungeon farming would easily push him past the level twenty mark, provided he could chain dungeons together reliably.
Unfortunately that option was obviously locked, as Dustin would take at least a couple of days to pinpoint the location of each dungeon.
Despite the devil standing still, he could feel Xorxi's smiling visage drawing closer to him as the deal continued to flash on his display.
"Triple the time limit and I'll gather the rest of the ingredients for your pathetic grovelling ritual, Lord Samuel deserves only the finest, and all that, I'm sure you understand."
The smile on Xorxi's face completely dropped as he recoiled, his face twisting in disgust.
"You would imply I use lesser ingredients?" He seethed, the normal goat teeth in his mouth turning sharp.
"I can smell the Dreadroot from here. Pathetic, you should be grateful I am sparing you the eternal agony of Lord Samuel's wrath from being summoned to such a dreary place."
Xorxi tried leaping at Dustin, but was pushed back by a strong force of wind. He collided with the back of the cavern and fell down atop his belongings.
Once negotiations begun, neither party could harm each other until it was cancelled, or an accord was struck.
"You think I won't just cancel this deal and strike you where you stand? There are plenty of pathetic pioneers clamoring for rewards." Xorxi spat, wiping the blood that trickled down his forehead. A monstrously large tongue emerged from his mouth and licked the blood from his clawed finger.
Dustin continued to sit by the campfire, and drank some of his water.
"The dungeon is already cleared, I am the last pioneer you will see for at least half a year. You accept my deal, and I either fail, saving you from becoming a dried up husk, or I succeed, and you summon your beloved lord, earning more time on the clock to suck in another pioneer. If you decline, then you may enjoy your eternal torment, regardless of what you do to me."
Dustin spoke his argument slowly, giving care to put emphasis on the Devils inevitable fate.
Xorxi's eyes were bulging out of his head, the anger rising in his system. Dustin was slowly losing confidence that the devil would accept, but eventually the devils claws retracted, and he returned to his suave facade.
"You are well informed, Mr. Dusty. Very good, you will prepare my ritual." Xorxi said. Dustin smiled and held up two fingers.
Xorxi's eye twitched, but he reigned in his emotions and nodded. The new text for the quest begun to shift, changing from one ingredient, the Blood Ape heart, to a list of items. The time limit was set to six months from now, and the reward was two of Xorxi's items.
Dustin tapped the confirm button and stood up slowly, dusting the dry bread crumbs from his lap. He ignored outstretched hand and walked back out past Xorxi.
"Don't die until then." Dustin gave his parting words and stepped back out of the crevice.
Once outside he relaxed the tension in his shoulders and spent some time killing monsters to relieve the stress. He had to act completely confident, it was the only way to gain the upper hand against someone whose entire existence relied on making deals.
Devils used deals to extend their lifespan, whether it was stealing pioneering status, or summoning lords of the underworld and selling the items collected from pioneers.
Lord Samuel was one of the Higher Demons in the underworld, wherever it was. Dustin had never seen him, but Ysoria was covered in all kinds of devils, so the names of the lords had been drilled into his head by raving cultists.
Ravenous Ravine completion. 600 Dos.
Ravenous Ravine secret. In progress.
Ravenous Ravine Boss. Neutralized.
Ravenous Ravine Monsters. 500 Dos.
Despite the increased difficulty of the dungeon compared to the Goblin Forest, he got a lot less Dos, and only slightly more experience. He lost the Boss bonus to Kayle, the secret was in progress, and the full clear couldn't be completed until the secret was finished.
When Dustin emerged back into the real world, Kayle was nowhere to be seen. She must have run home as soon as she got back. Checking his watch, it had only been just over an hour since he had entered the dungeon, despite spending a couple in there.
Dustin planned to attend his university classes tomorrow and get Ben added to his friends list, then he just needed to get his step-sister hooked up, and he could relax a little.
Six months was plenty of time to collect the needed ingredients for the ritual. Whilst Dustin had promised the best of the best, the amount of alternatives that existed were ridiculous. The demons apparently had low standards when it came to what could be used to summon them.
The quest was formatted in a way that all Dustin had to do was create the ritual using ingredients that would satisfy Lord Samuel, Xorxi's initial requirements for what he wanted were just guidelines.
Luckily for Dustin, he had one particular trick up his sleeve. There was a certain commodity on earth that the demons loved. Realistically, Dustin could make the ritual out the shittiest material, provided he appeased the Higher Demon in some another form.
Dustin was almost tempted to convince Xorci to let him watch the ritual, but his previous experiences all told him to stay far away. The ritual sites Dustin had seen on Ysoria were all filled with corpses. Several of his party members had told him never to witness a ritual, and there was plenty of evidence that doing so was suicidal.
Now that he had the ritual quest accepted, he could open up a blank map of the Earth. There were two dots featured on it, one indicating his location, and the other was the Eclipse Jungle.
Dustin pulled out his phone to get an idea of distance, and judged it to be a couple of hundred kilometers away. Dungeons had several entrances, which lead to different 'instances' of the same dungeon. Two different parties could complete the same dungeon at the same time, but were doing it separately.
Just to add further confusion to the mix, two parties could emerge in the same location after both clearing their own instance, despite entering from different locations, provided they left from the same spot inside. Entering the portal that was created above the boss once killed, and waiting for teleportation after clearing the dungeon, where the two main ways to return to the same location one entered in.
There were often other entrances hidden around, and they could be used for quick transportation around if someone managed to memorize a layout. This was a giant waste of time, as the amount of layouts almost guaranteed that pioneers did not see the same dungeon more than a couple of times.
Thankfully Eclipse Forest had an entrance in Australia, just north of Sydney. Dustin needed to drive if he wanted to head up there, or maybe take a train if it was available.
Besides his current location and the dungeon, the map was like looking at a basic mapping software. There was no text or anything, just the different continents, the layout of terrain, and then anything man-made was pictured on like a satellite image.
In the future the map could be used to track where people where, where monsters were, and dungeon locations. One of the shop upgrades in the Tier 2 was the ability to location dungeon entrances, which really sped up the process.
The barrier was the 1.5 million Dos price tag attached to unlocking the tier 2 shop, and the 10,000 Dos added on for the actual map upgrade that tracked dungeons.
Still, the map was useful for navigation as Dustin made his way home, crashing in bed, physically exhausted from the day. It was only six in the afternoon but he felt knackered and fell asleep, only waking up the next day to his alarm.
It wasn't Ben who found Dustin first when he returned to uni, but Sam and some of the students who had been in the Goblin Forest with him. Dustin felt a little awkward as they thanked him, but said he was just doing what anyone would do.
Sam jokingly asked what question it was that he had wanted to know when he walked into the classroom that day, but Dustin dismissed it. He made up an excuse that things were moving so fast and the world was changing, so he was probably going to pull back and continue studying his main course for a while, to see what was going to happen.
Sam was dejected at the dismissal, but made him promise to come around the arts faculty still, plenty of the staff and students there liked him.
He finally threw off the crowd as he escaped into his class, sitting at the back again. Rather than paranoia, it was speed he was after. The back seats were obviously closest to the exit, and Dustin just needed to find Ben.
The first lecture was a bust as he didn't show up. Given they weren't mandatory, it wasn't anything unusual. Ben didn't have a knack for attending every class like Dustin.
The next class was their favorite one, and Dustin sat at their usual spot. Thankfully Ben showed up a couple of minutes late, just before Dustin had given up hope of finding him.
"Sorry I'm late man, Minna was keeping me busy."
Dustin cracked and smile and nudged Ben with his elbow, completely ignoring whatever the professor standing in front of the class was saying. He had already heard it before anyways.
"Late nights, huh? Just make sure you use protection."
Ben gave a half hearted smile, alarming Dustin.
"Wish it was that. Her brother disappeared, can't find the bloody kid. He's only fourteen for Christs sake, and he's been gone for two days. Doesn't have a cellphone, and he's a bit socially awkward, doesn't like strangers."
Dustin almost didn't want to ask, but forced himself to anyways, "What's his name?"
Dustin ran through his memories and avoided looking at Ben, pretending like he was trying to listen to the professor.
David Nguyen were two fairly common names, and unfortunately the two of them together were listed as casualties inside the dungeon in Dustin's memory.
"When did he go missing?" Dustin asked.
Ben ran a hand through his hair and whistled quietly.
"He went missing two days ago, on Tuesday. But something could have happened to him the day before that. He sometimes sleeps over at a friends house randomly, so Minna's parents didn't report anything until the day after when they called the friends parents who said they hadn't seen him."
"I drove around with my girlfriend before, looking for him in the surrounding neighborhoods."
Ben yawned and rest his head in his arms, his eyes drooping closed. Dustin bit the inside of his lip and contemplated asking questions. If his brother had been in the dungeon for three days, he was probably already dead.
There were cases were people had survived inside until some qualified to clear it entered, but they were very few. Dustin wasn't sure if he wanted to reveal the reality they were facing to Ben. It would be very odd if he asked him to find out where David frequented, and even more so try to track where he walked through.
"I'll treat you to something after class." Dustin said, but Ben was so tired he had fallen asleep.
The professor was giving them the evil eye as he continued on with the class, pressing onward loudly to try and rouse Ben. It didn't work, and Dustin had to carry his friend out of the classroom, slinging him over his shoulder.
Rather than dumping him somewhere, he took Ben to his car, trying to look like he wasn't kidnapping his friend. Ben woke up when they were inside, slamming his head on the dashboard.
"Let's go back to my place."
Dustin knew that Ben didn't have a car, so he wasn't worried about him leaving one behind to collect a parking fine.
When they reached Dustin's house, Ben was so tired that the display popping up in front of him felt like an illusion, but he quickly splashed some water on his face as they stood in the kitchen, his finger making ripples on the display.
"It's part of the Dos shop. A friends list, or sorts. Let's us chat, and we can see a rough location of where each other is."
"I've been so fucked up lately that I haven't even bothered to look at this. It really does look like some game interface doesn't it. Look, there's even levels…" Bens voice drifted off as he tapped on Dustins friend icon.
"Why are you level 6?" Ben asked, looking at the picture that Dustin had set as his pioneers avatar. It was some generic image of the Aeromancy tree, a lightning bolt.
"Look. I don't want this to come across weird or anything, but there are reasons behind people's disappearances. I'm not sure if you heard what happened on campus the other day."
Ben nodded slowly, he had heard brief tidbits of the event, but it was being kept under wraps to keep the integrity of the university intact, as well as investigations into this new phenomenon.
"I was there, specifically inside the… dungeon. Let's go to the backyard, I'll show you something."
Dustin said. Ben tiredly followed Dustin into the backyard. Ben yelped as Dustin dropped one of the lizard corpses from his inventory onto the ground.
"What the fuck is that!"
Dustin took out his metal staff and nudged it, showing that it was dead.
"It's from inside the dungeons. What happened on campus wasn't really inside campus, it was inside a forest where things like these live."
Ben looked completely lost as his eyes swiveled from the lizard carcass to Dustin.
"It's hard to explain. But I think your brother might be inside one of them. It appeared randomly, and we had no choice in the matter. Kind of like a forced teleportation."
Ben knelt down to poke the lizard, confirming that it was indeed real as his finger touched the scales. It wasn't a hallucination from his sleep deprived mind.
"That's a bit of a jump," Ben said.
Dustin tried explaining a little more, forcing himself to keep parts secret. He trusted Ben as a friend, to not call him insane, but he wasn't sure he could keep his mouth shut.
The last thing Dustin needed was more distractions from his goal. Going into a dungeon to save Ben's brother was part of both criteria, to help his friends and family, and continue clearing dungeons.
"Look man… I don't know about any of this, wouldn't everyone know if shit like this was kidnapping people?"
Dustin hung his head and looked to the fence on the side. His neighbors were inside laughing as they watched the news. He could tell by their weird hand movements that they were using the Dos display.
"It's not that easy. People don't understand, and they aren't willing to go do something stupid or dangerous. I'm just telling you that I'm willing to try and find your girlfriends brother."
Ben sat down on the grass and stared at the dead lizard. He was beyond tired and could barely think straight.
"Look. Get some sleep, call me when you wake up. If you want me to help, I'll be there. I just need to know where David would usually go "
Dustin helped Ben into his house, not letting him leave without sleeping first. Dustin's mother was still out, but she had met Ben plenty of times before.
Ben laid down on Dustin's bed and mumbled thanks before he drifted off. Dustin felt tired himself, despite the massive he sleep he had the previous night. He turned his attention to the computer and continued looking up the missing people. He browsed social media pages, forums, anything that linked to the names he could remember.
There was a single person, a woman, who had gone missing around the same time as David. The problem was that she had very little useful information about her. She was an investigative journalist, so she kept her private life, very private.
She had gone missing investigating the missing people herself, so it was likely she had come across the dungeon entrance and died inside. She had written a blog post for her personal website only yesterday, so she wasn't dead yet.
The only piece of useful information he could acquire, was the address of an office she used. He would have to cross check it with David's comings and goings to see if it was likely they had entered the same dungeon.
He wrote it down on a notepad and stuck it on the bottom of his monitor. He opened up a new tab and searched for online stores that sold masks. He needed something to hide his face. If he was going to be saving people from dungeons this regularly, he couldn't have them recognizing him.
Police weren't going to believe that he managed to enter dungeons and save people on 'accident', especially considering their existence was constricted to an isolated case at the current time. He couldn't stop everyone he might save from the dungeons from blabbing about them, so he needed to at least protect himself.
His search ended up focusing on a holiday coming up soon, as it was mid-October, there was a Mexican holiday on the second of November that had plenty of mask options. He found a painted skull mask that hid his features well enough and added it to the cart.
'Dia de los Muertos apparel on sale now!'