Sarah peeked over the edges of the stone that covered the building exit, checking for any undead. The stone giants surrounding her were silent under the absence of undead. It seemed peaceful for once, a far cry from the horrific monsters that roamed the streets. It was almost enough to make her pause and take in the view.
Still, she knew that they had to move. The group had been attacked the last time they tried to stay in one location too long. She turned back to the hideout and looked over the motley crew. They were civilians, like herself, unaccustomed to such poor conditions. Sarah had experience in uncomfortable situations as an investigative journalist, but the rest of the people gathered were hairdressers, cashiers, students, etc.
Jordy looked at her expectantly, and she gave the OK for them to move. He roused them from their despairing state and started to move the stone out of the way with Sarah's help.
The rest of the group groaned and mumbled as they got to their feet, dashing from one building to the next to cover ground. The streets were too dangerous to move through as the undead roamed through them endlessly.
They had been moving in the opposite direction of the distracted crowd, reaching the outer northern boundary after an hour. They had managed to avoid detection, but the sight of a figure in a black cloak made Sarah pause. Jordy signaled for her to run across into the building where the rest of them were holding as she was the last to go, but she waved him off.
She took a risk and peeked out from the building, getting a better look at the cloak. The figure was the one she had seen saving them earlier. He was standing out in the middle of the street, looking out towards the north. Between Sarah and the man were some undead approaching him, prompting her to do something about it.
"Watch out!" She shouted, but she immediately clasped a hand over her mouth. The undead had nearly reached the figure when they turned in unison to look at her. The cloaked man's face was completely blank as he tilted his head. She thought that his face paint looked vaguely familiar, but was too worried about the zombies running at her to think about it.
She couldn't move her legs as the man tripped the undead that were moving away from him and crushed their skulls under his feet. Oddly enough, they seemed to have no response to the action, their vision tunneling in on Sarah.
She tried to thank the man again as he came up to her, but his hand wrapped tightly around her throat instead, effortlessly pulling her up into the air. She tried to scream, anything to get the attention of the others who were hiding in the next building, but the fist was wrapped tightly around her windpipe.
The mans face begun to twist and shiver as it slowly turned into her own, mocking the expression of fear on her face as her own face grew red. Black spots appeared in her vision as the mimic completed its transformation, mirroring her proportions exactly.
That was, until a metal staff sunk into the top of its skull, crushing the cranium and sending shards of bone into its brain. Sarah gasped as the hand around her throat released, dropping her onto the ground.
The metal staff lifted out of the crater it created and swept the mimics feet, sending it toppling to the ground. Sarah noticed the burn on its chest as the copy of her looked up in rage, its mouth opening to reveal a long, red tongue before the staff slammed into its neck, crushing it.
The tongue dropped into its mouth, gurgling a little before finally growing still. The real Sarah followed the staff upwards, finding the real cloaked man looking at her.
"Fucking mimics." He muttered under his breath.
Sarah opened and closed her mouth, but could feel no words coming out. The man waited until she had caught her breath, and offered her a hand up. She felt the urge to shuffle backwards, away from the man, but the bloodied staff tip resting next to her leg gave her the strength to decide otherwise.
Dustin lifted her off the ground and pat her on the top of the head. She froze and squeaked a little as his hand touched her hair. Her eyes were closed until he took his hand off and sighed. He couldn't help but worry for the future, which couldn't seem anything other than bleak.
"Where are the rest of you?" Dustin asked, surprising her. Her eyes darted over to the nearby building and back quickly, unconsciously revealing their location. Dustin grinned and walked over to the ruined building, likely some kind of residential home previously, and tore open the rotten wooden door.
The people inside screamed as he stood in the doorway like the reaper of souls, dressed in a black cloak with a skull for a face. Dustin's eyes scanned over the crowd until he saw David, and relief washed over him. The young boy was sitting in the corner, frozen in fear at Dustin's disguise.
"Alright everybody, up and at 'em! Time to get out of here."
It took some convincing from Sarah, and confirmation from June, to get the group of people to follow. Dustin threw caution to the wind and took them through the streets, clearing the undead as he went. He managed to enlist Jordy and Sarah to help, the two of them handling the skeletons, whilst Dustin took on the more disgusting targets.
He had already unlocked the boss location on the map, and guided them there. When there was a clear path forward, Dustin dropped back to talk to David.
"Your sister's boyfriend, Jake, had me come here and help you." Dustin whispered to him. David was terrified of being close to Dustin, but nodded and whispered 'thanks' under his breath.
The closer they got the boss, the deeper the feeling of dread sunk in. The big Sinker that served as the boss was almost double the size of Dustin, and the tentacle resting in its chest was as thick as his legs. The party could see it peaking over the edge of a ruined wall and paled, pushing against the people behind them to escape. Dustin put a finger to his lips and gathered them in a huddle.
"We kill that thing, we get out of here." Dustin whispered, pointing to the towering Sinker. Guarding it were two Junkers, and a bunch of random zombies, undead animals, and skeletons.
Sarah swallowed the saliva that had collected in her mouth and was disgusted by the wet tentacle that coiled inside the boss' chest.
"I can handle the big boy, I just need the other goons kept busy."
Sarah looked at the undead guarding the Sinker. Jordy and herself had grown to handle crushing the skeletons' bones, but the bulky, anvil-wielding monsters were a huge leap above their pay grade.
[??? wishes to open a chat with you.]
Sarah was surprised at the display that opened up in front of her. She looked up from the message at Dustin, who gave her a thumbs up.
???: Buy this.
[Spell: Holy Smite.] 800 Dos.
Call upon the light to smite thy enemies. A bolt of light will smite the enemy, dealing a mix of fire, and holy damage.
Use: 70 Mana.
Sarah looked inquisitively at the spell that ??? had sent to her through the chat. So far the shop had been a complete mystery, one that had drawn her attention. From the news, and talking to other people, it was revealed that everyone started with a base amount, 1500 Dos.
??? was telling her to spend over half of that amount on a 'spell'. Sarah had seen her friends using the Dos to buy currency or expensive items, but she had held off in case something else came up.
The dire nature of the situation, and the look of seriousness on Dustin's skull paint told her that it was time to spend some of it.
[Spell: Holy Smite learned.]
Sarah was surprised as the method to casting the spell was known to her, as if she had been practicing it for her entire life. Looking over at Jordy, it seemed that Dustin had convinced both of them to purchase it, the look of revelation on his face matching hers.
"Perfect. You two are going to smite the two big anvil dudes, I'm going to deal with the walking sushi, and David is going to lead the other undead away."
Sarah and Jordy nodded in unison throughout the explanation, but looked questioningly at each other when David was mentioned.
"He's probably the fastest here, he can just run way, hide somewhere, and I'll go pick him up after." Dustin explained. David, however, did not seem to agree with the judgement.
The rest of the group agreed with the plan, and Dustin pretended to ignore David's protests, signalling for him to go. The nervous boy was in tears as he ran out of cover, drawing the attention of the undead coalition.
The weaker undead began following him first, and the larger ones were stopped as Dustin jumped out as well, throwing a knife at the boss. It sunk into the rotting flesh of the Sinker harmlessly, but achieved the goal of attracting its attention. Dustin ran off to the side, using the edges of the clearing to duck into cover each time the tentacle struck, smashing stone and rusted metal aside with ease.
The two Junkers were pulled off next as Sarah and Jordy shakily ran into their view. They both began to cast their spell. Their hands spun in a wide circle slowly, the energy in the air around them vibrating increasingly. It peaked when they reached their original hand position, completing a circle.
Sarah pulled her hand back, and mimicked a baseball player as she threw her hand out. Rather than a ball, a bolt of light shot forth, blinding the both of them as they incinerated the two rapidly approaching Junkers. The sound was like a grenade going off and the force of it shook her body.
She knelt down on her haunches and held a hand to her head, feeling a headache coming on. Her eyes felt like they were burning from the bright light, and she couldn't open them again until something shook the ground, pushing her off balance.
She put her hand out to stop herself and found that the bright light was gone. Looking up revealed the two smoldering corpses that once resembled the Junkers. They were lying flat on their backs, the rotten flesh charred and steaming.
The cause of the mini-earthquake was not their victory, but Dustin's.
The large Sinker had fallen forward, landing directly on top of a ruined building. A metal beam had pierced the tentacle in its chest, covered in black blood as it emerged out its back.
It was motionless as it lay impaled, slain by the man climbing on its backs to retrieve the small metal knives embedded in its skin.
It was undeniably dead. Jordy followed Sarah's wide eyed stare and saw the defeated Sinker. He was amazed for all three seconds before the horrific stench invaded his nostrils. The rotten Junker flesh had been cooked under the Holy Smite, and was permeating the air around it.
Dustin walked back with a smile on his face as Jordy threw up, the brown liquid splashing onto Sarah's shoe.
She hurriedly escaped the offensive smell and recouped with the others. Dustin pointed to the shimmering air below the bloated Sinkers corpse and gestured for them to go.
"That's the portal out of here, run along now."
June was the first to follow Dustin's advice, disappearing from existence as her elderly frame entered the portal. The others quickly followed, their eyes glued to the floor to ignore the rotting presence above them before they left the dungeon.
Sarah helped Jordy to the portal and turned to wait for Dustin, but he waved them off. She remembered the young boy that had run away to distract the undead and asked to help, but was rejected via the open chat window.
When they entered the portal and left Dustin alone, he turned away from the boss and walked out of the arena. Rather than go looking for David, he waited.
Sure enough, the young boy emerged unscathed a few minutes later, hobbling over towards the portal, keeping his head down to avoid looking at Dustin. He was just about to reach it before a hand slipped around his neck, picking him up, and slamming him against a collapsed wall.
For a young boy, the action would have caused a bit of damage. But Dustin could feel that David was fine. His face was scrunched up in exaggerated pain.
"How's your sisters boyfriend been going?" Dustin asked, pushing his face closer to David's.
The boy looked close to crying as he opened his mouth, "J-jake? H-he's doing fine."
Dustin strengthened his grip on David's throat, feeling the pulse that beat under his skin. It was strong, but irregular. Plenty of humans lived with an irregular heartbeat, a condition known as Atrial Fibrillation.
Dustin wasn't clueless, he knew it existed, but David's heartbeat was different. It wasn't just irregular, it was forced, like his heart had forgotten how to pump blood, and was being forcefully told how to do so.
"Obviously he isn't, because his name isn't Jake."
Dustin opened up his notifications display, skipping through the first few entries until he came across the dungeon completion related ones.
[Secret in Progress.]
Dustin calmly showed it to David before releasing his grip on the boys throat, pushing the tip of the staff into his chest instead.
"Tell me what happened to David." Dustin demanded. His other hand was inside the pouch by his side, fingering a throwing knife. The boy in his grasp remained terrified, but Dustin could feel an inkling of his mind grow sinister.
"Do it. Give me a reason to end you." Dustin spat through gritted teeth. He was already annoyed that something had happened to David, and even more aggravated that this pretender was here acting like nothing had happened.
"P-please. I'll tell you, just d-don't kill us."
Dustin clenched his hand tightly around a throwing knife, and kept silent as the mimic gave his excuse.
"David was dying, h-he had been torn open by a zombie. I found him, moments before his death, and offered him a choice. We became one, I am both David and mimic. If I did not strike a deal with him, someone like you would have found me eventually, and killed me."
Dustin wanted to crush his neck there and then, but there was still something to be gained from a secret. The mimic hadn't killed any of the other humans, even obeying Dustin's command to lead the undead away so the rest could escape.
"What were you planning to do once you left?"
David's eyes darted to the portal, than back to Dustins.
"Go h-home. We are David, no longer mimic, nor human. I-I have a family, a place to belong."
Dustin struggled to maintain the tight grip the more the mimic talked. It was David, without a doubt, but also a monster. If the mimic truly believed he was David…
"What can you offer in return for your life? I cannot willingly allow a monster to return to our world and leave them to deal with it."
David opened his display, and used his power as the dungeons secret to grant what was essentially a second secret, to Dustin.
[Hidden in plain sight.]
The half-mimic, half-human pioneer, David, has requested you keep his identity a secret, and allow him to return to XQB51. In return, David will provided modifiers to items, spells, or consumables of your choice, increasing in quality as it levels.
Should David fail to provide a modifier each year, his pioneer status will be stripped, and his identity as a monster re-applied. Should Dusty reveal David's identity, all modifiers gained will be removed, and their equivalent Dos value given to David.
Time limit: Indefinitely.
Dustin's interest was piqued at the odd request. Adding a modifier to whatever he wanted was a big advantage to have early on. Progression in the later years would demand individuals talented enough to add modifiers themselves emerge, making it less appealing.
Still, it wasn't something Dustin was going to overlook. He clicked a small pen icon in the corner of the display, and added a few of his own clauses to the quest.
[Hidden in plain sight.]
The half-mimic, half-human pioneer, David, will be allowed to return to XQB51 under certain circumstances.
Pioneer David shall protect his family, and individuals indicated by Pioneer Dusty.
Pioneer David shall not harm pioneers that do not threaten its own existence, or the continued existence of its family and individuals indicated by Pioneer Dusty.
Pioneer David is allowed to level up by clearing dungeons and killing monsters following approval by Pioneer Dusty.
Pioneer Dusty may call on Pioneer David's aid at any time, but acceptable payment will be provided for services rendered.
In return, Pioneer David shall provide two modifiers each year, increasing in quality depending on a combination of Pioneer David and Pioneer Dusty's levels.
Should David break any clause, or fail to provide the requested modifiers, his pioneer status will be stripped, and his identity as a monster re-applied.
Should Dusty reveal David's identity, or breach any clauses indicated, his pioneer status will be stripped.
Time limit: Indefinitely.
David's eyes scanned over the display with an inhuman speed, then zipped up to meet Dustin's.
[Quest: Hidden in Plain Sight] accepted. Time limit: Indefinitely.
Keep David's identity a secret. Adhere to quest rules.
Reward: Two modifiers a year applied to items/consumables/spells provided.
Dustin smiled and removed his staff from David's chest. The young boy fell to the ground and coughed, attempting to return to what he believed a normal breathing pattern to be.
[Spell: Storm Bolt.]
"I want chain." Dustin said slowly, kneeling down in front of David with his display open.
[Spell: Storm Bolt has been modified!]
[Spell: Chaining Storm Bolt]
Channel static electricity through your hands and around a target, drawing a bolt of lightning out of the targeted enemy, shocking them.
Chaining: Lightning chains to nearby enemies, decreasing in damage for each consecutive chain. Maximum: 5
Use: 35 Mana.
Dustin smiled at the new modifier, closing the display. Sure enough, the yearly reward dropped from two modifiers, to one.
He could use the second now, but none of his current items or spells were in desperate need of an upgrade. Chain was important for killing multiple targets at a time, and filled the blatant weakness he had.
David looked up at him expectantly, like he was to be praised for the reward. Dustin rolled his eyes and took a knife from his pouch, tearing a gash in the dirty jacket David was wearing.
"Can't have you going out there looking healthy. You just survived a harrowing experience, not rolled around in some dirt. Also pretend to have amnesia, you're too easy to fool with fake information."
David almost cried as Dustin gave him wounds appropriate for the situation. He scrapped a handful of rocks across his kneecap, cut small, and large gashes, into his skin, and ran his clothing over the blood to stain them.
After only a couple of minutes David had been turned into a homeless war veteran, despite the age. Dustin nodded satisfactorily at his handiwork, then shoved the boy through the portal.
He dusted his hands off and pulled out the metal staff, turning to find a lone zombie looking at him. If Dustin had held off on crushing its skull he might have seen the pitiful look it had given him.
The heartfelt reunion between David and his sister played out on the TV screen in Dustin's living room, recorded on a crappy phone camera. Dustin could spot part of Ben in the frame as he awkwardly waited to the side.
Dustin chuckled at the sight and turned the TV off. When Dustin had finished clearing the dungeon, he came out to an empty hairdressers, though the floor was incredibly dirty.
He made his escape unnoticed, and changed into his regular clothing when he was outside. He blended into the crowd that had gathered around Sarah and the others that were sitting on the curb, waiting for emergency services to arrive. Jordy still looked sick to the stomach as he stared blankly at the ground. Sarah had questioned David when he wandered out, and stopped him when he tried to walk away.
Checking his inventory, there were several items needed for Xorxi's ritual of summoning, each of them was quite obscure, but suitable.
Happy with the outcome, Dustin went home to help his mother cook dinner, then got an early nights sleep.