Chapter 29: A drop of time fills the basin of life, yet the cup is dry.
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Teamwork is the most important thing inside of a dungeon.

You might be some powerful hotshot who thinks that you can just grind it out alone with enough piss and vinegar. But what will your plan be when the dungeon fields an encounter that requires cooperation to complete? What if you find a timed mechanic that requires that two people be at different locations? What if you overestimate yourself and bite off more than you can chew in a fight?

Having a competent party is the most important factor in a person’s chance of survival in a dungeon. It is more important than any other factor.

Give me a true hero, summoned by the gods at the maximum level, one-hundred, and send him into a dungeon alone. Then, give me a fussy group of random level forties from a seedy guild and a week to let them build some spirit with each other.

— You know who I think will make it through that dungeon?

The party. It’s not a contest.

Adventuring parties play off of each other. They are singular pieces that construct a robust, environmentally responsive organism. People in small groups of three to six, which are the standard ranges for an adventuring party to consist of, are far more adaptable, competent and consistent than groups of any other size, larger or smaller. People have a way of holding each other accountable down in those dark places. They have a way of pressing off of each other, combining their skills and talents into unique combinations that most dungeons simply can’t calculate against.

A dungeon-core knows how to deal with a single fire-caster, off on his own in the hole.

What a dungeon-core isn’t prepared for is when that fire-caster teams up with a monk, with fire-resistant skin. Or when a lightning and a water caster team up to electrify entire floors at once. Or when an archer and a battle-alchemist team up, to make highly volatile, high-speed explosive projectiles in the middle of a fight.

You aren’t just safer in a party.

You’re stronger in it too.

 

~ A rant on the ego of particularly naturally gifted adventurers and their flaws

 


 

~ [Irascaris] ~
Human, Male, Lancer
Floor five

 

Sparks fly out in all directions as the blade of the lance slides along the hulking spirit’s armor, scraping over the right side of its hard, ethereal breastplate. His own body is still moving with the momentum of his swing, the fabric of his shawl billowing in his wake.

 

(Irascaris) did {02} DMG to (Ethereal Paladin {💀}) with his fumbled attack
Ethereal Paladin {💀} HP: 31/50

 

The spirit’s head, a hollow, metal helmet that is composed entirely of solidified light, turns his way in the middle of his lunge.

 

“- Look out!”

 

Irascaris stumbles, losing his footing and falling, catching himself with a shoulder roll as the stones shake beneath himself. He quickly turns his head, looking at the man standing between himself and a massive, glowing fist, blocking it off with a heavily dented shield that his rescuer is struggling to hold up with both of his arms.

 

(Ethereal Paladin {💀}) used: [Relentless Conviction]

 

The entity’s glowing body, composed entirely out of solidified holy light, lets out a strong pulsation. The air around it quivers for an instant, before the man with the shield is sent flying as well, landing next to Irascaris.

 

Glass shatters.

 

(Caeli) did {08} NATURE DMG to (Ethereal Paladin {💀}) with her [Potion of Bramble Brier]
Ethereal Paladin {💀} HP: 31/50
Applied Status: [Rooted]

 

A brackish liquid drips down the spirit’s armored body, dripping to the fallen, broken glass on the floor at its feet. Large, thorny brambles grow out of the stained stones there. The sub-boss’ legs are ensnared and it tries to fight itself free.

 

Irascaris gets back up onto his feet, helping their party tank, Domi, get back up too.

 

“We almost got him,” says Caeli, the battle-alchemist, regrouping back with them into a triangle formation. She reaches around, handing each of them one of the many dozens of potions on her belt. “Drink these. Same as before,” she orders. “He’s going to heal now when the snare wears off. Ira, interrupt the spell. Domi, keep him off Ira.”

 

“There’s probably a better tactic than just tanking him out like this,” says Irascaris, wiping his face and looking at the glowing, monstrous spirit before them.

 

“We’re making do!” she barks, turning her head to look back his way, her short bangs flapping against her forehead. “This place is messed up. Be glad if we get out of here alive.”

 

A glow surrounds the ghostly paladin.

 

Status: [Rooted] has been purged!
(Ethereal Paladin {💀}) has started channeling: [Heal]

 

“Go!” orders the party-leader, as they repeat the routine for the third time now.

 


 

~ [Isaiah] ~

 

Interesting.

 

Isaiah returns to its vision, feeling a little wobbly on its legs. Its talons clutch the branch of the very-big-tree tightly.

 

“Did it work?” asks Red’s voice from next to Isaiah.

 

Isaiah looks over to her and nods. “It did. Thank you, Red,” says the entity. “I was able to view not through the statues, but through the eyes of a human.”

 

Red nods. “It’s a kink in Crystal’s statue system. It might be against the rules or something, but I won’t tell anybody if you don’t,” says Red, hovering there.

 

Isaiah nods back. “Thank you, Red. It will be our secret.”

 


 

~ [Rorate] ~
Dark-Elf, Female, Fighter
The Human City

 

The familiar smells and sounds of civilization reach Rorate, as she slowly rides back into the very city that she had wandered out of in a manic stupor the last time that she was here.

 

The sun shines brightly to greet her as she passes through the massive, stone gates to the city. She waves to the bored guards by the entryway. Rorate simply rides past them and they don’t really seem to care or even look. Nothing ever happens around these parts. She does notice that they do seem to be watching the area behind her instead though, the forest.

 

Her eyes wander back forward, listening to the sounds of the other anqa trailing her. They’re flocking animals that are hard to spook and they prefer to stick together. It makes it easy to transport them, as they’ll usually just follow along without many issues along the way.

 

The city itself is bustling and alive with an abundance of life and activity that… honestly, she had never really noticed before, despite living here for so long.

 

Rorate sits on the anqa, looking around at the crowds that are lining up to buy various goods and foods at open-faced stalls and vendors. People walk by in all directions, on their ways to work or to whatever it is they do all day and children run between the gaps of the bustling crowds, loudly chasing after another in play.

 

“— It got bigger again!” says a voice. “Look!”

 

Rorate turns her head around, following the stranger’s finger, which points back behind herself, towards the forest, out of which something very noticeable juts out of the landscape.

 

The crowd around them murmurs, letting out all sorts of thoughts about what it might be.

 

She motions for the anqa to go forward. It seems that the news of the tower being a dungeon hasn’t reached most of the normal people here yet. But that should be a matter of days at this point.

 

Rorate sets off into the heart of the massive city.

 

Everyone lives here. Humans and elves and orcs and dwarves, though the latter only very sparsely. Dwarves have all but died out these days. It seems that, for whatever reason, human blood is stronger than that of the other races. Most often, when a human and a dwarf paired up, it led to a child with mostly human characteristics. The same is true of the other races to a lesser, but still noticeable extent. All half-breeds, half-elves and so on, are actually more than half human. Perhaps they’re more seventy-percent-breeds.

 

The scholars of blood say that in many generations from now, there will only be humans left in the world.

 

— But she doesn’t think that makes sense. The gods who had made all of their different kinds wouldn’t just let them be washed away, right?

 

Rorate’s eyes wander past the only dwarf she sees in the whole crowd, as she rides off to sell the anqas.

 


 

~ [Isaiah] ~

 

Isaiah finds a rare moment to simply… stop.

 

It sits on the thick branch of the very-large-tree and simply stares up towards the lazily drifting clouds in the sky.

 

Green buzzes around below, tending to the very-large-tree tree and the grasses. It seems to be an issue for them, being up this high. But Green says that he’s confident that he can make it work somehow. It turns out that Green is a male. Another one identified. That only leaves a few uthra left who it isn't sure about.

 

As for the plants, Isaiah hopes that Green can save them. It very much likes its special tree.

 

The entity lowers its gaze, looking down towards the forest below. At the same time, the tower rises another floor higher, taking it another span of distance away from its old home, but it doesn’t look at the new menu that appears, which displays the information of another new floor.

 

Some humans are running around inside of the tower, but Isaiah doesn’t watch them or bother flying around in varying heights to make them fall into a sense of false security, like it had done with the last group.

 

Somebody prays in the shrine and it gets experience-points again, but it doesn’t look at that either. It's just sitting there, trying to breathe for a moment.

 

— It’s all been so fast.

 

Two weeks, just about.

 

In just about two weeks, all of the things that have happened, have happened, and, for what feels like the first time, Isaiah simply takes a moment to sit there and let it all wash over itself.

 

Whether it ‘has’ this moment or not is debatable. The eggs are soon to hatch. The second human-inspectors are due to arrive at any moment. But it is taking the moment nonetheless.

 

“Isaiah,” it mutters beneath its breath, recalling the name of the creature it had once met in a river. It is also the name of a man who it had once been in a former lifetime.

 

Isaiah tilts its head, looking at a funny cloud. It is sure that Rorate would have laughed at this one. It really does look rather humorous.

 

— It recalls little of its human life. Bits and pieces only. It didn’t mind being a human, at least back when it was one. But then it got to be a bird.

 

Being a bird was nice.

 

Isaiah stares at the trees of the forest.

 

It had gotten to eat fat, juicy worms and build a nest and it got to sing and start a family. It didn’t get to do any of those things as a human or as a dungeon-core. Being a bird was its favorite life and, while its human life was properly resolved and closed off with a real death, it feels like its bird life wasn’t.

 

Isaiah’s eyes wander down towards the sun-dial that Rorate had acquired for it, sitting in the shade of the very-big-tree.

 

This will give it the ability to freeze its old nest and partner in time, at least long enough so that it can be turned back into a bird, so that it can be there for the hatching and for its family.

 

That is the thought that makes Isaiah unsure of many things.

 

As a human, it had a family, didn’t it? At least a blood related one. But it does not seek to return to them.

 

Yet as a bird, it had a family and it now yearns to be a part of their collective once again.

 

Isaiah looks around itself at the uthra, who are busy at work and then its eyes wander off towards the human city in the west, where Rorate is.

 

All of them are working hard on its behalf in this newest life of its. They aren't working for human-Isaiah or for bird-Isaiah. They're working for dungeon-core-Isaiah.

 

— So it almost feels like a cruelty that they are doing so simply for the sake of Isaiah’s personal wish alone. Presumably, when it gets turned back into a bird, the dungeon-core’s magic will fade. The tower will collapse and everything they have toiled for will have been for nothing.

 

Right?

 

It rubs its head, unsure. Moral dilemmas are a rarity for itself to experience. But now it seems to have found one.

 

- [Dungeon Breached Concluded!] -

Killed Intruders: 00

Average Level: 08

Fled Intruders: 03

Killed Defenders: 18

Difficulty: Normal

 

~ [Isaiah] ~
+100 EXPERIENCE POINTS.
EXP: 627/750

 

Three figures exit the dungeon below, winded and battered, but they look excited about their accomplishments and seem to have the energy to dance and celebrate in a circle together.

 

These are the people it was watching before. It seems that they beat the challenge-room on floor five and then even made it out again with a hasty retreat.

 

Interestingly, despite what a stressful situation that must have been, they seem… happy.

 

Isaiah tilts its head, watching their vague shapes from high up on above.

 

Perhaps it is an odd thing to feel, given that they are intruders in its home and that it feels that it is still in its own best interest for them to have died in here. But, in a way that is hard to explain, Isaiah is happy that they’re happy.

 

It lifts its gaze to the sky.

 

Life is confusing as a human, as a bird and even as a dungeon-core.

 

But it will have to make a choice soon about where this will all lead. Time is a precious commodity and it is running very short.

 


 

~ [Rorate] ~
Dark-Elf, Female, Fighter
The Human City

 

Rorate whistles to herself, a serious lump of money stashed away safely in her pocket as she walks into the alchemist’s shop.

 

The sale of the anqas had been successful and she even has something small to surprise Teal with when she gets back.

 

The dark-elf turns her whistling to a chipper hum as she leans down and stares at her distorted reflection in a large, glass sphere.

 

It’s a good thing that she was paying attention when the witch of the dark forest made her mushroom-brew. The others, the people who are attacking the tower… they need to see Isaiah for what it really is, like she herself did on that day when it saved her from herself. Then, they’ll understand that the creature isn’t a threat.

 

— It is there to save them. Just like it saved her. She's going to make them see that.

 

“Hi!” she says, tapping one of the glass vials. “I need about… uh… a hundred of these delivered as fast as you can!” says the dark-elf, placing a large sum of money down before the somewhat taken aback alchemist.

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