Gromsh blinked in surprise as one of his enemies entered the Grey Tower. He held his breath, waiting for the second, but the message did not come. Still—to have one at his mercy, and so soon!
The Grey Tower was under the protection of the Stoneblood Clan, their lord a competent warrior but a better politician and governor. They had a huge number of orcs in their underground warrens, the chief producer of weapons and armor for the clans. But few enough warriors. It was the least powerful of all the towers, which was perhaps not surprising for his enemy to start with, but also unfortunate.
Gromsh stood from his throne and walked towards the secret catacombs that would take him anywhere in the fortress. Even with his authority, most of the orcs and their minions could not move between the god's portals, and were confined to their own territory in the towers. But Gromsh had no such restrictions.
He walked towards the Grey Tower, looking at his Lifetime power again and again, trying to decide.
Did he activate it now? Or did he wait for them both?
The other would be outside waiting with eight champions at least. Gromsh could send only so many orcs outside the towers to raid in a given time, and with the failed attack on the humans so recent he could possibly not send enough to overwhelm them.
But perhaps still worth a try.
Trapping and killing one of his targets was a very good start. Ideal, perhaps, to ensure victory with absolute certainty. His enemies were powerful, or else the gods would not demand their deaths. Both, perhaps, might be a worthy challenge. But one…
Gromsh decided it was good enough. He knew they were brothers. The other would come for revenge, and would likely not need to be trapped at all. Fueled with hate and rage, he would follow wherever was required to take his vengeance. And Gromsh would be waiting…
He walked through the portal that took him to the top of the Grey Tower, ignoring the panicked lord as he closed his eyes. His Mortal Foe power took time to activate. But that didn’t concern him.
It would be just enough for his first target to get too far in to flee…
* * *
Blake looked down the long corridor and grinned. How very exciting! His first dungeon without Mason. And also a little frightening. Though he had to admit, he hoped it was rather easier than the last. Or at least had a less terrifying boss. They were still noobies for God’s sake.
He rubbed his hands together and looked at the others. "I thought you might take the lead and serve as a scout, Carl. Annie you'll follow. Alex and I will be ready to assist. Unless anyone has other ideas?"
"Seems reasonable enough to me." Carl gave a tight-lipped smile, waited a moment for anyone else to speak, then crept forward along the wall and simply…disappeared.
Annie looked slightly nervous, but Blake gave her a warm smile and a comforting pat on the shoulder, and she took a breath and followed.
"Do be ready to intervene if..." Blake shrugged. "If something goes terribly wrong. Yes?"
The generally neutral-faced Bellarussian nodded without a word, which Blake decided would have to do.
As with other dungeons this tower seemed impossibly larger on the inside than the outside. As soon as they'd left the hallway, it opened up into a huge, open space with a slight upward incline leading around a central pillar. It was, in other words, a bit like the pool room leading to the Chimaera in the great tree. But this place had a roof around the outside, with only the central pillar open and visible going up.
"I guess we're going up." Blake glanced out at a kind of balcony, frowning when he looked down. There wasn't much light, but it seemed to him a deep, dark pit with no obvious bottom.
The voices of orcs could be heard in both directions, with the occasional grunt or howl of some nameless beast. Carl said something like ‘here’ to actually inform them where he was, then went first. The group followed the path and climbed.
Some of the voices soon got louder. The ramp steepened, then leveled out into a flat space like a building floor, nothing visible save for hanging banners and some table near the ramp.
Blake and the others waited at the bottom of the ramp for Carl to sneak up and take a closer look. He stuck out his hand and high fived the air twice.
"Does that mean wait?" Blake hissed.
"No it means five, twice. As in ten. There's ten orcs."
"OK," Blake whispered. "But that really wasn't clear. I thought you were saying 'just wait there'."
"This is wait." Carl made a fist. "Haven't you ever seen a...OK we should have worked this out. Nothing for it. Let's just go. Are you ready for a fight?"
Blake patted Annie's shoulder and nodded.
"OK. I'll get started." Carl's strange and terrifying dagger formed in his hand, then with a deep breath he snuck up beyond the ramp.
"We've got you," Blake said to Annie. "Whenever you're ready, just charge in and start murdering. We'll support you."
"Are you sure?" Annie blinked her big, brown eyes and bit her lip.
"I'm sure. We'll protect you, I promise. Go charge the closest bastard, and avenge your friends."
It was a little much, maybe, but Annie's usually innocent expression darkened as she went back to a place of terror and blood. Then she turned and ran up the ramp with her axe held in both hands like Jack Nicholson in the Shining.
The orcs clearly saw her. They started grunting and calling in alarm, then she let out a blood-curdling scream and charged.
* * *
Carl was getting too old for this shit. He crept along the wall with Stealth active, trying to quickly assess the floor layout and position of the orcs.
It seemed there was four tables of warriors, and he realized with a start that some were female. These looked somewhat disturbingly...attractively feminine, at least to Carl's eyes, but otherwise wore the same combination of furs and leathers and weapons. He was plotting his path of Shadow Leaps and Decoys between the tables when the room filled with a blood-curdling, feminine scream.
Annie came running out from the ramp with her axe in a death grip, and the orcs all leapt to their feet.
"Shit." Carl abandoned his plan and warped to the first table, severing the spine of the furthest orc. The others still had their attention on Annie, so Carl chased and cut down another before the others noticed him and turned.
"Oh hi." He grinned, ignoring them and clone-leaping forward to help Annie with another pack of four.
The little red head moved like a damn MMA fighter. With an axe.
She ducked a spear and lunged straight on, chopping into the poor bastard's head like she was splitting wood. Then her axe was stuck and she was screaming in rage, lifting the orc's spear to jab it straight through the chest of the first to attack.
A blue shield sizzled as another orc launched a javelin, which bounced away from Annie harmlessly. Carl warped behind the thrower and cut his throat, slipping right passed to cut the hamstrings of another.
Well, he meant to cut the hamstrings. But his insane blade went through half the thing's legs like butter and then Carl basically tripped and fell hard to his knees.
Several orcs were coming and he was about to Shadow Leap away when he gawked at the sight of several javelins started rising into the air on their own. Then the weapons streaked on their own accord, and Carl flinched and nearly Shadow Leapt a second time, except his Prescience power didn’t warn him at all.
The javelins skewered several equally confused orcs, and Blake laughed from somewhere near the ramp.
Annie was still screaming, now covered in blood, stabbing her last target with its own blade over and over, still yanking on her axe until she literally ripped off the head it was buried in.
Carl sighed as the last few orcs ran. He'd never been in a fight before the apocalypse. Not once. He paid his taxes, was kind to children, polite with his neighbors, respectful to women. He was, by any metric you pleased, a good and honest man.
But the truth was, ever since he'd picked 'rogue' and lifted a blade, he just couldn't get enough of killing something that couldn't fight back. He had no idea what that meant.
The orcs cried out and dropped one by one as Carl flit between them and hacked them down. Then it was done.
He took a deep breath and let the moment of victory linger in his senses. It was a strange and simple pleasure he'd never known existed in his fifty years on Earth. A kind of mortal arithmetic that hummed in a man’s bones like music: there was fifteen dead warriors lying on the floor, and none of them was Carl.
He turned around with a broad grin, ready to celebrate, and found Annie curled up on the floor weeping. Blake was at her side shushing and comforting and picking her off the stone tiles. Carl cleared his throat, and dropped his smile.
"Yes, a terrible thing," he muttered. "But we did what we had to. Ready to move on?"
Blake gave him a stink-eye, and Carl looked around the room as he tapped his fingers and wiped some blood on his pants.
Then a sound like an alarm blared. He was about to curse and say they'd been found when a robotic voice intoned words that sprawled across his vision.
[This dungeon is entering Mortal Foe Mode with adversary: King Gromsh, Chosen of the gods. It will be locked in all ways until remaining players are dead, or King Gromsh is defeated. You have fifteen seconds to proceed to the exit if you wish to decline. Thank you.]
Carl blinked, then looked to see Alex leap off the side of the ramp without a word.
"Go, go now!" Carl yelled, running and warping, vaguely picturing the distance in his mind. They were close. If they went instantly they could probably make it.
He counted in his mind, clearing the ground with easy Shadow Leaps until he stood at the double doors of the tower. Alex reached him in ten.
But Blake and Annie had been further away. Carl stood with his hand on the door, looking at the prompt to exit, torn and frightened and counting with no idea what to do.
"Go!" he heard Blake yell, but still couldn't do it.
Then Annie shouted and flew forward like she'd been thrown, striking the door just as Carl counted 14. He grabbed her and closed his eyes and begged for forgiveness, then accepted the prompt.
Just before the world went black, and as he watched Annie and Alex vanish, he saw Blake stop at least a dozen paces behind.