Dungeon Lord Kael watched as what remained of his legacy burned to ashes. His brave monsters lay broken at every passage and corridor from the entrance to his own chamber, his traps were defeated, his magic was spent and dry.
Only the last line of defense yet stood: Kael himself and his closest lieutenants, a score of so of his remaining monsters, the ones loyal enough that were ready to die for him, or the ones stupid enough that they hadn’t managed to escape from the dungeon that was now a death trap.
Later, the songs would claim that the last Dungeon Lord of the Arpadel dynasty faced his end with a glorious charge against impossible odds. That he met sure death with stoic scorn and a grin, that he jumped at the idea of meeting his ancestors at the gloomy halls of the Dark god Murmur.
The truth was…slightly different.
“Alita’s misshapen cunt!” Kael bellowed with such force he almost broke his voice. He kicked a nearby treasure chest so hard that the ancient wood splintered against his armored boot and sent guts coins and gems and trinkets sprawling like guts all over the floor. “Those dung-eaters! Look what they did to my dungeon! Fuck! Ah, FUCK!”
What little remained of Kael’s followers had the presence of mind to take a step away from the maddened Dungeon Lord, and not one dared to take a coin from the floor. Probably because he was a tower of a man—well over nine feet tall—with giant’s blood somewhere on his family tree and well known for his temper. Only Kael’s two lieutenants were dear enough to him to be sure his rage wouldn’t shift towards them by the crime of proximity, so they stood by his side at his stone throne.
“I would damn my soul again for a chance to rip the entrails away from those…those…Heroes,” Kael grumbled as his rage slowed.
“Murmur is not in the business of making crappy bargains. He’ll have little to pay for a soul that’s going to belong to him in just a bit more, anyway,” said Bishop Leopardus, who floated placidly at Kael’s right. Leopardus’ body resembled a giant pufferfish and was big enough to swallow a grown man whole if the need arose. His mouth occupied the middle section of his body and was wide enough to handle such a bite. His red hide was spotted with white.
“Don’t listen to this asshole, he’s just pissed he has to meet his death hungry,” said Warlock Chasan, the second of Kael’s lieutenants. Chasan was an old half-demon—no one was sure what the other half was—who had spent his life serving the surviving members of the Arpadel bloodline. He had seen the rise and fall of Kael’s father and grandfather and half a dozen aunts and uncles. He would serve no one after Kael.
“If Master Chasan enjoys putting words into my mouth perhaps he should put his head into it, too, and see what happens,” Leopardus growled, but there was no real animosity behind his threat. Kael knew that the Warlock and the Bishop were friends behind their constant bickering.
“Enough,” Kael said. “Who says I intend to die tonight? Unlike my Dungeon, I am still standing, and no one shall say that Kael Arpadel sold his hide cheaply.”
He flashed a confident smile at his friends and made damn sure his surviving minions saw how little he cared about danger of death. He even barked a strident laugh that for a second was loud enough to mask the clamor of battle coming from behind the stone doors of the chamber.
Lord Kael did it more for the benefit of his people than for himself. Not even the most detestable kaftar deserved to die under the command of a cowardly Dungeon Lord.
The kaftar, the hyena-men, received Kael’s boast with a roar of their own, a bark-laugh that sounded like they smelled. The two dozen warriors were all that was left of the once great kaftar clan that had manned Kael’s dungeons and raiding parties.
The kaftar chieftain stepped away from his warriors and raised a broken scimitar at the stone doors. “Brave words, my Lord Kael! You made my cackle proud to have fought and died under your command. I ask of you, allow this old kaftar one act of pride and let me lead the charge against the Heroes once they breach the chamber. Let prime the battlefield with my blood and, gods willing, with the blood of your enemies.”
While the kaftar warriors barked their approval, Kael examined their chieftain with his Evil Eye. The green eldritch light set his eyes aflame for a moment. It was clear that the chieftain was hurt. Kael could see the drops of blood—red so dark it was almost tar—streaking from a dozen cuts and wounds and spotting the gray fur of the kaftar. It was clear the chieftain would not survive the battle, and Kael knew the chieftain was aware of the fact.
“Very well,” said Kael. “You’ve been a loyal, honorable warrior. I admit now that the distrust I held against your kin when I was young was unfounded. It will be my honor to fight with you…my friend.”
The chieftain guffawed deeply, a prideful warrior choking back tears. He turned to his cackle, who waited expectantly for his command with their little, yellow eyes, and raised his scimitar. “For Kael!”
“For Kael!” they barked as one. The few surviving monsters next to the kaftars joined the yelling, raising tentacles, spikes, and other appendages. “For the Dungeon! Death to the Light!”
The Dungeon Lord nodded grimly at the display. Once, a long time ago, before age and hunger had taken their toll on his Attributes, two hundred minions would’ve joined that display. Perhaps the man he once had been would have crushed the people that now strode across his Dungeon’s passages killing and pillaging wantonly.
But right now, Kael smiled genuinely. The few survivors may not be much…but they were his people.
Lord Kael went to battle with his pride intact.
In fact, a somber royalty seemed to take hold of his posture—a grim visage that returned most of the handsomeness of his youth.
The doors of the chamber shook. Clouds of dust exploded toward the kaftars. Outside, the sound of battle stopped. It was time.
“Send the apprentices away,” Kael whispered to Warlock Chasan while the kaftar had their backs turned. “Send them through those spider tunnels and tell them to fuck off. They’ll be useless in battle, and there’s no sense in them dying tonight.”
The old warlock glanced at his friend. “You’ve grown, my Lord. Your family is proud of you, wherever they are.”
“You know damn well where the fuck they are, my friend.”
“Indeed, my Lord. I’ll be back in time for the main event.” The warlock scurried to the corner of the chamber where the group of apprentices huddled together like a litter of freezing puppies.
The Dungeon Lord watched Chasan go. Seconds later, he saw the stone doors crack and break like clay under the assault of rending magic from the other side.
The noise of the doors as they fell was deafening, like the roar of some ancient abomination from the Wetlands. One huge slab of rock flew atop an unlucky kaftar and unceremoniously crushed him. The survivors pulled back.
A cloud of dust rose all over the chamber. From the opening left by the doors, five humanoid figures stepped in.
“For the Dungeon!” Kael unslung a huge claymore from his back and immediately activated all the auras and enchantments he knew. He felt the wave of heat burst from his body like a physical entity, and his vision blurred at the intensity of it. But his step didn’t waver. Soon, power flooded through his muscles.
He leaped to meet the advancing adventurers while his monsters encircled them, ready to give their lives to give him a chance to land a Crushing Blow or perhaps a Devastating Cleave.
There was a lull in movement as both sides waited for the dust to settle. Soon enough, Kael caught a glimpse of the beings who had devastated his last Dungeon.
These are no men, he thought with a fury that drowned the pangs of fear he felt.
They had the faces of men and women alright, they had the features of Ivalis’ people.
But they are no men.
Their eyes were glassed, crystal, like mirrors decorating a Royal Hall. Nonliving.
And yet they could see. Their necks jerked with unnatural movements here and there, while their bodies faced forward, their gazes flayed wildly about like they were trying to see every corner of the place at once.
Much to his chagrin, goosebumps traveled through Kael’s back. Under his helmet, drops of sweat threatened to fall over his eyes.
Still, whatever these… Heroes were, Kael knew there were protocols to follow. He welcomed the visitors like a Dungeon Lord should:
“You never should have come here, slaves of the Light! Know that you’ll meet your demise in this most noble hall of Arpadel Lair, under the blade of Dungeon Lord Kael and the brave men and monsters who follow him! For I am the last member of a proud and noble bloodline who still remember the time when the Lordship was great and feared and—”
Edward Wright sighed over his mic when he heard the elven assassin mutter something like, “Screw this monologuing, I want to fight this Boss already!”
“Calm down, Ryan, he may give us some clue for our quests,” Edward suggested without any real hope of being listened to. He had little doubt for what was about to happen next.
His old computer monitor showed in barely 39 frames-per-second how Rylan Silverblade, Ryan’s character, interrupted the Boss-guy’s speech by leaping toward him with his dual-wielded daggers raised high.
“Ah, there he goes again,” groaned Lisa in the Discord chat. “I really hope we didn’t miss something important.”
The battle had begun. Rylan’s daggers reached the Boss—Kael, according to his health bar—and slipped through the cracks in the armor plate, scoring a critical hit. Cartoonish blood splattered from the boss along with a -253hp notice. It was enough to one-shot any minion they had encountered so far in the dungeon.
But this was the Boss, and he had 3000hp to throw around. Kael roared in rage and surprise, but reacted by instinct with a brutal swipe from his claymore, which was so thick it may as well have been a tree branch. It missed Ryan only thanks to the assassin’s daily power shadowstep.
The elf disappeared from the claymore’s range in a flutter of black leaves and reappeared ten feet away. Right in the middle of the mob of kaftars… Which proceeded to go to town on him, barking that hideous laugh of theirs all the while.
The assassin wasn’t built for tanking, nor for dealing with more than one opponent at a time. He leaked HP like a faucet.
“What the fuck?” Ryan instantly started over the Discord chat. “Where is my healing? Lisa? Healing? What do you think you’re here for?”
“I’m trying!” Lisa said. “You jumped too far away, I can’t reach you!”
“That’s because you suck!”
The giant red balloon with the teeth had floated into the fray and was throwing debuff magic onto Mark’s tank character so fast that the stout dwarf was left immobile while half the kaftars swarmed him and rained hits on his armor with their scimitars.
Ed clenched his teeth. Mark’s job was to establish a safe battle-line for the casters—Ed and Lisa—to work while Ryan flanked the elite minions. Hell, with Ryan in the middle of the battle, Ed couldn’t even fireball the bunched-up cluster of mobs as he had planned.
Now, Lisa was frantically trying to reach Ryan, taking constant damage from suicidal monsters all the while. Sure, thanks to her holy buffs they only did -10, -20hp damage at most, but those added up quickly, and her mana potions weren’t infinite.
It was up to Ed to make a decision. He saw the lead kaftar—a chieftain, proclaimed the game screen—jump toward his character with a howl of rage. Ed distractedly clicked on him and saw his character’s auto-attack roast the hyena-guy to cinders before he was halfway through his leap.
“Pull back, Lisa, you need to cleanse Mark’s debuffs,” Ed said. At the same time, he pulled his character out of range of the kaftars and casted a freezing beam at the red balloon to take the aggro away from Mark.
Ed was better equipped to deal with debuffs than the dwarf. The ideal target would’ve been Lisa’s Cleric, of course, since she had stacked the Spirit attribute, but Lisa had trouble of her own. Ed had to improvise.
“Ryan’s gonna be pissed!” Mark warned them while Lisa countered the curses away from his character, though the dwarf was then able to cleave three kaftars with his battle-axe.
“He’ll be more pissed if we get wiped at the very end of the raid,” Ed pointed out. It was true. Even though their situation was Ryan’s fault, he wouldn’t see it that way.
“Cleric, you fucking suck,” Ryan exclaimed. “Where are you going?! I’m running out of potions here!”
Ed’s Wizard and the red balloon were busy exchanging magical devastation, but his screen reached the center of the battle where Rylan Silverblade was getting his roguey ass handed to him by the Boss, the remaining kaftars, and the other elite mob—the ugly Warlock.
It was clear Ryan wouldn’t last much longer. He was already using the potion hotkey more than his combat ones. Never a good sign.
“Use your acrobatic leap,” Ed advised him. “Get safely back behind Mark until Lisa’s done with him.”
“Who do you think you’re talking to?” Ed was sure he heard Ryan spit at the mic. “Rylan Silverblade doesn’t retreat from rabble like this! Now, do as I say, ignore the dumb minions, and get over here to help me!”
Ed muted his mic before swearing furiously in his cramped room. It wouldn’t be the first time they wiped because of Ryan, even if he would never accept it.
The game, Ivalis Online, was an old rogue-like with a permadeath mechanic. So if their characters got killed during the Boss fight not only would they would’ve wasted not only an entire evening but entire months of leveling the characters from scratch.
Ed didn’t have that kind of time anymore. And they were so close to ending the raid…
His fingers acted on his decision before he realized any had been made. He casted his daily offensive spell, a lance of ice that did piercing damage and ignored 30% armor. It worked like a charm on the angry balloon—the lance pierced its tough hide like a hot nail through rubber. Its remaining health vaporized under the critical hit, and Ed’s Wizard received a chunk of delicious EXP for his trouble.
The game was old, several years outdated by anyone’s standards, but the developers’ attention to detail was impressive. While the torn flabs of red skin floated everywhere around the battlefield, the Boss roared at the sight and launched a massive combo of claymore swings against Ryan’s Rogue.
Normally, the Rogue would’ve been able to dodge most of the attacks, but he was still surrounded by a few remaining kaftars. That meant a penalty to the Agility attribute…and that Rylan Silverblade’s health was suddenly down to its last 100hp—it rose fast thanks to a potion. Not fast enough, though.
The Warlock chose that exact moment to launch a lance of his own as if inspired by Ed’s attack of choice. The shadow strike pierced Rylan straight through his leather chest plate while tendrils of darkness climbed through the inside of the rogue’s body like coils of electricity. As the Rogue’s corpse fell to the ground, Ed saw that the tentacles were coming out of the eyes, mouth, and ears.
The Boss stepped over the corpse with his claymore raised high, letting the three or four remaining mobs regain some of their low morale. Then Kael rushed Lisa.
Unfortunately for him, Lisa had already finished cleansing Mark. The dwarf calmly stepped into the way of the Boss’ charge and stopped it cold with a defensive talent of his tower shield. Chips of stone flew away from under the dwarf’s heels and he took a massive 200hp hit for his trouble. But taking those kinds of hits was his job.
The Boss recoiled from the impact and staggered. Ed chose that moment to fireball the area right behind him. Flames erupted as—
“What?!” Ryan’s high-pitched voice was all over the chat. “Fucking bullshit! That’s fucking bullshit, it’s not fair the Boss can combo with his minions! Fuck you, Eddie, this is all your fault! Thanks for wasting my fucking time!”
Then he disconnected.
“He’s going to remember that in the morning,” Mark commented while Lisa healed him. “Maybe you should have let us wipe, Ed.”
The Boss and the dwarf exchanged furious blows strong enough to break the bones out of lesser warriors even if blocked.
While they fought, Ed and the Warlock—the only remaining minion—exchanged spells as fast as their Mind attribute would let them. For a mere elite mob, the monster managed to survive a lot of abuse. For a second or two, that is.
“Maybe I’m tired of putting up with him. Perhaps he’ll calm down when we give him his share of the loot,” Ed said. They could load Ryan’s new character—probably Rylan Silverblade the Fourth—with the old one’s loot and whatever items they got from raiding the dungeon.
“That would be very reasonable of him,” Lisa sighed. As soon as the Warlock died, she switched from healing Mark to debuffing the Boss, making him do less damage, move slower, and be more vulnerable to Ed’s spells.
To Ed, the battle’s results had been decided the second after the Rogue had fallen. There was still mop-up to be done, though.
There was no surrender mechanic in Ivalis Online.
As if thinking the same thing, the Boss suddenly switched aggro away from Mark—which netted Kael even more penalizations—and leapt straight at Ed’s Wizard.
The claymore rose over Kael’s head, covered in the red aura of the berserker-type talents. Ed’s fingers flew over the keyboard and pressed the teleport hotkey. His Wizard reappeared behind Mark and away from Kael, just in time to see how the Boss’ sword cracked the floor as it came down.
When the Boss turned to them, Ed swore he could see something akin to disappointment in his eyes.
Nah. The game isn’t that detailed.
Mark charged the Boss, but it was Ed’s Wizard who got the last hit. Kael died to a particularly mean stalagmite spell that went through his helmet like it was made of butter. Clear, pure ice pierced through, but it was dark red after its tip reappeared at the helmet’s end.
Ed felt a rush of tired satisfaction when his screen was showered with EXP, a level-up, and a bunch of magical items that would look very, very good on his character.
And also, away from the demands of the Boss battle, he started thinking immediately about what he had done.
Ryan was not going to be reasonable about it.
“Tomorrow is going to be a bitch,” Lisa said while her Cleric stepped over Kael’s corpse on her way to looting the chamber. “I hope we don’t get fired for this.”
“Oh, shit. I guess it will,” Ed said. He took out the earplugs and rested his back against his chair. His room was lit only by the screen of the computer.