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Crystal Dreams

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Crystal Dreams

Post by Sabiruchi Tsuyosa on Sat Jan 07, 2017 12:34 am

Crystal Dreams is a fanfiction of the old videogame Azure Dreams. I've been working on it off and on and felt like sharing and continuing it here. You guys are welcome to post your thoughts on it here. I'll add all the chapters I can in one post, then move on to a second post to save space. I hope you guys like it!

Crystal Dreams

Chapter I


Serena skipped a flat stone across the river. Her friend, Scarlet, was reading from one of her multitude of history books. Scarlet's family owned the only library in the town, and it had been in her family for hundreds of years. Most of the library was built underground now, though it wasn't well maintained. Nothing here really was, Serena thought. But, Scarlet loved her library, and she loved to read. Serena wished her friend knew how to read without saying it aloud, though.

" 'The city of Monsbaiya was a mecca for Monster Hunters, who came from across the desert to challenge the Monster Tower in hopes of finding gold, and above all, precious Monster Eggs,' " Scarlet read, leaning her back against the stone bridge that spanned the river. "It's hard to believe that this place was ever a mecca for anything, isn't it?"

Serena nodded her head quietly. She was sixteen, tall and willowy, with wild black hair that fell in a tangle of curls to her hips. She glanced at Scarlet, short and pretty, with dazzling white teeth and hair as red as Pita fruit. Her tanned skin was in contrast to Serena's own. Though she was a year older than Scarlet, when they walked the streets together, it wasn't Serena who attracted stares. At least, not the ones that meant she was pretty.

"You know the legend as well as I do," Serena said, skipping another stone. "There was a huge population boom and the city was flooded with wealth and commerce and entertainment. Then Koh, a legend even in his own time, found the Ultimate Egg. And that's when the rules all changed." The older girl sat on the river bank, tilting back the wide-brimmed hat of her trade as a witch. Her robes were airy and felt pleasant in the early morning air. Everybody in town would know what she meant.

It was called the Dark Day. Everybody had wanted the Ultimate Egg. When Koh defeated his father's killer, according to the legend, he brought the Ultimate Egg home. But, when the Egg was hatched outside the Tower... Chaos fell. The sky turned black and fire rained through the desert. The story goes that the Monster Tower shifted and a noise unlike anything tore through the air. The earth shook. Buildings collapsed and parts of the protective wall around Monsbaiya were swallowed by the sand. And then the Monsters came.

They came from the Tower, monsters every kind known to man. And Monsters that were never seen before came too, crawling, flying, running out of the ruins of the Monster Tower. They destroyed the city, and killed many, including Koh and his family. The story goes that the Ultimate Egg birthed a monster called the Hikewne, which lead the monsters back into what became known as the Monster Dungeon. The Tower, once only forty floors high, had changed into an underground labyrinth  far larger. And far, far more dangerous.

Scarlet nodded her head before continuing to read on about how great Monsbaiya had been. Monskoh was a pale shadow of it's former self. They had renamed the city when they had renamed the Tower. When Serena grew tired of the history lesson, she stood and wiped off her robes.

"Let's go to Pam's for breakfast before the morning rush. I need to go to the Dungeon to get herbs again today, and I don't want to be gone over night."

Scarlet closed her book and stood stiffly to her feet, stretching. Serena mentally commented that her friend really abused that top when she stretched like that. "Sure. I think Meg's working the morning shift," Scarlet said as the twosome started the short walk two blocks to Pam's Restaurant. As they crossed the bridged she nudged the older girl. "Aren't you sick of going to the tower to get herbs to make your crystals with so you can go to the tower to get more herbs?"

Serena rolled her eyes. It was a well worn topic between the two. "I need to go to get ingredients for the Wind Crystals I sell at my store. I wouldn't be going at all if the traders were more reliable on their shipments, but money is tight. I need the extra cash. We can't all be descended from nobility." Serena teased Scarlet. Long in the past, a nobleman married into her family. The meaning of nobility may be lost in this dead town, but the forgotten nobleman's riches, supplemented by the money earned by the Library, still filled Scarlet's family vaults. She didn't mention how much of her own money was used to get books from said library to research better spells.

Serena and Scarlet got to Pam's just as they opened and were the first to be seated. Meg was indeed the waitress that morning, and the two friends enjoyed hot plates of SandSand. Over breakfast they commented on how Pam's was even older than the library, though it had been rebuilt many times. The only building older than the one story restaurant was the bar located right next door. There were ruins all over town just as old, but no humans lived there. Their grilled sandfish sandwiches, SandSands, were almost cool by the time they finished eating. Serena and Scarlet left the conversation, arguing over which ruin was truly 'oldest', at the table and parted ways as they left, splitting the check.

Serena headed to the farthest house in the north-east, closest to the Big Ruin. Some speculate it had been some kind of indoor lake, but now it was home to Pulunpa Monsters and several other scavengers. Only Serena lived this close to the ruin, and had constantly built her small house, a hut really, extending it backwards and to the east until she could step out her back door and jump straight into the Big Ruin.

The house, long and wide, with many, many poorly made extensions, sat on a small rise before the Big Ruin. She pushed open the battered metal door, looking around the front room. The first part of her house was her store, The Crystal Vision, and had four display cases holding various Crystals. The west, or left wall, had many long pieces of wood or metal, even one made of bone, displayed on hooks. The various Wands she sold weren't master level, but she sold many with various enchantments that could prove very useful. The best seller, the Money Wand, could even transform a defeated monster into gold coins. The spell was old and more than a little buggy, so it only worked about a tenth of the time. She sold at least six every year. The right wall had shelves on which glass spheres sat in little holders. Her Magic Orbs were pretty useful, each one able to hold a single spell, but several copies of that spell each. And they were rechargeable. For a fee.

The witch shook her head and walked behind her counter, pushing open the door between two book cases filled with various recipes. Next she was in her living area slash kitchen. Table, crystal light she made herself, wood stove, even a basin filled with water she could pump out. The basin was full, but the water was murky and a single cup and plate sat at the bottom of the basin. She walked straight through this room, through the door directly across.

She walked straight through her sparse bedroom, weaving between various pots filled with dirt that she insisted was going to be used for growing her own herbs eventually, grabbing a magic bag off her single bed then continuing on through the back to the last room in the house.

The Monster Hut. Once, every Monster Hunter, witch, Nobleman and Monster Trainer had a Monster Hut attached to their house, divided into pens for every Monster they owned, for every Egg they bought or found in the Tower, or later, the Dungeon. Now, she knew of only two others who owned private Monster Huts, and nobody's was as large or well built as the Monskoh City Hut, which in itself was only a small privately own Hut that had been found in the Ruins and rebuilt. Monskoh Hut housed six Monsters, four of which were Nyuels used by traders to cross the desert.

Inside her Hut, there were four wooden pens, roughly twenty by twenty feet with a small path dividing the room in the middle between pens. Three pens were empty. Only the far left pen held a Monster. It had taken her three years saving to afford the Egg, specially bred to be a witch's Monster. The Monster in question was blue, with black beady eyes and two cone shaped horns on its head. It had a short, stumpy tail. The Monster wore a Red Collar around the thickest part of that tail, which curled upward. It's mouth was wide enough that it could swallow one of her Orbs with no difficulty. It had short, round toes. And that was about it.

The Monster's whole body was head, tail and tiny feet. The Pulunpa, weakest of the Monsters, especially in this age. This one was named Slayer out of irony, but it was the only witch Familiar, Monsters raised by Tamers, she could afford. These creatures lived in the ruins and back alleys, and were easily frightened. But, hers, knew some magic and had been bred to be more physically resistant than its wild cousins. Slayer could cast healing magic, and a spell for paralysis. However, it's effectiveness in either depended on it's diet. If it ate Sea Seeds, it's healing was most effective, while Wind Seeds changed it's Genus to... Wind, increasing the effectiveness of the paralysis spell. Fire Seeds made it useless in both. Serena was determined to breed a monster that was more convenient, and powerful, than this one. The real issue was that the effects of the spells it knew varied depending on what element, what Genus, it was. However, they both shined when she infused her own and Slayer's power together.

But, that did stop her from doing the spell that sucked the creature inside a small glass cube, where it was suspended until she called upon it, and stuffing that cube into her bag. The contents jingled, her Wand and Crystals clicking together. With a backward look over her shoulder, Serena ran out the last door and delved into the Big Ruin.



Chapter II
The Big Ruin

The thing about the Big Ruin that had most people frightened off was the fact that Monsters crawled from the Dungeon and hid amid the ruins of Monskoh, and they favored Big Ruin due to proximity and humidity. Serena jumped through a hole in the wall, and crawled into what was once a small room. There were two of these small rooms, with stone benches and twisted metal hooks embedded in the walls at intervals, if they weren't scavenged for the metal. Neither room had doors, though holes in the doorway suggested something once hung over the entrances. The room she crawled through was in good condition, but the one beside it had collapsed on itself.

Serena shook the dust off herself as she entered the main room. The area had cracked tile floors, though some were destroyed or missing, and most was covered in dust, dirt and grime. Over where the indoor lake had been, the ceiling had caved and long, broken pieces of stone created a ramp from the depths of the lake-bed to the top of Big Ruin. Light shone through, illuminating most of the Ruin, except the dark recesses where stone piled or dens Monsters had formed. Serena noted that her tracks were well worn through the dust, and she could tell the paths wild Pulumpas had taken, from den to the streets in search of food. She saw wide prints, as well as a much larger den far in the back, across the small lake. She'd have to be careful until she knew for sure what else had made itself at home in Big Ruin.

Quietly, walking with years of experience in the area, Serena approached the lake and looked inside. It was not as full as it could be, but still was roughly five feet deep. She saw fish swimming in the water, as well as Lazy Frogs sitting on the bottom of the surprisingly clear water. An ancient magic coin kept the lake clean, but it had cracked long again, preventing it from keeping out wildlife and refilling the lake. When Serena was younger she tried to repair the coin, but only cracked it further. She threw it back into the lake after.

Serena had once found a U-Boat living in the lake and needed to hire a Monster Hunter to slay the creature. The living metal fish creature had injured the Hunter, but Slayer's healing had done wonders. Now, she always checked for the telltale eye that was always above the water, or in the Dungeon, the floor or walls, as U-Boats could sink their bodies into the magical structure.

The sixteen year old witch pulled her Wand from her bag. This wand greatly aided in Light element magic, one of Serena's specialties. She recalled Scarlet prattling on about the past, when Magic had been limited primarily to Fire, Wind and Water. But, Serena lived in the present, where Monsters from times long forgotten revived magic based on Light, Darkness and Sound. Serena's true specialty lay in Darkness magic, but she had yet to find a Dark Wand, nor could she create her own. Her Holy Wand had been payment for a large order of Crystals and Orbs by a group of Hunters who were preparing an expedition into the Dungeon a year and a half ago. She never saw them come back.

Serena approached the first of four dens cautiously. Made from cardboard, ceramic pot pieces and paper, the den was large enough to house two, maybe three Pulumpas. They may be timid and incredibly weak, but the Monsters' horns were sharp and hard, and Serena did not want to be stabbed. Crouching, Serena performed a simple Lighting spell, shooting the ball of condensed sunlight into the mouth of the den before jumping clear.

With a squeal, two small and fat Pulumpas ran, hopped rather, out of the den. One ran to the main entryway to Big Ruin, the other, blinded by the light, ran straight into the lake and flopped around noisily. Serena paid it now mind, crawling on her belly to look inside the den. Inside she found several dumplings, a Hazak herb and torn shirts that she left. The dumplings and herb, however, she placed inside her bag. She was backing out when she heard a long, low musical note, followed by a loud and very short squeal from the Pulumpa as it thrashed in the water before going silent and still.

Serena stiffened and very slowly turned on her belly. Standing on the edge of the pit was a large, round creature with a nearly pig-like body. It had large, flat feet and in its hands it carried a flute. A chill ran down Serena's spine. In terms of combat strength, Noises were a half step above Pulumpas, but they had strong magical ties. Not only were the songs they played deadly, suitable considering they were reclassified as a Sound Genus Monster rather than Wind, but they were completely impervious to magic. The only way to deal with them was brute force, and fast, before their song could destroy your eardrums or cause your heart to stop.

Noises had poor vision, but were attracted to sound. As long as she stayed still and quiet, she wouldn't attract its attention. But, worse of all, Sound Genus was superior to Light, meaning even if she could overpower its natural resistance, this Wand was no better than a club against its fatty flesh.

Wait, Serena thought. Of course, if she could just get closer... Slowly, Serena edged her way around until the fallen roof stood between herself and the Monster. She carefully rose and edged her way from stone to stone until she was on the large slab, moving up towards the roof. A stone under her foot wiggled loose and fell into the water. There was a short, ugly note from the Noise's flute as the stone fell into the water. Serena watched in fright as the stone vibrated before exploding underwater. She edged her way higher until she was well above the Monster.

There was a gap between the roof and the edge of the slab she stood upon. She positioned herself at the edge... Carefully, slowly... Then jumped, raising her Holy Wand high over her head two handed. Only the sound of wind notified the Noise, and the time it looked up, the wand had struck it hard in the temple. The moment before contact, Serena had used a simple Wind spell to halt her descent and float her down, a spell so basic every which knew it.

The Monster fell with a hard thwunk. The flute in its hands rolled away before its body could disintegrate. Nobody knew why Monsters dissolved like that, but all monsters did unless they died wearing an enchanted Collar. The most basic were Red and Blue, but some Hunters had specially crafted Collars. A monster that died wearing a collar returned either back to its pen, or its cube.

Serena didn't feel the familiar warmth of the defeated Monster's energy washing over her. In the Dungeon, the life force of the Monster infused with its killer and their Familiars, strengthening them. Oddly, the enhanced strength left humans the moment they left the Dungeon, even by Crystal.

With the short but frightening battle with the Noise over, Serena went to the creatures den, taking its stored fruits, primarily Pitas most likely taken from the scavenging Pulumpa along with one or two Limits, and the several wooden branches that on closer inspection were broken Wooden Wands, the most basic magic tool.

Serena dismantled the Noise den, to discourage another from settling in. As she was stepping away from the former igloo-like trash pile, she felt something metal roll away from her foot. Bending to examine it, she realized it was the Noise's flute. Wondering if it could be useful or sell-able, she dropped it in the bag. Then, she set about clearing the other dens.

She had found just herbs in the first two, Medicinal and Antidote herbs most likely found at the Hospital, but after poking her head inside the final den, she gave a whooping cry of glee that scared the Pulumpa all out of the Big Ruin and out into the city.

There, sitting in a pile of old newspapers, approximately a foot long and eight inches wide, with a sky blue shell, was an Egg.



Chapter III
Holy Knight Aizen

Serena had carefully placed the Egg inside of one of her glass cubes with a spell, placing the cube inside the bag. It prevented injury to the Egg or Monster as well as making them easier to transport. Serena was practically floating with joy as she made her way to the broken section of the western wall.

Eggs, even a Pulumpa Egg, sold for hundreds or thousands of bronze coins, though a Pulumpa was without a doubt, the cheapest Egg. But, the thing was, all Eggs were guaranteed sells. And the rarer the Egg and Monster inside... The prices skyrocketed.

Or, Serena thought, I could hatch the Monster just so I have another. Though, she admitted, wild Pulumpa Eggs almost always hatched magic-less. She mulled this over as the witch crawled through a fallen section of wall.

This area was very well maintained by Hunters and Tamers, even merchants. A wide, flat, walled on one side area. There was a huge gate leading back to Monskoh, and a single stall sat beside the gate. Directly across from the gate, at the center of the northern edge, a huge rope and wood bridge spanned across a circular gorge. The bridge ended at an 'island' in the center, atop whose only landmark was a massive ruin. Formerly known as the Monster Tower, the mass of stones with two gargantuan metal doors still standing, was the gateway to the Dungeon.

A group of men dressed in heavy combat armor, with long swords strapped to their backs and shields on their arms milled around near the bridge. Serena grinned as she saw a familiar shock of white hair. "This day just keeps getting better," the witch said to herself. She started to jog over to the group, calling out to them, "How deep are you going today?"

The group turned to her as their leader pushed through, clapping a hand on Serena's shoulder. Aizen laughed deeply, his pink eyes bright with warmth. Most of the tall man's skin was covered by white cloth, which in her opinion showed just how large his muscles were, and he carried the distinction of being the only Hunter in his group without a shield. Instead, a single huge sword hung on his back in an equally white scabbard. Aizen laughed again as he greeted her, looking back at his men. "The same as always, right? Deeper than last time!" There was a a roar of approval from the roughly twenty men behind him.

Aizen was famous in Monskoh and beyond the desert. He was native to Monskoh like Serena, but four years older. His father had been a blacksmith, but by the time Aizen was ten, the boy joined the Temple to become a monk. Instead, however, when Aizen turned fifteen and became an adult, he took up a sword to bring riches and funds to the Temple. They called him Holy Knight Aizen, but Serena preferred Templar Aizen. Actually... Just Aizen was better. He was one of the few people who didn't treat Serena like a madwoman for being a witch, or for living so close to the ruins.

One of Aizen's men said from the back of the crowd, "Maybe we should investigate that howling first, eh, Aizen? Wouldn't want any Banshees running around the Big Ruin!" There was much laughter from the others. Serena rolled her eyes, feeling her face flush.

"Oh, shut up. If you found an Egg in your back yard, you'd be yelling with joy too." That got the men to be quiet, for all of two seconds before they crowded around the young witch, asking what kind of Monster it was, and even Aizen was impressed. That made Serena happy. But, she talked the men down, telling them it was probably just a Pulumpa Egg but she was going to sell it regardless to the Monster Merchant in Monskoh. Then she asked to join Aizen's group on their expedition into the Dungeon.

"I don't know, Serena, we're not exactly babysitters and I doubt you could afford an escort quest," Aizen began before she lightly punched his chest. "I'm teasing, geez. We all know you can take care of yourself, and we could always use a witch in the group." A couple men shifted uneasily. Witches may not be popular in Monskoh, but in the Dungeon, everybody knew how valuable magic could be. Doesn't mean that the dislike went away once they crossed that bridge, however. But, in Aizen's party, his word was law.

And so the group pressed joined together, crossing the bridge three abreast. Serena walked on Aizen's left, while a large, dark skinned man from beyond the desert walked on his right. Broach was Aizen's best friend and, according to the rumor mill, the two of them once went all the way to the sixth level all by themselves. While Aizen was tall and covered in wire-like muscle, Broach was short and widely built, even stronger than Aizen, though not nearly as fast. They frequently partnered together, Broach using his shields to take the brunt of Monsters' assaults, while Aizen's Holy Broadsword destroyed them. Serena had watched them once and had been amazed at the teamwork and trust between the two men. Broach had to trust that Aizen was fast enough to defeat the monster, while Aizen had to trust that Broach was going to defend him and be strong enough to hold the beast off.

The huge metal doors to the Dungeon opened on their own as the group approached. Ancient magic flowed through every part of the Dungeon, even the doors. Beyond the doors were steps, wide and steep that led underground. Nobody knew why the inside of the Dungeon wasn't pitch black, what spells kept it light enough to see. But magic did, and for that they were thankful.

Once they were all in the first room of the Dungeon, the group circled around Aizen as he drew his Holy Broadsword. Blue light gleamed off the blade as he slung it over his shoulder. Everyone likewise drew their swords and adjusted their shields. Serena's Holy Wand twirled between her fingers, it's smooth white wood warm in her hand.

Aizen began to speak as the group armed up. "I know most of you are familiar with the Dungeon, but Jake and Zak are new. So I'll go over some basics, just to refresh everyone," the two youngest men, both younger than Serena, flushed embarrassed. "Everyone should have their Dungeon ID cards with them. This'll help keep track of your individual progress as we fight and kill Monsters. The magic in the Dungeon will let you become stronger, faster and more powerful the more Monsters you fight and the more Monster energy you absorb. The card displays numeric values for your strength, life force, speed, and durability, as well as those of your equipment, if you've been maintaining the cards correctly. You can thank Serena here for that, without her magic we'd never have developed the ID cards and synced them to the Dungeon's magic."

Serena blushed. Two men wearing leather armor brought cubes out of their pockets, popping the lids. The older man, in his fifties, had a Metal Familiar, while the younger, Zak, had a Flame. The Metal was seven feet tall, roughly human shaped but all sharp edges and angles, and made entirely of blue metal. The Flame was a living fire the size of a child wearing a knight's upper armor and helmet, with a short metal sword and shield. Serena's Pulumpa, Slayer, was only up to Serena's knee including his horns and looked pitiful beside the other two Familiars.

Aizen continued the brief description, "Don't forget that the Dungeon is magical. It's different every day, and rarely it can change the layout of each floor while we're on it. This is the only room in the Dungeon that stays put, and Monsters very rarely come here. They find other ways to escape the Dungeon, but for the most part they'll just wander the floor they're on. Collect everything you can, and remember that there is no shame in running from a Monster. Better to live and sell what you can than to die over a few measly silver pieces." Serena rolled her eyes again. She'd risk her life for copper if her business didn't improve soon.

Once the group was armed, the Familiars ready, Aizen stood before the group. "Alright. If you find the stairs, do not descend. Do not wait by the stairs either. Once we split off, if you meet anyone, you're to join back up and try to get everyone back here before we descend. Check every room, every hallway. Now," Aizen grinned, flashing his perfect teeth and raising his sword high, "Who's ready to get rich!?"



Chapter IV
Teammates

They divided into groups of five. Serena partnered with Aizen, Broach, and the boy Zak, and a man closer in his early thirties who was named Flint. Aizen's Holy Broadsword cast a blue tint on the path they took, one of the four. They chose to continue straight on, while the other three groups to off left and right. The dirt dirt walls were wide enough apart for Aizen and Broach to walk side by side, with Serena and Zak behind them, followed by their Familiars, with Flint bringing up the rear.

Serena looked over the equipment her group possessed. Aizen and Broach had the nicest armor, and on his left arm Broach wore a Mirror Shield, which bounced magical attacks back at the caster, and on the right he wore a Live Shield. The Mirror's metal surface was so reflective Serena could make out the little stray hairs on her brow. The Live Shield was squared at the top and pointed at the bottom, with the face of a lion on the front and the edges of the shield were two long arms. She watched as the lion scratched its nose and yawned. Broach wore a heavy steel cuirass over his leather armor.

Zak's equipment was cheap and battered. Thick leather that was worn thin in places. He was wearing a Wood Shield peppered with several holes and a slightly bent Copper Sword in his free hand. To be truthful, his Familiar had more reliable armor, and that was its actual body. The pieces of his leather armor didn't even match.

Flint wore a heavy looking Gothic plate armor, and his Steel Shield and Sword glinted in the light. He must have been very warm, especially walking directly behind living fire. He must have been a seasoned Hunter, as his armor and equipment was very well maintained.

Serena heard a cough and looked at Zak, realizing he had asked her a question. Serena's robes fluttered as she shook her head, stepping down a sudden incline as the path led them deeper. "I'm sorry, what was that?"

"I said," Zak began, rolling his eyes and shifting the weight of his sword. It looked too long for him. "It'll be okay. The Holy Knight himself is protecting us. Don't worry, it's my first time in the Dungeon too. The three of us will keep you safe." Zak's voice was still high for a man. Puberty hadn't yet gotten its roots firmly into him, though he was tall.

Serena blinked. Did she look childish? Or lost, maybe? Well... yes, but only in thought. "I've been coming the Dungeon for as long as Aizen himself." It was possible her response came out harsh, but Serena didn't care. Zak should not underestimate a witch, and have more respect for his elders.

Zak stammered, blinking rapidly. "B-but we're the same age, right? It's illegal for minors..." His voice trailed off as Serena glared at him, raising her Wand indignantly. Before she could retort, they entered the next room, a chamber with very uneven floor. The group immediately tried to spread out around the tunnel exit they just came from.

Like all Dungeon rooms, this one was big. It was small by Dungeon standards, but large enough for the Hunters and their Familiars, as well as multiple wild Monsters with plenty of space left. Two Trolls wielding hammers stood to the left side of the room, closest to Flint, and uncomfortably close were a Cyclone and a Balloon that had been fighting, based on the blood on each. Several Pulumpas slept in the farthest corner. The monsters that were awake turned to look at the humans. For a moment, nothing moved.

The hiss of the Balloon, a Monster with a frog-like orange body with a massive red balloon suspending it in the air, snapped everyone to attention. They hadn't expected to walk directly into a group of Monsters so soon. Aizen and Broach moved first, Broach bringing up his Live Shield as he placed himself between the group and the two flying Monsters. Aizen called for magical support and for Zak to stay back. The man Flint and the Troll, a child sized Monster with stubby horns and an affinity for human tools, were already trading blows, the Monster's hammer glancing off his armor while his sword was blocked by the long hammer's handle.

Serena let her magic flow through the Wand in her hand, a spell for paralysis, which swirled around the tip before arcing as lightning over Broach's head. The spell went straight and true, but the Cyclone, a large egg shaped creature that controlled air and watched everything with a single eye, had moved out of the way. The lightning struck the far wall, where sparks rained down on the sleeping Pulumpa. Paralyzed in their sleep.

Broach grunted with effort as the Balloon's exposed lung it used for flotation swelled and bashed against his Shield. The lion on its face clawed at the monster. Aizen attempted to slash the Cyclone, but it turned to him and he rolled to avoid its eye. The Monster's gaze induce absolute anorexia, and if he met its eye and killed the monster, he'd starve to death regardless.

Serena glanced to Zak. Him and his Flame would be useless in this fight, considering the Balloon and Troll were both Fire Genus. Fighting fire with fire didn't work well. While she was sure Aizen and Broach could take the Balloon and Cyclone, that all depended on them fighting together, but the Cyclone kept getting in Aizen's way to help Broach, who was weaponless.

Then, she looked at Slayer and smiled. She told Zak to jump into the tunnel and cover his head. "Everybody, get down," Serena cried over the grunts of battle and Monster cries. Slayer, knowing her intention, jumped to sit atop her head, flattening the hat under his weight. The little Monster glowed with power as it prepared a spell, and Serena held her Wand with two hands before the creature's mouth. All three big men turn to the witch and dived away from the creatures they were fighting, with only a blink to spare before a spray of water burst from the Pulumpa's mouth, colliding with the end of the Wand. Serena shouted the name of the Mixture Magic, a blend of Monster magic and human weaponry or skill, "Aqua Wheel!"

What had been a spray on one side of the Wand was magnified a thousand fold, forming a huge wall of water that crashed through the entire room. The men, heavy under their armor and grip on the ground, were submerged by the wave. The floating Monsters, not tethered to the floor, and the lightweight Troll were not as lucky. When the wave of water reached the Monsters, they were swept up by the torrent, carried across the room where the flood beat their bodies mercilessly against the wall. Serena couldn't see the Pulumpa, but she knew they were likewise taken.

While Wind Genus Monsters like the Cyclone were resistant to Water, the sheer volume of the spell, and the unrelenting wall of dirt and stone its body had been broken upon, were more than enough to kill the creature. Fire Genus monsters would've drowned in water due to their natural weakness. Though, Serena liked to think the spell spoke for hers and Slayer's innate magical power.

With the Spell vanishing, soaking into the stone and dirt ground, white energy swelled across the room and warmth washed over the young witch as she and her Familiar took in the slain Monsters' energy. While the three men slowly got to their feet, drench and coughing water, Serena drew her Dungeon ID from the inner folds of her robe. She read the numeric text below her picture. She smiled. Serena gained four levels. Her stats were much higher now than moments before and she felt so light on her feet and powerful. This was off to a good start.



Chapter V
The First Floor

Serena smirked to Aizen, whose hair dripped with water. The look he gave her was toxic. The witch shrugged as she started walking to the far side of the room, the four men trailing after her. Only Zak was dry, and he was stiffing laughter over the Holy Knight's soaked appearance. Flint was thoroughly waterlogged and he kept taking off pieces of armor and dumping water to the ground.

"You brought it upon yourself, Aizen. You requested magical backup. I backed you up with magic." Serena glanced over her should. The only one who seemed undeterred was Broach who merely shook water from his shields and continued across the room after Serena and Aizen.

Another effect of the Aqua Wheel: all the items the monsters had brought into the room were pushed right up along the wall as well. Nothing of extreme value, money-wise or in usefulness. A fresh Antidote Herb, the Troll's hammer, and a scroll that induced temporary insanity. Flint took the hammer and Serena the other two, on the grounds that if any of the men had the scroll and accidentally opened it, they'd all be in trouble.

Serena and company regrouped and headed down the only other pathway. A side pathway met with this path, and in the distance they heard the heavy, labored breathing of something huge moving down that path. They continued straight on. Zak asked as they walked why she simply didn't use Aqua Wheel down every passage and in every room.

"Well, for starters, there's no guarantee my magic won't just piss off whatever is hidden out of sight. And secondly, Pulunpa have relatively small reserves of Mana, so its best not to rely on Slayer's mixture magic. However, your Flame can infuse your sword with fire using mixture magic, though it'll take you time to practice with him so you're not melting the blade or burning your fingers."

The next room contained no monsters, with a couple herbs growing in one corner along with two Shields and a Gold Sword with the former owner's decaying hand still attached. The Gold Sword was given to Zak, while both Shields, a Leather and a Wood, were stored in Broach's bag.

The group now faced two directions they could go, either to the right or continue straight. They decided to go straight as the other teams should cover those sections of the floor.

And that is how they got stuck wandering down an improbably long, curved hallway, pausing only when the path narrowed so much they had to move in single file, with Aizen taking the lead. It was in this stretch that a Noise found them, though a single slash of Aizen's Holy Broadsword destroyed the creature.

By the time they group came to the next room, fifteen men stood waiting in the center. All the men's purses looked far heavier than when Serena had seen them last, so soon ago. After joining the group, Serena traded the scroll in her bag for several herbs, including two Medicinal Herbs. One man gave both Serena and Zak a Pita Fruit, which they fed to their respectful Familiars while Aizen asked about which route would take them deeper.

The only unexplored path was the one running beside to the one Aizen had just came from, though it appeared to to go further underground. The reformed party healed their injuries, mostly minor bruises and one infected cut, using Slayer's healing magic. Once they were ready, Aizen, Broach and Serena led the group down the final pathway.

The last room of the first floor was beaten flat. Everywhere Serena looked, piles of items ranging from herbs and fruit to mounds of gold were arranged. And it was a Monster House. Pulunpas, Noises, Balloons, Cyclones, Trolls and Flames crawled, floated and fought for food. Bones, human and otherwise, littered the ground. Other corpses, much more fresh, lay broken next to treasure or were fed upon by Monsters.

And, standing on the far side of the room, watching the Monsters eat humans, was the most beautiful woman Serena had ever seen.



Chapter VI
The Horde

The woman was tall, taller than Aizen. Her features were delicate, with porcelain skin and a dainty face. Her slim shoulders supported a white gown that hung loosely off her feminine curves; it fell to her mid-thigh. The woman had long legs, with powerful, muscular thighs and calves that still managed to be slim. Her long ash colored hair was curly and bounced down to the floor behind her. Her ruby colored lips flashed a bright white smile that made it easy to forget that not even twenty feet from her, Monsters fed on the bodies of men.

It was only when Serena's attention was drawn back to the beasts that she realized the woman had splashes of crimson on her hands and gown, but whether they were from injury of her own or the men, Serena did not know.

Like the witch had been, the men were transfixed by her beauty. Serena had to physically shove Aizen to break the trance, the men clumsily partnering to prepare to fight the Monsters. But the Monsters were faster.

Serena heard a scream and saw an arm fly through the air. She didn't know whose. Suddenly everyone was fighting, swinging swords. Tamers fought back to back with their Familiars, either using mixture magic to combine spell and sword, or in a brutal tag-team melee like the old man and his Metal. The evolved Wind Genus Monster used its long metal needle arms to slash and stab and it reeked havoc on its own.

The witch, with Slayer atop her head, began chanting spells from the hallway. Slayer sprayed bubbles from his mouth, and when they made contact with the Hunters and Tamers, the men's wounds seemed to heal. But the little Monster couldn't regrow limbs or organs and the horde of Monsters were brutal.

As burning light arced from the Wand in Serena's hands, she caught sight of the woman through the mass of bodies. She stood at the stairs, serene and beautiful. The witch thought for a moment that the woman made eye contact with her and smiled at Serena. Then, huge wings appeared behind the woman and her body vanished down the stairs.

"Something took her!" Serena cried, and though those closest to her could hear, there was nothing anyone could do. Not with all these creatures. These Monsters, so many of them. Serena cried out again as a body was sent backwards past her. She could only spare a momentary glance before returning to raining holy fire over the enemies. All she saw was mismatched leather and a broken copper sword.

Somewhere in the throng of bodies, Aizen's Holy Broadsword cleaved a Monster in half. She heard his victorious yells. The battle was bloody, and the numbers against them, but the humans were winning. The huge Metal Familiar rained lightning at the wild creatures, paralyzing them as men cut the beasts apart. The Flame that belonged to Zak cast fire everywhere.

It was brutal, but after the last of the Monsters were rounded together, obliterated by magic from Serena, the Flame and the Metal, the remaining Hunters fell to their knees.

Where twenty had entered the final room, only eleven celebrated victory. Blood covered all and the body parts were indistinguishable, what had been fed on before and what was new. The ten men and Serena were all breathing heavily, and a couple men were crying over the deaths of their close friends. "Goddess," Serena breathed as she and Slayer used magic to heal the wounded. "This is only the first floor."

Her soft words weighed down on the men. While Aizen and Broach, both unharmed currently, had been as deep as the sixth floor, they had never ran into a monster house like this. If this group met another, they didn't know if even the Holy Knight would survive.

While Serena healed a large slash across the old man's face, Aizen approached her. He knelt while she worked. "We couldn't find the woman. Please tell me she circled around the battle and fled." There was no sign in his voice that even hinted he believed that.

She patted the older man's shoulder as she stood, inspecting the Metal Familiar for injuries. "Something grabbed her. It was brief, but I saw her pulled down the stairs," Even to herself, Serena sounded defeated. But then she turned to Aizen. "I'm going to bring her back. If not today, then tomorrow. I don't care, as long as somebody rescues her." Templar Aizen nodded his agreement.

The next part was what everyone dreaded. They had to raid the bodies and take whatever they could before burning the remains. It was a sacred custom for parties of Hunters. Those slain in the Dungeon had no need for their swords, and if those swords and armor saved others lives, it was a blessing.

While Broach and Aizen led the men to gather the fallen, Serena moved to the hallway. To the broken body and the Flame that stood patiently for its master to rise. If Serena turned her back and walked away, she knew that Flame would wait until age or hunger or wild Monsters sent it to join its Master.

Serena moved to touch the body, but the Familiar's sword blocked her way. Serena stopped and moved slower, more peacefully. She wasn't attacked as she knelt by the boy, cradling his head in her lap. His skull was shattered and she could tell his arms and spine were equally destroyed. She silently hoped he had not been alive when it happened.

After some time, the old man approached her. He kept his distance though. "Was he your friend?" His gruff voice was dull but understanding. This old man knew loss, far more than had been witnessed today.

"I barely knew him," Serena said, her voice thick. "He tried to been my friend but I was so cold to him."

The man nodded his head thoughtfully. "If he could speak, I think the boy would forgive you. Even a boy must know how lonely a witch must feel. And you have a long life ahead of you to honor him in." The man's words weren't comforting, but had a hard ring of truth. It was common knowledge that witches were practically outcasts everywhere. And she had a very long life to remember how she could have been kinder. Right here, Serena felt ice in her veins as the thought of this boy's memory haunting her. "The boy's Familiar likes you."

The Flame stood between Serena with its master in her lap and the old man. It stood as if protecting the two of them, and held its sword to prevent the old man from coming closer. The man reached into his bag and threw something on the ground between the Flame and Zak's leg. "Put this Collar on the Flame. Raise it. Honor the dead by caring for the living he left behind."

Serena's eyes hurt as she looked at the black ring of leather. A small silver bell hung from the Collar's front. When she looked back, the old man had returned to looting the bodies of his fallen comrades.
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Sabiruchi Tsuyosa

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