Alan leaned back, underneath the greataxe. It nearly shore off his face.
I think Phantom is dependable, Lambda sent. We can depend on him to act in his best interest, which includes helping us.
For now. I still don’t trust him, Eve sent.
Alan dived to the side, the greataxe slammed into the ground where he stood moments earlier.
“This is weapons training, not dodging practice!” Mason shouted as he charged at Alan.
Alan scrambled out of Mason’s way. In Alan’s hand was a long, black whip. Alan prepared to flick it.
Not like that, Eve sent. A phantom appeared, Alan followed its movements and the whip stretched out and grabbed Mason’s wrists.
Mason smiled and pulled his hands. Alan sailed through the air, hurtling towards Mason. Mid-air Alan activated the whip. An electric current flowed through the weapon, striking Mason. It had no effect.
Alan flicked his hand, the whip uncurled from Mason’s wrists then wrapped around his leg. Alan pulled, sending himself tumbling past Mason, barely avoiding a fist that had been headed his way.
Alan landed on the floor a few feet away from Mason. A familiar ding notified him he had reached basic proficiency in the weapon. He let out a sigh of relief.
“Got it,” Alan said. He picked himself off the ground.
Mason’s fist met him when he stood up, knocking Alan into a nearby weapons rack. Hundreds of weapons of all shapes and sizes surrounded the circular arena Alan was fighting in. They were all that adorned the training room. In addition to the weapons racks that held stacks of melee weapons, there were pedestals that had a pristine armament of one type or another, arranged carefully so that the light would illuminate the weapon in all its glory.
Why did no one warn me that attack was coming? Alan sent. Lambda and Eve continued debating with each other, ignoring Alan.
We have to trust somebody. Do you want to live forever alone? Lambda sent.
I’d be fine with that, Eve sent.
I wouldn’t, Lambda sent.
Grab the next weapon, Alan, Eve sent.
Alan sighed. He threw the whip to the floor and grabbed a random gun from a nearby pedestal.
Eve transferred a burst of information to Alan, Lambda helped him parse it.
“Ready?” Mason asked. He raised his war axe.
Alan raised the gun and pointed it at Mason. He fired three times, and three glowing blue plasma bolts shot out. They passed through the air at a leisurely pace. Mason sidestepped them and ran at Alan.
Alan changed the gun’s settings, and aimed it at Mason. He activated it. The bolts arced back around towards Mason, speed increased. Alan fired off another three shots as he ran away. They floated at Mason.
Mason glanced over his shoulder, the plasma bolts’ speed continued to increase as they curved and headed towards him. “Shit. I hate magnetic plasma repeaters.”
He swiped his axe through two of the plasma bolts and they burst apart. The third struck his back. Alan pressed another button and the bolt exploded into a small burst of plasma that drove Mason to his knees and left a dark red mark on his grey skin. Mason let out a grunt then dropped his waraxe.
The benefits outweigh the risks, however, thus we should agree to go along, Eve sent.
You could have just said that in the first place, Lambda sent. It’s agreed then, we’re going.
Mason dodged the next three bolts of plasma headed his way and grabbed two laser swords from a nearby weapons rack. By this time Alan had sent six more plasma bolts his way. Alan switched the weapons settings, and sent the plasma bolts at Mason from the side.
The gun worked by creating magnetic fields that directed the plasma bolts once they were in the air. The plasma bolts were fired in metal shells that had electric coils looped around them. The gun, when directed, would activate the magnetic fields within the shells so that they would travel mid-air along a directed path towards where Alan pointed.
Distance and strength was based upon how hard Alan squeezed the trigger, and Eve’s quick calculations allowed Alan to keep track of how activating the magnetic fields would affect all the plasma bolts in the air.
Mason tried to cut through as many plasma bolts as he could, but Alan kept their movements erratic, dancing in and out towards Mason, inching ever closer from every direction.
Two bolts exploded mid-air as Alan sent another three at Mason.
What? Why’d they explode? Alan sent.
Magnetic plasma bolts have a time and energy limit, it was in the information packet I sent, Eve replied.
Alan rechecked the information Eve had sent him about the weapon as Mason continued to dodge plasma bolts. The information was there. Apparently the bolts also came in cartridges of 30, and cost 50 credits apiece.
Alan fired the last three bolts loaded into the gun. He had just shot off 1500 credits worth of ammo, not including the energy crystal that powered the gun itself.
Mason was beginning to tire. Perspiration dotted his forehead as he continued to swing at plasma bolts that circled him. It was about time. They had been fighting on and off with every type of weapon imaginable for days, but Mason had never asked for a break. Many of the weapons had been unwieldy in Alan’s hands, sometimes feet, and in one odd case, his hair, but he had still gained a wealth of new weapon skills, 250 points in strength, 200 in agility, 100 in perception, 50 in endurance and 25 in willpower.
Mason mistimed a swing; a plasma bolt got in close and Alan detonated it. The blast of plasma knocked Mason off balance. Alan sent the remaining twenty bolts in for the kill.
Mason dropped his swords and clenched his muscles. His body solidified, shrinking slightly. The plasma bolts all exploded. Alan smiled; it was the first time he had dealt any real damage to Mason, while Mason had sent him off to get healed a number of times.
Other than a number of red marks, however, Mason appeared unharmed. He brushed a bit of dust off his shoulder. “Well fought. Not quite rank A, but well enough.”
A ding rang in Alan’s ear.
We have acquired the target skill, Eve sent.
Alan examined the messaged:
[For obtaining basic mastery of fifty varied branches of weaponry you have gained the skill Universal Weapon Proficiency (Basic)! All weapon mastery skills at basic levels and below have been condensed into this skill. You will no longer gain stats for basic mastery of additional types of weaponry.]
[All stats increased by 25.]
[x15 Level up!]
Alan grinned. The past few days had been exhausting, a lesson in blood and sweat, but his direct combat potential definitely soared to new heights.
“I got it,” Alan told Mason.
Mason stared at Alan, then nodded. “You’ve managed to break every training record in terms of speed. I suppose I should expect no less from Phantom’s squire. If we continued training one on one I’d say you’d be able to reach intermediate level within a year.”
Alan turned to reshelf the plasma gun.
“Keep it, and take this pair of Crimson Blades,” Mason said. He picked up and handed over the laser swords he had grabbed earlier. “You’re still waiting for your items to be shipped from Mars, right? You’ll need weapons for the dungeon dive. Phantom mentioned that he had armor for you. The last few members of the raid should have arrived today.”
“Thank you,” Alan said. “I’ll pay you back as soon as-“
Mason shook his head. “Don’t bother. We’re guildmates, remember? It’s good to see weapons in the right hands.”
Alan more carefully examined the stats of the plasma gun:
[Custom Magnetic Plasma Repeater (Rank B+):
A custom plasma gun created by an unknown gunsmith. Fires powerful plasma bolts that are able to be directed with a magnetic field. Requires open air or vacuum to target.
Plasma damage: 3000-4000
750 Energy. 5 Energy/sec to control magnetic fields. 10 Energy/shot. 90 Energy/min regen.
Burnout cooldown: Only three plasma bolts may be fired every 2 seconds.
150/150 Durability. Energy Ranged Weapons (Basic), Energy Efficiency (Basic), and Directed Energy Weapons (Basic) required.
Enhanced Accuracy, Enhanced Control (Advanced), Energy Ranged Weapons (Advanced), Energy Efficiency (Advanced), and Directed Energy weapons (Intermediate) recommended.]
Alan looked at Mason, who was leaning against the wall. “You just withstood twenty blasts of thousands of damage. How are you still standing?”
“Racial ability. But I do need to get healed. Your training with me is done, go and annoy Phantom.”
Alan nodded, and exited Mason’s training room. It was not a simulated zone, as Mason believed the heightened stakes helped one train faster. He entered a lift and headed to Phantom’s lab.
Back in the training room, Mason looked up at the ceiling, waiting for a healer to arrive. He muttered, “I hate plasma,” then collapsed to the floor.
Remember, we’ve agreed to the plan, but no more, Eve sent.
You know, I should have been included in that conversation. I have a mind of my own, Alan sent.
Do you disagree with our decision? Lambda asked.
No, Alan sent.
Then stop wasting time, Eve sent. She cut off, Alan had arrived at Phantom’s lab.
Phantom was sitting next to a robotic skull, playing around with the eyes.
“So, will you join the expedition into the Abyss Labyrinth?” Phantom asked.
“Yes,” Alan said. The expedition was going with or without him, it turned out. He figured he might as well go along.
“Good. Your armor is on the table. It should prove useful in training your power armor and energy skills,” Phantom said. “Go get used to it. The mission debriefing will take place in the main hall at 15:00, send your ammo requirements to Enigma, they’ll automatically fulfill your orders. Don’t start demanding outrageous items like expensive brandy though.”
Alan nodded. He told Enigma he needed 25 cartridges of magnetic plasma bolts, and then examined the power armor on the table:
[Modified Revenant Spectral Power Armor (Advanced): Rank A
The cutting edge of energy manipulation technology, this upgraded set of Revenant Power Armor has been modified for the specific use of the Player Alan, allowing them to wear it regardless of the armor’s requirements. As it is a modified piece of equipment, only the brilliant inventor that upgraded this equipment and particularly skilled repairmen will be able to fully repair it.
5000 Energy, 6 Energy/min regen.
Bonus Ability: Energy Absorption. Able to potentially partially absorb energy based attacks and restore the armor’s energy. 20% chance of success.
Bonus Ability: Hardened Shields. Able to condense one square foot energy shields at the loss of defense elsewhere, resulting in an armored shield with 2000 armor. 10 Energy/sec upkeep.
Energy Efficiency (Advanced), Power Armor Instruction (Advanced), Revenant Training (Intermediate), Revenant Reputation: Friendly required.
Energy Efficiency (Mastered), Revenant Training (Mastered), Power Armor Instruction (Mastered), Revenant Reputation: Respected recommended.]
[Warning! Due to not meeting the minimum requirements of your current armor, it will be unable to absorb energy attacks. Instead, when activated Energy Absorption will only negate attacks. Hardened Shields will only result in an armored shield with 100 armor.]
Alan put the armor on, and then went up to the Simulation Dome. Inside he practiced with his new weapon and armor. The Revenant spectral armor functioned similar to the scout armor, but instead of an invisibility field it produced a magnetic field that stored a large portion of the armor’s energy.
In order to negate the energy of incoming attacks the magnetic field had to be carefully manipulated to direct the energy into a large, dark blue core that sat at the center of the Alan’s chest. Even with Eve’s help, Alan only managed to negate 10% of basic laser attacks.
The Hardened Shield wasn’t worth the effort as it stood, as the point defense exposed Alan to attacks from elsewhere. With it activated, a stray laser could hurt him, and the bonus shield armor made little difference.
The magnetic field also messed with Alan’s new weapon. Instead of firing off into the distance, plasma bolts would be absorbed into the field and orbit around Alan, or stick to points on his armor. When prompted they would still fire at a point, but their movements were odd due to the overlapping magnetic fields.
Alan practiced for a while longer, grabbed a bite to eat, then proceeded to the main hall.
Inside the main hall, beneath the gargoyles holding golden spheres were a hundred players, a sizable portion of the guild. The tables, which had been laden with food when Alan had first visited, were now weighted down by supplies, weapons, and armor. Mechanical mules, robots designed to carry and transport heavy burdens, were being loaded and examined.
A few members of the guild looked up at Alan when he entered, took a look at his new title of Phantom’s Squire, then resumed their business. Everyone seemed to have a task to do, general maintenance and other last minute checks. Alan felt a tad awkward just standing to the side, watching everyone work.
“You need a rogue mentor.”
Alan turned. It was Void. “Who told you that?”
“The walls, they talk,” Void said. “It just so happens I know a few tricks, and have been searching for a slave. I mean devoted follower.”
“You’re a priest,” Alan said, “not a rogue.”
“And you’re a boy, not a man,” Void said. “Who are you to presume who I am, much less what?”
‘What?” Alan said.
“It is the mindset that counts in the end, not the action. And the actions I could guide you through..”
Accept his offer, Eve sent.
Yeah, I want to see where this leads, Lambda sent.
Alan sighed. “Fine. But I reserve my right to quit your tutelage.”
“And I reserve the right to slap you whenever I please,” Void said. He raised his hand. Alan flinched. Void clapped his hands and began giggling to himself.
A message appeared:
[You have gained a new Rogue (?) mentor: Void]
“So what’s the first lesson?” Alan asked Void.
“Shut up and listen,” Void said.
Alan closed his mouth and waited. He looked around. The preparations seemed to be coming to a close. Elissandra strode into the guildhall, Mason and Enigma by her side. A minute later Phantom arrived, along with a few other stragglers, arriving with last minute supplies. A recruit walked up to Alan, and handed over the ammo he had requested. He was also handed a special, dark purple cartridge of plasma bolts. The recruit said that it was for special occasions.
Alan looked back over to Void, but he had disappeared.
“Let’s get started,” Elissandra called out. She walked up to the front of the hall, by the black altar.
“This is a guild sponsored, deep exploration dive into the Abyss Labyrinth. Mason will lead the expedition, with Void as his vice commander. It could last upwards of a month. If successful, the payment is expected to be a minimum of 50,000 guild points or 500k credits. The raid group will consist of four scouts, ten damage dealers with an assortment of additional skills, five tanks, six support staff, and five healers. Thirty people in total.”
A number of those present nodded, Alan included. He was part of the support staff, a hacker and potentially the raid group’s way past a few obstacles.
“We expect that in the course of the dungeon exploration you will run into three, possibly four rank S bosses, with combat potential equivalent to a Predecessor Warlord. Level unknown. Thus this mission has been classified as high risk, but you know all this, you volunteered,” Elissandra said.
“Thanks to the information and map provided by Alan, a new addition to the guild who will be part of the raid group, we now have a map of a large portion of the dungeon. We have sent scouts in to confirm the map, and the results are promising. Though the Abyss Labyrinth has been known to shift, it has not in recent years. Thus it is crucial that we strike now, while the time is right.”
A large map appeared. Hundreds of circles, the hub areas, and four red squares, the boss zones, had been marked on the map when Alan had first given it to the Black Rose guild. Now there were additional lines on the map, connecting the circles, as well as portions shaded in red. A few other symbols dotted the map, which Alan knew from the guild handbook represented rest areas, merchants, and even a capsule station.
“The portion of the labyrinth in the map roughly corresponds to the area below the Private Quadrant of Khersath,” Elissandra said. “The main goal of this dungeon dive is to capture the control points. Four of Enigma’s Specialists will accompany the raid as damage dealers, and then hold the control points for the guild. We will also attempt to complete the quest that Alan has provided. Open discussion of the merits of each quest completion option are welcome, but the final say in this matter lay in the hands of Mason, Void, and Alan as the quest holder.”
Messages appeared for everyone to see, Alan’s quest messages that he had provided:
Restore power to the mysterious Abyss Labyrinth. Find out more about the structure and its purpose.
Option: Figure out who the Authorities are and attempt to get help from them
Time Limit: Approx. 3000 years
Threat Level: Gamma]
[Missing Systems Updated:
You have been reinstated as friendly with the Abyss Labyrinth. The Warden has given you five years to study the energy crystal before returning it. You may anger an unknown faction for failing to complete this quest in the Warden’s favor. Soulsteel Knife added to quest rewards.]
Remove and destroy all power sources of the mysterious Abyss Labyrinth, unleashing its prisoners upon the universe.
Option: Try to free only certain beings
Option: Try to conquer the Abyss Labyrinth
Option (Missing Systems): Try to play both sides
Time Limit: Unknown
Threat Level: Beta – Gamma]
Alan brought up the last, semi-related quest that he had chosen not to share with the guild:
[The Last War:
Discover more information about the final war that took place in real life, and the mysterious Lords of Life.
“Are there any questions?” Elissandra asked.
“What support do we have if we get in over our heads, or if we lose a few members along the way?” a scout called out. He wore Advanced Revenant Scout Power Armor.
“We have identified seven potential extraction and insertion points,” Elissandra said. She brought the map back up. “However, once inside the Abyss Labyrinth you will be on your own. If Mason believes additional backup is required, he will be the one to make the decision to withdraw. With him and Void in the raid nothing short of an S+ class threat will wipe you out. We hope that Alan’s friendly status with the Warden will also avoid potential help when it comes to catastrophic events. We have decided to provide a few power crystals to help tide them over, for now.”
“If he’s friendly, won’t this Warden get pissed of once we start capping points and taking heads?” another voice called out.
“That is a risk but no, we don’t believe so,” Elissandra said. She glanced at Phantom. “We believe the Abyss Labyrinth to be a prison, and the Warden has never shown any concern over the loss of life before. Historically, others have captured control points within the labyrinth as well, and they reported no hostile forces after the original defenses were breached.”
“What did they get from the control point?” Alan asked.
Elissandra turned to look at him. “The ordinary tax, stat, and experience boosts equated with controlling an area. Mostly useless, as no one lives within the dungeon, though perhaps we could turn the dungeon into a better farming ground or an extension base. Khersath property is always worth holding. In all the previous records we found, no one controlled all of the points in a zone. We do not know what happens if we manage to capture all four, but hope to find out. Even if it is nothing, there are still the area bosses and potentially the power crystals to loot.
“If there are no more question that concludes this mission briefing. Anyone else?” Elissandra looked around. “Very well, good luck.”
A message appeared:
[Black Rose Mission, Abyss Labyrinth Expedition:
Find and hold the four capture points of the portion of the Abyss Labyrinth located beneath the Private Quadrant of Khersath.
Reward: Min. 50k guild points. 1 of 3 quests to Knight Rank complete. 20% of total quest reward.
Hope this mission goes better than the last, Lambda sent.