Havia nudged him awake, he knew it was her because she kicked him rather hard in the leg before leaning down to whisper in his ear.
“Wake up you lousy bugbear, ain’t no way I’m carrying you out of here.” Antios knew it was how the rogue showed affection, an adverse reaction to being raised like a politician. This was how Havia rebelled, by being crass, obnoxious, and overtly promiscuous if the opportunity arises.
“I’m awake, I’m awake, Gods’ be damned, you close your eyes for a moment and everyone wants to suddenly get moving.” He looked around at the party, they were all rummaging in void bags or sorting gear. Quink was casting one more heal spell on Utig as the barbarian pushed a particularly nasty dent out of his breastplate. Beneath his armour he wore a basic tunic, which the mage was holding up as she examined the dark purple bruises decorating his ribcage. He shooed her away affectionately before applying all his force to the dented armour. The leather wrapped steel made a popping sound as it resumed a shape almost like normal and he started strapping it back in place.
“How long was I asleep?” Antios asked as his stomach growled.
“Only an hour or two, you look like you needed it.” Quink smiled as she helped Utig’s fasten his breastplate into place.
He rummaged around in his void bag for some food, finding some bread, wrapped cheese and a spicy sausage of some kind. It all tasted divine as he wolfed it down, but it was soon followed by a wave of nausea and did nothing to replenish his low energy levels. His whole body felt sore, his head throbbing in time with his heart.
“You got rid of the necrotic stuff right?” He asked Quink, examining the skin on his hands suspiciously.
“You still feeling off?” She asked, concern evident on her face as she made her way over to him, she held her hands out and channeled her healing magic again.
“There’s no necrotic magic left on you, no infections or the like.” The mage pulled down the lower lids of his eyes, acting for all intentions like a proper physician. “You did spend your ether when we came in right?” She held a hand to his forehead, reminding the fighter of his mother when he was little.
“Er, no, not really.” He admitted as he made to stand, putting his hand on the wall as a wave of nausea came over him.
“Well then, we need to reach the nexus as soon as possible. That lich would have earned us a nice chunk of ether, and with no other poisoning or afflictions showing, I think you have ether poisoning. If you dont spend that ether soon, you could be left permanently unable to benefit from delving.” The others all looked at him with concern, accept Iki, who just looked confused.
“What is this ether you talk of?” They asked as the party started a slow walk down the dimly lit corridor.
“It’s like mana, but, instead of regaining it after casting spells, we earn it by fighting monsters, well, creatures living in the dungeon.” Havia replied, trying to skirt around the fact their new comrade was a monster themselves.
“And what do you do with this ether? Magic?” the kobold turned one head to the side as Havia took in a deep breath.
“Some of us can use it to make our magic stronger, some use it to improve reflexes, strength, resilience and the like. We can even improve our skills in certain areas or get unique skills and abilities.” The kobolds eyes were wide as she listened to Havia’s brief explanation.
“That is truly a miracle, not unlike when the Elder gifts us in the egg, guiding us on our path to benefit the tribe.” They nodded to themselves sagely.
“I wonder if I could use this ether?” They asked looking around at the party and settling their gaze on Quink, who was walking close to Antios. He tried to pay attention to the conversation, but his vision was swimming, walking was a struggle, even with one hand on the wall.
“I’m not sure you would be able to, seeing as you already live in the dungeon, this place treats you as a monster.” Quink said over her shoulder. The kobold let out a disappointed huff.
“Utig, are you ok to help Antios, he’s getting slower and I think we need to find the Nexus as quickly as possible” she said, but her words felt far away, or under water. Utig turned to help him, but as he got nearer it felt as though the barbarian got further away, like he was falling down a long black tunnel, a tunnel that consumed his vision as everything turned to black.
Havia watched as Antios slumped backwards against the wall. Quink quickly assured them that he had only passed out, but they urgently needed to find the nexus. With no turnings, the corridor they had found themselves in felt like it went on forever, before they eventually came to a small chamber with two more exits. Utig lay Antios down in a corner, Quink cast another healing spell on him to aid his recovery, but it felt like wasted mana. Havia and Iki decided to scout the two new corridors, to better asses which direction to take with their unconscious leader.
Havia’s corridor seemed to angle slightly upwards, with a few small rooms branching off of it every now and then. A few turns and she soon felt like she was back at the floor above, maybe even the floor with the kobolds. Swearing profusely she turned around and headed back.
It had been around an hour and Antios still showed no signs of waking up. She sat and rested while they waited for Iki to return. Eventually the Kobold came back.
“This tunnel turns you around, but heads down. A few rooms with shiny treasures lead away, but eventually there is a door like the sealed ways above.” They reported proudly.
“Looks like we go that way, anything we need to fight?” Havia asked as Utig awkwardly picked up the fighter.
“No, a few piles of bones, but no skulls, nothing moving around.” Havia
nodded, scooping up Antios’s pack before walking alongside the kobold down the tunnel. They stopped a few times for Utig to rest, and so Havia could check out the rooms with possible treasure. It turned out to be very profitable, and Havia was in a fine mood when they reached the doors to the nexus. As they opened, Dath was stood patiently next to the font.
“When you got closer I could tell there was a problem!” The echo said as they proceed to enter, yet the doors didn’t close behind them.
Stood in the doorway, staring nervously at Dath, Iki was frozen to the spot.
“First things first.” Dath proclaimed.
“You have befriended a denizen of the dungeon, I have no idea if they can enter the nexus, and they most definitely can not without my permission.” He looked at the party, a solemn expression on his face.
“If they come in, they can not go back to their floor, they must travel forward with you. Is this what you wish?” He waved a hand at the kobold, who was tentatively putting a hand up to the doorway, pushing like a mime performing in the tumblers square.
Havia turned to the short lizard like creature, in the day that they had traveled she had felt a kinship to the kobold, but she knew this wasn’t her decision.
“I say we let them decide.” She stated, turning to the others. “If you are ok with Iki tagging along?” She looked at Utig and Quink, both of whom were nodding.
“An extra set of eyes to check for traps, we’d be stupid not to.” Quink said. And Utig just grunted agreement as he laid Antios next to the font.
“Iki,” Havia said, “ do you want to carry on travelling with us? It would mean you can’t return to your tribe. At least, we dont think you would be able to.” Havia watched as the Kobold took a moment to think. As they did Dath started guiding Utig in positioning Antios at the font. His hand comically being held in place by Quink.
“Yes. Iki would see more of the dungeon, maybe the world?” The kobold replied. Havia grinned.
“Thats your answer Dath old buddy. Let her in.” She said, and turned to help with the fighter.
“You are welcome small one. Please, enter.” The echo said with the solemn cadence of a ritual. Suddenly, the kobold, who had been leaning forward against some kind of invisible shield in the doorway, was rolling forward into the central chamber of the nexus. They let out a startled yelp before they turned to watch the alabaster doors swing shut behind them.
“We need his pebble, do you know where he keeps it?” Dath asked, now ignoring the startled Kobold and paying all his attention to the fighter.
“Its in his pouch, the faded grey one tied to his breeches, here I’ll grab it.” Havia said, reaching nimbly around the echo and plucking the smooth black stone out the pouch.
“Ah, perfect, hopefully it hasn’t been to long. Place it in his hand on the font. I can use it to coerce a level up from his subconscious, spending all his ether across all his stats and skills evenly.
“You can do that?” Quink asked, startled.
“I’m deeply connected to the nexus, and its font. Although, there is a lot I am yet to experiment with, this is an emergency. When he led the pebbles allow us to communicate, and that effect is still applied when unconscious.” He placed his hand atop of Antios’s, adopting a more translucent form as the fighter sighed. If not for the seriousness of the situation havia would have laughed. Dath, Utig, Quink and Antios looked frozen in some odd dance, as they propped the fighter against the font.
“He has accrued a large amount of ether, but only recently gone over his limit.“ The echo waved his hands at the others.
“Please try not to touch the font at all, you should be safe just touching Antios while I do this.” He watched as they carefully positioned themselves to only support the fighter and not touch the font. Closing his eyes the echo muttered under his breath for a moment before opening them back up to stare unfocused into the distance. The font glowed briefly, the point of contact with Antios’s hand and the pebble taking on an intense golden sheen before fading away.
“It is done, I hope he is not angry for us taking this liberty.” He closed his eyes again, taking a deep breath before stepping away from the font.
“Please, lay him on a cot, he should recover soon.”
The echo turned his attention to the kobold, who had found an interesting section of wall and was proceeding to unlock a secret panel.
“Well, looks like I have another thing to worry about now.” He muttered as he guided the wide eyed kobold over to the font.
“Let’s take a look what letting you in here means, shall we?” he said.
Antios stood, mired in fog. Not the necromantic mist that had lingered throughout the current floor of the dungeon. This was a mostly white, thick, natural feeling fog. Very little light made it through. He could hear his friends, and feel movement. He was being carried, but all his senses were dampened, shrouded in the heavy, almost suffocating, cloud of whites and greys. The worrying part of it was he didn’t mind. He was aware his body was hurting, but it was far away, disconnected from where he was now. Antios took the opportunity to dwell on his emotions, now that he was removed from them. His excitement at being back in the dungeon, his fear of his friends being hurt, and the acceptance that went with that.
They were in this for the danger, the adventure, and the wealth. He had come to terms with that, but, it didn’t soften the blow when you see a friend get injured, or collapse.
The colour of the fog around him began to change, he was definitely being moved now, and into a new, brighter area. The pressure around him eased slightly, maybe they were in the nexus?
As he had this thought, his hand began to glow, a warmth spreading pleasantly up his arm. As he looked down he could see the pebble, nestled into his palm. The dark fragment of dragon stone glowed slightly, and before him appeared the focus parchment that he usually saw in the guild or when touching the font.
“Antios. Listen to me!” It was Dath’s voice, emanating from the stone.
“I need you to focus on your ether, and spend it now. Spread it all out evenly over your skills and attributes. It’s the best way to negate the poisoning, and prevent permanent damage.” Despite being muted by the cloud, antios could tell the echo was concerned. He understood what was being asked of him. With his emotions being dampened the anxiety of spending his ether was non existent.
He focused on the translucent parchment before him, noticing some new skill options had come up, one of which was unique. Which he had never seen, or heard of, before.
Surprisingly he noted that instead of going from level five to six he was jumping to level seven. As he mentally agreed to spending his ether across all his skills, and confirming his new ones, a wave of exhaustion swept over him. The warmth from the pebble had gone, his status sheet disappeared and the fog engulfed him completely.
He felt the rough fabric of the mattress where his friends were laying him down, and, before falling into a deep sleep, he heard someone swearing as they pulled off his boots.