Ultimate Level 1

Chapter 159: A Dragon Dungeon
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Chapter 159: A Dragon Dungeon

Max watched as Fowl moved up to the crystal first, putting his hands on it and closing his eyes. The gem glowed momentarily, changing colors until it settled on brown. A flash of light went off, and Fowl stepped back and smiled.

“Done!”

“That fast?” Max asked. “I mean… wow.”

“It’s not hard when you know what you want. Haven’t you tried using the one in the adventurer hall at some point?”

Shaking his head, Max couldn’t take his eye off the now clear crystal. “I was always afraid if I went in and tried to use it, an alarm or something would go off.”

“Nothing has ever happened when I touch one,” Tanila said as she moved toward the crystal. “I mean… it’s not the same, I guess, with yours, but then again, I’m not certain what the adventurer guild can see.”

Batrire came over and gently squeezed Max’s arm while Tanila approached the crystal. “You can touch it if you want before I go. I don’t expect you to have anything to worry about.”

Frowning, Max didn’t reply; he was just watching Tanila as she mimicked Fowl. The crystal turned blue, and a flash of light came from it.

Sighing and smiling, Tanila turned and moved to where Max was. “It doesn’t bite, I promise.”

Laughing nervously, Max felt the pressure of everyone wanting him to touch it, knowing that somewhere in the world, his parents warned him of peer pressure.

“Fine, I’ll try, but if I die, just remember: Fowl doesn’t get any of my stuff.”

“What?!” exclaimed Fowl as he feigned a look of pain. “I thought we were brothers!”

Ignoring his friends' attempts to calm him down, Max slowly moved until he was only a foot from the crystal. His hands were shaking, and it didn’t hit him until then how much this moment really frightened him.

Closing his eyes and taking a deep breath, Max put his hands on the smooth surface of the crystal and waited. He could feel the energy flowing through his hands, yet nothing popped up in his mind or vision. Standing there a few seconds, he opened one eye, scanning the room and seeing that there was no change at all.

“I guess I really can’t use it,” Max stated as he moved away, realizing his palms had become very sweaty from that brief moment. Wiping them on his pants, he moved so Batrire could select her skill.

“It wasn’t that bad, was it?” Tanila asked as he approached and stood beside her.

“If I said I was more scared than the first time I kissed you?”

Tanila slowly turned her head toward Max and smiled, reaching up with a hand and touching his cheek. “Hopefully, you’re not afraid of the later part anymore.”

“No,” he said with a wink, a flash of light going off before he leaned in for a kiss.

“Alright. Let’s go,” Batrire said, turning to see Max and Tanila looking at each other and how close they had gotten to one another. “Ugnh… wait till we get back to the inn… you know how I feel about public displays of affection.”

Tanila held up her other hand, giving Batrire the middle finger, and smiled. Pulling Max’s neck up and toward her, she bent her head down and kissed him on the lip for a few moments.

“Ahh, young love,” Fowl teased, moving to stand near Batrire. “I remember when you used to do that to me.”

Both couples had taken lunch in their rooms, and neither felt the need to discuss how the afternoon was gone when they met for dinner.

“One more day of doing nothing,” Max said, smiling as he and Tanila rubbed each other’s hands with their thumbs. “What shall we do to pass the time?”

“Apparently, I’m going shopping tomorrow,” Fowl groaned, not looking in Batrire’s direction.

“Yes, we are… someone needs a few new pairs of clothes. The amount of alcohol they have been consuming in the last week has affected their waistline.”

Grumbling, Fowl picked up his tankard of ale and downed it without waiting. “Well, I’ll make sure to get my money's worth then.”

“What about you two?” Batrire asked as she winked at Tanila. “Any plans for tomorrow?”

“No,” the elf shot back, holding her chin high and refusing to get embarrassed. “We’ll stay here unless Seth decides he wants to leave the room and do something else.”

Fowl chuckled evilly and winked at Max, who ignored the warrior's attempt at being bad.

“So what we’re saying is if you don’t see us until dinner tomorrow night, don’t come looking for us.”

Batrire nodded at Tanila and smiled. “Good. You deserve it.”

“You four sure you want to go in there?”

Max nodded at the male guard outside the dragon dungeon. Yesterday had been an amazing day spent entirely with Tanila, but it was time for the next part of this.

“We are. Surely, you heard we attempted the other.”

The guard nodded and shrugged. “I’m just glad to hear you all made it out okay. It’s been ages since any of us have had someone come down here, and to be honest, knowing someone actually attempted it makes this guard duty worthwhile. I won’t tell you how one gets assigned, but know it’s not one most request for.”

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“I’d be bored outa my mind,” Fowl muttered, glancing around the tiny stone room with the glowing yellow portal. “All day?”

“Allllllll day,” the man replied. “Be safe, and I hope to see you all soon.”

After feeling Batrire’s buff, Max nodded and moved through the portal, weapon out.

Nothing attacked him as he came through the portal, and as his eyes adjusted to being able to see, he did a double take at what filled his vision.

“Do you all see that?” Max asked as he glanced behind him and then back ahead.

“I do, but I don’t believe that can be real,” Fowl replied. “Can it?”

Max looked at Tanila, who shook her head just as wide-eyed as Fowl was.

“Holy mother of Ockrim,” Batrire cursed, realizing what she had just said, and covered her mouth. “Forgive me.”

Twenty-five yards ahead of them was a blue portal; behind them was one that they assumed led to the adventurer hall they had come from. They stood inside a fifty-yard-wide circle with a peaceful blue sky and mountains that rose straight to the clouds. Green grass swayed gently in the wind that blew across the area.

“Can this be a trap? I mean…” Max slowly began to move forward, his weapon out, and he took small steps as he moved.

“Is it safe?” Fowl asked, moving closer to their healer and mage, shield and hammer out and ready to use his taunt if something happened.

“Shhh, let me see.”

After a few moments of moving across the area, Max found himself just a few feet away, staring at the portal. Nothing about it looked off, and no creatures appeared in his sonar range.

“I think it’s safe,” he shouted. “I’m not sure why, but this has to be the second-floor portal.”

“Unless the one behind us leads to the second floor!” Fowl shouted back.

Groaning, Max frowned, knowing Fowl might be right. He didn’t know how portals were placed, but every time they had come in before, the portal to leave had always been behind them.

Could someone be doing this to kick us out of the dungeon? Who gets to choose how this all is laid out?”

No response came to his own thought and slight hope for an answer.

“I guess we have to just trust how it has always been,” Max yelled. “Everyone comes here, and I’ll go first again.”

“And if you’re wrong?” Fowl asked as they began to move.

“Then we blame me for picking wrong.”

“Works for me,” Fowl said, trying to lighten the mood a little.

Tanila glanced back at the portal they were walking away from, frowning as she approached where Max awaited them.

“Are you sure?” she asked, constantly looking between the two. “What if…”

“Then I’m wrong, and we miss out, but we could spend days trying to guess which one to take,” Max answered. “Ultimately, we have to choose one, and I’d rather go with my gut.”

“And your gut tells you to take this one?” Fowl asked.

“It does.”

Batrire pointed at the portal with her staff. “Then go, warriors first. If you say you feel it’s this one, I’ll trust your gut, too.”

Max nodded and took a deep breath. “Here goes nothing.”

“Wait, what–”

Max heard Fowl start to protest as he touched the portal and felt himself shifting. No guard or anything else appeared in his Sonar area, and he blinked his eyes quickly, trying to speed up the few seconds he had been unable to see anything.

When his eyes worked again, Max groaned. “Mother of elf tits…”

He stepped forward, sensing his other three friends appearing behind him.

“Are we… holy elf tits! Another one!” Fowl exclaimed.

The dungeon floor matched the first one exactly. Nothing looked different, from the color and size of the mountains to the green grass that continued to move in the wind that gently blew over them.

“What is this?” Batrire asked. “Some kind of trick or trap?”

Tanila shook her head and then let out a gulp.

“Do you know?” Max asked, sensing the difference in her heart rate and her reaction.

“No… but I wonder…” she shook her head and stopped talking. She looked again over her shoulder before turning back to face the one further away from them. “Let’s go take that one.”

Max studied Tanila’s face. It was steady and poised, reminding him of when she faced down the demon in the other dungeon.

“Alright. Let’s go.”

Fowl started to protest, but as the other three moved across the grass, he grunted and walked faster, trying to catch up.

“This is crazy,” he muttered as he reached Batrire’s side.

“Yes, but when has anything ever been normal for us?”

Unable to answer that question, Fowl said nothing, watching as Max reached the portal and turned. “Give me two seconds, and then come.”

He turned, not waiting for a response.

The first thing to hit him was the smell. Nothing showed up around him, but there was a smell of death in the air.

As his eyes adjusted and his friends appeared behind him, Max gazed ahead and saw twenty-five yards ahead of him, a dragon so large he had to crane his head up almost all the way to see its head.

“Holy elf tits! A dragon!” Fowl shouted, adjusting his hammer and shield.

Max didn’t say anything, instead taking in the beast before him. The golden dragon had to be almost one hundred feet tall, and its body was wide and long. Massive scales shined as it shifted slightly in the soft sun in the sky. Massive horns flanked both sides of its head, and spikes dotted the back of its neck all the way to the base of its back. Wings that looked large enough to cover a few city blocks were resting against its massive body, and talons and claws bigger than him barely dug into the rocky floor it rested on.

Two silver eyes stared at them, the head shifting slightly from side to side. Teeth that looked like they could bite a mountain in half without effort were visible as the dragon smiled at them.

“Welcome to my domain… it appears you four are the ones causing problems for the demons.”

Max’s head moved back in shock as the dragon spoke, words not filling his ears but instead his head.

“I can hear it in mah head!” Fowl exclaimed, banging his hammer softly against his helm.

“Quiet, you fool,” Batrire growled, thumping Fowl on the helm with her staff.

“I’m sorry,” Max said, doing his best to regain his composure. Though his heart was pounding fast enough that he wasn’t certain it might not explode inside his chest, he asked, “How do you know about what we did to the demons?”

A thrumming noise filled the air as the dragon’s sides shook.

“Word travels fast in the other realms, even when one wishes it did not. I wondered if you four would venture into my domain, knowing that you most likely would after such a victory. Tell me, did that demon try to cheat you in the end?”

“He did,” Max answered. “The gem was trapped.”

It was hard to believe that the dragon was frowning and growling slightly, and a whiff of smoke came from both nostrils.

“That is unpleasant to hear… he will not like that news to be shared, but I am grateful you have. Come, join me where you can sit, and we can talk before the trial. It has been eons since one has graced my domain.”

The dragon turned, as nimble as a cat. The weight of its body and claws did not make a single indention in the stone as it moved toward a spot behind where it had been.

As it moved, the four of them saw four small stone thrones.

“Uh… do we go sit down?” Fowl asked, glancing back at the portal behind them.

“We do,” Tanila quickly replied.

Max studied her face, seeing how she looked enthralled.

Moving as one, they followed the dragon, unsure of what was about to take place.

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