My dagger sunk deep into the forehead of the minotaur… so deep I would have been worried about retrieving it even with Return Weapon. Fortunately, as a dungeon monster it would disappear after it died. The first day back in the dungeon we had just done a short exploration to get used to fighting minotaurs again. Most of the time, though, we didn’t really fight them. We just killed them. My adamantine dagger could sink hilt deep- or deeper, since it actually had no hilt to stop it- into their skulls, even through a helmet. That would kill them, and they weren’t really adept at dodging. Kasner could just make the floor a sheet of ice and when they inevitably tripped they were an easy target for Alhorn to stab. Socks was strong enough to knock them down and tear out their throat on her own… and Halette could consistently hit them in the eye, piercing into their brains. Not as consistently as if they had too many eyes, but most of the time. Kantrilla’s barriers were strong enough to stop- or at least deflect- a strong swing with one of their axes or an attack with their horns. That meant we were relatively safe.
Alhorn and I still fought them with our weapons and shields some, because we couldn’t always kill them quickly. We also let some by- in a controlled way- so that Kasner and Halette could get used to dodging their attacks. Kantrilla also fought them… and while she wasn’t quite able to take one down on her own, that was why we were a team. While I technically was able to use healing or light or offensive magic and find traps, practically my skills in those areas were of no use compared to those specialized in them.
As we moved through the dungeon we continued to efficiently take down our opponents. That was one benefit of winning quickly- even if Kantrilla had to use a barrier to stop someone from taking a hit or Kasner covered the floor in ice, everyone else would use minimal amounts of mana and stamina. That let us fight more battles before we got tired… and that made us safer in case we ran into unexpectedly hard fight. After a few days, I finally… leveled down again. -18. It was time to go see Sage Norwood again.
“Hmm,” Sage Norwood looked me over, “I certainly don’t see traces of anything. You look normal now. This may or may not be a turning point. The good news is we’ve done most of the experiments I could think of.”
Throughout the last year, we’d been working together on some things. It was hard to be entirely sure, but it seemed that I was learning various skills more quickly than most people… though only the basic proficiency. Getting to higher ranks was hard, and that made sense because classes helped with that. They just also made learning some other skills more difficult. My attribute growth- outside of Strength- was about normal. It didn’t seem to care about level… or at least, it wasn’t significantly different from the trainees we had who were mostly levels 3-5 except a few who had previously failed to succeed as adventurers.
We could also compare my speed of learning new skills to them, and I was faster. There could have been a couple of reasons. First was level, but there was also the fact that I already knew many skills… and how to learn them. There wasn’t much way to compare that, but as I leveled back up… if my levels started going back up… we would be seeing if I could learn a few new skills more quickly or at approximately the same speed.
Back in the dungeon… it barely felt like a dungeon at all. At least, it wasn’t dark and oppressive. Instead, it was light and oppressive. It was like being inside under fluorescent lights for a long time- though it was a different sort of light, my body and mind knew it wasn’t sunlight. We now brought Carlos with us, and while some might have said it was risky to bring a mule with us… that wasn’t the whole picture. After all, he was a mule trained by Halette. He wasn’t nearly as strong as Socks- though he could carry a burden better- but he was still capable of protecting himself well enough. He could run around in battle and dodge attacks, or kick if necessary. He could also find his way to us by scent in case we got separated. Carlos was a significant factor in extending our adventuring… because we got a lot of axes and random bits of armor to carry. It was Carlos’ job to carry it all, instead of us having to carry a bundle that we dropped when combat started. That just let us be more prepared in case of anything weird… but Halette and Socks were on top of that anyway.
“Llyr, to your left!” Halette shouted.
I turned to my left, even though I knew it was a wall… and it was, until the wall slid down and a minotaur leaped out. However, I was already stepping in towards him and parried his axe with my shield, swinging my mace into his leg. Hitting him in the chest wouldn’t do much good- even if I broke a handful of ribs he wouldn’t slow much- and I certainly couldn’t reach his head. Thus, the leg brought him down… because no matter how much they wanted to, they couldn’t stand on a leg that wasn’t structurally sound and was bent at least a full ninety degrees to the side. Then I stepped in to smash in his head. I was glad that the parts from dungeon monsters faded away quickly. “Thanks,” I nodded to Halette. Lately, there had been more hidden doors and such. Halette and Socks were getting very good at spotting them… Socks could smell them, and I could almost swear Halette was smelling them too. At least, I couldn’t see them unless I was given a good solid minute to look for the seams. That sort of sense let me, and the rest of the party, be confident that we could beat a minotaur boss. We’d technically done it before, but now it was a matter of knowing we could do it safely… injuries were likely, but serious injuries could be avoided. Fighting a minotaur boss would be the proof of our growth, even if our levels hadn’t changed that much… though the rest of the party was level 20 now, and I was… level -17. Things were starting to look up. I’d been worried I would never recover- though honestly my Strength growth had been keeping up just fine.