There was something strange about the equipment worn by the rock monsters we faced. Besides the very fact that they had it at all, of course. Much of it matched.
That wasn’t normal. Even in the goblin dungeon, the armor goblins wore barely even matched to a full set of armor on a single creature, let alone between them. Weapon styles varied greatly, with the most consistent detail being that they were cheap garbage, with the bows only being slightly more valuable than firewood and the iron only being good for scrap, being reforged into something else.
Here the armor matched, not just on an individual but between different monsters. While most of them didn’t have a full set to themselves, most helmets and breastplates and weapons were the same as each other. The same style and design, old and battered though they seemed. It was only when we arrived upon a shield that still had the remains of a crest upon it that we figured it out.
“That’s… the royal crest, isn’t it?” Halette asked. “The old one.”
Up until that point, we had been treating the dungeon exploration as a separate project from the excavation efforts. The dungeon happened to be in the city, and while it was related to the fall it wouldn’t tell us any more information than that. Except… it might. I looked at the shield carefully, “None of the other pieces we found buried were so well preserved…”
Kasner shook his head, “Why would they be? The conditions weren’t good. However, down here in the dungeon… the conditions were right. I wondered why the armor they had on was damaged already before we fought them. Sometimes monsters have low quality gear, but damaged?” Kasner laughed, “That shouldn’t be the case. Unless they got it that way.”
“Well damn…” Alhorn frowned, “Does that mean we have to do our best to get all this gear undamaged now, for the sake of archaeological preservation?”
“I don’t think we should risk anything,” Kantrilla commented, “But if there’s just one or two things, it shouldn’t be too hard.”
I nodded, “It’s not like I haven’t grappled enemies before. This time we just have to break some rocks instead of spirits. Should be easy.” That wasn’t just false bravado on my part. Breaking rocks was easy. Sure, I’d put a lot of work and training into my current ability to break rocks, but it was easy now. Even with my boost from All In and the hundred bonus points, the work still had been real. If I couldn’t at least shatter some rocks what would be the point?
The next fight we came across, Kasner started by exploding one of the rock monsters. Not one with equipment, obviously. Lightning was actually very happy to go towards rocks, and though it took more power that sort of balanced out with the ease of guiding it. Kasner was still very good at lightning, even if his ice and water abilities were better. Sadly, just because he could freeze water between the various chunks of these rock monsters and pop them apart didn’t mean it did any real damage. If the pieces were still whole, they just reformed… though not always quite perfectly.
One of the rock monsters held a sword, though it didn’t really have hands. Instead, the sword hilt was fused into one of the rocks near its hand. While I probably wouldn’t be too injured if I got hit, I was still very careful with how I used Martial Trance to avoid its attack and grab the arm. Since it would just move around its component pieces if I held on, things were a bit more tricky… but with the way the weapon was, I just had to crush the piece the handle was embedded in and kick the sword away. Then we finished destroying the enemy conventionally. It wasn’t likely the sword would have taken much damage in battle anyway- unless we let ourselves get hit- but for armor it would be a bit more difficult.
One evening after returning from the dungeon, I was asked to see Sage Norwood in the city. I found him at the command tent where he spent much of his time writing and logging details. There was a more permanent structure set up away from the city, but of course it was further from the action. Sage Norwood didn’t seem the sort for sleeping much, so I rarely saw him away from his work.
That evening he also had his nose buried in papers when I arrived. “You called me, sage?”
He looked up from his paper, “Ah yes, Llyr. I trust you are not too tired after the day’s work?”
I shook my head, “There was nothing particularly strenuous about today. We fought some rock monsters, retrieved some more equipment… not that much though. I had time to have dinner before I got your message.”
Sage Norwood nodded, “I wouldn’t expect too much more equipment. If it really did belong to the actual royal guard, the amount would be limited in total. I’m not yet sure why they would have been in the dungeon, and whether it was before or after the start of the disaster… Either way, that’s not why I called you here. You have enough strength left for some work today?” I nodded, “Excellent, your help can save some time setting up a pulley system in a room that has been uncovered recently.” Sage Norwood placed a stone paperweight on his stack of papers, then turned to his nearby assistant. “Zinnia, if you could look into section T? There are some details I haven’t nailed down there.”
“Of course, Sage Norwood,” She nodded and stood up, “Right away.”
“Well then,” Sage Norwood gestured out of the tent, “We should get going. That way you can get back to your wife sooner. I don’t plan to keep you out too late…”
“Over in the royal palace then?” I asked as we walked, “Something interesting?”
“That waits to be seen, doesn’t it? It likely also depends on what you find interesting.”
“I’ll admit that some parts of archaeology aren’t that exciting for me. Even with magic, there’s so much work… sometimes for very little payoff. I don’t know how anyone did it back on Earth. It wasn’t like they could use backhoes without breaking everything they wanted to keep intact.”
“I think you shall find that the answer is very similar to many things… it was done very carefully.” Sage Norwood smiled, “Even with magic, we have to be careful… it just allows us to do things in a different way.”
I nodded, “I understand.” We walked for a while, over unevenly dug out terrain. Since there wasn’t always anything interesting and the former cobble road hadn’t kept a consistent height, we’d just made sure what we ended up with wasn’t too hard to walk on from point to point, without jumps in elevation or unsteady stones. Sometimes just taking a dirt path was more effective than trying to fix the road. We took some stairs down, Sage Norwood guiding our way with light. These were the dungeons, and with them being underground there were many supports we had added to keep things stable. We passed by a number of small cells until we came to a larger room.
“In here, I believe,” Sage Norwood gestured, moving his light into the room.
It didn’t look like much. It hadn’t quite been divested of all its dirt, but there was a huge hunk of stone in the middle. “Should I just move it to one corner then? It looks like part of a wall, or maybe the ceiling.”
“Yes, I think that would do fine.”
I moved around the chunk, looking for the best way to pick it up. Just because I was strong didn’t mean I could just pick up a ton of rock without good form. Eventually I found a way my arms could fit around it well enough. I tipped it up onto one end, then used my legs to help lift it up off the ground. I couldn’t take big steps, but it wasn’t the weight that caused me to step awkwardly, just the size. I couldn’t lift it higher without scraping it against the ceiling, and it was in the way of my legs. I started shuffling towards the corner I’d indicated. It took me a moment to realize anything was wrong.
The first thing I noticed was the feeling of magic. Magic beyond the light spell Sage Norwood was using. Before I had time to react, he’d already tossed a ward around me, and I only just saw and felt the signs of magic activating on the ground below me. I managed to stumble forward and toss the chunk of rock in front of me as I passed out and hit the ground next to it, instead of dropping it on myself.
When I came back to consciousness, I saw magic fading from the floor and the doorway of the room. Sage Norwood was collapsed on the ground nearby. “Hey. Wake up.” I moved over to him and shook him.
“Morning already?” he asked.
“What? No. We collapsed because of a spell in this room. I don’t know what it-” I was going to say I didn’t know what it did, but I could kind of tell. The weight of my armor dragged on me a bit more. I couldn’t say how much exactly, but it wasn’t insignificant. Was gravity increased? No, that didn’t make sense. Instead, I checked my attribute window.
Of course, gravity hadn’t changed at all. It was merely that I was weaker. I frowned. One hundred bonus points missing from my Strength… and more than that. I turned to Sage Norwood, “What just happened? I lost… well, Strength.”
I could see he’d also warded himself, and he patted down his pockets- though I knew he was probably actually just looking at his status window. “I see. I do believe our Otherworlder bonuses are gone. How curious.”
I would have called having our attributes suddenly disappear more disturbing than curious… but I recognized that there was no need for panic. The magic seemed to have completely faded from the doorway and the floor. Either Sage Norwood had protected us from the last of the damage, or it was really only just our extra attribute points that were gone. Even so, I certainly wasn’t as calm inside as Sage Norwood looked. Attribute points being taken away was eerily similar to the tactics I’d seen before from people I really didn’t like… and I had some suspicions about who might have done it. I just wondered if Sage Norwood would agree now that something had happened.