1093 Chapter 1204 - Crusade Final

It was strange to be able to smell death. It seemed like the sort of thing that shouldn't have a smell. Sure, things like decay and rot, they had a distinct scent, an extremely potent one, but those were distinct from death itself. A function of death, in a way. When a person died in front of you, or around you, there wasn't a discernible odour, as far as Jern could tell. It wasn't like the soul leaving the body was something his nose could detect.

Yet, as he stood on the precipice of the second stratum of the Dungeon, he could smell death.

He didn't like it.

"It's so cold," Alis shivered as she stood by his side, looking down into the slowly stirring darkness.

"It's going to be colder once we get down there," he said.

"I don't want to think about it. At least it's supposed to get warmer once we reach the third."

From what he'd heard, Jern wasn't confident she would enjoy that heat much more than the cold. He'd conversed with a few ants from the next two layers, and it seemed to him that neither were all that hospitable. Only when they reached the fourth would they find a climate they would consider suitaboe for life.

"I never thought I'd be standing here," he noted aloud.

Alis looked at him, and then back down the sharply sloped tunnel. The border between the first and second lay before them, a sharp border in the Dungeon. To both of them, it looked like a cloud of ink that revolved almost imperceptibly, a dark pond he could toss a stone into. After a moment, he shrugged, picked up a small shard of rock and lobbed it forward, gently, just a couple of metres.

As it fell into the 'pond', the flat surface didn't ripple, it wasn't disturbed in any way, and the sound of the rock hitting the tunnel floor reached him a second later, muffled.

"What did you do that for?" Alis asked.

"I was curious," Jern defended himself.

"And what if some nasty shadow beast lunges up out of there and rips your head off?" she scolded him. "You've got to be more careful!"

Jern idly considered telling her he was much better at killing monsters than she was, but decided against it at the last minute. Alis didn't particularly enjoy being reminded of that.

"We should probably head back," he told her. "Beyn told us we shouldn't be out here too long."

"Good idea."

The camp wasn't far away, constructed in a large cavern formed from the intersection of multiple tunnels. A common phenomenon, he was told. Passages between strata were much rarer than regular tunnels, so there was often a convergence when one was around.

Walls formed of hardened stone were patrolled by armed pilgrims, hundreds of them at a time, and the ants swept the surrounding Dungeon on a never ending cycle. Even so, the effects of the wave were impossible to ignore. Monsters would burst out of the ground inside the camp at all hours; one even emerged from just under the wall, collapsing a wide stretch as it forced itself free.

Still, the pilgrims banded together and fought them off as best they could. It was probably a good thing they'd been doing so much fighting recently. Pretty much everyone was getting used to swinging some sort of weapon around.

Even the old ladies.

Jern and Alis waved to the guards, who let them in without fuss, then made their way towards the back of the camp, where it butted against the cavern wall. They found Beyn not far away, talking with a large group by a crackling fire.

"We must remain here for at least a week," Beyn insisted. "Your devotion is to your credit, Sister Myra, but I will not have members of this pilgrimage lost unnecessarily."

"Won't the Great One protect us from the Dungeon Sickness?" the grey haired woman demanded. "Everyone is certain our lack of symptoms can be attributed to the protection of the holy carapace."

"The Great One has stretched forth their mandibles to shield us from much harm, of that I have no doubt," Beyn agreed, "but for other trials, we are expected to carry the burdens ourselves. The mana thickens precipitously as we descend, and were we to advance to the Shadow Sea without tempering ourselves, then many of us would falter. It takes time, time we can use to reflect and meditate on our profound journey."

Myra didn't look like she much agreed with him until his final words. Perhaps she liked the idea of reflection and meditation since it sounded holy enough for her liking. She thanked the priest for his time and moved away, much of the crowd going with her.

The two young pilgrims approached and Beyn smiled at them.

"Ah, Alis and Jern, how fare you today?"

"Fine, father," Alis gushed. "We were just outside the camp looking at the tunnel down. Are we really going to have to wait a week before we can descend?"

The priest looked grave and nodded.

"Yes, I'm afraid we must. Even more may be necessary, though I hope that isn't the case. The devotion of these people burns strong, and I would hate to force them to delay on their holy journey. Dungeon sickness is a very real and truly dangerous concern. There are many in the camp who have been suffering silently. Were it not for the aid of our ant sisters, then I'm afraid hundreds, maybe more, would have fallen already."

He looked to his right, where the ants had dug out a large space from the cavern wall and created a low-mana zone within. All of them had been expected to spend time inside, slowly letting the mana in their bodies out, then stepping back outside. By filling and emptying themselves of mana, they would gradually adapt.

"You and I are probably due to go back in, Alis," Jern told her.

She huffed at him and then tried to cover it with a cough, not wanting to appear difficult in front of the priest. Then he remembered something.

"Oh, Beyn," he said, "I need to advance my Class and I thought I should do it today. I was hoping you could advise me?"

The one armed man smiled and brushed at his robe.

"Why of course, I would be delighted to. That has long been my calling, after all."

"C-can I get your advice as well then, Priest Beyn?" Alis squeaked.

"You need not ask. My knowledge is always available to my brothers and sisters in the faith. Please, tell me of your builds so far."

There wasn't much to tell, Jern was still, at this point, a simple Labourer, and Alis had been a Mage Apprentice, the most basic of the introductory mage classes.

The priest nodded thoughtfully as if this was all deep and interesting information.

"And what sort of Classes do you have available for the change?" he said.

Jern had some interesting choices, probably based on the more militaristic Skill levels he'd been gaining. Things like 'Soldier', 'Bruiser', 'Axe Wielder'.

"Oh, there's something weird here," he said. "What's a… 'Templar of the Great One Initiate'? I don't think I've heard of that one."

"Oh," Alis said, "I have that too. Have you… heard of… that? Beyn?"

The priest's eyes were bulging from his head and Jern thought he might be starting to froth at the mouth.

"A MIRACLE!" he roared. 


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