We walked through the wastelands for a few more hours, oftentimes crossing paths with adventurers and other warrior groups. Thankfully, none of those encounters escalated any further than a few distant laughs and mocking grins.
The terrain kept getting harsher, with crevasses and sinkholes becoming bigger and more common. The way the wind howled through them left little to no doubts that there was a network of tunnels once dug by a now dried up underground river.
Sad to think that at one point water coursed through this whole desert.
From the bleak scenery finally appeared an old village situated at the base of a massive plateau that rose straight out of the ground and dwarfed the surrounding landscape. One look at the giant unmoving trees that covered its surface and I knew that we had reached our destination.
“We’ll take a break in that town,” Lima told me as she chewed on one of the pastries I had given her. She added after a moment of consideration, “It’s also a dungeon, but one of the empty ones. No need to worry, it’s safe.”
“There are empty dungeons?” I asked, mildly surprised.
Unlike most of the hunters, the journey had been mostly effortless to me. It probably had a lot to do with the strange properties of my clothes and the fact that I didn’t have to physically carry any equipment.
Next to all these armed and armored hunters sweating bullets, it almost looked like I was just taking a pleasure stroll.
“Many,” answered the green girl. “Well, by ‘empty’ I mean that they don’t spawn creatures trying to kill us. I heard it has to do with how they are formed, they ran out of gas and stayed incomplete. This one is a particularity though, it usually doesn’t take too long before someone clears them. People wouldn’t really mind since it’s useless. Well, except for furniture, maybe.”
“Is there a reason why no one has cleared it yet?” I asked as I dismissed one of the water jugs I had in my inventory.
“It’s because no one has figured out a way to do it yet,” she said, before shrugging. “People even tried to raze the whole town. After all this time, I’d bet that there just isn’t any.”
So basically, an abandoned town with buildings that will never fall.
The buildings’ architecture certainly suggested that they had been build in a vastly different era. The pretty little white houses with blue tiled roofs and chimneys weren’t made for a dry climate and violently contrasted against the red stone they stood on.
You have entered Iwin Town
“Man, it feels so good in here,” I heard someone from the party say.
“Yeah, that’s the only good thing about this place. Probably why people leave it alone.”
The temperature in Iwin Town seemed to be noticeably lower than on the outside, and that change was welcomed by the hunters who had been sweating heavy bullets for a while now.
I can’t even tell.
“How come no one uses horses?” I asked Lima. “Or anything that can pull a cart?”
She chuckled, “Horses? What do you think we are, nobles?”
“You know what I mean. It seems that everyone walks to get anywhere.”
Except for Genoneva’s men, I thought. They use people fueled trucks for that.
“Probably because they are expensive to keep alive? It’s not like we need to go anywhere really far, anyway. I know there’s a merchant in Bunker who has liondeers, but he’s an eccentric. Most people would eat them and save the coins.”
While I was curious of what a “liondeer” was supposed to look like, I dismissed the line of thought.
What did I expect, this is all they have ever known.
“Aren’t there useful animals in any of the shard’s dungeons?”
“Of course there are! Haven’t you seen the bolevals?” she laughed. “Such a dorky name… Oh, but you need to know that not every dungeon allows its creatures to survive the separation… otherwise, the shard would be filled with pet monsters.”
Oh right, I thought as I was reminded that she wasn’t aware that her friend Boleval had recently acquired a class. Everybody in the temple must know by now.
I decided to keep the surprise. She will need to stay focused for the day.
We followed a wide paved road that went from one end of the cozy town to the next, and I tried to see past the fact that it was a dungeon. It was a simple village that probably had harbored people who lived a simple life, and there was a charming quality to it. But since my very first step in the shadow of these houses, something had felt wrong, and it was getting harder to ignore it.
Then again, it was nothing more than a feeling that I couldn’t put into words. For now.
Maybe it’s because it’s a ghost town, like the Sunken City. The silence seems unnatural.
It was entirely possible that I was simply bad with ghost towns… but the fact that my worries about the Sunken City had ended up being warranted wasn’t helping my current discomfort.
“We’ll take a short break here,” Khat said once we reached a seemingly unending series of stairs carved into the side of plateau. “Ready yourself for what’s coming,” the senior hunter added.
Clearly a man of few words.
Heavy sighs were heard here and there and the party broke into smaller groups, though the tension didn’t leave the hunters’ eyes. No one had pointed it out, but they were aware that this would be their last chance to bail out.
“No one would blame you for not going up there with us,” I heard Lima say as she stood next to me. “You could just wait for us to come back.”
I raised a brow.
“Really? You think I’m going to walk all this way for nothing?”
She shrugged, “You’ve been silent for a minute, I thought that you were just realizing how serious this is.”
That was because of something else.
“What about them?” I said with a nod toward her friends. “How come you’re not trying to convince them to leave?”
“It’s not the same,” she said. “They are… work friends. And you’re like the new brother that has me worried sick.”
She punctuated her point with a light push. I would have patted her head if she didn’t happen to be much taller than me.
“You’ve been a brat for too long to try to act responsibly now,” I said with a smile.
She laughed, but I could see that she was nervous. Some of it was probably due to her own fears of what was in the garden.
“Is there anything I need to be mindful of?” I asked. “Beside the flesh-starved monsters, of course.
“I wouldn’t even say that they are flesh starved… As hunters we have bonuses when fighting anything not humanoid, but there aren’t any regular beasts in there,” she said. “Just stay close to me. Once we step in, we won’t be able to go back until the first named creature is slain, and it’s easy to lose the path.”
Named creature… like Dylarel.
“And what happens if you lose the path?”
Her expression darkened.
“You will be lead directly to the center of the forest no matter which direction you walk in,” she said. “No one makes it back from there.
“I see,” I said as I watched with some worry a band of young hunters break into one house in search of beds to rest on.
I felt pressure on my shoulder and looked back at Lima. She seemed worried too.
“I need to see the others,” she said. “I know you’re a delver, Deadeye and all that, but… please don’t die.”
“Please don’t call me that,” I said. “And same to you.”
I watched her leave, saw that Maru and her partner were keeping to themselves and not bothering anyone, and figured this was the ideal moment to take my rifle for a test run.
I went to a nearby deserted alley with a fairly long line of sight and brought out the weapon after reading its description.
Modular Hextech Patchwork Rifle
A weapon born of a heavily modified antique dwarven hunting rifle and the madness of an unnamed human hextech weaver. Has elements of twelve different machines of various origins.
.50 Armor piercing rounds
While incomplete, it was interesting to note that this was information that even Tamie didn’t have, and I was curious about its origin. Was it just another ability of the inventory or did it come from my class?
Probably the latter, considering there was no information anywhere about the abilities of my clothes, but there was no way to be sure. So instead of pondering questions I simply had no way to answer yet, I opted to give a closer look to the weapon.
Not only was the mana chamber already loaded, but my current maximum mana capacity was at 1100 thanks to the 110 points in my Intelligence attribute, and managing it shouldn’t be too hard since my Wisdom would fill it up in time. I wasn’t particularly worried about running out of ammo.
Gotta admit, it almost feels like there’s nothing in my hands, I thought with interest as I weighed it down.
Seeing how it was literally custom made, it was a shame that I hadn’t had the presence of mind to tell Tamie to make it left handed. But it didn’t really matter.
Shooting with my left hand while my corresponding eye was covered wouldn’t be comfortable, and I had learned to shoot with right-handed firearms after all.
They really were the only choice available back when I had to learn how to use them.
Remembering what Tamie had said about the barrel being the most important part of the rifle, I pulled out its description.
Sun Barel Prototype
Accessory of a Patchwork Rifle made by a mad human hextech weaver.
Bullet cost increased to full mana chamber.
Caliber and Range increase with amound of mana present in the chamber.
Rounds are now hollow point bullets.
What is she planning to make… A hollow point bullet bigger than .50 caliber?
Now that was the type of ammo that one would use to hunt giant monsters. Hollow point bullets were projectiles supposed to not go through enemies, as they expanded inside the target to maximize the damage dealt. But if I shot something this big at anybody it would just tear their limbs right off.
In any case, testing it now wasn’t an option, as it would be a waste of a quarter of my mana.
I put my right knee down and used my shoulder and left hand as support. My vision was crisp, and my aim was perfectly steady.
After a moment of consideration, I summoned the beret Sarn had made for me, put it on, and got back in position.
I pulled the trigger and saw a perfectly spherical hole appear in the tile, without even breaking it otherwise. Almost out of thin air.
The recoil was negligible but the sound of the detonation itself was louder than I would have expected from a magic gun. Close range undercover operations were definitely out of question.
She did mention that it used some type of explosions… like any regular gun does.
Making sure to not alter my aim by even a millimeter, I pulled the trigger again. Then another time for good measure.
I lowered the weapon and let out a whistle of appreciation.
The target had vibrated each time, but my additional shots hadn’t caused any additional damage… Which meant that the two other bullets had traveled down the exact path as the first one. The same hole.
In a target half a kilometer away.
Can’t really take credit for that one, I told myself.
The fact that the rifle was able to replicate the same shot wasn’t that surprising. Considering it executed the same functions every time I pulled the trigger, it was identical to a computer executing the same program with unchanged variables.
No, what was impressive was the fact that my aim could be that close to perfectly still in a kneeling position.
… And I’m not even a sniper.
Breathing, pulse, nerves, technique, wind direction and strength, and even the rotation of the planet were variables that affected the result of every shot. Yet here I was, instinctually able to dismiss them thanks to my attributes, and some probable help from being a Dreadnova Enforcer.
And I had been here for a few days. What would I be in a month? In a year?
Maybe the gods ended the world because they became terrified of their own creation.