25. Down the Squibble Hole

    “…and down the rabbit hole we go~.” Q slid into the hole inside the giant tree and ended up landing on a pile of leaves. She quickly moved out of the way as Kukis and Sunflower also came down. After dusting themselves off, the three of them looked around.

    They were directly underneath the giant tree and instead of the mess of roots and dirt they expected, they were in a wide open area. The roots from the tree hung overhead, stretching out above their heads in a dome-like shape, while the ground was covered in many runes. For a moment Q was going to jump backwards out of reflex, but due to her trap detection skill and newfound knowledge on runes, she realized that none of these were traps.

    “Looks like these are… more basic elemental runes. Fire, water, wind, earth… No light or dark. Did you find anything new Sunflower?”

    “No… oh wait, there’s one in the center.” Sunflower pointed towards the middle of the area which contained a rune that looked like four arrows curving towards a center. Sunflower’s eyes flashed as she used a skill, and a moment later said, “Oh, this rune means Gather!”

    “Nice. I can’t wait to find a use for this one.” Q’s eyes also flashed and soon enough she learned the new rune.

    “Hm, these runes seem kind of… loose?” While the other two were learning a new rune, Kukis kneeled down and grabbed one of the runes off the ground, and to everyone’s surprise it actually maintained its shape.

    “This is reminding me of that puzzle we did before. Time for a bit of brainstorming everyone.” Q assumed the thinker’s pose and absentmindedly stroked the Squibble in her arms.

    “Well if we can move the runes around that means they have to be in a certain position. With that symbol in the center it’s like the room is separated into four sections, and since we have four elements… You catch my drift?”

    Sunflower’s expression brightened and she ran about organizing the runes in Kukis’ suggestion. Q and Kukis also helped out, and in a minute they managed to organize the different runes into their corresponding elements. The moment they put the last rune in place, all of them began to glow simultaneously and were pulled towards the Gather rune in the center. The Gather rune then grew in both size and intensity until it became a bright light. Then it faded away, revealing a spiral staircase further down into the earth. 

    “I wonder who came up with these things. Besides the devs, that is.” Q cautiously scanned the inside of the stairwell, wary of any more rune traps. “This is like, elementary school level puzzles, but they still have worth when it comes to teaching you about runes and stuff.”

    “It’s probably some Rune Meister making trials for future generations.” Kukis shrugged. “Don’t forget that the previous place was more or less a tutorial or quest for the Rune Meister class.” 

    “True enough. Come on Sunflower, let’s keep [Analyze] on just in case we find anything new.” Q’s eyes flashed and a bunch of complicated symbols appeared around her iris. “Oh yeah, Cookie, can you pass me one of those acorns from before?”

    “What do you need them for?”

    “For feeding this little guy of course.” Q presented the Squibble she held.

    “…I completely forgot about it since you looked so natural holding it.” Kukis took out a regular acorn, which the Squibble immediately began nibbling at. “Do you think you can tame this little guy? Forums say that the Tamer class is tier three, which is still a long ways off.”

    “Nah, I’d never make these little guys fight.” Q hugged the Squibble tightly. “Besides, there’s always been pets in MMOs right? There’s no reason this little guy couldn’t be a companion. In fact, between the combination of this crown, my recently acquired Animal Handling skill, and my overall stunning good looks and irresistible charm, I think there’s a pretty good chance this guy would be totally up for joining me.”

    “You sure are full of yourself… But at the very least your words make sense. Try the golden acorn, it might have a better chance of converting it.” Kukis had offered another acorn, but it turned out to be unnecessary as after the Squibble had completely eaten the acorn, it looked up at Q and a new window appeared in front of her.

[Squibble] – Level 5, seems like it wants to join you. 

Do you accept? (Y/N)

    “Aww yiss! Welcome to the party Pomelo.” Q pressed on the ‘yes’ option without hesitation. The Squibble, now known as Pomelo, made a happy squeak.

Once Q named it a new section appeared on her status window indicating Pomelo’s new identity as her pet. “Let’s see here… Pomelo is a non-combatant so he’ll disappear during combat, and I have to feed and take care of him. Other than that, he comes with a passive that increases my herb gathering by five percent.”

“Herb gathering?” Kukis’ interest was piqued.

“I want one too!” Sunflower jumped in front of Q and put on a pleading expression. “Can you get one for me? Pleeeeease~?” 

“Sure! We can go look for that one you were holding before and see if it’s willing to join. Uh, after we finish this dungeon that is.” Q looked up and saw that the hole they entered from had already disappeared. 

With that out of the way they began their exploration in earnest, descending the spiral staircase all the while looking out for any traps. As expected, they found traps similar to the ones from the previous dungeon, except they looked slightly different. Q was going to Analyze it, but unexpectedly Kukis walked right in and allowed the trap to activate.

The first rune traps they found caused a projectile to fly at them, but these ones created an elemental explosion with a small area of effect – this particular one being fire. Kukis stood directly in the center of this explosion and appeared completely nonchalant as her body was swallowed in flames. For a moment Q and Sunflower panicked, but quickly calmed down as they saw Kukis emerge with barely a scratch.

“Sorry, I forgot to mention that one of my skills, [Tough Body], requires me to get hit a lot in order to train it. I figure I might as well improve it here while I have the chance.” A small smile appeared on her face as she felt a tinge of satisfaction from shocking the others. “Sunflower, can I get a heal if my health gets too low? I should be fine for now since my current health regeneration can still keep up.”

“Okay, but tell me next time you do that! I got scared!” Sunflower hadn’t experienced the previous rune dungeon, so she had absolutely no idea that there were traps here.

“Yeah, tell me next time too so I can Analyze it before you activate it.” Q appeared miffed that she lost her opportunity to learn a new rune.

“Gee, thanks for the concern.” Kukis rolled her eyes as she looked for another trap. “By the way you two, I never got the full details on how your class works. Mind explaining for me?”

“Sure. Boiling it down to the basics it’s not actually that complicated.” Q cleared her throat and began explaining. “So you know how we use runes to cast spells right? They’re practically the same as chanting for regular spells, just in written form. By using [Draw Rune] we prepare a rune and by injecting spirit into the rune it’s activated. Sunflower, why don’t you tell her about combining them?”

Sunflower, who was eager to show off her new knowledge, was more than happy to explain. “Using runes on their own is okay, but to make them better we combine them! There are two kinds of runes: Base runes and Sub-runes. Base runes are like the basic elements, and they make up the basis of the spell we’re trying to cast. We always put these in the center. Sub-runes are the extra parts we add on to make the spell do certain things. I can make a spell by using a Fire Rune as a base, and then add on the Strike sub-rune to make it shoot out a fireball! Or I could use a Barrier sub-rune to make a firewall! Hehe, that rhymed.”

“Nice one.” Q reached up and patted Sunflower’s head. “What’s interesting is that you can increase the strength of the rune, or change the effects by drawing it a certain way. Check it out.” She then pulled out one of the many round leaves she collected a long time ago. 

Her finger began glowing as she activated [Draw Rune] and she made a Fire rune in the center. Then she drew a Strike rune above the Fire rune and poured her spirit into it, activating them. A fireball was created and flew forward, hitting a wall and leaving behind a small scorch mark. “Pretty simple right? Now check out what happens if I press really hard while drawing.”

Q brought out another leaf and made the same set of runes, except this time she pressed down hard while making them which ended up creating thicker lines. She activated it, and a fireball flew forward like before, except this time it was much larger and more destructive, leaving behind a blackened wall. “It costs more spirit, but its effects are pretty good. But wait, there’s more!”

For the third time Q took out yet another leaf and drew the Fire rune in the center, except this time she surrounded it with eight Strike runes. When she activated the spell this time, instead of creating a single fireball it created eight smaller ones, all of which flew forward and struck the same spot. “The more runes you add, or the thicker you draw it makes it cost more spirit, but its power increases in exchange. The biggest weakness of this class is that we need to create runes on a flat surface, and have to prepare them beforehand… Not to say we can’t make them in the heat of battle, but it would be a pain.”

“Mmhm! We have to start carrying around books full of runes now, but we don’t have one yet. Instead we’re making do with these leaves.” Sunflower smiled. 

“Yup. I never expected books to be part of my equipment but hey, I’m into it.”

“My class is so basic in comparison. Most of it has to do with passive boosts or Arts…” Kukis lamented. 

“You’re fine. I’m sure you’ll be super strong later down the line. That aside, let’s get going yeah? These runes aren’t going to wait for us after all.” Q placed Pomelo on top of her head, who was able to somehow fit comfortably despite the crown being there. She then headed deeper into the dungeon, eager to find more runes.

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