Three and a half years passed since Marcia returned to Cigand, and she now was preparing to leave, again. She packed two changes of clothes and a winter cloak in a large, wooden case, then went to the second floor of her family’s mansion to have breakfast.
Inside his new room on the third floor of the mansion, Ethan packed two changes of clothes and a winter cloak into his own wooden case. He also had a small bundle of letters that needed to be sent to Kacs, which he’d drop off at the Army HQ for them to deliver.
The letters took a long time to write and summarized everything Ethan had done since leaving Pacin, minus the assassins who almost killed him and the specific details of the Isten Group.
Ethan, too, ate breakfast on the second floor of the mansion and left with Marcia to the Army HQ. There, he loaded his and Marcia’s luggage onto the back of a covered wagon and gave his bundle of letters to a courier inside the building. Once he finished inside, Ethan returned to the wagons and waited for the rest of the Isten Group to arrive.
The Isten Group’s four-year deadline for deployment was growing near, and Roland had a way to test if everyone was ready for the invasion into Elulria. They’d be leaving Cigand for a while, and maybe not even coming back until their mission in Elulria concluded.
The next person to arrive at the wagons was Raine, one of Roland’s later recruits. She had the same luggage as Ethan and Marcia, but also had a case filled with seeds, which she could grow with her chantless Biomancy.
Brent and Leith, two more of Roland’s recruits, arrived slightly later. Neither had any special luggage with them, and they placed their cases with Ethan’s, Marcia’s, and Raine’s.
Henry’s group members arrived last and put their luggage into Henry’s wagon. Ethan didn’t have much interaction with the four sisters or Grayson since he arrived in Cigand, except for during their training, and he learned what made him feel uneasy around Minerva: she was a strong Photomancer.
Until meeting Minerva, Ethan had never met a strong Photomancer. Apparently, Ethan could feel Minerva attracting the elemental spirits in the air, which felt strange because they normally flocked to him. However, even though her compatibility with the efficiency exceeded Professor Causey’s, she couldn’t use chantless Photomancy.
Once everyone arrived and had their luggage loaded onto the wagon they were riding, Roland and Henry took the reins and drove the wagons out of the city. Roland led the group east, then turned north.
Beyond Cigand, most of the land within a day’s travel was clear of monsters. Two days out, there were very few monsters. All the way until the Cardy River, Roland didn’t need any reinforcements to help take care of whatever monsters cross his path.
Villages were very infrequent north of Cigand, and completely nonexistent north of the Cardy River. The river acted as a natural barrier against most monsters, and populations jumped after crossing it. In addition, they traveled in the winter, when many monsters were inactive.
With twelve magicians in their convoy, each being capable of defending themselves from whatever monsters attacked them, the group suffered no injuries or close-calls while traveling north.
Past the Cardy River, grasslands and forest turned to deserts and wastelands. In the desert, golem monsters patrolled the sandy dunes and abruptly emerged from the sand. In the wastelands, the monsters grew bulky and had strong exoskeletons. Even Roland couldn’t kill them all with one strike from his Electromancy.
In the center of the wasteland, the group passed the ruins of a long-forgotten civilization, the Chambers of Baleful Worms. The ruins consisted of many destroyed buildings which laid home to several monsters and a single dungeon. The dungeon had weaker monsters than those who called the ruins their home and made a great place to restock on supplies.
After gathering meat and Electromancy power crystals from the dungeon, the group continued north. It took several more days of traveling through the wasteland to reach their final destination: the Fortress of the Wyrm Baron.
As they got closer to the massive fortress, Roland told the story of the Empire of Furious Dragons. Henry knew the tale, but he regarded it as fiction rather than the history of the kingdom he lived in.
Long before the kingdom of Flavoria or Elulria was founded, the Empire of Furious Dragons controlled nearly the entire planet. Only two small areas were able to protect themselves from the empire’s invading armies, and both still function in the current political landscape, but in different forms.
The Empire of Furious Dragons stood for thousands of years, but it finally collapsed due to the overwhelming number of humans who opposed them. The dragon race, which made up the majority of the population of the Empire of Furious Dragons, were much stronger than humans, and humans didn’t have access to the same magic they had in the current age.
A dragon could enter a fight with a thousand humans and come out the victor ten times out of ten. With the advent of magic, humans gained a small edge against the dragons, but older dragons often had cetium in their scales, making them immune to magical attacks.
Gradually, over the course of thousands of years, the humans whittled down the number of dragons until only five of their cetium-scaled leaders remained. The land under the control of the Empire of Furious Dragons was reduced to a single keep, the Fortress of the Wyrm Baron.
The story of the Empire of Furious Dragons wasn’t told for entertainment purposes, but to prepare the group for their task. Roland’s judgment of the group members would depend on how well they faired inside the dungeon at the Fortress of the Wyrm Baron - the Empire of Furious Dragons Dungeon.
Just like the Chambers of Baleful Worms, the Fortress of the Wyrm Baron was in a sorry state, but a Dungeon Actuator located inside what used to be a throne room had its own little shed built around it, protecting it from the elements of the wasteland.
Before they entered the dungeon, Roland and Henry made camp inside the ruined fortress and told the rest of the group to explore the ruins. Ethan walked with the rest of the group around the fortress, but he had little faith in being able to learn anything from the broken walls and crumbled towers.
The group rested for the night and, in the morning, they took turns going into the dungeon. Roland and Henry went as supervisors, since both of them had completed the dungeon in the past. They ordered the group based on who was most likely to succeed without any help, which put Ethan first, and the three of them joined hands and touched the Dungeon Actuator.
The fortress and Ethan knew it disappeared, and he found himself, Roland, and Henry standing a mile away from the ruins they entered the previous day. However, those ruins were now back to their original state, pristine, and nearly overflowing with dragon-like warriors.
The once barren wasteland transformed into a scene straight out of hell, and thousands of human bodies covered the distance between where Ethan stood and the fortress. Thousands of mutilated corpses were scattered across the field, and a thin stream of blood flowed around Ethan’s shoes.
“This is the final fight against the Wyrm Baron,” Roland ducked behind Ethan and spoke. “The only escape is through a Dungeon Actuator on the baron’s throne, inside the fortress. You’ll have to defeat his forces, his four generals, and then the baron himself to reach the Dungeon Actuator.”
“Seems easy enough,” Ethan said. He then calculated how much mana he had, how long he could use his lasers for, and how well his passive would work.
Unfortunately, the time in the dungeon was set at dusk and never changed. No matter how long Ethan waited, it would always be dusk out, and his Solar Flare ability would be impossible to use. But that didn’t mean his telescope ability wouldn’t work, and Ethan used it to get a view of the inside of the fortress.
The fortress walls had hundreds of soldiers standing on them and hundreds more standing behind them. More than a thousand dragon-people stood inside the fortress, and barely a hundred of them had blood on their clothes. The humans who attacked the fortress were decimated by only a small fraction of the fortress’ total forces.
After getting a good count of the soldiers outside the fortress, Ethan navigated his telescope through a window at the front of the keep and obtained a good view of the throne room. Four giant dragons stood in front of the throne, and one smaller, humanoid dragon, sat on the throne. He wore a gray crown and frowned with literal fire coming out of his eyes. Besides the four generals, there were also several hundred soldiers on upper balconies, overlooking the throne room.
Ethan ended his telescope and watched the fortress with his own eyes. He had a little more than 200 days worth of mana to fuel his lasers, which converted to three and a half hours of use for his platinum light phase laser, or about 70 hours of use for his red light phase laser.
He started his assault with two platinum light phase lasers, set to a 2-inch diameter, and swept them across the top of the fortress’ walls. At twenty million watts each, the lasers blasted the walls to smithereens and killed whatever soldiers were standing on them. Heavy stones fell from the now-broken walls, which crushed dozens of more soldiers in the ward.
They took a total of 3 seconds each to destroy the walls, which used about 3% of Ethan’s mana.
Shortly after the walls were destroyed, soldiers came running out of the fortress, holding their pikes and halberds high. Even though Ethan’s initial strike killed hundreds of the humanoid, dragon-skinned soldiers, hundreds more came rushing out.
Heedless of their numbers, Ethan made a third and fourth laser at the opening to the fortress, which cut down all who attempted to cross it. Ethan didn’t change the diameter of the lasers, and they took only a small percentage of his mana to maintain them.
The soldiers eventually realized what Ethan’s lights were doing, and they went for alternate routes out of the fortress. Ethan made his lasers follow the soldiers inside the ward and spread their beams out, annihilating everyone they connected with.
Ethan began walking toward the fortress, with Roland and Henry following behind him. Compared to when they went through the dungeon by themselves, Ethan was taking it much more casually and had killed hundreds of dragon-soldiers in a fraction of the time it took them.
As he got closer to the fortress, Ethan spotted more soldiers and wiped them out with individual lasers for each one of them. Once he was within a hundred feet from the entrance, Ethan drew his sword and wrapped it in light. He activated his passive ability around the blade, making his light move from the tip to the hilt. For several seconds, Ethan collected energy on his sword, turning it into a phaseblade with over a trillion joules of energy spread around it.
Against whatever stragglers Ethan encountered, the phaseblade sliced through them like already-melted butter.
The fortress keep’s doors were already opened when Ethan arrived, and he walked through them, against an insignificant opposition. Inside the throne room, Ethan immediately killed the soldiers on the balconies, leaving only the four generals and the Wyrm Baron alive, on the throne room floor.
“Agathon, kill him!” The Wyrm Baron shouted, and one of his heavily armored guards, who stood at nearly eight feet tall, approached Ethan while swinging a battleaxe.
“It’ll be my pleasure!” Agathon shouted, took two steps, and dashed toward Ethan.
Ethan dodged the battleaxe and slashed Agathon’s wrist with his sword. Upon making contact with Agathon’s armor, the metal melted, but the light on Ethan’s sword vanished. He knew the generals had cetium in their scaly skin, so it was expected and didn’t hinder Ethan’s movements.
Ethan’s sword hit thick armor when he attacked, and Agathon swung his battleaxe again. Ethan dodged the second strike and blasted Agathon’s face with a high-intensity light. Agathon faltered, temporarily blinded, which allowed Ethan to run underneath him and stick his sword through the mouth slits in Agathon’s armor.
The first general fell, dead, and a second one came to take his place. The next one also stood at eight feet, but he held a shield and a spear, and approached Ethan while jutting his spear forward.
Ethan stared down the spear and shot a laser at it, melting the head and incinerating the pole. This left the general with just his shield, which Ethan melted a second later. With a few quick jumps, Ethan blinded the second general and stabbed him in the face, killing him even faster than the first general.
Two generals were killed, and two remained. “Sosigenes, Leonidas, both of you!” The Wyrm Baron angrily shouted, the fire in his eyes growing larger, and the two generals jumped forward at the same time.
One held a giant mace and mashed it against the ground where Ethan stood, who jumped up and shot a wide-angle laser through an eye-slot in the general’s helmet. The last general, carrying a giant bastard sword, had an extra second to contemplate his life’s choices before Ethan shot a laser through his helmet.
“Human, you don’t know-” The Wyrm Baron spoke, but that was all he could get out before Ethan summoned a ball of light inside his mouth and powered it to Maximum Overdrive.
The Wyrm Baron’s flesh melted from the inside, and he quickly collapsed on his throne, with his brain turned into smoke.
Roland and Henry could barely believe it; but, if anyone was to do it, it would be Ethan. The boy, now a young man, had cleared the Fortress of the Wyrm Baron dungeon in less than an hour.
The bodies of the four generals disappeared, leaving behind cetium scales. When the Wyrm Baron’s body evaporated out of existence, he left behind his crown, a cloak, and an amulet.
“Didn’t even break a sweat,” Ethan wiped his sword off on a handkerchief and put it back in its sheath.
While his statement wasn’t exactly true, Ethan had much less sweat than Roland or Henry could have made it out of the dungeon with. It would have taken Roland or Henry hours to whittle down the stamina of the generals and break their armor, eventually leaving a gap large enough for them to blast a spell at. For Ethan, however, he only needed a sliver of an opening to make use of his lasers.
They took the loot and exited the dungeon by the Dungeon Actuator behind the throne. In an instant, the pristine replica of the throne room gave way to a ruined reality, stained brown and covered in thick dust.
“Alright, you’re next,” Of course, whoever entered the dungeon, none of them did it better than Ethan, the Light Knight.