This was the second time I was dumbstruck by the sheer utility of a spell. First, when it popped the slime into a steaming puddle. Now, when it stunned a giant reptile into near immobility.
Sure, the area of effect was less. I had cast petrificus on its belly from the side while Carol distracted it from the other side. And yet, the effect was quite dramatic. Slowly but surely, it closed its eyes and shrank its legs unto itself. Like saying goodnight to the world. Desperate efforts were made on the crocodile's part to get back into the safety of its shelter, but the three blade-masters had become quite ruthless by now. Not to mention the continuous onslaught of Julie's arrows. She missed less and less the closer she dared to come to the creature.
After 3 rapid doses of my freeze spell, the thing went rigid. Its skin was thick but that only lengthened the agony. Before long, we had taken down our first crocodile monster. This was also our first fight where Arya's help was unnecessary. I doubt we would've needed her help if we had lost against that one - we would've been crushed beyond repair.
Interestingly, the crocodile did not bleed either. At least not blood. While its wounds were dark nothings, its body turned into a watery splotch when it died. I asked Betty if all the monsters are the same. According to her, the monsters in the tutorial were specially created to be cannon fodder for the test subjects. The reason they did not bleed was so the subjects could get acclimated to killing. Very kind of our kidnappers to worry about our mental state. The monster counterparts in the 'outer world' were quite varied. And bled when struck. If a level 2 guy like me had encountered a crocodile, like this one in its natural habitat, that would be it for me.
I opened my Status Window to check my gains from the kill.
'Whoa, I got 32 XP for this piece of cake? 9 more crocs and I'm level 3 baby! Ah, I bet mine was the highest though, so others probably got less.'
Apparently, while I was correct, the difference in XP wasn't as big as I had imagined. Everyone received somewhere between 20 to 30 XP.
'Except Arya. I wonder how she will get to level 3 here without having to heal?'
I was looking at her as I thought that when she cast a heal upon herself. She must've noticed my questioning gaze, because she replied, "Ah, I don't have to heal actual wounds to get XP. If I just cast the spell, I get a little XP as well. It's much less, but it's something." If that is not a cheat power, I don't know what is. 'Wait, hey. Why can't I get XP when I cast my spells out of combat?' I asked her, "Do you get XP for Identify as well?" "No, just for Heal," she said with an apologizing tone. 'Of course, it is like that. Just you wait, system, I am gonna hack the shit out of you.' This unfair treatment lit a different fire in my heart. It burned just as bright as the one wanting me to get home. However, this one was different. It was the same one I always got when faced with a tough challenge.
'Speaking of, is there a role-based structure in this system as well? Gotta be, given how closely it resembles our world's technology. There must be root access as well.'
I decided to put the thought in the back of my mind for now. Everyone else had checked their attributes and stats as well. We decided to move on and explore the caves while our mana and stamina recovered. 'If this is how the fight against every crocodile goes, then this might just be the easiest level so far,' I mused.
¤ ¤ ¤
The greatest difficulty in this level was not the fight against a monster; it was actually spotting one. These damn things were hibernating or something because they were never out in the open. It had been over a day and we only found 4 more crocodiles. One was halfway into the ground as if enjoying a dirt bath. It was even worse since we couldn't just run around looking for them. One snatch and grab, and we're done for.
So we moved around cautiously. Myself, Carol and Julie in the front. Flanked just behind by the rest. I did not appreciate being in the front again but I had the ability to slow down the opponent, so I did not complain. Funnily enough, the road to the next level was always perceivable. The ruins were much worse. I wondered what would happen if the Imp hordes attacked us on this terrain. Whoever designed this tutorial was being very generous.
Suddenly, Carol exclaimed, "There, on your right. See behind that rock? Me thinks that be a tail." She was right. Her speech was getting weirder by the minute though. Another monster was sleeping behind a rock quite close to us. As we explored the region, I had come to the conclusion that while Julie's sight was quite amazing, Carol was better at discerning things. Especially if they were close by.
Now that we had glimpsed our prey, we quickly changed formation. I still stayed at the front though. Julie and Arya moved behind the rest. Taro and Divin covered me, while Carol went ahead to do her thing.
The thing was slow to move, given how sleepy it was in the first place. Blasts from my spell brought it close to a standstill. And the others did the rest. Another one down. Honestly, it was so effortless that I had trouble believing it.
That was our 6th croc monster. I was earning XP between 27 - 33 per kill. I opened up my status again, out of habit. This time, I decided to hide even my spells and effects. It's not like they change much and I can always get them back when I wanted.
¤ ¤ ¤
It is amazing how adaptable we human beings are. The constant fight against the slime wore us down like never before. Our march through the ruins was no less strenuous. First I missed a warm bed and a hearty meal. Later, I yearned for a sip of water and just the feeling of awakening after a deep sleep. Even though I didn't need any of it. Now? It had been close to two days that we had been wandering these hills. We hadn't slept once. Besides the short rest after killing a monster, we were constantly on the move.
That was why it wasn't long before we located the exit. This Dungeon probably went in a straight line, it seemed. We had just killed our twelfth crocodile. I reached level 3 first this time, quickly followed by the rest. Arya was still at level 2 though.
We made for the exit. Another bridge, the same as last. We went ahead and decided to rest while Arya gained her XP. I wasn't feeling like napping again. The stone floor wasn't so welcoming anyway. I decided to go for my third trial and error session. This time with a different objective. I looked at Arya casting Heal on herself in succession, then waiting to recover mana. She looked at me as well, "Another spell?" she queried. "Well, not really. More like meta-spell." I answered. 'Man, I suck at explaining things.' "A meta-spell?" she shot back. "How do I explain it? Ummm... Well, never mind. I'll show you when I'm done," I took the easy way out. She chuckled an okay and I opened my Status Window editor. I cracked my knuckles, cranked my neck, took a deep breath, muttered to myself 'Here goes nothing', and dived right in!