Smit argued with himself as to how to carry out his plan. His choices were simple: he wished to create either a maze or a labyrinth. Although the terms were commonly used interchangeably, they were marked differences between the two of them. The main differences are rather simple: a labyrinth consists of only a single, long, and convoluted path that did not require much thought. A maze, on the other hand, has a multitude of branching hallways and paths that can be taken, resulting in a structure that is far more convoluted and complicated. Essentially, while it is possible to get lost in a labyrinth, it would only happen to the most directionally challenged. Whereas in a maze, it is almost certain that you would need to use your brain to get out of it.
For Smit, it would have been simple to use either idea, the only thing that would have changed would have been his approach to dealing with invaders. If he created a labyrinth, he would just fill it with all sorts of traps, creating what was in essence an extremely long obstacle course. On the other hand, if he created a maze, he could challenge his invaders mentally, forcing them to use their wits and instincts.
As he considered these two options, something stood out to him. While all his floors had tested the combat prowess of the guests to his dungeon, there was hardly any floor that challenged people intellectually. This became the true deciding factor for Smit. He did not wish to have simple brutes force their way into his dungeon, or at the very least, he did not wish to make it easy on muscle-heads to make their way through his dungeon unhindered. Thus, he decided to implement the maze, instead of the labyrinth.
Smit meticulously worked his way into the stone once he had chosen his desired plan, carving out vast swaths of stone faster than any mole could hope to burrow. Of course, he was determined to create a masterpiece of maze, putting his would-be intruders to the test intellectually. Despite the inherent difficulty and challenge of the task at hand, and perhaps even because of it, Smit was highly motivated. He was quite excited, because it was the first time he had three new floors available to him at once, this was a unique opportunity for him.
Naturally, Smit would never settle for a common maze. He had his sights set on something much more ambitious than that: An extensive, multilayered, and trapped maze was his goal. He had no wish to make a shifting maze, where the walls moved around constantly, at least for the moment, but he wanted to test the patience and wit of his future guests. Hence, he settled on a type of maze that would be challenging, despite having some weaknesses.
To begin with, the size of each floor would be quite large. He fully expected the first floor of the maze to have a surface area of nearly two square kilometers, while the second floor would double that at four square kilometers, and the third one would triple its predecessor at twelve square kilometers. The floors were aligned such that they were placed one on top of the other in a way that it resembled a pyramid. The size alone would have warranted several hours of travel time if someone was to walk the shortest path from the beginning to the end of his maze, but considering the amount of twists and turns, one could easily spend days in the maze if they were to get lost.
The reason for this absurdly long travel time for such a short area was primarily the clever design of the maze. The halls of the maze were barely wide enough for two men to walk side-by-side comfortably, though in certain areas the width of the corridors expanded by another meter or two of width. There were a number of triple or quadruple junctions, corridors that led in circles, winding halls that simply sent you back or made you fold upon your old path, or dud paths that led to empty rooms.
However, that was to be expected of a common maze. What made this maze stand out was the fact that there were several stairs that led up or down the maze floors to reach the end of the maze. From the first floor, invaders would have to find their way down to the second floor, then make their way back to the first floor through a different path, find the stairwell that would take them to the third floor, then take the stairs that would lead them to second floor, from where they would head down to the center of the third floor to encounter a boss battle.
But that was not all. Throughout the maze there were a number of traps that were meant to either deter invaders from continuing or to disorient them. Even simple things like hidden pit traps that led down to a random section of the lower level could throw an entire party of adventurers into disarray, making them lose their way. To add to the difficulty, to be able to proceed through some of the stairwells, simple puzzles had to be solved. Failure to solve them would trigger traps or the release of monsters or animals into the room where the intruders were located.
In addition to this, though there were no traps designed to “kill” anyone, there was a definite possibility of injury or even death in the maze. A simple modified pit trap that dropped someone to the floor below was enough to break bones if the person was unprepared or weak, a common trip wire was enough to make someone stumble on the floor and hit their head, not to say anything about hallucinogenic darts.
As a matter of fact, though hallucinogenic darts were non-lethal on their own, they could be counted as one of the most dangerous traps on the maze. As the name suggested, the darts were coated with a weak poison that induced hallucinations for roughly half an hour, causing the afflicted target to become confused. Depending on the nature of the person, the effects varied from causing them to wander aimlessly to causing them to attack their own party. In other words, a simple dart could create sufficient discord in a group to lead them completely astray from their goal.
It would not be hard to imagine that the troubles that any adventurer group would have to go through were nothing short of trying, and perhaps even despairingly difficult, if the group’s teamwork and overall skill were not up to par. One misplaced dart could ruin hours of tracing their steps in the maze. A single pit trap could render a heavy infantry unit to break its leg and become immobile. A failed puzzle could cause an unassuming party to fall prey to a common pack of wolves. This last one was particularly likely, as the puzzles were “simple” only by Smit’s standards, while normal people would struggle to solve the puzzles normally.
And of course, the most subtle, yet equally dangerous hazards were very simple ones: starvation and dehydration. If the intruder was to repeatedly fall for traps and was unprepared, it was entirely possible that the subject in question would start to starve or become dehydrated, which would slowly sap their strength, making every challenge that much more difficult. Of course, even on their own, becoming malnourished or dehydrated could lead to death.
All in all, it was a rather challenging maze that would certainly cause a number of headaches for the people that dared enter it.
But of course, Smit was not completely heartless. He had begun to enjoy the appearance of the Azure Arrow crew. They always provided him some sort of entertainment and they served to test his inventions nicely. In his mind, it would be a shame to kill them without a reason, particularly the magic user, who seemed to have a more appreciative mind than the rest of his team. With this in mind, Smit had decided that his stance on the matter of adventurers would be neutral. He would certainly do his best to defend himself against invaders that would try to take his treasures, especially from those who were greedily attempting to take what he had created for a meager profit, but as the adventurers were a source of entertainment, he would not go out of his way to destroy them. Or at least, he would not do so without a reason.
However, that was not to say that he would not react differently to certain people. He had no qualms about picking favourites or singling out bad apples. If someone dared to, for example, start smashing his decorations with no reason, they would certainly be met with retribution. However, as no one had tried to do such a thing to date, Smit had no reason create an impossible maze or a truly lethal floor for his dungeon. If one was prepared, careful, and skilled enough, the maze should not be of any real danger to them in Smit’s opinion.
Still, Smit invested heavily in the number of halls that were present in his maze, making them wind, twist, and branch off exquisitely. Due to the fact that the majority of the maze consisted exclusively of hallways, the length of the maze was far greater than the mere surface area suggested. In fact, if one was to add the total length of all paths in the maze together, the length would be well over one hundred kilometres in length for just the first floor of the maze. When combined with all the traps and challenges, he estimated that the average adventurer would take about ten days to make their way across the entirety of his dungeon if they decided to go for the old trick of placing a hand on a wall and following it all the way to the exit of the maze.
Though that old trick certainly would work, the party risked spending several days in his dungeon at walking speed, and they would undoubtedly be met with more hazards as they proceeded, as a longer route would naturally mean there were more traps and monsters to be encountered.
Overall, this little set up was rather hard to overcome with brute strength, unless the person was willing to put up with his numerous obstacles and hazards that Smit himself had designed to disorient people and obstruct their progress. However, since there were certain skills out there that would allow people to make their way through his maze with much more ease, Smit did not feel that his expectations were too unreasonable. What self-respecting adventurer could not deal with a simple maze anyway?
Following such lines of thought, Smit began to working on the walls of his maze, taking care to make the surface smoother before he began modifying the bare bones that was the skeleton of the maze. Though the halls and rooms were created along with the stairs, there was still much work to be done.
First, Smit created a few secret passages outside the regular network available to trespassers or adventurers. The passages were connected to all five floors of the dungeon, and were rather small, barely able to fit a grown man inside them. However, these passages offered a shortcut for his creatures to move through his dungeon, just in case he ever needed them in a rush. These emergency halls would also be connected to a few isolated rooms where certain creatures could rest if needed.
He hid these few emergency hallways with his stunning workmanship, making their location nearly impossible to find unless you knew they were there. Moreover, he even created a dungeon law that only allowed entry to these emergency halls to his creatures. Should anyone succeed in forcing their way into those tunnels (despite the very low odds of that happening), the emergency hall would collapse upon them, crushing them mercilessly under the weight of the stones. Of course, Smit could override the dungeon law, should he wish to let this person escape for whatever reason.
Next, it was time for Smit to focus on the decorations. Ironically, decorating the maze turned out to be the tricky bit.
Usually, decorations would have been unique, or leading up to a specific piece of art that would be the centre of attention, thus enhancing the centrepiece of the hall. However, that could not be done in this case, as having a single, unique masterpiece would create a sort of landmark which could be used to navigate the maze.
Smit wished to avoid that possibility as much as possible, and thus came up with a countermeasure. Instead of making a centrepiece, he would create designs that would form patterns. A self-repeating pattern that was elegant, yet attractive to the eye. This would weave an aura of refined tranquillity that would certainly relax anyone that stepped into his maze… or at least, it would help relax them when they weren’t in an immediate threat of death.
This feature, of course, was also part of the danger of the dungeon. Something beautiful and elegant could make you drop your guard at the wrong moment, only to discover that it would be the last mistake you would ever make.
Smit chuckled lightly at that dramatic thought and let that thought fade away, regardless of the truth in it. He started to carve patterns of vines, branches, and leaves on the walls. Within the leaves and branches, he carved the figures of several small furry creatures and birds making their nests. He paid careful attention to the eyes of the creatures, sculpting them so as that they were as lifelike as possible, almost as if he was breathing life into those eyes.
Of course, some of the creatures were actually golems created of packed dirt, which he embedded in the wall itself. The reason why he had created these miniature golems was simple: he would have them stare at the adventurers that made their down these halls. This would mess with the heads of the adventurers, making them believe that they were crazy for believing that small, cute carving was following them with their eyes… However, as time went by and the feeling of being observed accumulated, those with weaker mental fortitude would start feeling nervous and eventually become mentally fatigued.
In other words, Smit was just creating an atmosphere that could mess with adventurers’ minds at a deeper level, by using simple tactics.
As he progressed with crafting his maze, he looked up to the ceiling, and frowned at the dullness of it all. A simply polished ceiling without much to stare at would not be interesting. Therefore, he decided to change it up.
The ceiling was no longer made out of simple stone, but instead it displayed a pattern of narrow stripes of deep blues and greens, alternating as they twisted around each other like snakes. To accentuate this, he gave the borders of the ceiling a narrow, yet simple pattern that had a tribal feel to it, bounding the dance of dark greens and blues that dominated the majority of the ceiling. However, even with this, Smit felt that something was… missing.
Troubled by this lack of something, Smit carefully began inspecting his work on the third floor of his dungeon. Everything was beautiful, but finally it dawned on him: it was the darkness.
When the adventurers came down to his maze, there would only be darkness, making it nigh impossible to witness his works of art. Furthermore, if they brought a torch, and he had no doubt some of them would forget to bring one, the effect of his art would be greatly reduced, as only a small section of it would be visible at the time.
This made Smit deeply unsatisfied, causing him to click his tongue in his mind. While he wanted his maze to remain beautiful and mysterious, the idea of it looking gloomy under the dim, yellow-orange light of a torch dissatisfied him. Worse, the clash of the orange flame against the deep greens and dark blues would surely disrupt the delicate balance of colour that he had set up, and that was certainly not acceptable.
He meditated upon this for a while, pondering several possibilities until he reached a conclusion an hour later. The solution came to him in the form of his newest species available to him: elemental spirits.
Though elemental spirits, along with constructs, were a rare species, they were extremely hard to evolve. Elemental spirits had a vast range of possibilities, but they could be hardly called powerful in the beginning, as they were not even considered sentient at the most basic levels. In fact, they could even be compared to insects of the spirit world: small, weak, unintelligent, but hardworking.
However, Smit had found a use for them now.
Grinning internally, Smit allowed himself to use up a tiny fraction of his mana to call forth fire spirits. These were tiny weak fire spirits, not even the size of flies. Each little spirit seemed to be a grain of sand that floated around slowly and aimlessly, glowing lightly in the air. It glowed with a small, pale yellow light that was pleasing to the eye.
Good. That was all that Smit thought as he observed the little fire spirit. Mentally, Smit guided the little spirit to the ceiling of the maze, before letting the fire spirit rest there. The little spirit was perfectly content to stay there, basking in the vast amounts of mana that flowed through the halls of the dungeon.
Smit considered things for a moment, before he nodded to himself and summoned thousands of little fire spirits. Like little stars, he guided them to adorn the ceiling of his maze, letting them have a dim glow that gave the halls just enough light to make your way through them, and make out the shapes of the decorations on the walls. It was as if the maze was in perpetual early twilight, in that splendid moment where the very first few rays of sun touched the night sky and all its stars. However, the true beauty of it resonated deep within the blues and greens of the ceiling, which reminded Smit of the night sky of the north.
It was a truly beautiful scene that gave Smit a deep sense of satisfaction. This was exactly what he wanted. He had managed to create a soothing, elegant, and mysterious atmosphere that could evoke both pleasing dreams and the worst of nightmares. There were enough shadows to mess with a person’s head, making you believe that there could be danger at any corner, but enough beauty to enchant even the royal family. It was perfect.
Smit had spent nearly fifty thousand mana on the fire spirits needed to light up the first of his three new floors, giving it the look he needed. Then he spent another five thousand mana to bring forth earth spirits to imbue the eyes of the small golems hidden in the halls with a little bit of extra life, and, finally, another ten thousand mana to create small wind spirits that would provide fresh air for the maze, lest it became stagnant and it began to smell badly.
The thought of bad smell made Smit realize something that interrupted his preparations. If he expected people to spend over a day in this maze of his… would they not need to use a washroom to relieve themselves?
The idea made Smit pause his activities sigh to himself. Yes, the adventurers surely would need an area where they could do their necessities, or his precious maze would end up being contaminated. Cringing at the thought of having faeces litter his beautiful halls, Smit went out of his way to create a few small rooms in a few key locations in his maze. These rooms were only two or three square meters wide, but they were sufficient. There, he created small pits in the floor, over which chairs with a large hole on the centre of the seat could be used. In other words, he created primitive toilets.
He made sure to have a small beetle nest hidden away in each of the small rooms to help recycle the faeces that would inevitably fall in the small pit. Of course, he also gave these washrooms a bed of soft moss on the floor, and even created a few plants on the edges of the room to create a better atmosphere for the washrooms. He even created a few water spirits to water the plants periodically, away from the eyes of adventurers, to maintain the plants looking fresh and healthy. Smit even went as far as having wind spirits ventilate the area, and a small cluster of fire spirits so that the washrooms had a little more light than the rest of the maze.
All of this was done so that his maze would not suffer the shame of having someone relieve themselves in the middle of the hall. He would be damned if he was going to have excrement litter the beautiful halls of his maze.
Smit added a final touch to the dungeon when he created a few lightning spirits to spark randomly around the edges of the ceiling, where the pattern that bordered the blue and green was found. Small sparks of light could be seen occasionally running across the patterns, almost as if small shooting stars were streaking across the night sky.
Smit looked at this and smiled. This was good.
Nodding with satisfaction, Smit looked at the first floor and nodded. The first floor of the maze was complete. Now it was time to repeat this process with the second and third floors of his maze.
Back in the royal palace, chaos reigned as a full blown investigation was being launched into two murdered royal guards, who had their throats slit from behind without anyone noticing. The perpetrator was bold enough to even leave the corpses in full view, not even bothering to hide them in any way. During the search for the criminal, a servant’s corpse was found in the sewers whose face seemed to have been cut off with surgical precision.
“Who could have done such a thing?” King Vas growled, pacing back and forth across his room without rest. “Who would even dare?!”
“Your majesty, please…” Ikfes said carefully, trying to placate the raging king with his words. “Though it is true that this is a grave matter, I doubt that they are after your life, or that of your family’s.”
The king looked sharply at Ikfes, demanding for his reasoning wordlessly. The words of the guildmaster had hit the nail on the head. For the king, his immediate concern was the safety of his family. How could he not be enraged when there could be a killer within his very castle? Should this assassin dare touch his family, he would move heaven and earth to find and destroy the mysterious assassin. But the possibility of someone hurting his family still troubled his heart greatly.
“If they were targeting your highness or the royal family,” Ikfes continued, “why would they leave the corpses like that? It’s practically advertising the presence of a danger to your majesty. It would have been far more efficient to have the assassin stay hidden until the right moment was found.”
“Ikfes is right, your majesty,” Alester said with a nod. “There are few people that could hope to assassinate a member of the royal family anyways, considering the amount of protection provided within the castle walls. Rather than an attempt of an assassination, it seems far more likely that the goal of this unknown assailant was to disrupt your highness and the affairs of the royal palace. I am willing to wager this is a plot from some enemy kingdom to occupy your mind elsewhere, instead of focusing in international affairs.”
“What makes you say that?” The king whirled around to face Alester, looking him dead in the eyes.
“It makes sense, your majesty. Our two largest neighbours are on good terms with us. How convenient would it be for them to destabilize the kingdom? Imagine the rumours, if it became known across the continent that someone assassinated royal guards right outside the doors of the royal dining area? There could be repercussions in ways we could not predict.”
“I am not sure about that,” Ikfes butted in. “This to me seems more like the work of someone that just wanted to create a distraction. I am more concerned about the fact that someone might have overheard our conversation about the dungeon.”
“Impossible!” Alester retorted. “There were only a handful of people that were aware of the dungeon. All of them are trusted people! How could have anyone found out?!”
“Anything is possible, Alester,” Ikfes pointed out. “There could have been numerous ways to find out, especially if magic is involved.”
“Enough!” The king roared, clearly displeased. “Both of you have valid points. Let us deal with the most urgent matters first. Ikfes! I expect you to go personally to the dungeon and oversee it. I want you to protect the dungeon until further notice. Regardless of whether it is our lovely neighbours or our own nobles, I do not want a single soul taking over that dungeon until further notice. You and your adventurers are free to use it as training grounds. This is effective immediately.”
“By your will, your highness,” Ikfes said with a respectful bow.
“Alester!” The king called out to him roughly. “I want you to monitor the actions of the other countries. I want reports on their current states of affairs. Have a report ready for me as soon as possible.”
“By your will, your highness,” Alester said with an elegant bow.
“Good. You two, dismissed,” The king said as he turned on his heel and looked out a window, looking out onto the royal city. He continued to look out the window in a pensive mood, brooding even as his two friends left the room, closing the doors behind them.
As the king stared out into the city, he couldn’t help but to feel as if a cloud was looming over him. He could not shake the feeling that something was coming his way, something big. It felt… ominous.
He was certain that whatever it was, it could only be trouble. Enough trouble to make his hands itch and long for the weight of his sword once more. However, he resisted the temptation, clenching his fists behind his back.
Grabbing his sword would only grant him momentary solace and, if his hunch was right, there was no time for idling around. He needed to make preparations. As to what kind of preparations, he was not sure yet, but at the very least he would inform his family to sharpen their skills and keep their eyes open. It was a prudent course of action, even if only due to the possibility of a murderer roaming the halls of his castle. He would also talk with his generals, and have them run more drills with the knights, under the pretext of noticing the knights having gotten lazy. That should be a good start for now.
“What tribulations will come my way?” The king murmured to himself as he continued to stare at his city as dusk approached, bathing everything in orange light.
In a dark lit room, a man’s voice hummed out a slow, but happy tune. The sound of his voice resonated lightly against the damp walls of stone, creating an odd atmosphere in the old, dusty room. Yet, the man did not seem bothered at all by either the dampness or the darkness of the room, perfectly happy to sit in his old wooden chair.
Resting upon a table of questionable integrity, a communication crystal with a sickly shade of purple stood upon a silver stand, right beside a lonesome candle.
Time ticked slowly by and the man continued his slow tune for minutes on end, seemingly unbothered by the slow passage of time. However, eventually a small humming sound could be heard coming from the crystal as it started to light up, generating a pale purple light that created the holographic image of a thin older gentleman. The gentleman wore a hood, but underneath it, gold chains could be seen, along with embroidered clothes that seemed to be of high quality.
“Ah! My lord,” the man humming said with a smile as he stood up and bowed to the figure. “Pleasure to see you once more.”
“Hasef. Good to see you,” the other man responded, nodding towards the humming man lightly. “I hear you have good news for me.”
“Good news indeed!” Hasef said with a chuckle, rubbing his hands in an excited way. “I am sure this will certainly be worth your time.”
“Get on with it, Hasef,” the man replied sharply. “I did hire you at a steep price, under the condition that you could gather some useful information. Considering the mess you made in the royal palace, this better be worth blowing your cover. You might be an outstanding spy, but if I become compromised as a result of your actions, I swear to you that I will make sure you regret it for the rest of your life.”
“Of course! Of course, my lord,” Hasef said with a smile, the features of his face giving the appearance of a pale, unhealthy man in his late fifties. “I promise to make it worth your time… and your coin.”
The hooded man grunted, and eyed Hasef suspiciously from under his hood. “Fine. Out with it.”
“You see, my lord. I overheard the king and his trusted fellows talk about a brand new dungeon being discovered in the north.”
The hooded man looked sharply at Hasef, so much so that he could almost feel the intensity of the hooded man’s glare increase. Smiling, Hasef continued.
“More importantly, it seems that the dungeon is quite rare. I did not get the full details, but it seems that the dungeon is predicted to be quite a resource in the future and they are even considering creating a city around it. More shockingly, it seems that the region it is currently located at does not have a ruler yet. Hence, the king is going to create some sort of event to decide who will rule over the dungeon city in the future.”
“Are you sure about this?” The hooded man asked sharply, his stare practically boring holes through Hasef, searching for any sign of deceit.
“But of course, my lord!” Hasef said with a grin. “With my ability, [Ears of the Bat], even magical barriers cannot fully block my hearing. Despite the strong wards of the dining room, I was able to make out the gist of the conversation. I assure you, my lord, they likely had never suspected they could be overheard.”
The hooded man slowly nodded and a twisted grin started to spread across his face.
“Good… Good!” The hooded man laughed, and slapped his knee happily. “Excellent news, Hasef. You will be handsomely compensated for this. I will make sure of it. Expect your reward at the usual place, under the bridge.”
“I humbly accept your generosity to this humble servant, lord Lerron,” Hasef said with a deep bow, grinning widely. He knew very well of Lord Lerron’s deep pockets and was already quite excited about the potential reward.
“Of course,” Lerron said with a smile. “Loyal servants will be rewarded. One more thing, however.”
“Yes, my lord?”
“Get rid of that disgusting face you have on. It seems it’s starting to peel at the edges. It’s rather unsightly.”
“Ah! As you wish. It’s a shame though, I just got it yesterday.”
Count Lerron grunted with distaste. “I will never understand your attachment to the faces you obtain. Wearing the flesh of a dead man is rather sickening to me.”
“I understand, my lord. However, I beg that you indulge this servant a little bit. It is one of my few hobbies.”
Sighing, the Count Lerron shook his head and sniffed.
“Do as you wish. Just get rid of the face before someone recognizes it.”
“As you wish, my lord.”
“Good. That is all for today.”
And just like that, the conversation ended.
|Species: True Dungeon||Rank: 2|
|Name: Smit||Age: 2 months|
|Mana: 81,232||Anima: 452|
|Mana Reg.: 341 MP/h||Anima Reg.: 7.27 AP/day|
|Floors: 3 (Max Floors available: 5)||Inhabitants: 68 Species|
|Titles: Creator of Dungeon laws; Creator; Guide of the Bloody Evolution; Legendary Craftsman;Master of Concentration; Reincarnated One;|
|Abilities: Absorb matter; Alter environment; Bestow Knowledge; Break down components; Craftsmanship; Creation; Digging; Destroy creation; Dungeon Laws; Enhancement; Equivalent exchange; Ether manipulation; Evolution; Interdimensional Storage; Life bestowal; Life-energy harnessing; Mana absorption; Masterful mana manipulation; Modification of creations; Monster Link; Telepathy; Trap building; Transfer dungeon.|
|Resistances: Magic (general); Mind control|