I could hardly believe my eyes when I came up to the entrance of the dungeon. The patterns, the workmanship, the blend of colours, and even the form of the entire thing was flawless, as if the stone itself had grown into the shape of a massive porch that led into the dungeon. The sight of it couldn’t help but to baffle any onlookers who got closer enough, as there was nothing that would hint at the fact that this was made by mortal hands. Instead, the very presence of it made me wonder if this architectural wonder was truly crafted by a dungeon instead of a masterpiece created at the hands a demigod of some sort.
The sweet moment of inspired awe was cut short much too soon by the leader of our little excursion here, high C rank adventurer, lady Ella Graz, leader of Azure Arrow. Born of a lesser noble family as the third daughter, lady Ella Graz took the path of the adventurer with her father’s blessing. According to rumours, she was a prodigy with the sword, and well versed on the art of dual wielding weapons.
We marched our way across the small clearing to the porch-like structure, and made our way up the steps. I have to admit, the ancient set of eyes carved at the entrance were so realistic that I thought that the mountain itself was a live for a moment.
Once inside, I was confused. I did not know what I expected, but the empty and cavernous first room was certainly not on the list. If I had to describe it, the first room felt beautifully ancient, as if it had been carved by the elements over eons of existence. However, there was a slight odd quality to it, a strange beauty that seemed too well designed to be natural. The rock certainly seemed smooth and uneven enough to appear natural, but the paths that lead away from the first room all seemed too perfectly straight and too uniform in their dimensions to be natural. And as if that wasn’t enough of a clue that this place wasn’t a normal cave, the fact that there are statues hidden away in the halls also made it obvious.
“Well, this is different,” someone speaks behind me in a muffled, but reverent voice.
“Hmph,” a second adventurer, replies with disdain clear on her voice. “It’s just a cave with monsters. Let’s go.”
I turned my head to look over at the voice in question, and I find Anastasy, my team leader, was the source of the last voice.
“I don’t know about that,” I replied to her. “The reports had an awful lot of warnings.”
“You actually read the entire thing?” She looked at me as if I had told her I was categorizing chickens.
“Why are you so confused?” I retorted. “The guild master told us to.”
I was answered by a loud snort from my left. Cecil, our auburn haired huntress smirked widely. “Yeah, but I skimmed over it. No one actually reads a thirty-page report, Beth.”
I felt my cheeks heat up as I hear her say that. In my heart, I knew that her words were utter nonsense, for who would dedicate themselves to write thirty pages worth of material to help someone without reason? Moreover, this was done four times, considering that each new team got a copy.
However, the disdain that I am receiving from my comrades is doing everything but reaffirming this belief. I squirmed internally under the semi-mocking gaze of my two teammates before turning towards my last bastion of comfort. “Dee! Back me up here!”
Dee, turns to look at us with that disinterested gaze she usually has upon her face, unless she is reading one of her books. Her bountiful chest wobbles slightly as she walks, but her robes do an admirable job of containing the majority of the motion. “With what?”
“You read the report, too, right?”
“Yeah… most of it anyways,” she said with a nod. “I forgot the last ten pages because I wanted to re-read the third chapter of the ice grimoire, but…”
I sighed with relief at her words. At least she read the majority of it and didn’t just skim over it lazily like my other teammates.
“See? Dee read most of it too,” I said with a satisfied smile, completely ignoring the fact that I was the only one that read all of it. Then again, the latter half of the report was arguably the most important part as it contained a lot of detail about the structure of the actual dungeon and its quirks, whereas the first half contained a lot of information on individual beings identified in the dungeon. It was all well and good to know that there were snakes that could strangle you, but it’s even better to know where those snakes were found as well, and if there were traps around.
“Yeah, yeah. Whatever Ms. Paladin,” Anastasy said with a dismissive reply as she stepped forward nonchalantly, swaying her hips with a confident strut. “I leave it to you if we need any of that crucial knowledge, Beth. Now let’s get on to exploring this juiced up cave. If all goes well we could move up to D rank adventurers before end of the week.”
She gave us cheeky grin and pulled out her dual short swords from their scabbards. “Onwards, ladies! Let us show these other adventurers what we are made of!”
I chuckled slightly at her behaviour, trying to push the mild sinking feeling of despair to the back of my mind. Her speech would have been a lot more inspirational if we weren’t the last team to enter the dungeon, but I didn’t pointing that out to her or I would have surely gotten made fun of again.
Sighing, I paused and shook my head with determination. It wasn’t the time to get distracted, I needed to get to work and to do that, I required absolute focus.
Looking ahead with determination, I join my team leader at the front, diving head first into the adventure.
After a few hours of observing the adventurers, I was already feeling conflicted about their presence. On the one hand, the strength of the adventurers seems to be somewhat below my estimate, which was nothing but good news for my critters. On the other hand, the new adventurers’ skills were all over the place, ranging from just shy of complete ignorance to moderately prepared. This wide range in their skill level caused me to realize that the majority of them were highly inexperienced in dungeon dives. In all likelihood, about half of the newcomers were E ranks, just one step above the average villager with a pitchfork which are roughly considered to be F rank.
As a matter of fact, I was almost convinced that any adventurer group other than Azure Arrow would have been unable to pass the second floor without suffering casualties. Due to this unforeseen lack of experience on their part, I was surprisingly safer than I thought at first. Just watching over some of the clearly less capable groups was enough to understand this. In the span of two hours, I witnessed five people fall into common pit traps in the first floor.
Everywhere he looked, Smit found faults in their approach to his dungeon. A man with a great sword attempted and overhead strike to a measly dungeon rat, only to strike his sword against the ceiling of the corridor, fouling his attack. Later, Smit witnessed a fire mage using a simple fire spell that sustained a small torrent of fire from the hands of the spell caster. Though the spell was successfully executed, the fire burnt a lot of moss and and the fur of many mice which created a lot of smoke. Naturally, this ended up backfiring on the mage and her party due to the narrow nature of his halls. Of course, filling a tunnel with smoke caused them to retreat quickly as they coughed non-stop with red eyes filled with tears. Furthermore, several of the adventurer brats got bitten by rats and snakes and lost their composure from such shallow wounds. Hell, a few even managed to get cornered against a wall by their own team accidentally, as random spells and arrows flew through narrow corridors!
To sum it up, I came to the conclusion that three quarters of the new adventurers as absolute greenhorns with low intelligence and foresight. It was frustrating to watch them flail around like a bunch of confused monkeys that didn’t know the difference between the hilt of their sword and the face of one of the snakes slithering around in the first floor. The only practical redeeming feature of some of these adventurers was that they seemed to be able to hold their own against basic dungeon mice and lesser snakes.
“Some of these don’t even deserve the scraps of iron that they are wearing,” I grunted, shaking my head internally at the poor equipment. Clearly these adventurers bought cheaper goods, probably from apprentice blacksmiths by the looks of their bronze and iron weapons.
By the end of the day, several adventurers had fallen into pit traps, been bitten by snakes and rats, and even one dead female adventurer that slipped on the blood of one her own kills, causing her to tumble down into a hidden bit trap head first, smashing her skull against the hard, uneven ground below. She died instantly. I am unsure as to whether it was from a broken neck or smashed skull, but her team mates descended to retrieve her before I could absorb her. Truly a pitiful end for an adventurer, but at least it was quick and painless.
Mentally shrugging at the first adventurer fatality in my dungeon, I noted that the amount of mana and anima gathered by the adventurer’s death was comparable to that of the bandit boss I had consumed so many weeks ago now.
“Hmm… Speaking of which, don’t I have another method of gathering some of these resources?” I muttered to myself, realizing that I have a number of skills at my disposal.
Checking over my skills, I skim over the list of twenty-five skills that I possess, pausing at the ones I was looking for.
|Ether Manipulation: The ability to manipulate the Ether itself. To guide and touch the Ether, the energy that binds creations and transcends the material.|
|Life-energy Harnessing: The ability to attract, collect, and manipulate the energy essence of life. Simply by existing, anima and mana will be attracted towards the owner of this skill.|
|Mana Absorption: The ability to draw out mana from a source, actively pulling it towards oneself and making it your own.|
These three abilities had been present since the inception of my rebirth, and had been extremely useful for my cultivation. However, two thoughts crossed my mind after watching that adventurer die.
By definition, these abilities allowed me to draw out mana and anima, and pull it towards my core. However, I had never tried to actively draw out either mana or anima out from another living being. Was it possible to draw these out from my spelunking guests?
Secondly, what exactly was Ether and how do I use it? To my knowledge, Ether was a at best a vague hypothesis that was more often regarded as a myth. Even with my extensive life, the most detailed explanation of Ether was simply defined as “The essence which fills the void without existing, the boundary between the immaterial and the material.” However, even the necromancers and shamans were unsure whether it was fact or fiction.
However, considering that I was given such a skill, it surely means it is very real. I made a mental note to experiment with it later and perhaps draft some theories about it later.
At any rate, by the time night was approaching, the adventurers all started to vacate my dungeon, most of them looking more than a little worn, sporting several injuries, the majority of which were simple injuries that would heal with time or with some medicine. The worst injury of all was received when a cocky male warrior with leather armour thought it would be a good idea to throw several of my dirt golems at a snake. As punishment for wrecking my creations without having any need to do so, I instructed several snakes to drop on him from the ceiling to attack him. He got off easy thanks to his teammates, receiving only a few bites from the non-poisonous snakes on his face and a crushed hand as one of the young constricting snakes grabbed hold of his hand and squeezed it.
I did enjoy watching him running around like a headless chicken while the snakes obscured his vision, though. Never have I heard a man shriek with such a high pitched voice before.
“Father,” Pala’s voice called out to me, “the adventurersss today did not go beyond the first level. Why?”
I turned my attention to him briefly, and nodded my head at him. I paused for a second and cursed internally as I realized I didn’t have a head, so the action was meaningless. I would have to look into getting myself a body sometime in the future. Though being able to oversee everything as a dungeon core was useful, the lack of mobility was thoroughly irritating sometimes.
“They were greenhorns,” I said bluntly. “Also, watch your pronunciation. You are stretching the s’s by accident again.”
“Sorry, Father,” Pala said with an apologetic grin. “What happened to the last ones? The ones that reached the second level.”
“They were busy helping the new brats,” I reply. “The adventurers’ guild has finally started to move into the village, you know? They brought with them a few promising youths to the dungeon to have them train. However, it’s clear that some of these brats are still fledglings that think they are better than the rest just because they can swing a piece of iron with some minimal amount of skill. If I had to guess, the guild master asked Azure Arrow to keep an eye on them for a few days. Or perhaps they feel the need to care for their juniors at least for a while? Either way, I predict that they won’t be seriously diving into the dungeon for another day or two.”
“Ah… I see.”
The tone in his voice caught my attention, making me look at my son with more attention. He was looking down at the floor at a slight angle, his tail twitching behind him, while his hand fidgeted slightly with his spear. Smirking internally, I asked my question. “Disappointed?”
“What?!” His head snaps up to look at me, his eyes wide. “Father, that’s not, I-!”
“Calm down,” I said with a chuckle. “It’s normal. You are craving another battle, aren’t you?”
There was a pause as Pala seemed to struggle with some internal conflict, before he nodded his head meekly. It’s odd to see a tall bipedal, somewhat humanoid lizard nod meekly, but as a sentient creature, it’s inevitable that he should have a variety of emotions.
“I thought as much,” I said with a hum. “You are a warrior through and through. You have made it your goal to defeat that man in a one-on-one combat, haven’t you?”
He silently nodded after a pause, and opened his mouth to speak, but I interrupted him before he had a chance.
“Do not worry, son. I understand that you do not wish to say that you want people to invade our home. You merely relish the challenge. There is no harm in that. Challenging yourself is the the only way to truly grow. It is why I give you and Echo special training, rather than letting you simply hunt smaller, weaker prey. Now, off with you, go tend to your duties. I have some things I must do.”
Pala stared at me silently for a moment as he processed everything before he bowed to me slowly and with reverence, before he left my core room to do his training.
I hummed to myself in thought for a moment, and started to check off my list of things to do. Since the adventurers were of lower skill than expected, I lost significantly fewer creatures than I had expected to. Additionally, my dungeon didn’t seem to be in any immediate danger. However, that was not to say that all was well. I was still in a rather vulnerable state due to the amount of mana and anima I had to spend to repopulate my dungeon. Should any other unfortunate event, such as a second goblin horde, occur, I would be left with a critically low amount of resources. Hell, if all those adventurers decided to rush in and kill everything on sight, I would also have been in trouble.
Considering all of that, the only logical conclusion I was left with was to use my time wisely. I had a little time to set things into order, so I should do that.
I started with unfinished business. Namely, my two newly evolved creatures. I sent them both a mental command to come to my room and they both hastened to heed my call.
The first to arrive was the Saint Bear Wolf. He truly lived up to his name, looking like the perfect cross of both a bear and wolf. Even as he stepped into my chamber I examined him with care. The noble attitude was still present until the moment he saw me, at which point he went from a regal beast to a happy, faithful canine with a massive tail that wagged back and forth excitedly. I estimated that he must be just over a meter in height at his shoulder and, by the looks of it, he probably weighed close to three hundred kilograms.
He came bounding towards me with a big grin on his face and I have the realization that he is going to barrel right against my core at this rate.
“Stop!” I barked at it, and the large creature opens its eyes wide as it scrambles to a stop, skidding to a stop right before my levitating core. Looking at the creature up close, its four, three inch long fangs are quite prominent. I had no doubts that this guy would be a terrifying enemy to have running at you if you had a look at those bared fangs.
“Sit,” I ordered, sending the message transferred mentally to reinforce its meaning, and the large creature complies immediately, dropping onto his rump. “Good.”
“Let’s have a look at you,” I muttered out loud as I examined him, pulling up his status window.
|Name: [None]||Age: 2 months|
|Species: Saint Bear Wolf||Level: 1|
|Master: Smit||Monster Rank: ???|
|Abilities: Alpha of the pack; Guardian; Heal; Magic (Light, Nature); Mighty howl; Regeneration; Tough body;|
A beast created by the true dungeon Smit. Due to its unwavering loyalty and being touched by holiness, this creature has evolved into an extremely rare variant.
I hummed as I look over this. I couldn’t help but wonder why the display window is different from my own, or from Echo’s which I saw so long ago. Perhaps it has something to do with the type of entity? Or have my abilities changed because I ranked up? Or perhaps there are some unknown laws I have yet to discover.
Moreover, the ‘level’ part of the status seems to be out of place. Surely, this mighty beast was far more powerful than Echo in the beginning stages of my dungeon transformation. Such were my thoughts, until an idea struck me. A quick inspection was all it was needed, and the check of several critters around my dungeon proved that many of them were several levels higher than this beast, including relatively harmless creatures like dungeon mice. This confirmed that the level of a creature is not related to its strength relative to other species.
I carried out a second inspection, this time across ten members of dungeon and the only thing that I could notice that differed between them was how close they felt to levelling up. This then brought about a simple conclusion: the ‘level’ of my creatures is simply how close they are to the evolutionary threshold. Once they evolve, the level is reset to one. I needed to confirm this, so I decided to keep an eye on the critters who were most likely to evolve soon, especially Pala, who I felt was very close to reaching that threshold. He was currently sitting at level ninety-nine, and so I hypothesized that once he reaches his next level he would be able to evolve.
It would be very convenient to have a metric to track their evolutionary progress rather than just doing it by feeling alone, so I hoped that my hypothesis was correct.
“Now then, what to do with-”
I sensed a kobold finally run into the room, and stopped before me, bowing his head in respect. Her raspy voice followed the bow, “I greet the great one.”
“Ah yes. There you are,” I replied simply without looking at her. “Hold on for a minute.”
“Yesss!” She hissed, and simply stood as still as a rock.
Focusing back on the massive ball of murder and fluff, I mulled things over. This guy was supposed to be clearly brighter than the other wolves, but the lack of concrete communication was rather unfortunate. Despite that, I could feel that this new creature of mine was no pushover, and I dare say it would have been able to take on a hind-bear even now. It would have been a damn waste to not make full use of him.
“Well,” I grunted, “I suppose there is only one option. I suppose you are taking the name this time.”
The moment I said that, I could feel the mood of the Saint Bear Wolf shift dramatically, going from content to shocked, to proud, to humbled in the blink of an eye. It bowed its head, and for the first time since he came in, his tail stood still.
|Warning! You are about to name [Saint Bear Wolf]. Only one named position available. Are you sure you wish to proceed?|
I quickly agree to the message, causing it to blur out of existence.
“I hear grant you the name Arturous!” I proclaimed with an unrestrained mental wave that touched every being in the dungeon. “Let it be known that you have been named by me.”
|[Saint Bear Wolf] has been named [Arturous]. Naming process commencing.|
And just like that, I felt a stream composed of both mana and anima leave me once more to envelope my creation.
Light embraced Arturous as he absorbed the power bestowed to him, his form changing in response to it. He grew another ten centimeters in height and nearly twenty in length. His claws and fangs changed to a pearly white colour, and his eyes now seemed to be made of molten gold. Lastly, the fur around the back of his neck and shoulders grew out somewhat, giving him the appearance of having mane. It made his appearance truly regal.
“A thousand thanks, Father.” A rumbling voice rang through the core room as Arturous spoke, taking me slightly by surprise. I had not expected the naming to allow him to speak as well. “I will be forever at your side.”
“I have faith in you,” I replied, while my mind wondered how comfortable it would be to stroke that mane of fur. Yet another reason to create myself a body.
“I am honoured,” Arturous said as he stood up on all fours and bowed his head, bending his forelegs so that his chest touched the ground while his hind legs remained standing, creating a position that was recognizable as deep bow of some sort.
I sent him a mental nod, letting him know that acknowledged his words, before focusing on the kobold.
“So, a high kobold…” I said with a hum as I looked over her. “Interesting.”
At a glance, one could tell she was not your standard kobold. Her form was less hunched over, and her height was nearly the same as Pala’s. Her thighs seemed thicker, her hands were more humanoid, and the snout was less pronounced. Her face managed to even look more delicate. She even had grown small pointed ears and somehow managed to look more… feminine. That last one threw me off for a moment there, as I had never considered that a kobold could look feminine at all. At most, the females seemed to have softer features and were a bit shorter, but they were not something I would have labelled as feminine.
“How did the tests go?” I asked her. Even though I had watched her through the entire process, I still wanted her perspective.
“I thinksss that I am faster. Can move my fingers better. Fewer injuries now, too. Other kobolds seem lesss smart.”
I nodded internally at her words. She certainly seemed to be handling her spear better and there were marked improvements in her fights compared to other kobold warriors. It was interesting to hear that she found the other kobolds less intelligent, so her intelligence had received a boost too. All in all, a nice little evolution that would increase the dexterity, agility, and intelligence, as well as the toughness of the scales of his kobolds moderately.
“Good work. Return to your training.”
I watched her go for a moment, wondering what sort of evolutions may follow in the future. I remember thinking that it would have been nice if high kobolds gained sufficient dexterity to craft things.
“Enough of that.” I said to myself. “Evolutions are done. Next.”
With the evolutions out of the way, the next items on the list were simple. Since the first floor repopulated automatically, I did not have to worry about that. As of now, my current list of things to do was rather short.
- Cultivate and get stronger
- Figure out what god or goddess interfered
- Expand the dungeon
- Create a body for myself
- Evolve and strengthen my critters as much as possible
- Find out about Ether
- Prove the levels theory I have
Considering that I have no way to figure out number two as of yet, and that points three and four are dependent on my rank, I decide to go for the first item on the list.
It’s time to cultivate.
In the dark of the night a man with a cane made his way through the alleys of the city undetected. His figure was hunched over, and he had an unsteady gait. His breathing caused small whizzing noises that would have made most people wonder whether the man suffered from some sort of illness.
Eventually, the man made his way into a rundown shack at the outskirts of the city, near the defensive walls that surrounded the population of the capital. Inside, the shack consisted of just one room and one large table with many chairs. All the spots were occupied by hooded figures of many shapes and heights.
“You are all here. Good,” the man spoke as he looked up at everyone, his face was covered with a simple black mask. “I have brought some rather valuable news. I am sure your masters will be pleased.”
“Hurry, scoundrel. We have neither time nor use for dragged out speeches.” A feminine voice rang like a bell, interrupting the man.
“Patience! I won’t hold you long,” the man rasped out. “First, the price of this information. I-”
“Impudent whelp!” A man boomed out. “You have already been paid! You dare demand more?!”
“My lord,” The man rasped out, “I guarantee that this request would be nothing but a benefit to you all. I simply wish that you crush Lord Lerron!”
Silence stretched out for a moment, before the same man let out a growling “Fine,” from his lips.
“This humble servant is thankful,” the man said with a bow.
“Hasef! Get on with it!” A third voice barked, and the man hastened to proceed.
“But of course! I got this information from the palace itself. A brand new dungeon has been discovered in the north and it is apparently so precious that the king himself has taken interest in seeing it protected. Moreover, the dungeon is predicted to be quite a resource in the future, enough to warrant building a city around it. It would seem that the region where the dungeon is located does not yet have a ruler. Hence, the king is going to create some sort of event to decide who will rule over the dungeon city in the future.”
A silence stretched as Hasef finished his speech, and several figures looked at eachother, while others bowed their heads in thought.
“Excellent,” a soft voice said behind Hasef. An instant later he felt a flare of heat on his back, and his lungs seemed to fill with hot water.
No… not water. Hasef thought in panic as his mind began to haze. My own… Blood…
A dainty hand caught him as his legs buckled, and deposited him gently on the ground. A pretty face under the hood smiled softly at him, while the owner of said face held a bloody knife on her free hand.
“Thanks for the information, Hasef.” She whispered.
And then he closed his eyes as darkness took him.
|Species: True Dungeon||Rank: 2|
|Name: Smit||Age: 3 months|
|Mana: 17,036||Anima: 389|
|Mana Reg.: 861 MP/h||Anima Reg.: 19.27 AP/day|
|Floors: 5 (Max Floors available: 5)||Inhabitants: 81 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; Loot Craft; Luck of the draw; Mana absorption; Masterful mana manipulation; Modification of creations; Monster Link; Telepathy; Trap building; Transfer dungeon; Treasure Management.|
|Resistances: Magic (general); Mind control|