…A small fine box clicked open and a pall of fire erupted from its depths, searing her eyes. A loud noise numbed the ears, leaving them ringing with a high pitched sound that penetrated deep into her skull. Scorching flames leaped at her face, voraciously trying to consume her flesh. She let out a strangled scream, and a gust of sizzling air burned her throat even as the force of the explosion propelled her off her feet. Then, the painful ordeal ended as her back slammed against the nearby sewer wall, cracking her bones in the process.
Her heart beat erratically and blood spilt from the wounds of her arms, which seemed to have been shredded by the explosion. A metal bracelet broke from her ankle, crumbling into dust as a wave of vitality seemed to wash over her body. She drew in a shuddering breath and felt the grip of death grow weaker. Her wounds started to mend slowly, regenerating and reconstructing her body largely. Her eyes were the worst of it, painfully melting down and reforming in their sockets as new nerves grew all at once, feeling raw from their sudden construction
But it wasn’t perfect.
The damage was too extensive for the artifact to repair wholly. She could feel a pain in her back that announced that her spine and ribs were probably cracked and a brief look at her hands showed her the scarred new skin that enveloped her fingers, two of which had healed crookedly. She took another shuddering breath, and reached up with her hands to feel her face. She didn’t have to look in a mirror to discern the damage she had received. Her face had burn scars all across, as if had healed naturally from a terrible accident.
She sat still for a moment in the gloom, shivering and twitching for a time. She could not tell if it had been an hour or a minute, but a loud noise awakened her from her state of mind. A loud wail that came from her throat as she processed all the information at once. A second scream tore through the sewer just moments later, but this time it was a roar of rage and grief.
Drawing a deep, gasping breath, Aiyana opened her eyes as she pulled away from Hasef, her mind disconnecting from the his as the last spark of life faded from him.
“So?” A hooded, short man inquired roughly.
“He had legitimate reason,” she said bluntly. “It was not a trick from Lord Lerron. Lerron tried to be rid of him by setting a trap. Unfortunately for Lerron, it seems Hasef never fully trusted him either… or perhaps Hasef is more paranoid that we gave him credit for. Either way, it does not seem that this is a trap from Lerron, nor does it seem to be false information. This man truly did get this information from the royal court.”
“Curious how he managed to overhear so much from the king and his trusted allies.” A second figure commented from the shadows with a deep voice. “The castle is nigh impenetrable without a siege, and the king is no fool.”
“Nevertheless, if you have confirmed the information to be real...” A feminine voice joined into the discussion, the owner of the voice been a rather short hooded creature with a very prominent hourglass figure. “I have no complaints if the Witch of the Mist herself checked him.
A fourth young voice chimed in, this one from a thin womanly figure. “A shame for such a reputable thief of knowledge to die like this.”
A grunt escaped the short man, as he dismissed the pity of the previous voice. “Do not be a fool. There is more to this than just plugging a potential leak of information. Lord Lerron is many things, but he is not a fool. He probably sent someone to check for a corpse and he is clearly not going to find one. Odds are five to one that he will send someone to try to find this poor sod, and that might lead them straight to us. And it might not just be a random group of mercenaries tracking him, Lord Lerron might manipulate a number of people, perhaps even the local knights policing the area to help him find Hasef. That would be guaranteed to cause trouble for us. Putting down this broken dog was the safest bet.”
“Even if Lerron doesn’t send someone,” the short woman chimed in, “a crippled spy is worth little and a crippled spy running from his previous employer is worth even less. Who would trust a spy who betrayed his last employer, regardless of the reason? He would have been a pathetic existence if he managed to survive the hunt that is sure to be coming his way. We did him a favour.”
“Enough of that,” the owner of the deep voice spoke up, his voice rumbling as the large man made a dismissive motion with his hand. “My master wanted him dead, anyway. Had the witch not suggested this method to ascertain the truth in his words, I would have killed him the minute he stepped out of this shack.”
“How cold of you,” the thin woman chuckled, her voice chiming like a bell. “I wonder, who could your master be?”
“None of your concern,” the man set sharply. “Unless you want your neck wrung like a chicken’s.”
“How scary,” the woman said in a singsong voice, betraying none of her emotions. “Don’t worry my dear, I am more interested in who could have hired the Witch of the Mist for a meeting such as this. This seems so outside of your usual activities, Lady Witch.”
“Just a favour I owed,” she said with a hum as she looked over Hasef’s corpse. She pulled her knife out from its sheath again, seeming to consider doing something with it as she looked over Hasef surgically. “Don’t worry about his body, by the way. I’ll take care of it.”
Her words sent a small shiver through the other figures, who decided it would be best to keep silent in the matter.
“Then this matter is settled,” the short woman said abruptly. “Gentlemen. Ladies.”
Before anyone could say a thing, she leaped though a tattered window as gracefully as a gazelle.
There was a general murmur of agreement as the rest of the other hooded figures silently made their own way out. One faded into the shadows, another took the door, and a third simply seemed to take the backdoor of the building, leaving the witch and the corpse alone in the building.
Humming to herself, the witch smiled with her pretty freckled face, her mouth stretching far wider than it should have been possible. “Now then, what to do with you.”
In the first week of the greenhorn adventurers diving into his dungeon, Smit managed to find out a number of things. First, the loot system seemed to be working adequately. The adventurers seemed rather surprised about it, at first, and he was sure that they reported their findings to their superiors with haste. Smit wouldn’t admit it, but he internally chuckled when the adventurers witnessed some of his fallen snakes dissolve into light, leaving behind some fangs for them to pick up. Of course, this only happened because the corpses of the snakes had been left unmolested for a period of time. Had they been quicker about it, they might have been able to skin snakes and pulled out its fangs, earning them more for their troubles.
At any rate, Smit fully expected his dungeon to be receiving even more adventurers in the future with this new ability of his, considering that now the adventurers could continuously earn materials without having to sit down and skin every creature. This would be particularly useful for parties that had no one with dismantling skills or abilities.
Smit had also managed to carry out a few of his experiments thanks to the large volume of fledgling adventurers with interesting results. His ability [Mana Absorption] was capable of drawing out some amount of mana from the adventurers. However, the rate at which it drew out the mana was rather low. In comparison, he could draw out significantly more mana from his own creations, which he could essentially drain until they were mana starved.
Additionally, he could even draw a bit of anima from his adventuring guests with [Life-energy Harnessing], but the amount drawn was even less than the mana. However, when compared to his own reserves, the amount of anima he managed to gather was considerably more significant.
The one mystery that remained, however, was Ether. Every time he activated his ability [Ether Manipulation], he vaguely sensed something around him, touching everything, yet not quite existing in the same way that magic or regular matter did. It was a phantom feeling, like the thinnest of veils stretching across everything and beyond that veil he could sense that there was something he could reach. What that was, however, was a mystery to him.
He knew he would have to experiment more to attain any significant results. As such, he simply set the matter aside for the moment.
The most significant discovery came in the gratifying form of levels. As he suspected, the level of a creature indicated how close a creature was to evolving. This gave Smit a more accurate way of estimating when a creature would be able to evolve, rather than relying on that odd sensation that served as a vague indicator of when the creatures were ready.
All in all, the week had been very productive for Smit, allowing him to learn more about himself and the adventurers that visited his dungeon on a daily basis. Fortunately, there were no more accidental deaths during the week. That Anastasy woman that died accidentally on the first day had apparently made an impact on the other adventurers, considering they seemed to be far more cautions since. However, this meant that none of the new teams had dared to attempt the second floor yet, making his first floor considerably crowded. This had forced Smit to seriously consider expanding the first floor of his dungeon to accommodate the number of adventurers he was expecting in the future.
“Well then… what’s this?” Smit’s senses detected the members Azure Arrow working their way into the depths of the dungeon, cutting their way to the second floor. The team of five had clearly adapted to the first floor of the dungeon by now, cutting their way through the first floor of the dungeon without much trouble.
Hmm… Seems like they decided that the whelps are ready to hold their own. Smit thought to himself as they reached the last room of the first floor, where he had placed a pack of wolves to defend the entrance to the second floor. Unfortunately for the wolves, Azure Arrow was perfectly capable of cutting them down with blades and hammer. The entirety of the fight lasted no more than five minutes from start to finish.
Thoughtfully, Smit followed the adventurers to the second floor, feeling satisfaction as the adventurers once more admired his handiwork. The staircase that led from the first to the second floor was masterpiece in its own right, but the ambiance he had created by simply leaving the stairs in a spiral with a hollow centre and no railing gave the staircase a little of a mysterious aura. But now he had even improved upon that!
Since his acquisition of elemental spirits, he had sprinkled some on the tunnel of the staircase, letting the a few spirits of each element float around gently in that space, letting them shine with their tiny lights. It looked like stardust, and it gave the area a whole new level of beauty.
He was quite sure that the little elf practically forgot to breathe when she entered the staircase, which was amusing but understandable. Elves had a high affinity with nature, thus for her to be in a room with such gentle spirits dozing about must have added to the beauty of the place. Or perhaps, she was entirely taken aback by the presence of the calm little spirits in a place that she associated with danger and death. Either way, whatever the reason had been, she was looking around with wide doe eyes, taking it all in like a child who had never seen a parade.
Once they descended the length of the stairs, he observed them prepare to run into the greeting hall of the second floor. Clearly they had put a lot of thought on how to get through, as the spell caster put several buffs on the entire party. They even had different attires than what he recalled them having last time, with the exception of James. Though the attires of most everyone seemed to be light, the leather was clearly different, made of a more sturdy material and tanned specially to gain a certain level of hardness.
Even that Zigurd fellow had a vest of thick leather over his robes, which was rather uncommon for a mage, but it gave Smit a rough idea of what they were planning to do. It was a simple but effective plan. They were simply going to rush it and take the traps as they came.
Chuckling, Smit grinned to himself as he saw through their plan. It wasn’t a bad idea, truth be told, but it was far from elegant. Perhaps there was a reason tied to this method of theirs. Or perhaps they simply had no other ideas. The later thought made Smith sigh. If that was the reason, then their strategical skills were lacking and things would be dangerous for them past the second floor.
But such is life. Smit thought to himself with a hum.
“Father.” I turned my attention away from the preparing adventurers to watch Echo come into his room.
“Echo, how are you, my dear?” He replied to her.
“I am well, Father. I have finished my training for now and wished to talk.”
“You know, I can hear and see everything in my dungeon,” Smit reminded her. “You don’t necessarily have to come to this room to talk to me.”
“That’s true,” Echo replied. “But this feels… different. It feels right to come to speak with you, Father.”
He wanted to ask her what she meant by that, but simply let it slide. It was of no concern to him in the end, as it didn’t truly cause any harm or inconvenience. Perhaps Echo was simply adjusting to her life as a monster entirely, and felt the need to see him face-to-face.
“I see. What do you wish to talk about?”
“Well,” Echo began, her words slowing down as she tried to articulate her thoughts. “I um… Hmm…”
She paused and seemed to collect her thoughts, seemingly unsure about how to proceed. This was obvious to Smit, who simply waited silently for her to continue talking. There was no particular rush anyways. Even if the adventurers managed to rush the greeting hall that surprise should be ready for them now. Even if they killed it, he would be able to resummon it at full power now.
Eventually, Echo seemed to organize her thoughts properly.
“I want to know about… you.”
If Smit had had a face, he would have stared at her blankly for a moment.
“Me?” He replied. “What is it about me that you wish to know?”
“Father, I want to learn more about you. I feel it in my soul, you are much more than any of us know. Pala agrees, and even Arturous has commented on it. We wish to know.”
“Even Arturous, huh…” Smit muttered to himself. How interesting. That oversized dog was more talkative than he expected.
Echo looked up expectantly, her eyes looking at the floating dungeon core before her with great expectations. “It doesn’t even have to be much, Father! Just a bit is fine.”
“Well then… I suppose I could,” Smit replied, uncertain as to what would interest Echo so much about his past. Perhaps he could chalk it up to his creations being simply curious about their creators and leave it at that.
Echo’s face lit up like he hadn’t seen ever before, which made him do a double take. Who knew that she could look so sweet when she smiled like that?
“Well, let’s start wi-” Smit began, but he was promptly interrupted by Echo’s hurried words.
“Wait, Father, wait!” She said frantically. “I believe Pala and Arturous would like to hear too!”
“Hmm… I suppose it would be easier to say it once rather than three times,” Smit said with a nod. “Go ahead and get them.”
No more words needed to be said before Echo bolted out the door, making Smit blink. She could have easily tried contacting them mentally, but perhaps she was too excited to think of that. The thought made him chuckle. Imagine that, Echo too excited to think. Well, perhaps this was better for him. It would give him a chance to organize his own thoughts too.
Perhaps even make a little song out of it? Smit considered, It wouldn’t be difficult to do it on the run… but perhaps a little structure is in order. Hmmm… Syllables. That will be the guideline.
Satisfied with his decision, Smit began to form lyrics in his head, trying to sum up his life in a short song, which was a challenge considering his age. Not one to back up from a challenge. Smit decided to tweak his song a bit. Rather than his entire life, perhaps a short summary until his ‘death’ would suffice.
Ella and her team had managed to rush across the entire set of traps, with James taking the lead as he redirected or absorbed the majority of the damage with his great shield. Truthfully, the plan was crude but effective, as it allowed the rest of the party to follow in his wake and only have to worry about delayed traps or traps that had a wider range of effect.
With this tactic, they cut down the amount of time needed to cross the room significantly, making it across in about five minutes, despite the numerous close calls, and a few arrows embedded on the thick leather armour. These arrows however, had not managed to pierce the flesh of the adventurers, thanks to the armour and the defensive buffs, courtesy of Ziggurd.
“Well, it worked,” Ella said whilst panting, doubling over slightly as she caught her breath.
“That was bloody terrifying,” Adder said as he let himself drop to the floor, resting his back against a wall. “I swear that exploding pillar nearly took off my head with those fragments.”
“I would worry more about the ones that spew fire. Leather won’t do much against those flames,” Mei pitched in, taking a swig of her water skin.
“Thankfully our-” Ziggurd began to speak, but was interrupted by a humming sound that resonated through the entire dungeon, yet it was little more than a whisper.
“Do you think it’s…?” Adder asked, not even finishing his sentence. Fortunately, he didn’t need to, for everyone understood what he meant.
“I think so,” Mei said in a hushed tone.
“We better move,” Ella said sharply. “We have no idea if its songs have effect on the dungeon itself or the monsters. I don’t want to be caught flat footed by a mob of kobolds. Let’s move.”
A dissatisfied groan escaped Adder as he stood up, but no one else complained. They knew she was right of course. A golden rule for dungeon diving was to always be weary of the unknown. And a singing dungeon was definitely a huge unknown.
“Ready?” Ella asked a few seconds later, and received confirmation from her team via a general murmur of agreement. “Let’s go.”
Steeling themselves, the group marched onwards with weapons at the ready. As they approached the exit of the stony hallway, they reached the wide pond room where they remembered facing off the kobolds. Nodding at her team, the entire group leaped into the room, staying just past the entrance, weapons raised and ready.
Instantly a small army of eyes locked onto them. They had run into about thirty kobolds, some of which were clearly warrior variants, and others shamans. Though the numbers of the warriors and shamans were small, only accounting for a third of the total, Azure Arrow knew better than to take it easy on them. With a soft chant, Ziggurd created a platform of earth that rose just a few feet off the ground beneath him and Mei, giving them a superior view of the soon-to-be field of battle. An arrow shot from a bow and blood flourished from the eye of a kobold shaman.
An instant later, chaos ensued as kobolds crashed against the adventurers in a flurry of blows and hisses. In a dance of steel and magic, the two sides collide with fervour. Azure Arrow aggressively tried to mow down the kobolds, attempting to cut the kobolds down before the music could trigger something. The kobolds fought back bravely, tenaciously striking back even when an arm was cut off or a knife was impaled in their bellies.
If Ella had been forced to voice her thoughts, she would have admitted that she was disturbed by the kobolds, at least to a degree. Never had she seen a creature willingly lose an arm to stop a hand, nor had she seen a dying creature grab hold of her weapon to slow down her movements after she had stabbed their gut. Nevertheless, she and her team worked their way to victory, hacking, slashing, and piercing through flesh and bone.
Without wolves or Pala, the kobolds were far less of a threat, even despite their numbers. James and Ziggurd were particularly pivotal in the fight. One was like an immovable tower of steel, effortlessly sweeping any who would stand before him with his mighty hammer. The other focused exclusively in erecting barriers around his allies, denying the shaman kobolds the ability to deal too much damage to his allies while his teammates took care of the damage dealing. With Ziggurd effectively shutting down the damage from the shamans, the kobolds lost a significant portion of their firepower, forcing them to rush the adventurers.
But just as the last of the kobolds fell, there came a sound.
Though the sound of rippling water was soft, almost inaudible at first, as small waves started to rose from the pond, it heralded the entrance of a much larger creature. From the centre of the pond, a long writhing tentacle-like thing stretched out. Mossy green in colour, it looked like a pillar made of strange, luscious tangled vines. The pillar seemed to convulse and writhe, unfurling from a pillar into a dozen tentacle like appendages. The tentacles swayed back and forth slowly, turning this way and that, as if searching for something.
“What in the fuck is that?!” Adder exclaimed loudly, staring at the new creature.
Instantly the tentacles stopped moving and swivelled to point their tips towards him, giving the impression that they ‘saw’ him.
“I don’t think it liked that!” Ziggurd stated as he started to ready his magic.
The vines shot towards the adventurers like giant green snakes, barely giving Adder and James time to dodge. Ella ran towards them as more tentacles followed after them and let out a strong shout. Her rapier followed her shout and sliced off one of the tentacles, making the creature recoil from her touch for a moment.
“It’s a Drowned Vine!” Mei shouted at her teammates. “Don’t let it catch you, or will drag you underwater!”
“How do we-!” Adder screamed at her as he threw himself to the side to avoid a barrage of tentacle strikes, managing to slice the underside of one of those tentacles with his knife. “How do we kill it?!”
“Bleed it!” Mei replied as she prepared another arrow and let it loose at the tentacles. “Its sap is particularly combustible!”
“Setting it on fire it is!” Ella shouted back as she moved slightly to the side as a tentacle shot past her, cutting itself open along her extended blade. “James, back up and protect Ziggurd and Mei! Your hammer is useless here!”
Grunting, James beat a hasty retreat with his heavy metal armour back towards Mei and Ziggurd. As if the plant monster could sense their intentions, it shot its vines towards James with vengeance, trying to get a hold on him.
“It’s sensitive to sound too!” Mei added in quickly, but it was too late. The running and clanging of the metal armour had drawn the attention of the creature. Ten tentacles shot towards James, snaking through empty air, attracted towards him like iron to a magnet. In a split of second of inspiration, James threw his shield and hammer off to the sides, letting them clatter noisily on the hard ground. Several tentacles peeled off the main group, wrapping themselves around the metallic objects and dragging them towards the pond.
Two tentacles still followed him without veering off, hell bent on grabbing the large man. A tentacle wrapped around one of his arms, pulling back with force, slowing him down. A second one latched onto him at the waist, effectively stopping the giant of a man.
“Get. It. Off.” James growled between clenched teeth as he strained to move forwards, the muscles across his entire body bulging and straining to fight the powerful tentacles that threatened to drag him down to the depths of the pond. Even the veins on his neck seemed to throb under the exertion of the force he had to apply to keep himself from being dragged away.
“Hold on!” Mei shouted from a small distance away, still standing on her platform with Ziggurd. She loaded two arrows on her bow at once, and let them fly at the tentacles, piercing both. She did this twice more in quick succession, causing the tentacles to quiver and writhe, but they refused to let James go. If anything, they seemed to pull harder as they started to actually drag him back slowly now.
“Zig!” Ella shouted as she rushed towards James. “Ready up a fire spell!”
She didn’t wait for confirmation from him and instead focused on gathering her spirit and focus for a special attack. Concentrating heavily, the edge of her sword seems to glow slightly, a silver streak of light as thin as a wire. With a heave, she wound up a slash, her hands high over her head. A powerful chop sliced through the air and the tentacles are cut off cleanly, letting James collapse forwards at the sudden release.
“Now!” She shouted as she rolled forward, away from the tentacles.
“[Fireball]!” Ziggurd shouted, barely completing the spell on time. A ball of fire the size of a human head launched itself from his staff to the severed tentacles, both of which were covered in oily sap. They caught on fire instantly and the creature started writhing in obvious pain. The creature thrashed about for a minute, wildly shuddering and swinging at empty air as it burned from the inside out.
“That…” Adder said with a sigh as he watched the last of the blackened tentacles collapse. “Was terrifying.”
“You weren’t the one it got,” James grumbled as he rubbed his arm. He was quite thankful to his armour, even if it had made a lot of noise. If he hadn’t been wearing it, he might have had his ribs cracked by those tentacles.
“That’s what you get for being loud,” Adder chuckled, earning him a dirty look from James.
“And you should learn to keep your trap shut in front of noise detecting plants,” James retorted.
“Enough of that,” Ella intervened. “We had no way of knowing this was going to be here. It’s clearly the new boss of this floor. Come, let’s retrieve your weapons, James. We must still see how the dungeon has progressed.”
Nodding silently, James stood up and followed Ella, walking into the pond until they were in it knee deep, finding something unexpected.
“Hey! A chest!” Ella called out as James found and retrieved his hammer. “Come here, help me pull this out.”
Excitement filled the adventurers the moment that the word “chest” escaped Ella’s mouth, and they eagerly rushed towards her. But then the humming began again, causing the adventurers to freeze. But this time, it wasn’t just humming. This time there was a voice in the air. An old, male voice that seemed to have a certain aura of… something. Something intangible that could not be ignored.
I walked the depths of the greatest mountains
And dug their hearts from their core
For my forge to create molten fountains
I bled their veins for their ore
I forged the greatest swords and axes known
Wrapped their hilts in fire and gold
I carved the greatest bows from dragon bone
Imbued with thunder and cold
Kings for my creations would swiftly kill
Seeking greatness for their own
Their praises and greed the most bitter pill
Vexed, I left the kings for stone
I travelled the world and found a new home
A place to craft and create
Away from the lands where mere mortals roam
Away from kings and their fate
Decades streaked past me like birds in flight
And Death tore my soul from its host
I was just a shadow cast in twilight
Where life was only a ghost
The song ended gently, with a tone that was neither sad nor desperate, just peaceful in its own haunting way. But somehow, it held the promise that this was not the end of it all. It took them a moment to digest these… lyrics that they had not expected to hear, but in the end, someone broke the silence.
“Forget the giant killer weed,” Adder exclaimed. “The hell was that?!”
No one offered an answer to him. They could not even begin to fathom what this could have meant.
|Species: True Dungeon||Rank: 2|
|Name: Smit||Age: 3 months|
|Mana: 89,336||Anima: 504|
|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|