“Hellfire and damnation.” Smit grumbled as he thought furiously, his mind going back and forth between the news he had heard and the adventurers that were going through his halls. The news that had reached him was rather disturbing and causing him a great deal of stress.
“What’s the king thinking?” Smit grumbled to himself once more, his mind working overtime as he tried to think of a possible reason. “B ranks? We are not ready for that yet. We can barely keep C ranks in check as is now.”
“Father,” Arturus called out, “why is this is a problem? Is the difference between B and C rank really that great?”
Smit focused on Arturus suddenly, essentially looking at him with an air of urgency. “There is a world of difference Arturus! A whole world.”
Pausing for a second, he reminded himself that Arturus was hardly to be blamed. The poor creature had yet to turn three months old and had only lived in his dungeon thus far. Taking a moment to steady himself, he looked around his core room. Pala, Echo, and Arturus, his greatest creations, were all present. Probably none of them knew about the actual levels of the adventurers and they could hardly be blamed. Even Echo, who had lived far longer than the other two, had not really paid much mind to adventurers when she was a dungeon herself, and thus was just marginally less ignorant than the other two.
“Listen here you three, and listen well,” he said seriously, his presence expanding as if it was unfolding itself to fill the entire room, making it clear this was a serious matter. By the wide eyes that his creations made as they focused on his crystalline body, seeming like they were beholding something terribly frightening, he judged that he had their attention. “Once adventurers reach a certain level, there are great differences between the strengths at each rank. Specifically, beyond the C rank, the strengths of the higher ranks increase dramatically. The first wall is the wall between the C to B ranks. This is the wall that divides the good adventurers from the great adventurers. Any team can reach C rank, with sufficient hard work and determination.
A C rank adventurer as a true professional of the trade, any man or woman who has dedicated their lives to learning the trade. However, a B rank is another breed of adventurer. This are what we could call very talented individuals, often able to use special skills. Any B rank adventurer is worth three of the C ranks. Adventurers of A rank are prodigies with great abilities, and S ranks are monsters amongst men. Do you understand now, my children? Imagine a team of B ranks. Imagine a team of four people, each of which is comparable to say, a little more than half of the Azure Arrow team members. Do you see now?”
He let his words sink into their minds, letting them process the idea of a single team of people be worth three Azure Arrows. Pala and his squad had barely held them off last time and that was solely due to the preparations taken beforehand, as well as the fact that the adventurers had had no knowledge of the second floor. The implications were unpleasant, should the dungeon be met with not one, but several teams of this calibre.
There was only silence at his words now, and he could not fault them. Though his creatures were certainly strong, they would never survive an encounter with an A rank, much less with an S rank individual. Pala’s speed, Echos’ toughness, and even Arturus’s leadership skills, all would crumble before the power of an S rank adventurer.
“How can one combat such monsters?” Pala whispered with a tone of melancholy.
“Oh, it’s possible,” Smit affirmed powerfully, noticing the depressing mood that seemed to bear down on everyone present. “In fact, it is possible to even kill an S rank.”
His words got a reaction out of everyone in the room, who seemed to look at him with morbid curiosity. It was easy for Smit to read their expressions, who seemed to ask how could someone kill such monsters anyways?
“If you want to kill a monster,” Smit continued, “all you have to do is find a greater monster to take them down.”
Smit chuckled at the simplicity of his own statement, but it had always held true. This was one of the most obvious pieces of wisdom he had learned over the centuries of life he had had before his new life. This particular nugget of wisdom had been acquired from an old acquaintance, now long dead, but he was a hunter without equal in his time.
“Which means,” Smit continued, “that we all must become monsters to hope to survive against those people.”
He relaxed his aura, and the atmosphere shifted as he the unseen pressure was withdrawn from the room. He even heard his children sigh in relief, which he found odd, but ignored it. “We must prepare. Starting today, the fifth floor is to be used for another battle frenzy. I want everyone ready to fight to the death.”
Pala shivered as he stepped out of the core room with Echo and Arturus, shivering slightly at what had just happened.
“What a terrifying pressure that was,” he muttered. It was true. Pala had never seen Smit unfold his presence like that. It was like he had always had a mountain before him but never seen it until now.
“Yes. I did not know Father had such an aura,” Echo nodded. “His presence is beyond anything I have experienced before, even the adventurers that ended me in my previous life can not compare.”
“First he was a strong father,” Arturus began. “Then he was a king. And then he was a god that held the world in his palm. I am young, but I have never sensed such depth of wisdom in anything or anyone. I was but a babe before an all-knowing master.”
“Accurate,” Echo stated solemnly. Smit’s aura did not shock them simply because of the amount of power in it, that was to be expected of a creature with several thousand times their mana capacity. Instead, what pulled them in was the fact that there was a certain depth to it, a feeling of wisdom that seemed to stretch for miles and miles.
“Father knows far more than we can imagine,” Pala muttered. “I wonder, what does he see? How does he see the world? Does he see us? Beyond us? The future? The past? Life itself…?”
Everyone was silent for a moment, marching down the halls of the maze. A pulse of pressure was felt and they all knew that this was the signal to begin the new frenzy.
“No point in just worrying about it,” Pala finally said. “Come my siblings, let us dance with the other creations. For the glory of the Father!”
No one said a thing in reply, but they didn’t need to. There was a certain fire lit in the eyes of Arturus and Echo.
And so, the massacre began.
Adder was tired. Just tired of endless walking, tired of puzzles and traps, tired of those damn statues seeming to follow him everywhere with their eyes! If it wasn’t for the fact that the walls offered endless images to observe, he would have probably have been tired of looking at halls of stone too. At this point, the only thing that he could say that he liked about the entire thing was the art. Their team was already battered and bruised as they walked and walked. It had been a week since they stepped foot into the maze and they been wandering endlessly ever since.
At one point they had failed to solve a puzzle and triggered a trap that released a small horde of monsters. That wouldn’t have been so bad, had it not been for the fact that they triggered a second trap during the fight, which had caused spears to come out from the floor at random, which nearly gutted Ella.
It had been a truly terrifying experience.
That said, Adder and his team had found some unexpected surprises that had made their stay much more pleasant than it could have been. They had found what seemed to be natural bathrooms, little rooms of nature that allowed people some privacy to do their necessities. They had also found occasional little springs in some of these rooms, no more than a bowl worth of water, but it allowed them to conserve a bit of the water they had brought.
There were treasure chests to be found and they noted that the quality of these items were certainly of a higher quality than those you could find in the normal market place. Adder had personally begun collecting some of the knives they found in the treasure chests, marvelling at the balance of the blades. He only wished that he could find a holster to keep them all on his person, rather than having to store some of them in his bags.
Besides the knives, however, there were more hidden gems in the chests. They even had the good fortune to find a bronze axe! Though the axe was single handed and not as strong as iron or steel, it was given to James and it made a difference when fighting golems in particular. Now the party could at least manage against them without exhausting themselves dramatically.
However, even with their good fortune and assorted skills, their luck was running out. Their equipment was battered to no end, the food was starting to run low, lack of sleep was starting to affect their minds and their stress levels were at an all-time high.
“We need to get out of here,” Ziggurd mumbled. “We are not ready for this… all of this.” He waved his hand around tiredly. “It’s like we are walking in the belly of some beast.”
“Thanks for the cheery thought,” Adder snapped. “It’s not like we haven’t been trying to find our way for the last who knows how long!”
“Don’t yell at him!” Mei retorted. “He is the one healing us all the time. What can you do with your knives? You are a distraction at best to those golems.”
“Oh I’ll show you what I can do with-”
“Enough!” Ella barked, her shout more angry than it should have been. “This is not the time for that. Let’s find another path to the third floor and get out. Fighting amongst ourselves will be the end of us in a place like this.”
“Yes, boss,” Adder replied with contempt, earning him a glare from Ella, but did as he was told. He knew she was right, as much as he hated to admit it, and so was Mei. If he was to try to move around on his own, he would be helpless if he ran into more golems. His team was his only chance at survival, and they needed him to map the place. It was the only way to get out of here.
“The last stairs that headed up only led us to a puzzle room,” Ella recapped. “And beyond that was a treasure room that was a dead end. This maze is intricately built, there must be more than one way up and down.”
“That’s the hope,” Adder replied. “Unless the dungeon was feeling particularly sadistic about starving people to death.”
“Don’t jinx it,” Ziggurd replied. “So far, the dungeon seems to be indifferent to people… I think. So I doubt it would do that. Perhaps there is only one way down to the core room, but I don’t think there is only one way out of here.”
“That’s surprisingly optimistic of you,” James chuckled. “If I was a dungeon, I don’t know if I would want people leaving, even if I didn’t care for them.”
“No think about it,” Ziggurd insisted. “If there is only one way down and multiple adventurer groups went into the dungeon, they would eventually have to follow the same path. If only one person were to remember it all, then it would be no good, yes?”
“Like anyone would remember the way,” Ella said. “It’s been days, maybe weeks, and we are still wandering.”
“But think about it. Wouldn’t the dungeon want to split up people if there were multiple teams?” Ziggurd insisted. “The easiest way is to have multiple places to go up and down, at least from the first floor. Then they are all scattered to the second floor and its easier to cut them down.”
“Cheery thoughts,” Mei said with a bitter chuckle. “But in the end, there is no guarantee the dungeon thinks like that. The dungeon might have just made multiple ways up and down because it looked good to it. Or it might have made only one way up and down.”
“Enough,” Ella repeated. “All we can do is keep moving. If we stop, if we falter, we might really never get out of here alive. We have run through most of our food already. We have a few days at best to get out.”
“Thank god for bear meat,” James said with a chuckle.
There was a general murmur of agreement to that statement, followed by silence. Hours slipped by and occasionally a trap would be triggered, or a battle would ensue, but bit by bit the adventures moved forwards.
“Hey look!” James said as he pointed his bronze axe at the distance. “I think those are stairs.”
“Let’s hope. Come on.” Ella said, and the team pressed on, praying that it didn’t lead to another puzzle room.
As the days past, the situation in the fifth floor of the maze was rather grizzly. Had the dungeon not absorbed automatically the flesh and blood of the fallen creatures after a certain period of time, the entire floor would look like a scene from hell. Creatures respawned every twelve hours, and they fought to their dying breath. Bit by bit the survivors accumulated more and more strength, subsequently growing and killing more.
His three children were particularly vicious, hunting the largest and most dangerous creatures he could spawn with reckless abandon. Pala had recently even learned to focus his energy in his spear and thrust it outwards, penetrating into creatures with great force. The move made the tip of the spear glow faintly with a red light and the force of the thrust was multiplied such that it could carve a hole even through a wooden golem.
This was Pala’s greatest move for now. As simple as it was in appearance, it had tremendous destructive power, even though it was incomplete. Pala had dubbed the skill simply, calling it “Penetrating Thrust” which, to be fair, Smit found to be rather lackluster. At least the name fit.
Echo, on the other hand, had finally reached a level of motor control that was acceptable to handle her halberd appropriately and was utilizing it to her utmost ability. Every chance she got, she would attack with it fiercely, slicing and piercing to her heart's content. Though her moves were far from refined, they were leaps and bounds ahead of her original rusty movements. Truly, she was a promising and diligent child. Smit had no doubt that, given time, Echo would be a true valkyrie on the battlefield, reaping the lives of her enemies.
Arturus, despite being the ‘youngest’ of his children, was not far behind his siblings in terms of combat prowess. His great size belied his agility, as he easily outmaneuvered the other creatures and tore them apart with claw and fang. His skills were nothing short of fantastic for his purposes. His hide had proven resistant to normal attacks of kobolds with their spears and his strength was on par with that of a bear. Moreover, his ability to command other species was a boon that made him formidable in group battles, especially when you took into account his ability to heal his allies. Smit would even say that, as far as group battles went, Arturus was the undisputed champion.
Smit had spent his days cultivating like a madman, barely pulling out of his trance at the presence of the new adventurers. Even Azure Arrow was a minor concern at this point. They had finally moved up to the first floor, and seemed to be in a hurry to leave. Smit could care less if they escaped and, in fact, he almost preferred that they did. He had no use for them and he didn’t really want them intruding into the last floor of the maze and messing up his current setup. The faster they left, the sooner and better he could focus on his current job.
He had less than a month to gain his next breakthrough and honestly… it was not looking good. Even with his current ridiculous speed, the jump between the last breakthrough and the next was far larger than that between the first and the second. He had been too concerned with the events going around his dungeon and had neglected his advancement as a result. Between the ogres, the adventurers, and the mysterious deity that had played a hand in evolving Arturus, he had more than one distraction that kept him from his duty. As of now, he would be lucky to breakthrough by the time the adventurers arrived, meaning that creating a new level before they entered his dungeon would be challenging at best.
In an instant, his core room was flooded by white light, shocking him out of his cultivation. Instantly becoming alert, Smit ‘stared’ into the light, instinctively calling upon his three children to protect him. But he knew. They were too far. If this creature wanted to end him, it had time to do so.
Steeling his resolve, Smit began to gather mana in vast quantities, drawing upon his massive reserves without a regret. If he had to die, he would at least go down fighting, regardless of the mana cost.
“Cease your worrying, o dungeon.” A warm voice came through the light and the light began to recede, revealing the form of a winged man. The being was clothed in a fine robe and sported a helm of silver. Under his arm, he carried a leather bound book with intricate design. The man was, for lack of a better word, beautiful. More beautiful even than an elf.
“I have not come to harm you,” the being added. “I have come on orders of the All-father.”
What in the blazes…?! Smit gapped mentally, barely managing from voicing his thoughts.
“I have come in the name of the All-father,” the creature said. “The All-father has sent me to deliver a warning to you. Your existence is special, a treasure that is unique in this world. However, you have already caught the attention of several gods. These gods have become… unruly as of late. Do not fret, they may not interfere directly with you, there have been restrictions put in place. But be warned, they will try to acquire you by different means. Be wary, dungeon, some of the gods would use you in ways that would displease you, should they capture you.”
“…Can’t the All-father stop them?” Smit asked after trying to process the situation. This was something that he was not sure how to deal with. He had seen heroes and demigods, but this was on a different level altogether. Who knew that a messenger from that god would show up? Hell, who knew that he was even real?
“The All-father does not wish to interfere too much with this world,” the creature said with a frown. “There are circumstances at work, dungeon, and I do not have time to explain. However, the All-father is not without mercy. Here, take this.”
The creature, no, the angel released the book which floated up in the air. The book opened in a radiant burst of light and scattered into dust. The dust whirled and dove towards Smit, enveloping him for a moment. Smit’s senses exploded as he was flooded by all sorts of sensations, his very being vibrating with the essence of life.
And just as suddenly as it began, it ended. Too soon, the holy dust retreated from him and he was once again left to look around his room, disoriented, but feeling different.
“The book has judged you, and by the will of the All-father, you have been bestowed a gift,” the angel said with a small nod of his head, looking down upon the dungeon heart with what seemed to be curiosity. “Interesting that you should have gained that gift in particular. Little dungeon, be glad that the All-father has interfered this much already. Now, farewell, little dungeon.”
And just like that, the creature combusted into light and disappeared again. The entire conversation lasted no more than a few minutes, but that had been plenty enough to make Smit’s mind swim.
Seconds later, Smit’s children charged into the room brandishing their weapons, but by then, it was already too late.
“Father! Are you alright?” Pala asked with agitation, looking around the room for any signs of danger. “Who was it? Where? What happened?!”
“Calm yourself, child!” Smit said forcefully, forcing Pala to listen to him. “I am safe. Thank you for coming so quickly.”
“What happened?” Echo followed up. “Something feels… different.”
“I sense a faint trace of holy energy.” Arturus said as he sniffed the air. “Something powerful was here.”
“Indeed there was,” Smit said with a sigh. “I had a rather interesting guest. Who knew that out of all the gods, I would be contacted by one of the ancient ones.”
“Father?” Pala inquired, his voice thick with worry. “Are you hurt?”
“Do not underestimate me,” Smit retorted. “I have dealt with great beings before, I am not that fragile. I appreciate your concern, however. I will explain everything later. Off with you, I need you all to get strong.”
“Father, is it wise to- ” Echo began to protest, but was silenced by a ‘look’ from Smit, who turned his presence to focus on her.
“Go,” Smit said decisively. “You are too weak as you are now to fight that creature anyways. If he had come to harm me, you would have been crushed in an instant. If you want to help me, become stronger.”
There was an uncomfortable silence during which his children hesitated, but they relented before his will. They made their way out with too much in their minds, their hearts heavy at the knowledge of their weakness. But they marched out, ready to vent their frustrations on other creatures that they might find.
“Seems like we have our work cut out for us,” Smit grumbled, after sending away his children once more. Nothing could ever be easy for Smit.
|Congratulations! You have gained the unique ability [Selective Speciation]. [Selective Speciation] linked with [Equivalent Exchange].|
|Species: True Dungeon||Rank: 2|
|Name: Smit||Age: 3 months|
|Mana: 203,120||Anima: 639|
|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; Selective Speciation; Trap building; Transfer dungeon; Treasure Management.|
|Resistances: Magic (general); Mind control|