Would you like to accept a soul binding contract with the human [Ziggurd Am’id]?
Smit released a puff of air from his nostrils, inwardly sighing as he agreed to the message. The sorcerer had tugged at his heartstrings and he had agreed to the request. He wondered if that had truly been the best course of action. He could have just stalled and let Ziggurd die from his own spell, which had clearly been zyphining the sorcerer’s strength mercilessly. However, now the was struck and the pact was sealed. Nothing could be done to change it. Who knew, perhaps something good would come out of this.
Smit silently watched the three nobles escape the room quietly with what was left of the adventurers with an unreadable expression. He knew that the one called Lerron had done something to make his creatures go wild with bloodlust, causing the chaos that had ensued. The man was more clever than he had expected, and far more cold and calculating too. There was something about that man that Smit did not like, something that caused him to be wary and perhaps even repulsed by the noble. Just by looking at the man’s eyes, Smit’s gut instinct told him that this man was a slimeball that could not be trusted.
“Where...wha…?” A disoriented voice sounded in Smit’s head. He looked to his left, towards the smoky ball of glowing blue light.
“Ah, there you are.” Smit grunted, stroking his beard slowly. “Seems like you are regaining your senses.”
The aura of the floating soul seemed to radiate confusion, but it was soon replaced by a feeling of anxiety and panic. “What you-! The dungeon? Wha- Wait Ella! The others! How are they?
“Don’t get your metal twisted.” The dwarf grunted, dismissing the worry of Ziggurd’s soul easily. With a movement of the wrist, a projection of the room where Ziggurd’s body and the rest of Azure Arrow still where. The projected image was so crisp and realistic it was as if Smit had ripped open a window in mid air. “As you can see, they are alive. Still healing by the looks of it, albeit slowly.”
“Thank the gods...” Ziggurd’s voice was relieved, as if a great weight had been lifted off his shoulders. His attention quickly shifted towards the golem beside him. It was simple to see that he was not your average golem. The detail was superb, to the point that even the eye movement seemed to be organic. Ziggurd couldn’t help but to wonder if the creature was a golem at all and not some sort of unknown species that dwelled deep within the dungeon. “And you are…?”
“Smit.” He said bluntly. “The dungeon core that you and yer friends were so keen on reaching.”
If Ziggurd had had a face, he would have had his mouth agape like a fish.
“Interesting trick that you pulled there.” Smit said thoughtfully, crossing his arms while he examined the image with interest.
“... What do you mean?” Ziggurd asked warily, his tone guarded while his mind still processed the information.
“The magic you used.” Smit clarified. “It seems unusual. I have never heard of a single magic that allowed you to heal a group of people and summon anything at the same time.”
“It’s… a form of compound magic.” Ziggurd said tentatively. “I used two sets of magic and rolled them into one.”
“Is that so?” Smit said with interest. “I didn’t know you could do that.”
“Normally, you can’t if the magics are too different.” Ziggurd admitted. “However, the magic I used this time were… different.”
“Explain.” Smit grunted, and Ziggurd found that he could not resist the order. Though Smit had not seemed to make the order with the intent to force the answer out of him, the power of the contract that bound him to Smit activated nonetheless.
“If there is something to… bridge the two magics, it can be done.” Ziggurd began to speak. “The first magic I used causes a form of regeneration over time. However, this magic requires blood sacrifice to work. Thus, this magic is forbidden. The second magic calls out to creatures that have no body. It broadcasts a signal that calls towards across the realms of men, spirits, devils and gods. This sorcery is even more taboo than the first because it requires the sacrifice of both life and blood. Worse, it also consumes the life of the one who casted the spell.”
“I see.” Smit replied. “So… they both require blood. Was that the bridge?”
Smit could feel the glowing ball of light that represented Ziggurd’s soul bob up and down, nodding. “Yes. So much blood was spilled that I could cast both of my spells, and link them together to increase the potency. Otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to heal all my companions at the same time.”
“I see… ironic that the price of life must be paid for in blood… Or perhaps, it is the most logical transaction of all.” Smit muttered, his voice oddly solemn, which surprised Ziggurd very much. Though Smit had a body, it was clearly not one made of flesh and blood. He had not thought it possible for a creature of hard stone and cold metal to be able to make such an expression, especially in such a deadly place as the dungeon had proven to be.
“Still, that second part of the spell was dangerous.” Smit continued gruffly. “It gave me an uncomfortable feeling. Even with your brief explanation, I can already imagine the sort of trouble that could have happened had I delayed.”
“What do you mean?” Ziggurd asked with curiosity, carefully modulating his voice to sound curious but barring any other emotion from showing. He wasn’t sure if he should be excited or afraid. What, after all, could cause a dungeon to be wary? They can create all sorts of outstanding environments, even some that defy imagination. There shouldn’t be any need to worry about his magic.
Smit harrumphed as he stroked his beard, and gave Ziggurd a sideways glance. “You are ignorant of what could happen… But I can’t fault you, I doubt this would cross the mind of anyone on standing on the edge of death. Fine, I will educate you.”
Looking at the creature before him, Ziggurd waited for his words with morbid curiosity. Smit made for an odd sight. His body looked short but powerful, his muscled arms as thick around as a man’s thighs, and yet he looked shrewd and wizened, like a sage that had spend many years pondering the mysteries of the world. The image that he was seeing now was hard to reconcile with his preconceived knowledge of dungeons, specially one that had led to his death.
“This dungeon is one of a kind.” Smit began, “Or perhaps it’s best to say that I am one of a kind. I was not always a dungeon core, but that’s beside the point. Do you remember the name of the dungeon?”
“The dungeon of origins?” Ziggurd replied
“Precisely.” Smit nodded gravely. “I am a species of dungeon that I dare say has not been seen yet by the eyes of any man. I am a true dungeon of origins. A creature outside the conventional ranking system.”
Ziggurd eyed Smit cautiously, but patiently awaited the reply of the dungeon core. He did not know how to act around this new being that now literally owned his soul, and opted to be silent. As they say, you may have a silver tongue, but silence is worth gold. However, if what he said was indeed true, then Ziggurd could understand why the dungeon was so odd. It certainly developed at a rate that simply should not be possible.
“What do you know about powerful dungeons?” Smit asked abruptly.
“They often have powerful monsters and great treasures?” Ziggurd ventured, not sure about the purpose of the question.
“Yes, yes, thats true but what else? What do they have that other dungeons lack?” Smit replied dismissively, brushing aside the obvious.
Ziggurd pondered the question, thoughtfully classifying through a number of differences. However, what bothered him was that Smit had not said what do high ranked dungeons have that others did not, but instead he had asked what powerful dungeons had that others did not. Though rank was often associated with the difficulty of a dungeon, lower tier dungeons could still be powerful in their own ways, particularly if they were very old. “... many things. I am not sure what specific feature you are referring to… master.”
Sighing loudly, Smit turned to look at Ziggurds soul squarely. “Come now boy, you are supposed the smart one of your team.”
Ziggurd felt indignant at being called a boy, but before he could make a retort, Smit’s voice interrupted him.
“Gods, boy, they are owned by gods and devils, and other powerful ethereal beings.” Smit said sharply. “Do you think dungeons are born owned by other beings? No, thay are not. They are conquered or subdued or sometimes bargained with. I happen to be a free dungeon, and I would like to keep it that way.”
“Eh?” Ziggurd asked with genuine surprise. It had never occurred to him to question how dungeons became owned or protected by gods. He just assumed that they were, or that the gods themselves created said dungeons.
Sighing loudly, Smit made a dismissive gesture as if to sweep away his confusion. “Anyhow, your little act of sorcery basically was about to announce my existence to every entity that I don’t want to know of my existence. Obviously I had to act or this place would become the a magnet for who knows what kind of ethereal beings.”
“That’s… I mean, I…” Ziggurd stammered as he realized how big of a deal that could turn into. Imagine if a powerful spirit or demon tried to dive into the dungeon? Or worse, a devil or a vengeful god decided to make his appearance and take it over by force? Every adventurer in the dungeon could be in danger, perhaps even the village which was so close by. He could have invited disaster to hundreds of people had Smit not intervene, even if it was only for his own sake.
“Well, the problem was avoided.” Smit said simply, “However, take care to be careful with sorcery in the future.”
“Yes, of course I will and-” Ziggurd said gravely, already starting to apologize before something registered in his mind. “Wait, in the future?”
Smit looked at him flatly, perhaps wondering if his death has shocked him too much and affected his thought processing ability. It was possible, after all it had happened to him too… albeit for a very different reason.
“Yes in the future. Did you think I was going to keep you as a soul following me around all day for ever?” Smit snorted. “It would be a waste.”
“You… you are going to give me back my body then?” Ziggurd asked with with surprise, hope bubbling up within him as the idea of being able to be a man leaped up from the depths of his mind.
“Your human body? No.” Smit rejected that idea swiftly, flattening the image that Ziggurd was already starting to form in his mind. “But you are going to get a body of some sort. I just have to figure out what it’s going to be and how to make it.”
If Ziggurd had had eyes they would have been as wide open as it could have been humanly possible. The creation of an artificial body, otherwise known as a homunculus, was forbidden by most countries, labeled as illegal and taboo magic. The results could be catastrophically bad if any part of the process was carried out even slightly wrong, and it was even muttered that the magic to create such a thing was often tethered to the sacrifice of lives to create the essence of a life needed to make them functional.
And yet, this creature before him said such a thing casually, as if making such a thing was as easy as breathing.
By the gods… What have I gotten myself into?
Ziggurd could only keep his mouth shut and pray to the gods.
James coughed up blood, emptying his lungs from the fluid that had made it hard to breath just moments ago. Taking a deep, quivering breath, James forced himself to sit, even though his body ached as it mended all wounds. Whatever magic Ziggurd had worked it had certainly been powerful, but the process of healing was quite a bit more painful than the standard healing magic.
“Ella? Mei? Adder?” He called out to them, and received a chorus of groans and moans. A wet hiccup erupted from Ella’s direction, but he pretended not to notice.
“Seems like we are all here.” James continued. “All thanks to that fool.”
“Aye…” Adder replied as he sat up slowly, his back aflame with pain as a large wound sealed itself. “Who knew that Ziggy would do this.”
“He always knew what to do.” James said with a sad smile. “Always there to save us when the going got too tough.”
“Yes.” Mei said solemnly. Her voice was hoarse, her throat still healing from astray fireball that had hit her. “Let’s make full use of his sacrifice.”
“Let’s...let’s get out of here.” Ella finally said, her voice hard. It was not difficult to see that she was trying to be strong, as any leader should be. “James, can you carry his body?”
“I can.” James said simply as he managed to stand. It only took him a minute to reach Ziggurd’s body. What had been once his faithful friend and fearless healer had now been reduced to a soulless corpse. Despite this, when James looked upon the body it was easy to imagine that he was just sleeping, too fatigued to stand. James almost wished to believe that.
Putting the body over his shoulder, James helped Mei stand, and looked over to find Ella looking around the room with an unreadable stare. He could only guess what she was thinking. There was no fire in her eyes, no adventurous spark. Just a muted sadness at the loss of a dear friend.
“Let’s go.” She finally said, and together, they made their way out of the room.
Deep in the recesses of a room so dark that it seemed to swallow any light, something stirred. Something seemed to uncoil in that darkness, slithering out of position and adjusting itself. The creature had detected something. More accurately, something had awaken it from its slumber.
The creature moved its horned head from side to side, slowly as if trying to detect the direction from whence the signal came. Soon, the creature caught the signal, and start it to trace it back. A delectable taste of blood and energy could be felt on the signal that was calling to it, so delicious that it made the creature tremble with anticipation.
Yet, as the creature uncoiled itself and started to reach out towards it, the signal vanished. Something else had caught it, and whatever had emitted the signal was gone.
Furious, the creature raged and hissed, lashing out with terrible claws as it carved deep scars into the stone that surrounded it. Objects and furniture were reduced to shards and kindling, and a bestial roar erupted from its throat. In an instant, the creature summoned it servants. Twisted, ugly abominations that made a mockery out of a human body, but faithful.
With a command, the creatures departed towards the general direction of the signal, with orders to find the source. Sitting in silence, the creature coiled itself back up slowly, it’s tail twitching as rage still simmered within it.
But if its age had taught it something was that patience was a virtue that even ethereal ones had to learn.
So it would wait.