Deep in the stone halls of the dungeon, Smit found himself working tirelessly in his new room. The dwarf did not have enough power for another breakthrough just yet, but he had more than enough to push the boundaries of his dungeon just a bit, enough to craft a room of moderate size.
The room itself was no more than seven meters wide and ten long, with perhaps about two-and-a-half metre high ceilings, but even that volume had been considerably costly compared to what it should have been. As Smit had expected, once he reached a certain size at a given breakthrough level, expanding became significantly more difficult.
Nevertheless, this was enough. He was not planning on creating a mass production assembly like those massive breweries that the dwarven kingdom had, nor was he planning on opening a large restaurant that required the finest wines. He had but one goal: beer! Ales! Mead! Simple alcohols would do for now, and therefore there was no need to overextend himself at the moment and aim to create refined wines or anything like that.
There was a fiery determination in his eyes as Smit focused on his work, shutting out any external influences from affecting his work. First he began by making the area clean as he could, with smooth floors that would not get in the way of anyone working here. Then he created an what could be considered a fireplace, right against the wall. The fireplace was circular in shape, rising a couple of feet like a miniature tower. On top of it, Smit created a sturdy iron grill that could hold the weight of a large copper cauldron full of water.
Next, he created that cauldron, as well as several small barrels made from copper. The cauldron would serve to start the process by boiling the the brew. The small barrels would be used to rest the brew and allow it to ferment appropriately. It saddened him that he couldn’t make the barrels out of oak, as that would add to the flavour, but he did not yet have the ability to create the wood. For now, copper would have to do, but he vowed to himself that he would upgrade the barrels as soon as he could.
In theory, this was all that was really needed for brewing, as far as large equipment was concerned. However, that was not to say that it was as simple as that. Any dwarf worth their salt knew that ale could not be made with water alone. One needed malt! Without malt, one might as well be making honey water.
Malting was the process in which the grains used for beer would be soaked and then allowed to sit until they were dry. Once the grains started to germinate, it was imperative to crush them appropriately to ensure it could be fermented properly.
Hence, he had created a large table on the other end of the room, beside which a large copper barrel with water could be found. This would be where the grains would be malted appropriately. Sadly, he did not have any of the right grains among his resources either. Without them, the process had come to a standstill.
That said, it should not be a problem for long. The day after the adventurers had left his dungeon, Smit had endeavored to create a handful of larger spy mice, with larger brains than the previous ones. Their goal was simple: to go out and gather small plants, specifically rye, oats, and wheat, even corn if they could find it. Any plant that could be considered consumable and a grain he wanted in his repertoire. Most importantly, he wanted the plants alive, as difficult as that could be. It didn’t mattered what happened to them after they arrived to the dungeon in truth, all that mattered is that they got here alive, and then died here, so he could absorb them and recreate them as he wished.
Though the task sounded quite simple, it would still be extremely difficult for something like a mouse, even with the augmentations that Smit had given them. Despite this, Smit was still confident that some of his mice might succeed, if not for any other reason than the fact that about a days walk away there was a village booming with crops, due to the crown’s kick-starting of its economy.
Under these conditions it should be possible for some of his mice to make it back with the plants. Hell, even if only one or two of his mice succeeded, it would be more than good enough for his purposes. Even if all of them failed, they were just mice with small magic cores. He could produce a small army of them in a matter of minutes if he so wished.
Rubbing his hands together in anticipation, Smit hummed eagerly as he returned to his room, sitting down in his cross-legged position. He could scarcely wait to taste the bountiful nectar that was alcohol, but it would do him no good to simply stand there and wait for his mice.
And so, he began to cultivate.
It had been over three weeks since he had enough time to cultivate at all, and he was very aware of the fact that his growth had stagnated. Over the last three weeks, though the deaths of adventurers had supplied him with large quantities of anima, stopping their advance had actually caused him to not gain any mana at all at the end of the day. If anything, they had managed to deplete his reserves by forcing him to modify the dungeon while they were in it.
He sighed heavily at the thought of their contest. He shuddered to think what would have happened had the adventurers gone in without anyone to protect.
He waved away such thoughts, and focused on the task at hand. He had more than enough incentive to work hard and gather strength. He had been invaded by goblins and adventurers, and a messenger from an ancient god had come to pay him a visit. Gods didn’t usually just visit a dungeon.
Perhaps it was just the stress of the last few weeks or just his own mind overthinking everything, but something in him whispered to him that his troubles were far from over. It was just a tiny little voice, the echo of a whisper, but he trusted it. He might have been old, but his instincts had been tempered over the centuries, watching history unfold before him. Age gave way to wisdom, and he had learned to not dismiss such thoughts, or at least, not immediately.
Even if his premonition was the result of frayed nerves and the worry of an old soul, he could hardly be blamed considering the recent turn of events. Even if it turned out to be baseless worry, there would be no downsides to getting stronger.
And so he cultivated with an unwavering dedication.
He became tranquility itself, a void which called forth the powers of the world.
Ziggurd’s soul meandered the halls of the dungeon aimlessly, admiring the artwork around him. It was quite different to observe the dungeon when he felt no threat to his life. While he had been surprised by the dungeon previously, he hadn’t quite been able to admire it. Not that anyone could fault him for that, survival was paramount, after all.
In hindsight, diving beyond the second floor of the dungeon was quite stressful. The halls and rooms seemed to never end, and traps could be hiding anywhere. Not to mention that monsters could try to ambush you at any moment. It was psychologically draining. Always questioning every step you took, every sound you heard, wondering if any of those wonderful murals had a deadly surprise waiting to surprise you… It was a wonder that Azure Arrow had managed to go that far into the dungeon, in Ziggurd’s opinion.
The oddest part about it all is that he hadn’t quite realized how mentally taxing it had all been when he was alive. Sure, he felt the stress, but he had not quite realized how deeply exhausting it was. It was only now, when he was free of the fear of dying, that he truly noticed all of this. Not only was he dead, he was a member of what he liked to think about as ‘the dungeon team’ and therefore the dungeon posed no threat to him.
He had no fear of starvation, dehydration, poison, or any of the hazards of the dungeon anymore, and he could leisurely tour the entire dungeon. In truth, tour was a very appropriate word for what he was doing at the moment, for he felt like a tourist that was taking in the sights at an extravagant gallery.
He could sit and examine a mural or a carved wall for hours at a time, deciphering the image in detail, or stare at the subtle figures that the elementals that Smit created. He was shocked to see that the elemental spirits were also used in the little green rooms which were actually bathrooms. He had almost burst laughing when Pala had explained to him that those rooms were designed for the adventurers to relieve themselves, and he had thought it a joke for a moment, before he looked at Pala’s serious face.
Now he could understand why Smit had gone through the trouble of creating such rooms. After going through the trouble of creating such marvelous artwork, how bad would it be if some half-wit adventurer came along and pissed on it, or worse, defecated right next to it? Just the sight of that would truly be a crime against the art, and more than that, it would be offensive to the artist himself, not to mention the fact that the stench would ruin the mood.
With the little environmental bathrooms, the adventurers wouldn’t ruin the dungeon, and they would get some respite in a safe environment. As a former adventurer, he approved of the bathroom idea greatly. It was certainly much more dignified than squatting in a dark corner and hoping no monsters caught you with your pants down.
Humming as he continued his tour, Ziggurd heard the clashing of metal against metal, and turned his attention to the source of the sound. He considered the possibility of some adventurer group reaching the the fifth level of the dungeon covertly, but it sounded as if there were only two people dueling at the moment. Curious about the situation, he made his way down the halls until he reached a wide familiar room.
Shaped like a dome and with four figures adorning the ceiling, the room where he had died was being used by two dueling figures. Pala stood on one side, his posture flowing from one move to the next, while Echo took harder stances, sturdy as stone. The two sides clashed one against the other, combat between a swift wind and boulder.
It was a good show, put on by two mighty warriors. Pala clearly had the advantage in mobility, but his attacks dealt little damage to Echo’s mighty defence. In contrast, Echo’s attacks were powerful and clean, but they could only graze the mighty kobold lord.
Off to the side, Arturus layed down and observed them carefully, examining their movements with intelligent eyes. Without taking his eyes of the two duelists, Ziggurd moved over to Arturus’ side, floating right next to him.
“Why are they fighting?” Ziggurd asked curiously, observing the eyes of the two creatures. Both had a determined look on their faces that made him sure that this was more than just a common sparring session. Perhaps they were fighting for dominance, or there was bad blood between them? Adventurers often dealt with issues in a similar fashion, hold a duel or contest to settle things. Perhaps they were the same?
“They aren’t,” Arturus said simply, his eyes barely flicking over to Ziggurd before returning to the battle. “They are simply sparring.”
“Sparring?” Ziggurd asked curiously. “They look like they intend to cut each other down.”
“That’s because they are,” Arturus said flatly.
“Wait what?” Ziggurd said with shock. If he had had a face, it would have shown an aghast expression.
“How else are you supposed to gain experience efficiently?” Arturus asked simply, as it was the most obvious thing. “You learn more about fighting when you are fighting seriously, everyone knows that.”
“Well, yes that’s true,” Ziggurd said in a hurry, his mind still racing, “but what if they die?! Isn’t this very dangerous?”
“Oh that won’t happen… probably,” Arturus said with a hint of uncertainty. “They are both very good, so they won’t die that easily. Besides, Father is looking out for us. Wounds will heal quickly thanks to him, and even if someone dies by accident, Father can restore them back to normal.”
“Wait, Smit can resurrect people?!” Ziggurd said with shock, almost screaming that last part. If he still had his human form, his eyes would definitely be bulging out right now.
“Well… yes and no.” Arturus said with confusion, staring at Ziggurd like he was the weird one for being surprised about something as completely insane as resurrection. “Much like yourself, our souls are bound to Father. If we die, our souls go to reside within his heart crystal. He can then recreate our bodies as they once were so we can live again. It’s a little different than the resurrection you are thinking about, since our souls never really move on to the afterlife.”
Taking a deep breath as he processed the information, Ziggurd allowed himself to calm down. Arturus was right, that was not a true resurrection. Still, the fact that someone’s body could die and then be recreated was… revolutionary at minimum, bordering the edges of divinity at most. One could even call it a form of eternal life, being forever able to be recreated without losing your memories.
“Outstanding…” Ziggurd murmured. “Does that mean that every dungeon has this ability?”
Shrugging his large shoulders, Arturus gave him an approximation of a small, apologetic smile. “I don’t know. Echo said that she hadn’t been able to do that when she was a dungeon, and-”
“Wait, what?” Ziggurd spluttered. “Echo was a dungeon?!”
“Yes?” Arturus replied with concern as he observed the glowing ball of light that was Ziggurd’s soul sag.
Ziggurd felt like he was going numb from the amount of shock he had received today. He was mildly glad that he didn’t have a body, otherwise he might have passed out and collapsed already from the amount of information he was receiving,
“Explain,” Ziggurd said shakily.
Arturus shrugged his shoulders before he launched into a detailed explanation of how Smit and the dungeon came to be, regaling Ziggurd with a story the likes of which he had never heard.
Entranced with the narration, Ziggurd completely forgot all about the two warriors fighting mightily in the background as he became absorbed in the story that was being narrated by Arturus.
In the darkness of night, a pair of shadows stirred. They moved silently, their figures hobbling slightly with their steps. They looked crippled in truth, their bodies clearly twisted and ugly underneath their old robes. They walked like old men that were in sore need of a cane, but if one observed them closely, one would notice that their steps were oddly steady and firm.
Down they wandered the road at night, feeling at home in the darkness that enveloped them. This made them even more strange, for the south of the kingdom was bordered by the badlands, where hostile creatures made their homes beneath the earth, threatening to consume any unweary traveller that had the misfortune to cross their way. Horned earthworms, dust hyenadogs, earth eaters, and even ghouls made their homes in the badlands, all more than capable of tearing apart two old men.
Yet none of them approached the two hooded figures. Rather, the road was so quiet that one would have to wonder if they were being avoided, or if their stealth skills were simply too high. Or if one was more wary, one would consider what kind of sorcery allowed these two old men to wander an area such as this with seemingly no supplies or preparation.
However, the one who stepped before these men was neither wise nor wary.
“Oi! You two ugly buggers!” The man screamed as he intercepted their path between two steep hills. Grinning like a cat that got the canary, a man reeking of sweat, alcohol, and dirt blocked the path of the two figures. The man wore mismatched armor that scarcely fit, some parts made of leather, others of iron, and rusted chainmail. At his hip was an unpolished wood axe, the edge of which seemed like it hadn’t been sharpened since last winter, and his greasy black hair seemed to be filled with lice. Add to that his squashed nose and yellow-brown, twisted teeth, and it almost hurt to look at him.
In other words, he was a highwayman of the lowest ranking.
“Whatsa pair of old geezers like you doin’ ‘ere? Doncha ‘no’ these are belongs to us Southern Scorpions?” The man puffed out his chest, and stood against the two figures with a self-important attitude.
The two hooded figures looked at each other and said nothing.
Seconds passed by, and the highwayman’s face went from pride to rage as his ears started to turn red. “Oi! I asked ya bastards a question!”
Once again there was no response, and the highwayman’s features contorted with rage, making him look uglier than he already was. “Tha’s it! I’ve had it with ya ragged old bastards! I was gonna offer ya a chance ta surrender ‘n hand over your stuff like good boys, but no’ anymore! Ya think you lot are too good to show som’ respect, dontcha? Well how ‘bout this!”
The man reached into his mouth with two dirty fingers and whistled loudly. In a matter of seconds, four hidden men descended from the hills and surrounded the two figures. They were dressed similarly to the first highwayman, though they all had different weapons.
“Let’s get ‘em, boys!” The man shouted as he drew his axe. The men shouted a cheer and started to stalk towards the two hooded figures, who just looked at each other. Under those hoods, the two smiled.
The figures threw off their robes, and revealed twisted humanoid figures with two stubby horns protruding from the sides of their heads. Their fingers were long, too long to be human, and their bodies covered with chitinous material. Their eyes were no more than two orbs so black that they seemed more like holes in their skull than eyes. Instead of noses, the creatures had two slits in their faces, and their mouths were wide and twisted, like those of a leech.
The highwaymen froze, and choked on a scream as the creatures pounced on them. The rusted blades were dropped as the men tried to run.
The next few hours, the badlands night air resonated with the horrifying screams of men dying far too slowly.
|Species: True Dungeon||Rank: 3|
|Name: Smit||Age: 5 months|
|Mana: 130,106||Anima: 749|
|Mana Reg.: 862 MP/h||Anima Reg.: 19.27 AP/day|
|Floors: 5 (Max Floors available: 10)||Inhabitants: 83 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|
End of Volume 1