“Why am I scum?” I demanded with a wounded look.
“They called me scum too…” The Guild Master whimpered.
“You’re the one who caused all of this!” I snapped at him.
The Guild Master was trying to act like he was innocent, but it was his actions that had caused Ruby to grow angry in the first place. He was even giving me a pitiful look like he wanted me to defend his actions. So shameless. He’s the one who had made me think that Ruby hated me. At least he had the decency to look guilty as I glared at him.
Meanwhile, Ruby let out a sigh, sitting back behind the desk chair and putting her feet up on the desk. Wait, wasn’t this the Guild Master’s office? My glare turned to a questioning look, and the Guild Master shrugged helplessly.
“She’s vice guild master now, but I’d swear she thought she was the boss.”
“Eh? What was that?” She asked.
“N-nothing!” the Guild Master jumped.
“And for you, Deek.” She barked at me.
“Y-yes!” I also jumped.
She sighed. “When I traveled with you a few months ago, you showed me a part of myself that I didn’t like.”
“What do you think the point of being an Adventurer is?” She asked.
“Um… adventuring?” I frowned.
“It’s about putting your life on the line, taking risks, and fighting for what you believe in. At every point along the way, you would do reckless, crazy, stupid things. They were things I never even would have thought of on my own. I began to realize that I’m not the Adventurer I thought I was. That’s why I ended up retiring and becoming the vice guild master. I just didn’t have it in me to truly go on adventures anymore.
I didn’t get it. She should have said something if she felt that way. Why did the Guild Master say I was the reason? Why did I get attacked? She continued speaking.
“The Guild Master has been trying to get me to retire and join him for a while. He was probably afraid you’d convince me to leave with you.”
“Th-that’s not true!” The Guild Master turned red though, basically showing his guilt. “I’m sorry! I may have exaggerated a bit, but she really was in a mood after returning!”
“Of course, I was in a mood.” She scoffed. “It’s not easy to realize hard truths about yourself. I realized that I couldn’t make a difference out there. However, with my experience, I realized that if I became a guild master, I could still make a real difference in the lives of other Adventurers.”
“Did she just call herself the guild master?” The Guild Master muttered.
“With Chalm growing, I knew that they needed strong support in the future. Guild Master was already a worthless old man who is full of hot air.”
“Right…” I nodded, remembering how many times him and the mayor got me doing their dirty work.
“You agree!” The Guild Master cried out tearfully.
Ruby continued, ignoring the Guild Master. “There are so many little problems a city faces that you’re never aware of because it gets handled by the various guilds. I knew that the best way I could help you and the city was to take on this position.”
She nodded. “Since you started calling me big sis, I guess I began to see you as my little brother too. I don’t have any other family. My parents ended up selling me into slavery when I was a child.”
My eyes grew wide. “You were a slave?”
She shrugged. “I wasn’t for long. I was a sickly child. It was Figuro who had received me, and Chalm ended up buying me and nursing me back to health, so for as long as I remember, I’ve been part of Chalm. That’s why I’ve stuck around, and why I feel so much affection for this city. So, you can imagine how I felt when a shy little healer showed up and started calling me big sis. Before I knew it, you were the lord of Chalm, and managed to reclaim the city with your own strength.”
So, it was that after all. Just like my girls, she had started to feel left behind. She knew that as a guild master, she’d be able to have a bigger influence on the city, and wouldn’t feel like she was insignificant. Everyone had their own path, it seemed.
“I understand.” I bowed. “Guild Master Ruby.”
“She’s the vice though…” the Guild Master whined helplessly.
She waved her hand, blushing slightly. “Just keep calling me big sis. I’ll take care of things on this side, and do my best to support my bro on your side.”
“Oh, and family is family. If you fantasize about your big sister again, I’ll break your balls.”
I learned that day that some women didn’t fantasize about having children. All my slave girls had always excitedly talked about one day being pregnant, so I had forgotten that not every woman had such aspirations. Plus, Ruby was her own person who could make her own choices. Alysia who had all of her choices stripped from her by the Demon Lord Aberis to become his incubator sympathized with this the most.
I still didn’t like being scolded. At least the pair were getting along now, I supposed.
“Alright, can you guys give me any more information about what is going on here?” I asked, moving on from our previous conversation.
The Guild Master and Ruby glanced at each other and then at me.
“We were hoping you knew what happened,” Ruby admitted. “It started shortly after your death was announced. A request came out to suppress and control the dungeon. Since you no longer were there to control it, it needed to be contained like the other dungeons. We were just getting a team of Priests and Adventurers together when a massive barrier came over the city and miasma started seeping out from the entrance.”
“It reminded me of Chalm from back then. We were expecting some kind of dungeon flood, but the miasma just kept getting thicker and thicker, and then things started getting foggy.” The Guild Master continued. “I lost my sense of time… and it wasn’t until not too long ago that I regained my mind with you.”
“So, you can’t remember anything while you were under the influence of the dungeon?” I asked.
The two shook their heads. That was unfortunate, but perhaps it was also a blessing. It meant that the citizens here wouldn’t experience any particular trauma. I had been worrying there would be some long-lasting damage. However, I had carefully observed Ruby and the Guild Master, and they both seemed fine. They weren’t even starved or dehydrated.
“What do you think we should do next?” Ruby asked. “Are you going to move on the dungeon?”
I shut my eyes for a moment and rubbed my forehead. “That had been my original plan, but I’m not so certain anymore. I don’t know what Elaya and Xin were planning, and I don’t know how they’ll react to me. It seems like going after the dungeon’s miasma provoked them. Since that is the case, I’m inclined to provoke them a little more and see what happens.
“Master, you should be careful. Don’t forget what happened to Astria.” Alysia warned.
“Don’t worry. I won’t be going after them.” I declared. “At least, not for now.”
“You won’t?” The Guild Master asked. “Then what do you plan to do?”
“They turned Chalm into one giant miasma generator,” I explained. “I believe that the shield containing miasma is only part of it. The people are another part. They had somehow managed to carry out a widespread soul attack, infecting your bodies with a karmic infection. Karmic infections are slightly different from miasma. It’s the difference between the soul and mana. You can damage or fortify the soul with mana, but the soul and mana are fundamentally two different things.
“Basically, with a karmic infection, a small piece of your soul has become karmic, or become miasma-based, and it manages to hijack and take over your entire mind, forcing you to fulfill a role designated by the karma’s original owner, if that makes sense. I cannot remove it from anyone’s soul. I believe that Miki can do this, and I’ve sent someone to get her, but in the meantime, I can’t get rid of the karmic infection.”
Ruby frowned. “Wait, but you got rid of our infections!”
“Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to do that,” I admitted helplessly. “However, I have a job called Mimic, and an ability called Karmic Control, which allows me to alter Karma. Simply put, I altered the Karmic infection in your bodies, severing your link to the dungeon, and attaching it to me. Then, I programmed your karma to have you act normally.”
“Wh-what are you saying?” The Guild Master asked.
“Ahh… what’s the best way to show this… um… raise your hand.”
The Guild Master’s hand shot up. He frowned at me, but then as he looked at his hand, he let out a shout. Yet, he still kept it raised.
“You can stop now.” I shrugged, allowing him to lower his hand with a flush. “In short, if I will it, I have direct control of your souls.”
“Y-you can make us do whatever you want!” The Guild Master cried out in surprise.
I nodded. “Sadly, the infection has already taken root. It’s wrapped around your soul, and whoever has control of your karma has control of you. So, you can see the kind of damage Elaya could cause, and why I am unwilling to just barrel through the dungeon and defeat her.”
“Y-you can make us do whatever…” Ruby replied with a dazed expression, then looked at me with wide eyes and looked away. “P-pervert… I’m your big sister!”
“Don’t say misleading things like that! If I was controlling you, do you think I’d have let you attack me earlier!” I cried out.
“I still don’t get it. Why did they do this?” Alysia asked.
“It’s not much different than what Astria was doing,” I explained. “She was using fairies to extract the natural mana from the nearby residents. However, Elaya isn’t looking for mana, she’s looking for miasma. Normally, once a soul is infected with karma, miasma slowly envelops it until the soul is either consumed, resulting in the death of the host, or the soul is converted, becoming a karmic soul. Once someone’s soul is converted to its karmic state, they are bound to the dungeon and are basically a dungeon monster.
“However, that isn’t what is happening. The miasma is instead being absorbed by the barrier and then being fed into the dungeon. So, the people have become walking lightning rods, absorbing miasma to power this miasma generator. This is why, even after two months, you guys haven’t been turned into monsters.”
That was the essentials of it. Of course, I didn’t understand all about how it worked. It’d require someone far more accustomed to using miasma than myself. There was also one component that I had intentionally left out when I explained everything to them. That was the miasma fountain. I had noticed it the second I walked into the city. Shooting out from behind my mansion was a massive stream of miasma, which spread out and created a barrier over us. That’s how I knew the two were linked because I could see they were physically linked.
The others either couldn’t see this fountain, or they didn’t know what it was. The fairy fountain behind my mansion was a secret, and even the mayor and Guild Master weren’t fully informed about it. The fairies had been commanded to keep everyone from noticing it, and there were various spells and tricks so that should someone sneak behind the mansion, they would walk right past it without ever knowing it was there. If people did become aware of the fairy fountain, it would spread desire and envy. It was best to keep it as hidden as possible, but for those sensitive to mana, that was probably impossible. Either way, I thought it best not to mention it in front of these two, despite it being the lynchpin behind the alleged miasma generator.
“M-monsters…” The Guild Master went pale, seemingly focusing on that part of my talk.
“Well, I’ve seen the others out there. They don’t look much better than monsters.” Ruby frowned. “What is your plan?”
“I’ll need you guys to try to capture them, one at a time. We’ll free them from the dungeon’s control.” I explained.
“You’ll be cutting off the supply of miasma.” Ruby frowned.
“Not just that!” Alysia spoke excitedly as she realized my plan. “He plans to keep the miasma feeding into the dungeon.”
“Huh? For what reason?” The Guild Master asked with a frown.
“The dungeon is currently no longer mine.” I shrugged. “And I do not know how much the dungeon has grown these last few months. Normally, if a dungeon acted this aggressively, someone would destroy it. However, Elaya was clever to hide her tracks, and so was Astria. As a result, I can’t predict how powerful or how deep it runs now. It might just be me worrying for nothing, but since we’ve come this far, I might as well take every precaution.”
“He’s going to feed the dungeon his own miasma.” Alysia declared.
Ruby and the Guild Master only stared. They didn’t understand, but that was the gist of it. This had once been my dungeon, but now the miasma frequency was off and no longer my own. Since Elaya was using the people of this town to feed her dungeon, then I would change it back to my frequency. I would take control of the dungeon once again, starting from the inside.