“Come on, Celeste… say something… I know you can…” I said helplessly.
How could this be true? Was I really suffering from some kind of dungeon madness? Was I really just talking to myself? Celeste cautiously came out of Lydia’s hair and then flew to me. She looked curious. Did she even really recognize me? Was this even Celeste? She looked like Celeste, but what did I really know about fairies? For all I knew, they all had the same face or something.
Celeste landed on my shoulder, and the familiarity of her weight there instantly brought a tear to my eye. “Celeste, you remember me, don’t you?’
Celeste looked at me for a moment, and then put her hand out, wiggling it from side to side. Sort of. That was the kind of response she gave. We had traveled together for weeks. We remained close to each other. I even enslaved her. After all of that, she could only kind of remember me.
“Master… it’s okay.” My behavior was making the two other girls anxious, and Lydia’s tail was twitching unhappily while Miki’s tail was drooping.
I let out a low sigh. “I’m sorry, it’s fine. I’m just having a hard time coming to grips that this was all a figment of my imagination. What do you guys know about fairies?”
“Nothing!” Lydia declared, raising her finger excitedly.
I bonked her on the head.
“Ah… Master… s-sorry… but I didn’t learn anything about fairies.”
Miki stepped forward. “I don’t know that much either. We’d have a better time in Chalm getting these answers. Perhaps at a library. The only thing I know is that fairies for a nest, usually stay at a source of strong mana. They’re kind of like bees, in that they’re controlled by a queen fairy who gives them commands and coordinates them. The other fairies are basically drones. They only regain individuality if they get far enough away from the Queen.
“A Queen?” My eyes raised up. “Would it be possible that a Queen fairy could speak through one of the other fairies?”
Miki’s ears twitched, as she looked at me uncertainly. “it’s possible… Master… I think. I’m sorry, I just don’t know that much about fairies.”
“Is that who you are?” I asked Celeste. “Are you really the fairy queen asking for help?”
Celeste’s face wrinkled for a second, but she didn’t say anything else. I sighed and stood back up.
“Will you be able to help my party fight? Can you use wind magic?”
To demonstrate, I created some wind and sent it spiraling out. When Celeste saw that, she seemed to grow excited and then nodded. She flew up and around my head three times before landing back on my shoulder.
“Hehe… she seems to like that, Master.” Lydia clapped her hands.
“Well, there is no use continuing this discussion here,” I said. “If we want to know what is going on with this fairy, the answers are in those murals. We need to see the 25th and 29th-floor mural. Hopefully, they’ll finally explain the holes I have when it comes to Karr’s story.”
“Does Master wish to complete the lore?” Lydia asked.
“Ah… no… actually.” I shrugged. “The last time we completed the lore, it was purely by accident. It also almost killed us, if you remember. I’ll be happy as long as we’re able to destroy the final boss and break the dungeon lore. Once there is no dungeon in Chalm, the mansion should return to normal. Then, I can claim the mansion and the city of Chalm will be restored.”
As we spoke, Celeste listened but gave no sign she understood what we were talking about. However, she seemed to be comfortable on my shoulder. Maybe it was muscle memory? We continued on, growing deeper in the dungeon.
Getting to level twenty-five only took another few days. I knew that every five levels, after the boss, you’d encounter an increase in the difficulty of the ghosts. I definitely wanted all three girls to be prepared before we headed to the last four floors. However, I also noted that with Celeste here, our party was at the strongest it had ever been.
I made sure to heal her and clear her of all poisons and curses just in case. All of my girls were back to full strength as we entered the twenty-fifth floor. This floor was actually pretty dangerous. Besides the traps, one of the monster types was called a Hidden Stalker. They are hidden like those bunnies from Mina’s Dungeon. However, these weren’t nonlethal. Rather, they pounced on an enemy when they least expected it.
My sense life was vital on this level. We had to move slowly and carefully to be able to take care of the Stalkers and the traps. We found the library after only a few hours with much of the level still bare, so we decided to make lunch there and rest. It was pretty exhausting dealing with the Hidden Stalkers on this level, not to mention remaining vigilant for whenever the boss wanted to show itself.
Once we got the fire going, I decided to use some of the cook drops which had status boosts. We were going to eventually stumble across this level’s boss, so I wanted to make sure that we had every advantage we could when we encountered it so that it fell quickly. I filled up four bowls and all. I found that Celeste still responded to food in much the same was I was used to. She would eat twice her weight of food if you let her, which was still less than anyone else. She ate excitedly with a smile on her face.
“Master, did you want to look at the murals?” Miki asked curiously.
I stood up and shined an orb across the mural. This one seemed to be talking about the fairies. They were attacked and enslaved by the slavers who had discovered her nest. All of the fairies were turned into slaves by the greedy slavers and the forest caught on fire during the attack. The Faery Queen ran as her nest fell, seeking asylum from her friend, Karr. Once in Karr’s mansion, she started to live with him. Having lost everything else important to her, she had a renewed interest in the love she first had for Karr. Eventually, one night, she gave herself to him.
I lowered my head and bit my lip. That didn’t really say anything I didn’t already know. The story so far was pretty simple. Karr had a life where he hated slavery. He found the waters of life and sold them to grow rich. He started using his money to free slaves. Somehow, during one of his trips to the fairy’s nest, slavers followed him. They attacked the nest, killed all of her underlings, and then she had no choice but to flee back to the mansion and live with Karr. He accepted her, and they began to have a relationship. Then, something happened, and she turned evil, killed Karr, and cursed the mansion.
That’s a pretty big leap. What did Karr do? Or was it Karr at all? And more importantly… where did Celeste come from?
“One more mural to go…” I sighed. “I hope you have some answers for me.”
The level twenty-five boss was called the Shambling Mound. It was a ghost that blocked the entire hallways. What it lacked in movement it made up for in extremely high HP. It blocked the stairway completely and seemed to show no signs of moving. In the end, we just had to work at it. It used magical mental attacks that injured all of us slightly, but we were all prepared to take these kinds of mental attacks at this point. Lydia shook a little, but she held her ground and kept slicing away.
After an hour, the thing finally broke apart and we were free to head to the 26h floor. I licked my lips as I looked down that stairway. Had the monster been like the level fifteen monster, quick and easy to kill, I would have loved to bunker down. While this monster wasn’t very threatening, he was extremely tedious. He was basically just a HP suck that made remaining on this floor inconvenient.
I also had a theory that every time he popped, it was probably roughly the same spot in the stairway. In that way, we couldn’t use the 25th level as our base of operations without wasting an hour of time and energy carving through the mound. I wonder if the dungeon had made these decisions on purpose. On top of that, the 25th floor was very inconvenient. With the hidden stalkers, it was one of the least profitable floors to level on. Was it intentionally trying to goad us on?
I shook my head. I promised myself I wouldn’t take any more risks. The three girls were with me and we had plenty of food. If we can’t level on the 26th, then we’ll level on the 24th. I decided I didn’t want to forge on until I knew we could make it to 29 without difficulty. In the meantime, it might be a good idea to swing back to the higher floors and try to sack the treasures there too.
“Come on, girls, there is no point in continuing on. Let’s grind on the 24th floor for a while.”
The fairy suddenly perked up her ears and then flew into my backpack to hide as she used to do. As for Miki and Lydia, they started giving the stairway uneasy looks.
“What is it?” I asked.
“Are… you…” Lydia’s ears were twitching. “hearing that?”
“What is…” I stopped what I was going to say, realizing that while I didn’t hear anything, I did indeed feel some kind of vibration. “What is…”
I created an orb in my hand, and then I tossed it out down the stairway. It acted like a ball unless I affixed it to some surface. The light bounced down the stairways, thud, thud, thud. As it went down, it lit the path of the 26th floor. It was 2/3rds the way down when suddenly dozens of shadows burst across it. In fact, there were so many of them that the light was obscured in a moment.
“We need to run!” I shouted.
The girls had seen the same thing, and they could hear the hundreds of ghosts running up the stairway. This was an ambush just like in Mina. The dungeon was no longer playing nice. The Shambling Mound wasn’t an obstacle… it was a cork, and we just unleashed it!