Only two hours later, we had reached level nine. I had allowed Carmine to set the pace. Fortunately, I didn’t have to fight her on the kiosk, as it served as an entrance into the boss’s room on the ninth floor.
“Hurry up! They’re catching up any second we take to waste!”
I nodded and made sure my girls registered. “How many floors do you think it goes down?”
I didn’t know how old this dungeon was before we entered it. If it was a year per level as it appeared to be, this dungeon could be a hundred floors or more. A hundred levels of dead space was still a hundred levels we had to climb down.
“We’re close.” She said, “Just another ten.”
I breathed slightly easier. The longer it took to reach the bottom, the more chance we had of this Bandit King catching up to us. I quickly looked over at the murals for this story as well. Carmine made an annoyed tsk and crossed her arms. While we might not be fighting any bosses on the way down, there could be some secret to this guardian kept within the story. I wasn’t going to pass it by. It could be the difference between life or death down here.
However, the mural was completely unreadable. I could see half the image of a single person. They were holding some kind of rod. That was all that was left. The rubble that once contained this part of the story now lay in broken piles on the ground. I sighed and motioned for Carmine to continue on. As we entered the tenth floor, I was expecting the door behind us to shut. However, that didn’t seem to be happening.
“In here!” I heard a shout. “Ah, the next stairway down!”
The sound came from the ninth floor. I could hear a dozen people talking, and they didn’t seem to be caring about the level of their voices at all. Even though I couldn’t make out most of the words, they had a rowdy tone about them.
“Carmine should be right ahead!” A commanding, yet surprisingly melodious voice came out. “Oh… Carmine… we’re coming for you!”
They shouted the words like they were singing a song, and the rest of the group began to make nasty laughs. Why couldn’t this be a boss room? If it did, then the doors would close and we’d have an hour for it to repop! Now, it appears like they had already caught up to us. Carmine’s face appeared white and she let out a cry of fear and panic.
I had some doubts before about the so-called Bandit King. I suspected that perhaps she might even be working alongside them. However, the expression of pure terror on her face instantly dispelled that thought. Carmine was actually running for her life, and by the tone of the Bandit King, he was viciously toying with her.
“Run!” I hissed out and then began to pick up the pace.
At the worst, this large boss battle room put the bandits at the advantage. They had more numbers than we did. They could take advantage of spells. On the other hand, we’d be much better off in the relatively narrow halls where we could take optimum advantage of our few numbers. As we raced the last half of the room, I could see their shadows growing like long hands looking to reach out and grab our ankles.
“I think they’re down here!” Someone shouted. “Carmine and the pretty noble with the slaves!”
Pretty boy? That was a description I never would have expected, but considering most bandits didn’t even have all of their teeth, I supposed it made sense.
“I want to kill that bastard myself!” Another voice, this had to be Balrack, came out.
So, they really had swarmed the city, and even were able to free Balrack. They also knew who was down here and our number. Basically, we had no surprises left. Their shadows began to move faster down to our level. Just as their feet could be seen coming down the stairs, we reached the staircase to the eleventh floor. Suddenly, the door slammed shut in Carmine’s face!
Carmine let out a cry and raced for the door. She slammed her fist on it, eliciting a dull thud. Behind her, I spun around to face the bandits. We were completely trapped. Well, that was my thought until I noticed the door on the other side was slamming shut too. I barely met the eyes of a surprised bandit as the door shut closed with a slam.
“Hey!” I heard banging on the door as it closed.
Once we were completely sealed in, all sound from the outside world cut off. We were now in a dark boss room. Carmine finally turned back, a strange expression on her face now that her chasers had been temporarily interrupted. As for the other three girls, they had drawn their weapons and were in a formation that they had come up with on their own. They looked quite dangerous, but there didn’t appear to be any monster suddenly materializing or swooping down. I stared across the dark hall for a few moments, confusion starting to build on my face.
“Is there a boss, after all?” I offered.
“Impossible…” Carmine shook her head. “The bosses should all be dead.”
“Stay by the door.” I instructed, “Our only chance is to get out of here as soon as the door opens. If we can empty the room without them reaching the door, it’ll reshut, and they’ll be forced to wait another hour. However, if they get past the door, we’ll definitely be in some bad straights.”
I was just speaking as I saw it, but the girls all nodded. Even Carmine, who had turned into a bit of a bossy betty since she entered the place nodded demurely. It looked like the visible threat of her would-be captors had caused her to settle down a bit. Survival was what was important right now.
“Can we force our way through the rock, maybe?” I asked, eyeing the escape.
“D-d-don’t you dare!” A small voice shouted out.
The girls all gripped their weapons. I even noticed Carmine fingering something hidden by her robes. I looked around trying to find the source of the voice. It was a high-pitched young sounding voice of a girl. It certainly wasn’t what I expected to hear if a bandit had broken through. No, we were locked in the boss room now. That meant that this voice had to be coming from this dungeon’s boss. However, this dungeon had no boss. That was enough to confuse me horribly.
“Where are you? What do you want? Show yourself!” I let out the typical lines, meanwhile keeping my eyes open.
“You can’t hold us here!” Carmine spoke up. “If you have a challenge, then give it, otherwise, let us be on our way.”
”O-of course… I have a challenge!” The voice finally spoke back.
“Your dungeon is nearly dead. You couldn’t summon a boss who could challenge us even if you wanted to!” Carmine sniffed. “You’re stalling dungeon because you’re afraid your lore will be destroyed!”
“N-no! D-don’t kill me!” Suddenly, the ground rose up like a small pillar.
The dirt fell away, and like a flower with dark petals unfurling, it revealed a young maiden girl inside. She had short hair that didn’t go passed her ears. It was dark brown, as were her eyes. She had a small heart-shaped face, a flat chest, She was wearing a strangely dirty dress. There were also various markings of dirt all over her cheeks and arms. It looked like she had literally crawled out of the ground.
“Please…” She said, her eyes tearing. “I am Terra… do not kill me!”
“Terra? She’s right, you really are the dungeon?” I let out a noise of surprise.
I was starting to understand a bit more about dungeons and how they functioned. For example, the name of a dungeon was based on the person the lore was formed around. This doesn’t mean that the big boss at the end of the dungeon. In fact, usually, the final boss was the person inflicted by the curse. So, Mina’s curse was a curse constructed from Mina’s untimely death, but the person it affected the most was her Necromancer brother.
Meanwhile, Karr’s curse was a product of his unusual death, but the person most infected by the curse was the Fairy Queen. If logic continued, that would mean that this was Terra, the person who was the center of this curse. However, the final boss would likely have to do with someone centered around her. Would that be the so-called guardian? That would mean that this girl was the guardian’s original owner or something like that. Well, I could easily be wrong, but that was my guess.
“Hmph!” Terra shook her fists at us. “You humans! You cheaters! You strangle me dry and then try to storm in and take it without even asking!”
“Move… little girl!” Carmine hissed. “You’re in our way. I will take the guardian as my own!”
“That will never happen!” The girl said tearfully. “I won’t allow it.”
“By the scriptures set by the god accords in the Age of Curses, a dungeon cannot make its lore inaccessible. Making your lore inaccessible is a crime against nature!” Carmine said darkly.
I had never heard that kind of stuff, but it seemed like it was true. So, dungeons did have rules they had to follow. They had to keep themselves open to the surface. A person has to be able to reach the lore. The lore had to display itself after it was defeated. These things seemed to have been set in some kind of scripture.
Even the damage of a collapsed floor had to be opened up in a few days. I didn’t know what kind of backlash a dungeon would feel if it went against these accords, but it was nice to know that as many monsters, floods, and traps they tossed my way, they wouldn’t be able to just lock me in a room and starve me, which was technically what this one was doing!
“Please…” I stepped forward. “I do not wish to destroy your lore. I’m not a threat to you. We wish to borrow the power of the guardian to repel back the bandits that have attacked this city. They’re the same men on the other side of that wall. Please let us continue on our way.”
Terra took a step back, hiding half her face behind a pillar. It seemed like she was almost as scared of me talking nicely to her as Carmine yelling at her.
“Okay…” She said. “You said to provide a challenge, and that is why I closed these doors. By the accords, I must challenge you. Even though that bastard Hero Magician strangled the dungeon’s magic and left my home to die, I will not betray my promises. You will receive your challenge.”
Carmine sniffed. “Any monster you come up with would be too simple.”
“N-no… this is not a challenge of the body, but of the mind. You must answer my riddle. If you answer correctly, I will open the door moving forward, and you will have an hour before the bandits will renew their pursuit. I will even leave their door closed since they are not related to your party, and force them to answer the same question.”
“And what if we fail?” I asked nervously.
“Then I will open the other door, and with luck, you will all kill each other.”