Carmine had passed out unconscious. I decided it was time to take a much-needed break. We had been pushing hard to reach the dungeon’s bottom floor, and it had been over ten hours of tense and frantic searching. It was enough to cause anyone to grow exhausted. Although I was worried about the city above, the Bandit King seemed to have come down here with most of his most trusted men. Hopefully, the city above was fairing better by his absence.
I considered sending one or two of us to the 1st-floor kiosk, but there was no telling what the Bandit King had done. He could have left a dozen men behind ready to cut down anyone who came out. He could have set a brutal trap. In the end, I decided it wasn’t worth the risk. Humans weren’t like monsters. I had considered it before. A ghost or undead flew at me with a singular purpose. Humans could strategize and prepare. They could be cruel just for the sake of being cruel. Overall, I was much more paranoid when it came to them than any monster, including this guardian.
I finally put down the heavy Terra, healed Carmine with a few spells, and then worked on setting up a fire. As far as locations to stay went, this dungeons dirt-filled grave-like rooms were far less hospitable compared to the library of the cathedral. It gave me a feeling of being buried alive. Terra seemed to be acting the most at home, lying casually on a dirt mound, further dirtying her dress.
I got the fire going, and then pulled out food to prepare. I made sure to use some of the food we had acquired from the last dungeon. This food was special and would give everyone status bonuses. Thanks to my preservation spells, it was still in good shape too. I ended up making a meat stew with potatoes, two kinds of vegetables I had gotten off mobs, and a meat that dropped from one of the bosses. It would definitely boost status.
When the good smells started flowing from it, I used item identify. All it said was that the meat stew would increase offensive and defensive capabilities for some time after the meal. Unless I could use God Eye, which required the fairy dust I no longer had, I couldn’t get anything more specific than that. I couldn’t wait for Moderate and Advanced item identify.
A roar came from the stairway below us. It was loud enough that I went to cover my ears and almost pour some hot stew on my lap. The ground shook and a little bit of dust and dirt fell from the ceiling. The guardian must be getting impatient that we haven’t come down. As soon as I shut the door, it would have spawned. The call caused Carmine to snap awake. As for Terra, a look of fear shot on her face and she leaped off the mound. Running over to me, she hid behind my back and grabbed my shirt.
“What has you so scared…” I muttered to myself.
It was at that point that my eyes fell on the mural. It was only half-lit by the firelight, but the image I saw immediately caused me to gasp. The sound of the guardian’s roar was still echoing in my mind. I had been wondering what form the guardian would take for a while now. There was a picture of the guardian on the mural. The creature below we were about to fight was none other than a dragon!
Leaving the pot to simmer, I stood up and cautiously walked over to the mural. Of the ones I had seen, this was by far the most complete. That was to say I could read and understand everything that was expressed inside it. With a wave of my hand, I created an orb of light and held it up to the mural. Terra had followed me, seeming to not want to let go of my shirt. As for the image of the dragon, she seemed to want to refuse to look at it. I quickly realized why.
The dragon, first of all, was not a normal dragon, as I examined it, I realized it was full of silver mechanical parts. There were gears and wires and while it didn’t look quite like a machine, it certainly contained machine-like components. The guardian was a clockwork dragon, or whatever they called some kind of magical, mechanical monster in this world.
However, if that was all the mural showed, I’d be fine. Dragons were usually a top-tier monster in RPGs. In some, they could be considered the most powerful monster in the game. Thus, a clockwork dragon probably would be a fight I couldn’t handle. Its strength might not even be attached to the dungeon at all, so it could very well fight at full power, despite Terra. So, while the monster was intimidating, it didn’t lead to my level of shock.
No, what caused me to pause was the next part of the mural. The mural displayed an image that appeared to be Terra, lying dead. It showed her parents over her, pulling out a bright light. That light was then offered up to the dragon. Putting everything together, I could only shake my head. From what I could understand, a pair of powerful magicians wanted to have a child. They ended up constructing a powerful clockwork dragon as their ‘child’. Then, they had a baby. The clockwork dragon grew jealous of the child, or perhaps it was tasked with protecting the child and went nuts, and it ended up killing her. Realizing that the dragon was out of control, they captured their daughter’s soul and offered it to the dragon.
“Your parents…” I said in disbelief. “They put your soul into the guardian?”
“I… I failed…” She looked down, tears welling in her eyes. “I wasn’t strong enough. I couldn’t hold him back. He… killed them… it was my fault! AH!”
I reached forward and grabbed Terra, pulling her into a hug. I held her tightly. She struggled for a second, but then she calmed down, crying muddy tears into my clothing. I didn’t mind a single bit. The other three girls looked at her sympathetically. Every girl here had suffered some loss in their lives. Lydia had her purpose taken away. Miki lost her family. Celeste lost her parents. They understood what Terra had gone through.
“I’m not strong…” She murmured. “I was scared.”
“You don’t need to be strong.” I said, causing her to look up at me tearily. “That’s why you have us. You shouldn’t have had to fight it alone. But with all of us together, fighting together, we will destroy that monster.”
“R-really?” Her eyes flashed and her mouth opened in wonder.
In the end, her parents tried to bind her soul with the clockwork dragon to bring it under control, and then it failed. Was that how I was supposed to complete the dungeon? Did I need to find some way to merge Terra’s soul with the dragon? Even if that was the key to completing the lore, I wouldn’t do it. I couldn’t believe her parents would stick their own daughter’s soul into a mechanical monster. I didn’t know what would become of Terra once the dungeon was destroyed, but that wouldn’t be an option. We’d destroy that dragon, not control it.
After all, the story also told me that the clockwork dragon couldn’t be controlled. Carmine wanted to use it to beat back her brother and save the town, but the clockwork dragon could betray her in an instant. I turned to Carmine, a worried look on my face. Carmine was staring down the stairway, her eyes filled with anticipation and determination.
We ate in relative silence. I had no clue how to bring up the subject of the dragon being too dangerous to control. I had a feeling that Carmine had put everything on the hope that the dragon could become her battle companion. If it got out of this dungeon, who knew how much of a threat it would be. The one advantage of curses is that the monsters got weaker the farther from the lore you got. While the bosses at the bottom of a dungeon might be raid-level monstrosities, they were limited to the boss rooms on the lowest levels of the dungeon.
However, if her plan worked, and she extracted the boss from the curse, who knows what kind of damage it could do. It could destroy entire cities. It could be an event that could nearly destroy this country. I wasn’t even officially a lord yet, and I was already tasked with a decision that could lead to their country’s demise.
“Thank you…” The words broke me from my thoughts, and it took me a moment to realize they were coming from Carmine.
The girls were all eating. Celeste had shrunk to her fairy size to eat. She said she liked how full food made her feel when she didn’t have very much room. This caused a flash of some missing memory to pop in my head, but that kind of thing seemed ridiculous and couldn’t possibly have happened, so I decided to ignore that memory instantly. Strangely, Terra was eating too, although she seemed unused to it. I didn’t know a spirit could eat, but then again, I had never tried to feed the Necromancer or Karr, so who knew what they could or could not do.
Carmine was eating a bowl slowly, and then she looked up at me and thanked me, catching me completely off guard for the moment.
“About saving me…” She muttered when I didn’t respond. “It was my responsibility, but you healed me and then brought me here.”
“Ah… you’re welcome.” I said, smiling stiffly. “I’ve traveled with you this far. I wouldn’t abandon you now.”
She paused as she brought another spoonful up, “Right… of course.”
“On that note… once we’ve recovered, we’re heading down there, right?”
She nodded. “The guardian will be strong, but my magic is stronger. I can definitely take control of the monster.”
“Ah!” Terra made a noise, but I held up my hand to stop her from saying something to upset Carmine.
“The thing is… it’s a clockwork dragon.” I said. “If what I read in the murals is correct, the clockwork dragon went mad and killed the ones who created it. If you do the same…”
Her eyes turned sharp. “What are you suggesting?”
“I’m saying that we should destroy it. Whatever ability you have, it won’t work as planned. Rather, I don’t think we should change our plans, but if you get control of it, order it to self-destruct.”
There was no way we’d be able to defeat the dragon on our own. It was far too powerful. Although there were six of us, It’d probably take twenty skilled hunters to hunt down and defeat a clockwork dragon normally. This wasn’t based on anything I knew… just a guess from my previous experiences. Going in there with six was suicide… assuming that Terra would even fight. Our own trump card was that Carmine had the ability to control it. If she quickly ordered it to self destruct, that was our best bet for defeating this dungeon. As for what happened after they were expelled, I’d probably offer Carmine a chance to flee with us through a portal. We’d take a longer path to the capital, contact the Knights, and they would mop up this whole Bandit King mess for us.
“Is this what you all have agreed on?” Carmine asked, shooting the other girls a look.
This was the first time she had acknowledged them. I didn’t know what prompted it. She lowered her head when they all nodded.
“I will help you escape the Bandit King. We can still get away.” I said.
“… very well… we’ll do it your way.”