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Chapter 220

A glowing light appeared near the ceiling. As it pulsated, the orb slowly worked its way down to our level, stopping in the center of the room. The lore of the dungeon had been released. That meant that the dungeon’s boss was defeated and the dungeon was effectively done. I instinctively winced, but there was no flash of light. The orb didn’t suddenly shoot towards me and wrap around a piece of my body.

Of course, that would be the result. It looked like you didn’t need to completely defeat a boss to make the lore reveal itself. As long as the boss’s hostility was ended, whether it was through negotiation, death, or even a magical enslavement spell, the protected lore was released. Once the lore was destroyed, I didn’t know what would happen. Would the boss be released upon the world? In the case of the guardian or the Fairy Queen, who wasn’t made by the curse itself, that was probably true. If the curse was involved in the boss’s creation, then it probably disappeared with the dungeon.

That was just one way of ending things. To truly complete the lore, Terra’s soul would have to be inserted into the dragon to complete the lore that her parents started. It was much better if we simply destroyed the lore. The thought of that innocent girl being placed in that ugly dragon made of gears hurt my heart a little bit. Furthermore, I couldn’t say how long we could stay in the dungeon after the lore was destroyed. Once we were ejected, we’d need to deal with the Bandit King, even if dealing with was just escaping. Thus, we needed to handle the dragon situation before we finished off the lore.

Even though the mechanical dragon had calmed down thanks to Carmine’s efforts, I couldn’t relax just yet. It had broken away from its creators in the first place, so even under Carmine’s control, it couldn’t be trusted. There was no saying that it wouldn’t betray Carmine in the same way it would betray everyone else. The Bandit King was just outside this door, so it was a bitter truth to accept, but it was how it had to be.

“Carmine…” I sighed, looking up at the powerful creature. “Order it to destroy itself.”

There was still a chance it wouldn’t obey. For all we knew, ordering it to kill itself is what set it on a rampage originally. Maybe, it was designed to protect itself at all cost. Maybe it was self-aware. Anyone could guess what the next action the dragon would take would be. If we were lucky, it would just fall apart and the magic formations that kept it together would automatically undo themselves. A second option was that it attacked itself and caused some damage, but then grew enraged and out of control because of that damage, viewing us as hostile. The worst-case scenario is it immediately attacked us, ignoring the restraints completely.

That was why I wanted her to destroy it now, while we still had it contained in this room. If destroying the lore did free it of the curse, it’d be just as bad as bringing it to the surface. However, if this didn’t work, I thought the better option would be to flee towards the portal and teleport to the 1st level. We’d abandon the monster and the lore as if we hadn’t even challenged it. It would allow the Bandit King a chance at the monster, but I didn’t think we could take it out. Once again, if we’re lucky, the Bandit King will die trying to subjugate the dragon for their own.

While I was busy considering every possible outcome, the worst one I had considered suddenly occurred. Carmine didn’t destroy the dragon at all. She turned to me, and when I finally caught the look in her eyes, my gut began to sink.

“So… you decided on betrayal, after all.” I had hoped it wouldn’t come to this, but I couldn’t say I wasn’t still a bit hurt that it came.

“I’m sorry…” She responded, “I won’t be destroying this dragon. The guardian is mine!”

Chapter 221

“Carmine…” I shook my head. “Don’t do this.”

“It’s nothing personal.” Carmine chuckled wryly. “I simply follow a higher power.”

“Lydia, now!”

Lydia was upon Carmine before she could blink. Of course, Carmine’s betrayal was something I had considered as well. We depended on her capacity to take control of the dragon too much. If she decided to not destroy the dragon, it would be a danger forever. Fortunately, Lydia and I had already exchanged a few looks ahead of time, and while the lore was descending, she had closed the distance to Carmine while using the massive dragon as cover.

Without hesitation, Lydia used her speed to close the distance and toss a potion at Carmine’s feet. It exploded, and a gas rose up, covering the woman. As for Lydia, she had already jumped back a dozen feet, watching with another bottle in her hand. I didn’t want to hurt Carmine. The bottles only contained a sleeping draught. It had been made by Miki and I and was part of the arsenal of potions we kept on hand just in case.

In this situation, if we could just knock Carmine out before she made the dragon hostile to us, then perhaps we could attack and destroy the dragon before she woke up. That’s what I was hoping for, but the gas had just risen over Carmine’s head when the dragon suddenly let out another ear-splitting roar. He spun and lashed his tail wildly. As for Carmine, I only realized she had already left the cloud of smoke a few moments later. It had been a diversion!

I cursed as I realized that her goal wasn’t to fight us at all. Rather, using the flailing dragon as cover, she made it to the center of the room and snatched the lore. At that point, I realized we couldn’t sit back anymore. Ending this peacefully was impossible.

“Miki! Celeste!” The two tossed out spells Carmine’s way.

However, she was a Paladin, and the likes of spirit attacks were nothing for a woman like that. Her high defense also made Celeste’s devastating air attacks nothing more than papercuts. Meanwhile, when someone attacked Carmine, it was the dragon who retaliated. With Terra running beside me, I had closed off the direction of the backroom. My intent was to keep her from shattering the lore and then leaping through the platform. It was only when I got there that I realized she was heading in the opposite direction with a dragon between her and me. She planned to use the kiosk to flee?

I hadn’t considered this, because Carmine hadn’t registered with the kiosk with us. I believed her way out would be the final teleportation platform. After all, the dragon couldn’t even fit up in the preparation room. She reached the stairway and turned back. The look on her face made me realize the truth. She had this all planned out from the beginning. This wasn’t an emotional decision made in the moment. From the moment she brought us here, she was playing us.

She let out a laugh. “Sorry… thank you for the help, but I can’t have you following me and causing problems. The church will light a candle for your soul!”

“You- you can’t take the dungeon lore with you!”  Terra cried out helplessly.

“Why not?” Carmine tilted her head. “They’re popular high-level alchemy ingredients. Without the lore, this dungeon will whither up and collapse. You will be buried in this grave… well, if you live long enough without starving to death first. As for me, I’ll likely be promoted.”

“You can’t control it!” I shot out.

“If it’s one thing the church knows how to do…” Carmine chuckled. “It’s controlling things. I’ll worry about the dragon. I think you all have something more important to worry about.”

With that, she spun around and left. As she raced up the stairway, the dragon let out a terrifying breath attack. However, he didn’t aim at us. Rather, he aimed at the stairway. Within a moment, the location became nothing but a mound of rubble. The clockwork dragon suddenly turned to smoke and then disappeared into the cracks of the rock. Carmine must have had some kind of ability which allowed her to take the dragon with her. Perhaps it was a pet version of a storage ring or some skill I wasn’t familiar with.

I hadn’t known about it until she suddenly used it. I also hadn’t known she must have previously registered with the first-floor kiosk. Perhaps she had wanted to avoid having us register at the kiosks specifically so that she could leave us to die. She always looked annoyed when I insisted on doing it, and she never did it herself. Now I understood why.

Once the smoke left the room, the five of us were left by ourselves, standing in the former boss’s room of an empty dungeon. Since the lore still existed, the treasure room and the return portal hadn’t been summoned. On the other side, the kiosk that would allow us to return to the previous floors was blocked by mounds of heated rock.

Carmine’s plan had worked splendidly. She had the dragon, and we were trapped!

Chapter 222

“Master, what do we do now?” Miki asked, staring at the place Carmine had left.

It was eerily quiet in the room now.  Moments ago, it had been filled with battle and a massive dragon, and now the battle was over and we were trapped underground in this grave. As the molten rock that blocked the staircase cooled, the room darkened as well, putting a wet blanket on the already poor atmosphere.

“We wait… the dungeon will heal… and then we can leave…” Lydia began hesitantly.

“The lore has been removed.” Miki shook her head. “There is no source of mana. The dungeon won’t heal. Rather, it will start to collapse. As the space collapses, we’ll be crushed with it.”

“Portal,” I said, pushing out my palm toward the empty air next to me.

{You cannot teleport from inside a dungeon.}

“It’s not a dungeon anymore. The lore is gone you…” I stopped from screaming any more at the text that no one else could see.

It wouldn’t be protective at all. However, it seemed like Portal was useless. I tried Return as well and found the same effect. This was still a dungeon, even though the lore was effectively stripped. I let out a long breath. This was truly an awful situation.

“So… she won?” Celeste said, shaking her head in disbelief. “That’s it? She has the power of the guardian now?”

“No…” I shook my head, my eyes turning to Terra who was standing to the side and watching us expressionlessly. “She didn’t.”

“Eh?” This caught the interest of the other girls too, who all turned to me with questioning expressions on their faces.

“She was able to gain control of the clockwork dragon, that’s true. However, the dragon isn’t this dungeon’s guardian.”

“It isn’t? Who’s the guardian then?” Lydia asked with some interest.

“Mmm… who?” Celeste mimicked, not looking nearly as perturbed that she was trapped in a dungeon as she looked at me like she would when she was waiting for a story.

“Just some things I put together,” I said. “Terra is still here despite the fact that Carmine took the lore. That means that Terra isn’t created or controlled by the lore. Also… some of the stuff she said about graves… it got me thinking. I had been misunderstanding the murals. I thought the story was about them trying to create a powerful dragon guardian. I was wrong. It was a story about righting their wrongs.

“What does Master mean?” Lydia asked, sitting down along with the other two girls while Terra remained silent in the corner.

“I had thought that when their daughter died, the magicians tried to put the soul into the dragon, but they found it too difficult and failed in the process. I was wrong. The magicians didn’t fail to create the guardian. Rather, they succeeded. The guardian is here, in this very room.”  

Of course, the girl’s eyes all landed on Terra. She stepped forward into the light and lowered her head, her hands cusped in a very polite manner.

“I’m sorry that I never properly introduced myself before,” Terra spoke docilely. “My name is Terra. I am an Earth Golem and the Guardian of this dungeon.”

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