I continued to stare at the mural for a solid minute, a frown on my face.
“What is it?” Carmine asked. “Some army? The demons attacking the skeletons? This is known.”
I shook my head. “This is the demons surrounding this fort. This mural depicts the demons attacking this fort with the expressed intent of reclaiming you… well, the princess.”
“So, the last mural had the Demon Prince come in and rescue you from that noble and then spirit you off to the capital. That didn’t happen. In other words, the lore that was revealed in the previous fort didn’t happen. This mural wouldn’t have come true unless I had already prevented that mural from coming true.”
‘What are you saying?’
“Either, the story somehow already anticipated my actions, or the murals are being created upon discovering the safe rooms. Perhaps, the lore of this dungeon has already degraded too much that the story is no longer cohesive. Maybe… the story is being written as we act it out.”
“What about this last part?” She asked, pointing to the end of the mural.
“If I’m right, then the story will continue to twist and change as we participate in it. It won’t just be me and you, but the others who had entered this dungeon as well, such as Bernard. Every one of our actions could cause the lore to change. When we look at a mural, we’re seeing what will happen next, presuming there is no interference.
“In this case, the fort will fall tonight, and you will be taken.” I pointed to the flaming fort, and the princess seemingly being carried away by a crowd of demons.
“I see…” She spoke quietly. “Is it that way for all dungeons? I mean, that the mural doesn’t generate until the safe room is seen for the first time.”
“In my old world, there is a game called ‘telephone’,” I answered instead. “One person whispers a word into the next person’s ear who whispers into the next person’s ear. Eventually, someone misunderstands the message or gets something wrong, and then it becomes diluted. By the time the last person delivers the message, it no longer was what the original message meant.”
“Your children play strange games. We just liked to battle with sticks or throw balls.”
I ignored her and continued. “Lore, or the dungeon curse, or however you want to see it, might work on a similar principle. Like souls, when it’s not solidly bound in place like when a soul sits in a body or a story is written on a page, it is prone to alteration, degradation, and destruction. New lore gets incorporated into the old, and things become half-remembered, exaggerated, or glorified. If this dungeon is as old as they say, it’s possible that the lore degraded to the point that it doesn’t even remember it’s own story.
“In other dungeons, people visit them, and they visit the safe room, and once the story is written in a mural, it’s recorded, and those recordings don’t change.”
“I’m not sure I get it.”
“They have a saying if a tree falls in a forest, and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound? I’m just saying if no one is there to learn the story, does it exist? Perhaps, that is why unfinished stories become a blight on the world, so they become known. Those that aren’t known are forgotten. As for this one… it’s so old that it has to fill in the pieces with our actions, hence the karmic curse.”
“I see… I have no clue what you’re talking about.”
“Yeah… in the end, it’s just words. Dungeons are a force of nature in this world. You might know basically why a tornado works, or how the rain falls, but being able to predict every weather anomaly with accuracy is a fool’s game.”
“Someone once told me that rain fell because of water sprites and tornados from angry wind gnomes. That’s correct. Right, master?”
“Alright, then, if you’re confident in taking on the challenge, I won’t stop you.” I said to Carmine.
In truth, it would have been smart to take her to the previous challenge as well and see what she got out of that. However, we didn’t have that much time. It was already past noon, and the attack would come tonight. The commander was busy getting his army ready, but we needed to move sooner rather than later, or the mural on the wall would end up becoming a reality.
I wondered what would happen if we perished in the challenge. Would the karma disappear with us? I suppose I could return to the dungeon… or the lore could be corrupted even more and the story would rewrite itself to cut out those characters. In that respect, I imagined my role as being a lot less vital than the roles of the princess or the Demon Prince. I couldn’t even imagine the story continuing without the pair of them.
“I’m ready, Master.”
“Then, I’ll see you on the other side.”
The pair of us touched the orb, and I once again ended up in the familiar challenge room. I didn’t have any reason to look around, so I approached the door and read the new contents of the door. I wondered if Carmine was reading something similar to the last challenge I had done, or if it’d be similiar to this challenge. I had informed her of what I had to do last time, and how I thought they were similar themes depending on the order of the challenges.
Before you, lay’s one of Greggar’s challenges. If you can complete this challenge, you will be awarded a gift that helps you on your way. If you fail, your bones will rest amongst the Twilight forever.
I blinked. That wasn’t a rhyme at all! Yet, somehow, it ended up a dozen times more foreboding. What did survive mean? Survive could mean hot magma was poured on top of my head and I had to live. It could mean that I was tossed underwater, or thrown into the vacuum of space. Survive could mean I’d face anything!
As I contemplated every single thing I would need to survive against, I realized the list was large enough that I could write a novel about it. More than that, already an hour had passed as I stared frozen. Why did I cut away my impulsiveness? At this point, Carmine was probably finished and convinced I was dead. No, she had the bond. I could still feel her, and if I wanted to Party Switch, I could do that as well. However, the fort would be attacked, and if I was busy still standing here, then Carmine would face an ugly fate.
I had already once let her get attacked for nearly five minutes because I didn’t want to rush into things. It was starting to get to the point where it felt debilitating. I just needed to not think about it! I closed my eyes and shoved my way through the door. After all, I couldn’t go back. My only option was to go forward.
As soon as my feet ended up on the other side of the door, I looked up to see an arena. It reminded me a bit of the arena that the gladiatorial match was held at, except that it appeared in a cave, with a roof of rock and low seating. At that moment, a monster burst out the other end. It looked a bit like a giant pigman. It wore some armor and it had a sword. As soon as it saw me, it charged.
I tossed out a Fireball, having not had the chance to cast one earlier. It struck the pigman with ease. A pleasing smell of bacon filled the room, which when I saw the burning pigman collapse to the floor, became a little nauseating, I barely had time to take a breath, and two more pigmen appeared.
“I see… so it’s one of those tests…” I unsheathed my sword and began to fight.
The two pigmen were not much harder than the first. I didn’t really want to have to deal with the smell, so I took these guys out with my sword. They were pretty smelly up close, so it didn’t help that much. The next group was four. I had a sinking feeling that this was going to continue to grow exponentially. Survive indeed.
A thought came to me, one that I probably would have never allowed myself to have before I had lost a piece of my soul. I killed three of the monsters, and while keeping the fourth back using various tricks, I dragged the remaining three to one side of the arena. Then, I finished him off. In the next round, eight appeared as expected. I burned several skills to kill several of the pigmen as quickly as possible. Then, with the remaining, I took my time picking them off until one remained. Then, I repeated what I did the previous time.
Sixteen pigmen were the first time I started to feel some genuine pressure. I was firing off skills, and I could feel my mana draining quickly. I even had to heal from a few painful blows. If the star potion hadn’t restored all of my abilities, I definitely might have fallen in this round. Like before, I killed all but one and then started dragging the bodies. At this point, it was rather obvious what I was doing. On the opposite side from where the pigmen spawned, I started stacking their bodies up like a wall. They were currently three pigmen high, which given their large bodies, rose to about my chest.
When thirty-two spawned, I fought from behind my impromptu shelter of bodies. They managed to eventually get through the wall of bodies, but they weren’t able to surround me, and I was able to kill enough that I managed to finish them off. With one remaining again, I began to rebuild my fort of bodies. If this was the same, the next round would be sixty-four. Although I had a five-foot wall and I even had a blessing cast on my fort of corpses, I worried the next round would be too much.
Thus, I took out a clip and blocked my nose, then using Fire Control, I killed the last pigmen and set the wall on fire. The pigmen were very afraid of fire, and it worked splendidly. Best of all, sixty-four pigmen were more than enough to fill all the ones I had burned in the previous round. After taking out sixty-three of them, an act that left me extremely exhausted, I thought about keeping this one trapped and resting. No… I had to be reaching the end. 128 would be the final round! I knew it!
Taking all of the energy I had, I reassembled my fort or corpses, killed the last pigmen, and then 128 spawned. 128 pigmen were a lot more than I realized. It wasn’t until I saw it up close I realized just how screwed I was. They began to descend on me with a frightful quickness. I cursed as I realized I forgot to set the wall on fire. Just as I started to set it, they had already burst through the wall. A hundred pigmen descended on me.
They all suddenly disappeared moments before reaching me, including the bodies on the floor. The door on the other side of the arena clicked.
“Huh? The time limit was reached?”
It was then that I realized that the challenge said to survive, not defeat, conquer, or win. I only had to survive for a certain length of time. That meant, had I just restrained the first pigmen and took a nap, I’d have won just as quickly. I collapsed to the ground and let out a groan. I wanted to punch this Greggar guy if I ever met him.