“You seek to destroy Aberon?” I asked calmly.
The Bandit Hero nodded. “I thought you might not be a demon, what with your ability to take Karma and mimic people. As for her, I knew her to be a Deep Dwarf since I first saw her.”
“I’m sorry, a Deep Dwarf?”
“Ah, you don’t know?” He asked, looking over at Garnet, who blushed slightly.
“It’s not something I advertise.” She responded. “Although there are many dwarves, I might be the last of my tribe.”
“You’re the last?” I asked, raising my eyebrow.
“Dwarves of the Deep, or Deep Dwarves, were a special tribe of Dwarves. We lived completely underground.”
“Deep Dwarves were famous for mining dungeons.” The Bandit Hero spoke up.
“Like that orichalcum in the Widow’s Dungeon!” I snapped my fingers in surprise.
“Not just that,” Garnet spoke up, seeming a bit uncomfortable with talking about it. “We used to mine pockets of miasma. My people used it to power the infernal machines.”
“Infernal machines?” I blinked, glancing at the Bandit Hero, who also looked lost.
“I’m sorry, I’ve never heard of such a thing either.”
“It was a long time ago.” She responded. “My people had long lifespans, and while the surface wears away, under the ground things last. Even so, there were only explained as the reason our people were all but wiped out. We tried to conquer the world, and a coalition of surface dwarves, elves, and humans managed to wipe us out and bury the infernal machines. The surface dwarves still blamed us, claiming we brought the curse of the dungeons.”
“I had never heard about any of that,” I admitted, feeling like as soon as I unwrapped one layer of this world, a dozen more appeared beneath the surface.
“I wouldn’t expect you to. As I said, the story of the deep dwarves is old. Even surface dwarves might mistake me for their own if it wasn’t for my red hair. Red, like the fires deep below the earth, or so I was told. In truth, I never saw the deep. My family had left it before I was born. I heard stories of the crystalline cities though. They were beautiful.”
Those last words caught in my mind. A crystalline city? I recalled that deep within the earth were various deposits of stone that looked out of this world. I also recalled I had seen such a place once before, the Mirror Labyrinth. Was the Mirror Labyrinth based off of the deep? Was the deep a place we could still go?
“The deep is where silvthril is found.” The Bandit Hero suddenly spoke up. “It was how the deep dwarves were able to hold the miasma at bay. What they brought up is all of the silvthril that exists, and the only one who can properly smelt and smith silvthril is a deep dwarf!”
“Other masters have tried, and while they’ve managed to make little things, there seems to be something in the blood of deep dwarves that enables them to do what no human can manage.”
“Wait… that human was going to use the metal to forge it himself.”
The Bandit King shook his head. “He was going to try, but his chances of success were very low. I’d say he had a 1% chance of succeeding. So, I hope you understand the importance of finding a deep dwarf skilled in blacksmithing! It’s almost like fate has intervened.”
Fate… or a Demon Lord.
The new information I had just learned filled in some of the gaps in my knowledge. If my guess was right, then Lord Aberis was aiming at getting a sword made of silvthril. If he could tame dungeons, then he could rule the surface.
So, he must have found this dungeon based on a key point in which a silvthril weapon needed to be made. Either the dungeon already contained silvthril, or he tossed the silvthril inside, hoping the magic blacksmith would build the weapon needed to destroy the demon lord. Unfortunately, he failed, so the Lord Aberis made the dungeon reset, reliving this sequence over and over again.
At some point, he tossed Xin into the dungeon, hoping she’d start altering things enough that one of the times, the blacksmith succeeded. So, he waited, 10 times, 20 times, 50 times. The blacksmith should have succeeded at least 1 in 100. However, 100 cycles came and passed, and he still didn’t make the blade. Xin continued to change the lore, and no matter what happened, the silvthril sword was never successfully made.
Part of the purpose of the Widow’s Dungeon was to lure out knowledgeable blacksmiths, and he happened to luck out when he found Garnet. She wasn’t just a dwarf blacksmith, but a deep dwarf. Unfortunately, she didn’t know magic blacksmithing to be able to do the job. So, he tossed her in early, engineering things so that she would be involved in the final construction of the silvthril sword.
That sword would be needed to defeat the dungeon master, so Lord Aberis knew that anyone who entered the dungeon would inevitably end up finding the girl, who was also supposed to be a prize for winning this little game. In short, if they had any desire to leave the dungeon, then they would need to get the sword and leave with it. After that, all it would take is Lord Reign handing them one of his corrupted Knight tokens, and then he’d be in Lord Aberis’s control.
The only thing that Lord Aberis hadn’t accounted for was the state of the dungeon. Xin had caused a mess in here, and Karma was now loose and infecting the people inside. Prince Aberis, otherwise known as Bernard, now took the place of Aberon’s son. His goals didn’t align with the dungeon’s original intent, and that didn’t even mention Carmine. There was no telling what direction the dungeon would go in now. It was all a big mess all over.
“Are you going to leave me hanging?” The Bandit Hero asked.
“Ah… right…” I had been standing there in silence thinking for some time, and his patience had finally ended. “If you seek to destroy Lord Aberon, then making a sword from the silvthril would be the best option.”
I did have my doubts. If the weapon was what Lord Aberis wanted, then I should make sure that it didn’t happen. However, if this sword was as useful for dungeons as suggested, then I should be the one to get it.
“Then, it’s agreed. You shall forge the silvthril.” The Bandit Hero clapped his hand.
At this moment, a woman walked up behind his throne and put her hand on his shoulder. She was a beautiful woman, with deep red lips, and darkly-shaded eyes. Her hair was long and black, and so was her dress.
“Ah, this is my dark priestess. Every decent bandit king has one.” The Bandit Hero smiled, “Her name is Calypso.”
“Shall we eat?” She asked, for some reason looking at me with a smile.
“I realized I forgot to formally introduce myself.” The Bandit Hero spoke as we sat at a long table filled with food. “My name is Roxford, they call me the Bandit Hero around these parts.”
It was just me, Garnet, Roxford, and Calypso around the table, although it was long enough and filled with enough food to feed thirty.
Calypso seemed to notice me staring at the empty chairs, “The other bandits eat separately from us. It’s how we distinguish leadership. Eating with the Bandit Hero is a great honor for you. You should be thankful.”
“Thanks!” Garnet said before digging in, but I still hesitated.
“I’ve already ordered bandits to set up a forge. There is a good cavern with a natural chimney. I’ve heard that to forge properly, being underground is preferable. It blocks out unwanted vibrations and bad energy.”
“Ah… the miasma!” I cried out, just remembering my previous plan.
“I wouldn’t worry about it. It makes the men a little angsty, but it reinforces my abilities.” Calypso responded. “To be able to create miasma, you must be a fairly high-level dark priest?”
“Ah… not exactly…” I responded, this time grabbing food to try to avoid answering her. “Ah… do you need help with those bandits… that I… I mean…”
“The ones you killed?” Calypso raised an eyebrow and then chuckled. “No, I was already able to raise them using Dark Ritual. You have that ability?”
She seemed to be trying to figure out what level I was. Whatever that level was, I didn’t have it yet.
“Ah, yes… I do have it.” I lied. “I was going to offer…”
Roxford had a distasteful look on it. “I’d rather we used resurrection. It’s too bad priests won’t resurrect our kind.”
“Why?” I asked.
“Because Dark Ritual demands a sacrifice,” Calypso responded simply. “My hero here doesn’t like killing.”
“Sacrifices, who?” I demanded, frowning.
She raised an eyebrow. “Those that didn’t need to be alive, I can tell you that much. Of course, if they’re lucky, they can be resurrected the old-fashioned way. Dark Ritual is much much faster, and can be cast before the person even dies.”
“How does that work?” I asked.
“I thought you had the ability?”
“Ah! I-I do… It’s just, I’ve never used it. It’s not like there is a manual for this kind of thing?”
She gave a grin but otherwise spoke. “You can cast Dark Ritual on someone, and it connects their soul to another. It’s not dissimilar to certain slave crests. For those, when the master dies, the slave dies with them. In this case, when the main person dies, the sacrifice dies in their stead. They resurrect shortly after. They also don’t experience any of the weakness or damage to their soul. It’s like protecting your soul with another. Any competent dark priest has a sacrifice at the ready in case she faces someone deadly.”
She shot me a cutting look, and then seemed to have lost a lot of interest in our discussion when she realized I didn’t know much about the dark priesthood. However, for me, I was thinking about other things entirely.
Specifically, the bandits back at home. I had been wondering how they kept their bandits coming without stop. This Dark Ritual seemed to be the first thing I had heard of that sounded close to an answer. There was still a problem with that theory. Those bandits seemed to be able to keep coming. If that was indeed the answer, just how many souls did they have as backup?