Why did the mermaid save me and instantly grow attached? Maybe, I was just that charming. I didn’t think that. More than likely, it could detect that I was a Dungeon Master competing for control of the dungeon. For whatever reason, it didn’t like the current Dungeon Master. Well, considering that Dungeon Master had been shrinking the dungeon as it slowly withered away in a never-ending cycle, it might have been abandoning ship and hoping that I’d offer it a way to survive the end of the dungeon.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t give it that promise. I wasn’t even sure I’d survive the end of this dungeon, so how could I think about bringing out another monster for my dungeon. It wasn’t like I could store her away like certain pocket monsters until I needed her. Although, now that I thought about it, I wondered if such a magical concoction could exist. If I could store items in alternate worlds, and even food, then there had to be a way of storing animals.
Either way, the dungeon boss was surprisingly attached to me, clinging on to my leg even as I tried to pull myself onshore. I eventually had to pat her head and make several promises to her before she was finally willing to let go. Watching her smile and leap back into the water, I had to wonder if she was so terrifying as the bandits made her seem.
Supposedly, she had dragged several animals down into the depths as they had stopped to get a drink of water. Anything that had the strength to kill a giant was rather terrifying. It was a shame that all of that strength was completely useless to me. She was bound to this lake, seemingly forgotten by everything but the occasional monster wandering nearby that she could snatch. I watch the mermaid swim away, feeling like this entire day had been a waste of time.
“Amazing. I have never seen the mermaid act so timid before.” A woman’s voice next to me caused me to jump.
The bandits around me all let out cries, drawing their swords. I raised my hand, ordering them to stop. They wouldn’t be able to stop her. Heck, I wouldn’t be able to stop her.
“You know of the mermaid?” I demanded.
“She is based on the princess, you know. I mean, the real princess, the one whom your paladin friend is pretending to be.”
I raised an eyebrow. “Carmine got her Karma off an undead.”
“The undead girl was the representation of the story; the mermaid is a representation of her soul. Dungeons are abstract things, sometimes difficult to understand.”
If that beautiful woman was once the princess of the human realm, I could understand the Demon Prince falling in love with her at first sight. I wondered if one of the Karma’s I had picked up contributed to her loyalty. If she had an attachment to the commander or one of the other demons, then it might also explain why she acted in the manner she did. However, like the siren, she didn’t speak words so much, so asking her was out of the question.
“So, I guess the question is, are you planning on kidnapping me now too?” I asked.
After asking such a bold question, Xin at least had the good sense to look a bit embarrassed. Her cheeks blushed slightly and she distinctly didn’t look my way.
“I may have… previously erred in judgment.” She responded stiffly.
I raised an eyebrow. “Oh?”
“I’ve been… in this dungeon for many many years. I’m not used to dealing with real people. I mean, people free of the influence of dungeons.”
A flicker of irritation formed on her face. “And… I may have acted a bit coldly and impolitely toward you.”
“Garnet failed to make your dagger?”
She sighed. “She had told me that a great deal of her success had been because you were helping her. She insisted that she couldn’t do it without your direct support. I… didn’t listen and great a random blacksmith assistant. The dagger ended up failing.”
“So, you need me to help remake it.”
“The… material is wasted.” Xin bit her lip. “I don’t have enough to make another. My chance of having a weapon that could fell Aberon is now gone.”
It was my turn to look irritated. “Had I known that there would be no chance at a redo, I might have been a little more aggressive toward finding you.”
“You would have failed.” She shrugged, “And even if you did, I would have refused your help, convinced I didn’t need you.”
“Then, if you don’t need my help, why are you here? What changed?”
“I’m here because of Garnet. She strongly urged me to work with you. She is… quite fierce for such a small woman.”
I nodded, but then remembering how Xin was a lesbian, and Garnet was very sexually progressive, the words suddenly took on a new meaning. I felt if I said anything though, I’d destroy our current fragile communication. It was obvious to me that she was putting herself out here and was already forcing herself to act against her nature. I wasn’t sure if it was because she was a hero, strong, or a princess… but she was an extremely bullheaded woman. She reminded me a bit of Carmine.
“As for what changed… the dungeon changed.” She responded.
“At first, the actions you took ultimately were absorbed by the dungeon. This was why I didn’t take you seriously. You tried to rescue the princess, but she ended up in his clutches. You tried to initiate the war, but the humans were still scattered. That was until I started noticing changes a few weeks ago. The entire dungeon has started changing. I used to be able to map the paths of every demon down to a footstep, and now it’s like a beehive has been stirred up.”
“The bandits who always stayed out of the way became active. The commoners have all started to gather. The monsters are moving in extremely strange ways. This has spread to the demon lord castle. They’re rearranging troops as if preparing for war from an external source. I have now confirmed that source to be you. There is no point in denying it. You have caused more change in this dungeon in a single cycle than I could in a thousand.”
Of course, I knew exactly why that was the case. I was a Dungeon Master, and I was taking it from the true Dungeon Master. It seemed like my new status had even caught Xin’s attention now. I just hope she didn’t realize the truth, or she may decide to kill me!
“So, I’ll ask again, why are you here?”
“I had all but given up on the creation of that sword. Forget the sword, even the dagger would have changed the game.” Xin sighed. “Yet, the sword is made, so we need to get our hands on it.”
“You’re much stronger than Bernard, and he wouldn’t let daddy dearest see the sword. I’m surprised you don’t march into the castle and take it for yourself.”
“It’s not so easy.” She responded. “We have to wait-“
“Until the day of the wedding?” I asked wryly. “Yeah, I’ve heard.”
The dungeon seemed extremely caught up on that final date. That was also the date that the cycle reset and the portal closed. That meant we only had one chance to defeat this dungeon and get free. Perhaps, the dungeon couldn’t be completed unless we waited until that date. Then again, I didn’t care about completing the dungeon. Defeating it would be enough. At first, I had to consider completing the story because I didn’t see any way of defeating Aberon. However, with the powerful Xin and this supposed magical silvthril sword, we should be able to manage it.
“Then, you know.” She nodded. “I fear with everything that’s changed, this dungeon won’t last another cycle. The interference of you and the otherworld invaders has diminished this world’s miasma reserves to the point where the integrity of the dungeon will start collapsing in the next cycle.”
“Ah… sorry, I’ve been in this dungeon too long.” She touched her head for a moment. “Dungeons are a sort of space or world onto themselves. In there, the rules don’t necessarily need to match the real world. The creatures inside of it, or more specifically the dungeon master, sees those that enter it as world invaders. It’s their name for Dungeon Divers.”
I suppose everything had a counter, actions and reactions and such. Perhaps, the demons up north saw humanity as the plague that had to be defeated. In many ways, they were invading our world from their plane, a place simply known as hell that sat under the dungeon castle.
“This place, what is it based off of? I thought it was built off of Aberis, but now I’m not so sure.” I decided to ask her.
“I suppose, if we’re going to be working together, you should know. This bubble speaks of the first war. The humans come from the Imperial Cloud Meadow, and the demons come from the Demon’s Castle itself. This valley resembles the beginning of the demon realm.
“I always imagined the demon realm as being blighted or dark. I mean, that’s how they draw it on maps.”
She snorted. “They would. After all, they wouldn’t want humans going to the place, let alone befriending the demons.”
“So…. those created by the dungeons… they are like us, aren’t they?”
She hesitated for a moment and then spoke slowly. “The things that are created by dungeons… they are threats to our world. That’s all you need to know.”
I lowered my head and nodded. “I see.”
“You are… quite wise.” She spoke a second time. “Few I have met have ever gotten far enough to ask these kinds of questions. For the vast majority, it is enough that dungeons are bad and must be destroyed. I feel like you and me… we might not be as different as I originally thought. I don’t know why, but I feel like we share something important.”
“Ah! That… nothing… I mean… maybe it’s time we finish this threat, right?”
She didn’t seem to notice my flustered appearance. She hadn’t spent a lot of time with other people in ages. When she said that we shared something, my mind immediately came to a thing we both had shared. Alleya! If she knew about my relationship with her former lover, that was another reason she’d kill me. I came to realize just how fragile this alliance between us was.
“Very well.” She nodded, accepting my words without question. “In that case, you’ll need her.”
She turned back, and my eyes followed until they landed on a woman walking out of the forest. Garnet stopped and slammed her hammer down on the ground.
“You miss me?” She smirked.
“Garnet!” I cried out, having not even realized she had approached me despite the bond. “What are you doing here?”
“Well… you’re building an army, aren’t you?” She asked. “In that case, they’ll need some good armament.”