Demons didn’t move at the same speed since I could use safe rooms and Portals. Although, after making my army surrender, the army started heading back to the Capital, it was still a week before I could see the Demon Castle in the distance. I had seen it before, but never this close. This could be said to the be the closest I had ever gotten, and the only way I had managed it was by fooling the dungeon into thinking I was a part of its narrative.
I wasn’t sure if the dungeon saw me as a threat. I was trying to change the narrative, not complete it, so it was anyone’s guess if this upset it. It was even kind of strange thinking of a dungeon as a living thing. It was a curse, a blemish on the world, yet it also could create incredible things. It wasn’t clear if dungeons were truly alive or had any true awareness beyond acting and reacting.
However, that didn’t matter, because the Dungeon Master did have the capacity to react, and he had to be aware of not only the damage I was doing to the narrative but my attempts to wrestle the dungeon from his control. At this point, nearly 35% of the dungeon was in my control. That might not seem like much, but every percentage I took made the dungeon that much weaker.
The area around the Dungeon Castle was desolate. I had been expecting some Capital city dedicated to demons, but it didn’t seem like that was the case. Quite the opposite, it seemed like all life was repelled from the dungeon, creating a ring of deadness. This resembled the wastelands on the maps much closer. I wondered if the demon castles corruption was allowed to spread for untold years if the maps were telling the truth. Unless I traveled up north, I wouldn’t know the answer.
The demon commander dragged me into the dungeon. I was still in contact with Garnet, but we had both prepared for the possibility that our connection would be severed once I entered. I left one last phrase.
“I’m going in now.”
That was the last exchange I had with Garnet. There was no response after that. I could still feel her general direction, but she was far too distant to pinpoint now. I was on the inside. While this meant I no longer had contact with her, it might also mean something else. Without showing any change in my demeanor, I brought up my Map, and that was when I saw a familiar dot for the first time in what felt like ages.
I could see Carmine in the castle. Since we were officially in the same location again, then I had contact with her. Hopefully, the last week while I was steadily approaching the castle, she hadn’t given Bernard or the Demon King any signs I was coming. As I continued to follow the commander, I decided to see if I could contact her. The worst that would happen was that I would hear silence.
“Carmine! Are you there?” I sent the message and waited for an answer.
I had expected an immediate response when I sent her my message, so when a minute went by, I had to wonder if the entire demon castle prevented a signal, or if Bernard had done something to Carmine herself to block me. Then, I suddenly heard her voice, although it was quiet and full of uncertainty.
“Who are you?”
I was immediately confused by Carmine’s response. I had thought she might not answer. I had even considered receiving a response from the Demon King, having somehow interrupted the transmission. If that was the case, I was screwed. I had devised a few escape plans if things went bad, but there was no saying whether I would have made it out of there alive. It was a risk, putting my life on the line, all so that I could get into the castle ahead of time.
“I… don’t know who that is.” The response came a moment later. “How are you talking to me? Are you the one I feel drawing near? Are you my soulmate?”
I had to think things through after hearing her message. So, Carmine no longer remembered who she was. That meant that the miasma that had infected her heart had somehow successfully infected her entire soul. In her mind, she was the human princess and didn’t even remember being a Paladin at all.
Since I was the one who had rescued her, I had forged a place in her heart in place of Bernard. I wasn’t sure why the dungeon had designed it so that the princess fell in love with whoever saved her, and not simply the prince, but it worked in my favor. Had her heart belonged to him, I wasn’t sure I could have accepted it. It would have been extremely infuriating.
However, it almost seemed like she couldn’t remember me anymore, but rather the idea of me. The slave bond had turned into her soulmate who she could feel at a distance. She had been sitting in the castle, waiting for me to rescue her. Rather than trying to snap her out of it, I decided to play into the fantasy for the moment. I didn’t have the time to explain everything, and I couldn’t afford her accidentally notifying the others in her distress.
“Yes! I’m the knight who saved you. I’ve come to rescue you! That’s why you can hear me because our hearts are bound as one.” I decided to throw out a bunch of lines that made me blush.
“My hero has come? Oh! Wonderful! Please, save me!”
“First, are you doing okay? Has Bern- I mean the Demon Prince done anything to you?”
This was the thing I had been worried about the most. If she had been mistreated while I sought the means to attack the castle, I would lose it.
“It was awful!” She cried out, causing my worst fears to be realized.
“What did that bastard do?” My expression started to darken.
“It was the worst! First, he bought me a dress… but it wasn’t the color I liked! Then, he promised to buy me anything I wanted, but when I asked for a small island, he said he didn’t have any of those! Finally, every night, they feed me with a 4-star chef. Daddy always got me a 5-star chef! I mean, his food tastes the same, but it was the principle of the thing! Are you listening? This is important! I’m suffering here!”
I quickly grew tempted to turn off the Slave Communication. As for whether this was an aspect of the princess or Carmine… I honestly couldn’t tell. I realized that the pair kind of deserved each other.
As Carmine droned on about all of her perceived injustices, I was reminded once again just what it meant to have a high-maintenance girlfriend. By the time I was brought into the throne room, I was seriously considering just abandoning her in this dungeon. I was quite happy for the distraction, that was until I remembered the distraction was the most dangerous and feared man in the land.
“I have brought the general of the humans.” The commander said to the guards blocking the entrance into the throne room.
I gulped, concentrating on my deception. I hoped that the Mimic job I had worked so hard on since I had entered this dungeon would be enough to fool the Demon King. There were a lot of things that could go wrong. If the Demon Prince was there, he could figure me out. If the Demon King could see through it he could cause a lot of issues. Suddenly, I wasn’t sure if this was so good of an idea after all.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have much choice in the matter. The door opened and I was shoved inside. I ended up in a room that resembled the boss rooms of previous dungeons. The size was immense, and I wondered if this castle made sense given the dimensions of this room. There was a row of bowls with fires in them, and at the very end was a man.
As the guards, with the commander by our side, dragged me down the long carpet, I could make out more and more of the Demon King. I had to say, that despite what I knew about demons, I was expecting a Demon King that looked like the devil himself. I was expecting a large and intimidating man that was more muscles than man. I was expecting red skin. I was expecting long, curly horns, sharp teeth, and a threatening demeanor.
The man I saw instead was shockingly ordinary looking. His horns were incredibly modest. He was just a bit handsome. His features were very normal. Even Aberis looked much more intimidating than this man. If he had to remind me of anything, he sort of reminded me of Shao. That was when a thought jumped into my head.
As I was dragged down the path and dumped at his feet, that thought began to take hold more and more. My mind wanted to dismiss it because it was far too ridiculous, but I couldn’t shake the realization.
“So, you’re the general who has sought to overthrow my people?” The man asked calmly. “My people are here to stay. It is the survival of the fittest. Do you understand? That is the nature of this world. Natural selection at its finest.”
“You’re from another world!” I cried out in surprise.
He blinked. “Yes… of course. That is the nature of dungeons. They are connections between worlds. Weaknesses in your own story leads to the invasion of others.”
“No…” I shook my head, now almost certain. “You’re from Earth.”
The expression on his face was one of pure shock. He stood up so quickly that he nearly knocked the throne back. His eyes were locked on me, and all of his previous regal demeanor was gone.”
“How could you know that?”
As he incidentally confirmed it, the expression on my face started to whiten. Like Shao… the Demon King was from Earth?