“Here we are.”
After explaining many things that forced me to think and rethink my understanding of the world, Calypso stopped in front of a cave.
“Where is here?” I asked, trying to make use of the Mimic job to appear as an innocent girl.
I couldn’t lie very well, but that didn’t stop certain skills from kicking in that helped me better disguise myself. At least, I was hoping this was working. How much could Calypso truly see? Had I said anything since I had been in the dungeon to tip her off? Did she know more than she was letting on and just screwing with me? It left me worried.
“This is the exit to the second floor.” Calypso explained, “While I keep the miasma off of this floor, for the most part, I don’t do that for the other floors. They are my training grounds for new troops.”
“New?” I blinked.
“Of course. My dungeon needs food. Any prisoner, captive, or hostage is sent down into my dungeon. They are given the opportunity to survive. That hope is enough to drive some of them. Of course, they all ultimately die and become just more mana to grow it.”
“How does that give you troops? Are the bandits based on how much miasma the dungeon has?”
“Yes, and also no.” Calypso chuckled at my confused expression. “Dungeons are complicated existences, and the relationship between a dungeon and its Master has limitations. If I could trade a hundred lives and just make a powerful dragon to sweep across Aberis, I would. Unfortunately, dungeons don’t work that way. Normal dungeons grow based on their curse. The lore ultimately forms the dungeon. The dungeon creates the Master, and the Master and the dungeon are united as one.
“In some unique situations, such as when a master conquers a dungeon, they are slightly at odds with the dungeon and its ultimate goal. I can influence the growth of the dungeon, but I am bound by its rules. Once a plant has already grown, you might be able to cut its branches and shape its growth, but you’ll never be able to change what it is.”
“What about if you build a dungeon from scratch?” I asked.
She raised an eyebrow. “Not possible. A dungeon occurs spontaneously. Creating a dungeon… I’ve never heard of such a thing. Presumably, if you could build a dungeon from scratch, then the way you develop it can seemingly be endless.”
The more she talked, the more she gave me to think about. I had never met someone as knowledgeable about dungeons as her. It was perhaps for this reason that I hadn’t made a major attempt to leave. Despite all that, she didn’t seem to know everything. I had built my dungeon from scratch, and I had the job Dungeon Builder. Meanwhile, she had the job Dungeon Master. I hadn’t confirmed this, but she had spoken about Dungeon Master in ways that made me think it was more than a title.
At first, I thought Dungeon Master was the top level of Dungeon craft. First, you became a Dungeon Diver, knowledgeable, and capable of surviving dungeons. Then you become a True DungeonDiver, understanding a piece of their fundamental nature. After that, you become able to make dungeons and finally become a Master.
Except, it seemed like she was a Master who could control dungeons, but she couldn’t create them. Didn’t that mean that between the two jobs, Dungeon Builder was the higher tier? Like with many of my other jobs gained from completing curse lores, it seemed like I had jumped a step once again.
“Either way, where was I? Oh, yes! I have limitations on the Bandits I can create. Although I can recapture their miasma and resurrect them quickly, I still lose a bit of miasma. However, that isn’t my biggest limitation. My biggest limitation is the size of this dungeon. Ultimately, the Bandits I create are only so powerful. Although they possess complete karmic souls, and are thus more powerful than normal dungeon mobs, and in fact aren’t even aware they’re dungeon creatures.
“So… what are you trying to do?”
Since she seemed willing to tell me all of her plans, I would naturally keep asking. I had never imagined things would end up like this. I remembered a time when I thought the Bandit Hero was just some simple enemy on the service. It turned out that she had been affecting my life since a long time ago. From the moment I met Salicia, Calypso’s influence could be felt.
“Unfortunately, you can’t just send dungeon monsters down a dungeon and expect them to level. Miasmic creatures can only level by absorbing miasma. I could shove a few Bandits in a room with thick miasma and wait a few years, but I’m not so patient. However, do you know who can level?”
“Normal people?” My eyes widened slightly.
“Exactly. Any new Bandits in the group, I send them down into my dungeon and let them gain levels. In the short term, I can only create Bandits up to the level of the souls trapped inside. So, I let a couple of skilled bandits get up in level, and then wipe them out before they become a threat. That way, I’ll be able to summon stronger and more powerful Bandits.”
I nodded, but then looked at her suspiciously. “Why are you telling me all of this?”
“Come, I’ll show you.” She gestured, and we started to walk away from the cave before she decided to continue talking. “As it turns out, you’re also deficient in levels. I don’t intend to let you die and have your soul wasted as a dungeon monster, but I do need you to be more powerful.”
“Wait, you’re asking me to fight my way down a dungeon?”
“Relax… I have control of everything. This is my dungeon, after all. Every danger you face will be one I allow you to face. Besides, I will send you with a strong group of Bandits. I’ve just recruited them. They might be my strongest team yet. They will be able to keep you safe and level you. Of course, when they reach the boss level, I’ll be forced to kill them, but you will be spared.”
“A group of Bandits… and they won’t be controlled by you?”
I was just clarifying, but Calypso seemed to take it as having some kind of deeper meaning. She burst out laughing.
“I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that as a pretty girl being sent alone with a group of Bandits stronger than her, you might end up being assaulted!”
I actually wasn’t thinking that, but now I was! Seeing the worried look on my face, she raised her hand. “You need not worry. This won’t be a problem. I found a perfect group. They’re all women.”
“Women? An all-woman bandit group?”
Just as I was wondering, I felt a change in my bonds. The originally dull feeling of my girls being distant turned to them being extremely close. I had a sinking feeling in my gut. A few minutes later, it was confirmed as I was brought before Lydia, Miki, Celeste, Terra, and Shao… all dressed up in bandit attire. “This is a notorious Bandit gang up north. They’re called Reign’s End.”
“You gave us a big scare!”
“Your soul felt very weak for a few days.”
I got a flood of Slave Communication as soon as I opened up the channel to my girls. It looked like this skill didn’t use mana, or at least not enough mana that my miasmic infection would cause trouble. I was very happy to see them all, but I kept a cold expression, and quickly told all of them to pretend like that didn’t know me.
Lydia quickly explained what happened while Calypso was still introducing the group of us. After I got captured, they must have reasoned out who had me, and remembered the invitation she had sent right before we had ended up caught in Reign’s mansion. Calypso had heard about our bandit exploits up in the north, and invited us to join her Bandit army.
It sounded promising, but now I knew why the Bandits up north seemed so scared and squeamish when discussing her. Calypso had been systematically killing off all the Bandits and turning them into dungeon monsters. It was a real-life case of the body snatchers. I could just imagine a Bandit running into his old acquaintance, only to find this copy oddly different. He was a soulless puppet in her army.
I hated puppets and dolls. Thankfully, these looked like real people, but it was still at a point where I felt afraid. In fact, these days I struggled to feel anger or hate, so that only made the fear more palpable. The worst thing of all is that the majority of these dungeon monsters never realized they weren’t the real one.
Salicia was a prime example of this. She hadn’t known she was a monster. In her mind, she was Carmine’s sister. Even Carmine, who hadn’t seen her sister since she was a child, didn’t know that this wasn’t her sister, and she was a Paladin who was best at detecting such things! Then again, how often did you scan the mana flow of a person you talked to and recognized to make sure they were still them.
If someone wanted, they really could replace everyone with a copy of themselves forged in a dungeon. Maybe I was a copy. Maybe, the real Deek was on Earth, and I was just some copy of him. He never left Earth, and I, for some reason, was spontaneously created from miasma, and up until now, no one had noticed. The fear grew even more inside me. This wasn’t a helpful way of thinking. This is something that might cause me to feel despair if I dwelled on it too much.
Calypso quickly finished with her introductions. I didn’t know if this was fate, or if Calypso knew what was going on. She didn’t seem to notice that I had a bond with these women. Of course, that was for the best. If she knew my true connection to them, she definitely wouldn’t allow us to get together.
“I will bring you to the entrance of the dungeon.” Calypso told the girls once she finished introductions. “You will guide Deedee here down to the bottom of the dungeon and then you will destroy it. That is your mission.”
As she said this, she winked at me where the rest of my party couldn’t see. I didn’t know how to respond. In her mind, she was confident the party wouldn’t successfully make it. They were going down to die. She hadn’t realized she just put together a practiced dungeon diving team. The situation was simply too perfect. I would guide the girls down, but instead of being defeated, we’d take out Calypso and destroy this dungeon!