The girls all looked at each other, not completely convinced of my plan.
“Master, shouldn’t we at least go back to Chalm? We can bring back extra help. We can even dump an army of our own in here and rout the dungeon. The soldiers Raissa has been training have a good deal of experience in dungeons now.” Miki tried to encourage me.
“No!” I shook my head stubbornly. “We’re going to fight our way down the dungeon.”
“That’s just walking right into her trap!” Terra protested.
“We’ll overtake her trap!” I responded. “Look, she’s turned this entire region into her own personal mana trap. As the Dungeon Master, she’s collecting all of that mana and using it to create an army of never-ending Bandits. If we don’t destroy the dungeon now, then we won’t have a chance.
“As long as she has that dungeon, the Bandits will never stop coming. Furthermore, her own power will only continue to increase. She’ll keep spreading and spreading, and soon she’ll be just like the Demon Lords of the north. We can’t wait, because if we wait, then she’ll no longer give us this opportunity to get so close to the boss room. We have to bet everything on this. We must use our strength and destroy this dungeon. We have to cut off her lifeline. It’s the only way to defeat her. Do you get it?”
The girls slowly started to nod, seeming to come to understand my explanations. I didn’t know if it was because I wasn’t a man anymore, but I swore they used to listen to all of my orders. Maybe, I just didn’t have as forceful of a demeaner that I once had. Nowadays, they were much more prone to questioning me and second guessing my decisions. I already had enough problems sticking to one plan. I didn’t need them also questioning them.
“We understand, Master.” Lydia nodded.
I nodded as well. “Good, good. Then, Shao, can you please head to the 1st saferoom so that I can open a Portal and register?
She nodded and touched the kiosk. A few minutes later, I was back on the 1st floor where I remembered to check the mural before returning. In this dungeon, the murals might be very important. Figuring out why this dungeon existed would be a key component to us defeating Calypso.
“Master, what do the Murals say?”
“It speaks of an ancient tribe… I don’t know. It’s weird.” I murmured.
“What’s weird about it?” Lydia asked.
“Well, there are these people, shown in blue. They have blue skin. Then there are these people, who look to be human. The first mural shows the blue skinned people having a mighty civilization. It reminds me of the Aztecs or something like that.”
“Aztecs?” Lydia blinked.
“Ah, nevermind.” Only Shao would understand that reference. “It seems like these humans came out and attacked the blue people.”
Miki frowned. “Why is that weird, Master? It just sounds like some battle from long ago?”
“The weird thing is that it shows the humans… emerging from a dungeon!”
“What does that mean?” Miki asked, frowning.
“I don’t know, but I feel like… I don’t know… this dungeon feels old. Very old. It might have only sprouted up recently, but the lore that spawned it is ancient. For that to be the case… it must have been a very powerful emotion to allow it to persist until present day.”
Many dungeons seemed to form as soon as the instigating event passed. In fact, for some dungeons, the instigating event seemed to be involved with the formation of the dungeon, like in the case of Karr’s and Terra’s Dungeons. Other dungeon lore seemed to be like a seed, drifting along the wind and time only to finally settle and start growing. For example, I couldn’t even guess where Mina’s Dungeon sprouted from.
However, these curses did deteriorate with time, and so you usually wouldn’t find a dungeon forming from an event after a few hundred years or so. The longer it was, the more massive the event had to be to survive that long. I didn’t know if it was my Dark Priest of my Dungeon Builder jobs, but I had a light feeling that this dungeon came from a story from thousands if not hundreds of thousands of years ago. If that was the case, then the event that caused it must have changed the entire world!
We stayed the night in the safe room. The next morning, we left and started looking for the cave again. We ran into the T-rex again, as he had re-popped, but he was quickly taken care of.
This dungeon wasn’t like any dungeon I had ever entered before. Most dungeons depended on a maze-like feel to them, leading you down closed-off corridors. The most complicated of these earned the name labyrinth. You used your mapping skills to look for the exit, but the exit was always as clear as day once you reached it.
This dungeon was a complete open concept. Although the thick trees of the forest blocked my vision, I could just about walk in a straight line from one end of the dungeon to the other. The ends of the dungeon seemed to be a large cliff that went vertically up. If I was to make an attempt to climb it, I wondered what would happen. I thought about sending Celeste up to see where the sky ended and the roof began, but I was afraid she might get hurt running into it, or that it might backlash and cause some damage to her.
The exits for each floor of this dungeon were much like the safe room. Although the first few levels were easy to find, it seemed like they got more and more concealed the deeper you went. In some cases, it was even obscured on my Map, the outline cleverly done in a way that almost made me miss it. As for the safe rooms, they only appeared on my Map after I had entered them. They didn’t appear until I got close enough to that tree.
This was a similar yet completely different experience from the mazes of other dungeons. You had to be hypervigilant. Not only did your perception need to catch sometimes hidden paths leading to the next dungeon, but at any time an attack could come from anywhere. The ape-like beasts in particular liked to leap down from the trees to attack us. They often laid out ambushes. Thankfully, Lydia destroyed every single one of them before they even had a chance.
It wasn’t long before we made it down, or perhaps it was better to say to the side, to the sixth level. If these exits hadn’t looked different, it would have been very hard to say we had even progressed from level to level. Although the 1st level was clearly different from the next four, those four had all looked similar. As for the shape and direction of these levels, that wasn’t really clear. Every level was shaped differently, from squares to rectangles. As for the exits, they weren’t always opposite the entrance, and at least one level had the exit on the same side as the entrance.
Upon entering the sixth level, the forest had become increasingly thick. The monsters inside had also become much more menacing and difficult. It wasn’t at a level that caused any threat on the girls yet, but it wasn’t at a level where individuals could take out an enemy anymore. They had to rely on teamwork more and more. After Miki and Shao had been separated from the other three for months, this was a good opportunity for them to regain some of those skills of cooperation.
Salicia had also regained some of her vigor at first, chatting and talking merrily. I had feared that she would spout something that Calypso would overhear and reveal our secrets. Thankfully, she had always been an outsider to the core group, and only acted like normal. By the time we finished with the sixth floor and headed down to the seventh, her attitude had returned to the silent woman from before.
As for me, I could only carry on, pretending to be the innocent person from before. This didn’t mean I didn’t gain experience. I gained a portion of the experience from any kill my slaves made. However, at this low level, that didn’t account for much. Even though my magic had returned, my support could only be passive. This was kind of a torture on its own.
“Perhaps, it was too aggressive to think that we could reach the 10th floor in a single night.” I said, yawning.
Although there was no day-night cycle in this particular level of the dungeon, making it an eternal hot, muggy day, I was pretty sure it was late into the night. I had been hoping that the group could reach the 9th-floor safe room and tackle the first big boss tonight, but that might have been too ambitious. After all, heading down four floors of a dungeon was supposed to be a major accomplishment and a milestone for a Dungeon Diver.
Four floors a day could have been considered an insane pace for any group. If it wasn’t for my Map, the girl’s strength and scouting abilities, and our dungeon experience, we would have been far slower. Even for a skilled group on an easy dungeon, two or three levels a day could be considered quite good, especially if you didn’t already have a map of the route.
However, feeling impatient, I had pushed us down to the 9th floor. It wasn’t that we didn’t have enough time to reach the ninth floor, but that upon reaching the 9th floor, we hadn’t found the 10th. We’d already wasted hours and had just about filled out the entire Map. Till this point, I had yet to see the entrance appear on my Map.
I had even climbed a tree to try to fill out as much of the Map as possible. However, the Map wasn’t truly dependent on how far I could see, but on how far my mana sense could reach. In a dungeon, miasma acted as resistance, pushing against mana sense. The walls all but blocked mana sense, so at least in dungeons, I couldn’t see past any walls. Strangely enough, this didn’t affect Detect Treasure. My thought was that dungeons deliberately let you know where the treasure was, thus tempting you to seek it out and perish.
“We’ve walked the entire perimeter,” Celeste complained, even though she was in a small form and sitting on Lydia’s shoulder. “Where is the exit already?”
“Maybe the exit is where we entered?” Terra offered.
“The exit doesn’t necessarily have to be on the edge, it could be in the middle,” Terra explained. “But I’ve already sent out waves three times and we’ve yet to find one.”
It made sense that with the dungeon levels next to each other, the paths had to be along the perimeter, that was part of the reason we were able to move so fast since we didn’t focus on the middle portion of the dungeon. However, at least one dungeon was found with the path being in the middle. A cave went down, then followed a long path before coming out on the other side. Since level 10 was a boss room, it stood to reason that the boss room entrance could be anywhere.
The problem was that I had already walked 90% of the dungeon level. There was only one place I hadn’t looked at.
“Seriously? It can’t be there…”
“Where is it, Ma… ah… Ma’am,” Shao coughed, hiding a blush.
“The only place we haven’t looked is that lake. The entrance to the next dungeon level must be at the bottom of the lake!”