“We’re heading to the Nyphum Labyrinth.” Jerard explained.
I finished filling out a form that allowed me to join their team temporarily. I guess in this world it was a common enough thing for people to join teams for only one or two missions. Well, not everyone formed permanent groups. If you thought about it, it might be odder for the same team to work together consistently for long stretches of time. Perhaps a team would get together for a few months, but this was wasn’t a video game. People adventured to make money quickly, and once they earned some money, they returned home. It was more akin to a seasonal job, with only a hand full of people who do it full time.
Other adventurers would travel, perhaps spending some seasons in certain towns and other seasons in other towns based on what worked for them. Adventuring was either a temp job or a life of transience. At least, that’s how I came to see it.
I gave Jerard occasional nods as he explained things. Meanwhile, I received some unhappy glares from the women in his team, who weren’t happy that I was moving in on their turf. The basic truth was the Jerard invited me and none of them spoke up. I really didn’t care for the feelings of these petty bitches, so I mostly chose to ignore them and focused on Jerard was saying.
“A labyrinth… so that’s like a maze, right?”
My familiarity with labyrinths ended at the movie. I was one of those girls who watched it many times. David Bowie pant’s bulge gave me many wonderful nights. It was a story about a young girl whose baby brother was taken away by the Goblin King. She had to go through a Labyrinth to reach the brother, only to have an adult David Bowie trying to marry and sleep with her. Perhaps the seed to allow me to survive in this warped world manifested in my youth, or perhaps I was just desperate to gain some semblance of rationality in this screwed up world.
“Tsk…” Rosetta spoke up behind me. “She doesn’t even know basic dungeonology and she wants to adventure with us?”
I fought the urge to spin back and use seduce on her. Not enough to make her obsessed with me, but just enough to take the edge off. I typically restrained my powers in public. I was in a slave collar and I never knew who was watching. Those who study magic can sense it, and the skill above magic sense could allow some to discern the intent of my skills and spells. The me in the past had always been quite flippant with her skill usage. It was a wonder it didn’t end up getting me killed. No, wait, it did. Well, after Min’s death, I had learned my lesson to keep my profile low. I learned that every situation couldn’t be solved by layering seduce on people.
“Now, now… that’s perfectly fine, not everyone can afford personal tutors like you, Rosetta.” Jerard spoke.
I think he ended it to be flirtatious, but Rosetta returned a look that said his comment didn’t make her happy. If Jerard kept siding with me, the other girls might revolt. Looking at the situation, I gulped down my pride and anger. In the past, I would have stoked the flames, relishing in watching the girls twist and rage as I seduced their man away from them. However, it was those kinds of actions that got me in trouble. See, I can learn.
“Rosetta, since you are so knowledgeable, please tell me about labyrinths!” I lowered my head, giving a perfect bow.
It might have looked snobbish to most commoner women, but Rosetta was a bit more than a commoner, it seems. To her, this was a show of deference and respect. Instantly, her face flushed, but she managed to keep her face smoother than the other two girls, who were openly frowning at me.
“I suppose that’s fine…” Rosetta finally spoke up. “We all have to learn these things somewhere, right?”
“Thank you!” I gave her my most ingratiating smile, grabbing her hands eagerly like a disciple ready to learn.
It was a trick I had used on Fanreek a few times, and I found even though I wasn’t his particular tastes, it was very effective. To the prideful Rosetta, this seemed to do the trick. She blushed, even more, the corner of her cheeks lifting as she couldn’t fight off a smile. The smile of a beautiful woman was infectious, and even Rosetta couldn’t resist my beauty when it was shoved in her face.
“I-I said it’s fine!” Rosetta seemed to not want to look in my eyes, which made me smile even brighter, but I didn’t want to push Rosetta so I pulled it back and she finally continued. “That’s to say, monsters are specific to certain areas. We like to call those areas biomes. For example, monsters found in a forest live in a forest biome. Monsters found in a cave live in a cave biome. It’s that sort of thing.”
“Ah, so dungeons and labyrinths are types of biomes?” I asked genuinely curious to learn more about this kind of stuff.
“Not exactly…” Rosetta gave a look of superiority that suggested she was a bit happy that I didn’t get it and she needed to explain it to me. “Labyrinths are a type of biome, where dungeons are manufactured.”
“Manufactured? Do you mean people build dungeons?”
“People… demons… some are carved out by rivers over thousands of years…”
I frowned further, “You mean like cave systems?”
Rosetta nodded, a surprised look on her face. “Y-yes! That’s right. A cave system can become a dungeon…”
“So, any biome has the possibility of becoming a dungeon?”
“Yes… every biome, except labyrinths, which are automatically a dungeon by default.” Rosetta smile seemed genuine, seemingly surprised by how quickly I was understanding things.
It made me wonder how dense these people were that my little display here was enough to make her happy.
“So, what does it take to turn a biome into a dungeon.”
“Well… first off… the entire biome usually doesn’t become a dungeon. A dungeon forms within a biome. For a dungeon to form, first, there needs to be a certain degree of isolation. The entrances into that particular part of the biome need to be limited. Perhaps only 2-3 paths that can be transversed through normal means. Then, monsters need to become attracted towards living in the isolated biome, through access to shelter, food, magic, or something else they need. After several species move into the biome, they must eventually find a balance… a pecking order where the various groups of monsters are able to maintain themselves. Finally, a boss monster needs to rise. The monster with the most growth eventually rises to be the boss, and more or less protects the isolated biome from incursion.”
I nodded thoughtfully as she explained those steps. Basically, dungeons formed randomly by monsters. In essence, they’re monster nests, a mini-biome of 4-5 different monsters that have found a balance. Perhaps one monster eats another monster which eats another monster, and thus they adapted to live in that environment. It’s basically the concept of evolution, but…
“Ah… how long does it take to form a dungeon and how long do they last?”
“They can form in about three months. As far as how long they last, usually until an Adventuring team wipes out the boss and the majority of the population. Just the boss is usually not enough though. If you just kill the boss, a new one can rise, although it’ll be weaker for a few weeks.”
So, magic seemed to accelerate their capacity to adapt. If a dungeon was like an ecological environment, magic was a catalyst that allowed it to form extremely quickly. Furthermore, that balance was extremely stable and required significant interruption by adventurers to undo the state of things. If the dungeon became large enough, it was no wonder that humans failed to be able to destroy it, assuming they wanted to destroy it in the first place. Monsters seemed to breed on an as needed basis, and they were extremely flexible. This world seemed to be in a constant war against this kind of thing.
“What of labyrinths?” I finally asked, turning back to Rosetta. “You said they naturally form dungeons.”
“Labyrinths are different in that they are sentient. Labyrinths are living creatures.”
I coughed, stopping in my tracks for a moment. “We’re going into something alive?”
Rosetta let out a laugh. It didn’t great on my nerves as much as I thought it would. By tossing away my grievances, I was starting to see her in a slightly better light.
“No… the passageways aren’t really the labyrinth. The labyrinth is actually the name of the core that built the passageways.”
“See it this way. A snail shell isn’t alive, right? But a snail builds that shell to protect itself, and while the shell is on the snail, you’d consider the entire thing alive, right? However, what happens when the snail dies and rots away. Now, you no longer are holding a snail, only a snail’s shell. Do you understand?”
“So… you’re saying the creature called a labyrinth builds a network of tunnels to protect and feed itself. While the core of the labyrinth sits down deep within, the whole thing is considered a labyrinth?”
Rosetta nods, giving me an approving smile. “Exactly! A labyrinth is a living thing. The tunnels and networks are built like the root system of a tree, intending to suck up magic and feed itself. Labyrinths can consume anyone who dies within them and then clones them as minions to its bidding. I wouldn’t call them smart, but they do build themselves to protect their core. They’re just like any other monster, lashing out at humans the most. Humans, by the way, are the only creature labyrinths can’t clone minions of.”
“Can you tell the difference between labyrinth minions and monsters?”
“Of course, when minions die, they don’t leave a magic stone behind. Rather, they’re reabsorbed by the labyrinth very quickly. They start melting shortly after death. That’s usually how most labyrinths are set up. The first five to ten floors consist of species that have invaded and settled in the labyrinth. After that, the floors are supported by labyrinth monsters. They’re tougher though, because they’re likely better armed, better organized, and fight with strategy. However, when you kill them they often leave behind magical items, so no one minds the added effort and risk of going deeper into the labyrinth.”
“Mmm… labyrinths can generate items. Any item that enters a labyrinth can potentially be replicated. I used to here a story back in the day about a hero who refused to enter labyrinths because he was afraid his holy sword’s essence would be stolen by the labyrinth. Certainly, if you had a one of a kind item and wanted to keep it that way, avoid bringing it into a labyrinth for any length of time. Of course, there are spells that can protect those items, and there are many items too powerful to all but the oldest labyrinths to generate.” Rosetta sighed. “It’s all just silly superstition anyway. The more magic something takes, the more wasteful it is to make it. A sword like a Holy Sword would take a lot of magical energy to produce. The chance of it being claimed and stolen is high. Few labyrinths would be so wasteful.”
“We’re here…” Daria shot Rosetta a glare.
Rosetta blushed, realizing that she had started talking to me like normal. Rather than push the issue, I decided to go silent. I had learned what I needed to know. We were entering the belly of a beast that wanted to consume out magical life force. I came out here to level, but that meant I needed to take things seriously.
We stopped in front of a large ruin. The entrance was actually a small crack that could easily be missed at a distance. Whether it looked like a labyrinth or not, I really had no room to say. However, it looked old and it had a certain ominous feel about it. I fought down my fear and worry. It was time to power up.