Echo tested her body slowly, moving around the dungeon with cautious movements. Though she had received a body that was masterfully created with such detail that she even had an esophagus, the fact was that Echo had never had a body before. Even if she was created to be a perfect replica of a human, crafted with loving detail, she wasn’t sure how to make use of it.
Everything needed to be regulated consciously by echo, from the movement of her toes to the angle of her hips as she walked, she had to manipulate every piece of her body to simply manage to take a simple step forwards with her feet. This wouldn’t usually be an issue for a regular golem, as they are more or less created with a predetermined amount of functions, but since Echo had taken over all aspects of the golem, this did not apply. The good news however, was that her body had been created with excellent weight distribution in mind, in such a way that simulating the movements of a bipedal creatures such as a human would not cause too many issues.
The bad news however, was that since her body was crafted out of stone, it was stiffer than a body of flesh and bone. As a golem, the stone itself had far more flexibility than it should be possible for a body of stone, but the fact remained that stone could not bend, twist, and stretch under normal circumstances. According to Smit, with enough practice it was possible that she could regulate certain properties of her body to an extent, allowing her to be more flexible and even replicate the feeling of having skin… in theory anyways. But that possibility was far, far into the future.
At any rate, in exchange for the lack of mobility, a golem was a very hardy existence, not needing food or air to survive, not to mention the fact that they did not become fatigued and that their natural defenses were not easily breached. Moreover, as long as golems did not run out of a power source (most commonly mana), then they could in theory function indefinitely, as long as their bodies permitted it.
Fortunately for Echo, as a former dungeon core she could channel more than sufficient mana from the dungeon she inhabited to power her new body. She had hope that eventually she could create a mana core in her body and store mana in it, but for the moment that was nothing more than a dream.
Just as she thought that, she stumbled to the floor due to an errant step on her part, her arms flaying as she tried to keep her balance in vain. She braced for impact as she felt the shock of her heavy body slamming onto the earthen floor, and felt a dull sensation that one might identify vaguely as pain. This was one of the mysteries of her new body.
Her body had a shallow perception of what constitute as touch. She could feel if she was grabbing something, but it was muted, as if the feeling itself was a distant thing. By all intents and purposes, a normal golem had no sense of touch, for they had no nervous system. However, Echo had some semblance of the sense of touch. Her only theory was that though her body was a magically crafted golem, by imbuing said body with a soul it had acquired special attributes. She couldn’t explain how or why, but it was the only thing that made sense to her.
Pushing such thoughts aside, Echo mechanically pushed herself up from the floor, dusting the beautiful armor that had been given to her. Smit had stated that he hadn’t been satisfied by the armor he had crafted for her, and that he would upgrade it soon, but he had not given her any idea as to what the upgrade would entail. Hopefully the creator could make an enchanted armor that would enhance her sense of balance, or something along those lines, if that was even possible. She was getting tired of falling down.
As always, Smit was getting busy with work. Though his first floor was what he would consider as “barely passable,” he had decided to let it be in favor of working on his second floor. Since his rank up, he had ignored the second floor as he tried to set up his defenses in the first floor, but now that his creatures had evolved, he was confident enough in his own safety to turn his attention away from them. He had charged the kobolds with training, trying to get them used to their own bodies as soon as possible, and he had Echo get to work too… though in a different manner.
He was disappointed at the fact that Echo could not use her body naturally from the start, but on hindsight it would have been very weird if she was able to. After all, she used to be a rock that had no limbs. With that in mind, the fact that she could walk at all, or swing a weapon was commendable. Still, he would probably keep her close to his core for now, making her a meat shield (or in this case, a stone shield) in case someone got too close to him. At this point, her lack of coordination made her more useful as a wrestler than as a warrior. If she could latch on to a person, and make them take the fight to the floor, then her superior weight and strength would give her the advantage. Otherwise, any experienced warrior with a decent weapon would simply dance around her without very few issues.
Now, if only she could get used to her body and learn to wield a weapon, then that would be fantastic…
Setting those thoughts aside, he focused on his current project. He had already transferred the entirety of his core room to the second floor, replacing the space it occupied in the first floor with a regular empty room. It would act as a faux core room for the time being, preventing his soon to arrive guests from exploring his unfinished work. He would have them wait until the second floor was done properly, and not a second before that.
His vision for the set up of the second floor was to create as a sort of… reception hall. A very beautiful and dangerous reception hall.
At the moment, second floor it was little more than a long and broad hallway, about a two hundred meters long in a straight line which connected to his core room at the end. The walls and the floor were polished evenly, using granite as the base material for them. The granite around this area of the mountain was rather nice, mostly a clean white color from quartz with a few pink and red tinges from the feldspar, and even a few dots of black biotite that decorated the surface. All in all, it was a beautiful setting.
Now if I could only get the ceiling to-
His thoughts were cut short at that moment, a prickling sensation in his mind alerted him about a group of intruders were entering the perimeter of his dungeon. He immediately abandoned the task at hand, and rushed his consciousness towards the entrance of his dungeon.
By the love of all metals, I need to fix this entrance too. I had forgotten it’s literally just a hole right now. Smit grumbled in his mind, irritated by his oversight of such an important thing. The entrance to his dungeon would be the first thing people saw after all. Since adventurers were bound to come in anyways, he might as well try to make a good impression. Maybe something opulent and imperial would work… But that was a project for some other time, when he didn’t have a five man crew armed to their teeth marching towards him.
Heaving a mental sigh of exasperation, he focused on the adventurers before him. By the way that the redhead woman carried herself, she was likely the leader of the group. She was attractive enough to be called pretty, though not enough to be called a beauty in his mind. His senses stretched over her and his party like a blanket, allowing him to roughly analyze them, starting with Ella.
Short, for human standards. Leather armor, light tan color, seems to be worked decently, but with a particular stretchiness to it… Probably hind-bear leather then. Small short sword, seems to be steel. The rapier seems to be of an alloy given its slight green color, perhaps steel with some with some plant ingredient? Hmm… not your standard weapon set.
It took him only a minute to roughly guess her armor and weapons. He acted similarly with the rest of the party as they stared off into the entrance of his cave, talking amongst themselves. Based on what he saw, he assumed that they were at least a fairly experienced bunch.
Judging by their equipment, it was simple enough to guess their specializations, or at least make an approximation of them. The leader was clearly a damage dealer, armed with a rapier and short sword as her main weapons. The tall man was obviously a vanguard that was meant to absorb damage, while the other woman was probably a ranger or at least an archer.
The last two members he was not entirely sure about. The one with knives looked like a middle ground player, looking to cover the shortcomings of the others, considering the array of knives he held. The last member of the team looked to be a magician of some sort, but he could not place his specialization. Probably something related to light or water magic, given the aura he radiated, but that was just a guess.
While he mulled over this, he caught snippets of a conversation between the adventurers, only listening to them partially.
“-odd isn’t it? It seems just like a hole in the mountain.” The big guy said carefully.
Smit snapped his attention towards the adventurers, a bit of anger starting to burn in him with indignation. What did these whelps know? The oldest was probably in his thirties at best! He would love to see them try to build their own dungeon if they were so great at it. He hadn’t even been working for two months yet! What did they expect? A castle in the mountain?
“No, this is definitely a dungeon.” The mage said with conviction, “I can feel the mana rolling out of this entrance in waves. It is hard to believe that this thing was just found. The mana seems to be of quite high purity for a brand new dungeon too. It’s quite peculiar.”
“Is that so? I thought this thing was barely a couple of months old.” The leader spoke up.
“That’s why I say it’s peculiar. Dungeons generally produce more mana as they grow in size, but the quality of the mana seems to improve exclusively as the dungeon evolves. For the mana to be like this… This might be a higher quality dungeon in the making.”
Smit snorted at those words. Higher quality is it? By the time he was done with his dungeon, people would marvel at it. It wouldn’t be just “higher quality,” it would be the best of the best. Still, the mage seemed like he had a sharp enough mind. Smit decided he liked him the best out of the group. Hopefully he wouldn’t die.
“Right.” The leader announced. “Well, now that we have confirmed that this is a dungeon, let us begin the exploration. Adder, map our progress. The dungeon might be new, but if what Zig says is true, then the dungeon might be more extensive than we expected. Everyone, standard formation. James, take the lead.”
The group assembled quickly, creating an arrow-like shape in which the largest man was up at the front, followed by the redhead and the man called adder, while the ranger and mage followed behind them closely. A moment later, the mage created a small orb of light that levitated right above the man named James, and the party began to move.
Come, my dear guests. Let me see how you deal with my dungeon. Smit needed to know how he stacked up. They might well be strong enough to clear his dungeon, but with any luck, they would not attempt anything…rash.
-Ella Graz POV-
Ever since I entered this dungeon things feel… odd. True, we have only been exploring for perhaps a few hours, and due to the fact that we are trying to create a rough map of the area we are taking longer than usual, but even so, this feels more intricate than the first floor of any new dungeon has the right to be. Usually, the first floor of a dungeon contains only one main path that might curve a bit with a few rooms in the way, and maybe a side room every so often. But not this one. This dungeon presents you with three pathways from the start, almost identical in shape and size at a glance.
There are glittering things that illuminate the dungeon dimly in the distance, the floor is uneven, and the ceiling is rather low, and the moss creates an intricate tapestry with the polished protrusions of rock. That alone makes this dungeon odd in appearance, but the most unnerving part of this dungeon is the statues.
Hundreds of statues of dozens of animals are scattered around the walls, a few even carved out of the natural stalagmites and stalactites that dot the halls and rooms. It’s rather unnerving the detail with which they were carved, and in dim light, one might confuse them for the real thing. James already smashed two of them with his hammer, confusing them for real snakes.
That’s the other thing. So far we have only encountered snakes and mice. Really big mice, but mice none the less. Once or twice we have heard the growling of some sort of canine beast, but we haven’t caught sight of even a tail. I am willing to bet that the dungeon has either foxes or wolves roaming around, but they seem to be smart. They are not attacking us as of yet.
“Can you not do something about mapping faster?” Ziggurd spoke up with a rather hushed voice. “We don’t need a perfect lay-out yet Adder, just draw some rough hallways and let us get going. Something about this place is not normal. It’s too beautiful and too… quiet.”
“Quiet you, details are important.” Adder hissed back at him, his charcoal pencil moving constantly on the page. “It is not like we have to hurry anyways. Do mice and snakes unman you so much, oh great sorcerer?”
“Listen here you!” Ziggurd hissed back, “You don’t understand. I feel the mana here. There should be more than insects, mice, and snakes, more… of everything with these sort of mana levels. You may have found some pitfalls with your skills, but I wager that this dungeon has more in store than what we are seeing.”
Adder snorted loudly, and turned to look at the mage with a grin. “I wager ten silver coins that the best this dungeon has are wolves, and you are just being an overly cautious pansy.”
Ziggurd bristled up slightly, his eyes narrowing as he looked at Adder. “Fine. I bet ten silver that this dungeon has something more deadly than wolves.”
I rolled my eyes, resisting the urge to smack them both. “Quiet both of you. We are here to do a job, not to bicker like old house wives. Now keep your wits about you. Last thing we need is someone falling into some obvious trap and breaking their neck. Adder, Ziggurd is right, less artistry, more efficiency. I want to be done before night fall.”
I sighed internally as Adder complained something about people not understanding art. The man was a bonafide expert on trap detection and mapping, but he had a bad habit of spending too much time on his sketches. Truly, these maps did not need to mark the location of every single statue, nor did they need to note the location of every large puddle they came across.
I allowed myself to leave that thought behind me, professionalism at the forefront of my mind now. The dungeon so far was not overly complex, but it certainly had more than enough locations to hide its creations. Lack of attention could earn me a snake bite that I would rather not have.
“Halt!” Mei hissed, her voice just loud enough for the rest of our group to hear, causing all of us to freeze up in mid stride. One of the main rules of our team: if the ranger calls for a halt, stop and listen to her. Usually there is a very good reason for it. This time it was no different.
I barely had time to turn to look at Mei inquisitively before she started explaining. “I hear movement behind us. It’s faint, but there are multiple paws hitting the ground. They will be on us in a minute if they keep stalking us like that.”
Superb hearing as always. Being half-elf had its perks, and excellent hearing was one of them.
Thinking quickly, I sorted through our options. We were in a corridor at the moment, just about to enter a large room. If we could enter the room and hold whatever creature it was in the corridor, we could cut them down efficiently.
Barking out the order, we started moving quickly towards the room. Soon we could hear aggressive growls and gnashing teeth as we began to move. As we neared the room, a bloodcurdling howl rang out behind us, and the creatures abandoned all sense of stealth, rushing towards us instead.
Too slow! I grinned, James and I turned around as we entered the large room, and between the two of us, we could roughly cover the entire entrance of the hallway. It was during this times that I am glad to have the big guy with us. James made for an imposing figure to the enemy, and a reliable partner. He also made for an impressive one-man blockade.
We stood facing about nine wolves, all of which who looked rather hungry and pissed off. I glared into those yellow eyes that seemed to promise blood, trying my best to release all the bloodlust I could gather. Unfortunately, it seems that I am not skilled enough to cower these creatures into retreat, though I gave them pause for a few seconds. Enough for our backline to get ready.
At an unknown signal the attack began, and we crashed against a wave of wolves. Highly unusual, as wolves would rather test things and slowly create an opening. But not these wolves. They rushed at us without regard, latching onto us as we cut them down. Had it been James and me fighting them on our own, we might have been in trouble, but we had our backline.
Steel sang as it pierced flesh, and arrows whistled in the wind along with knives. It was hardly a battle, though the aggressive wolves did manage to latch onto me and James more than once. Tenacious bastards they were.
A shout from behind us made my attention snap back towards my other allies, only to see Adder hacking off the neck of a snake that had struck at his thigh. I cursed as I dispatched the last wolf and sped towards adder, reaching him in a two rushed steps.
Ziggurd was already muttering a diagnosis spell, and within a handful of seconds he had answer. “Hmm… some sort of paralysis poison. It’s stronger than that of the previous snakes we encountered…Nothing too serious as long as we treat it quickly, but otherwise it seems it would take a day to break down on its own. The snake managed to pierce your thigh quite close to a vein. You are lucky the snake didn’t sink its fangs directly into it.”
“Yeah, yeah. Real lucky.” Adder grumbled under his breath. “Fix me up… please.”
“Of course.” Ziggurd said with a sigh, casting a detoxification spell and mending his wounds. The entire thing took no more than a minute, chants and all.
“Have I ever told you how glad I am that you are a healer?”Adder mentioned as he stood up and shook his leg.
“Yes, but it is my job after all.” Zig replied with a smirk. “Try to not get bitten too much.”
“I hear yah.” Adder grunted as he turned to face me. “Ready to go boss.”
I stared at Adder for a second. It’s hard to believe that this man is also a high C rank adventurer sometimes. Moody, whinny, a cad in some aspects too… but I doubt anyone else amongst any of the C rank adventurers is more skilled at trap detection and knife throwing.
“Form up then.” At my direction, we flow into our standard formation again, and proceed with caution. Seems like the dungeon creatures were a bit more tricky than what we had expected. If what Zig said is true, then that snake was either a variant or a more deadly species of snake. Of course, this meant that the dungeon was either evolving faster than expected, or had specialized in some way with snakes. Or at least, those were the most desirable options. If a sorcerer was trying to manipulate the dungeon…
Well, that was only a very rare scenario. One that might involve a whole crusade against said dungeon and sorcerer.
However, there was no point worrying about that right now. “Ready? Advance.”
Smit kept an eye on the intruders, watching them progress inch by inch through his dungeon. Truth be told, they were taking quite a while, but that was just a sign of professionalism in his eyes. They did not rush in blindly, they took note of their surroundings, and they assessed their ability to flee. They were professionals to be sure.
However, he had mixed feelings about their treatment of his statues. On one hand, they had been his statues had been realistic enough that they had attacked a few before realizing they were statues and not the real thing. On the other hand, they had wrecked his statues.
I wonder if I can make things like those statues respawn on their own?
That would be a handy little trick.
In any case, he was pleased at his discoveries so far. By the looks of it, these adventurers were clearing his dungeon with a fair bit of ease, however they were not unscathed. Several bites from his creatures had managed to reach them, though in all three occasions it had been the product of swarming them or ambushes. He was also pleased with his assessment of the sorcerer, as he turned out to be a healer that used mostly light element spells, and a few water element spells. He didn’t have much on the way of offensive capabilities, but his buffs and healing skills were decent enough.
However, now that he had seen how useless pitfalls would be against moderately experienced adventurers, he was glad that he had taken pains to evolve his creatures. Had he just chosen to exclusively expand his dungeon, they would have passed through virtually unobstructed as the man called Adder seemed to be able to guide them around any traps without much difficulty and none of his normal creatures would have caused them harm.
However, the time to play had just about finished. They were approaching his last two rooms of the first floor, and he was not eager to let himself be found. Adventurers they may be, but they were still human, and humans could easily succumb to greed. They might let him be and return to their guild dutifully, or they might decide to fabricate a lie and kill him, stealing his core and selling it to the black market. One should never discount that dark possibility.
Thinking like this, he assembled his elites. The kobold chief and his entourage would be at the forefront, aided by the remaining three wolves that had not been cut down already. Unfortunately, he had sent the last of his evolved snakes to the hall way that the adventurers were using to buy some time. They were managing to hold out admirably, but even his greatest three meter long snake could do nothing against that hulking metal giant that they called James. The adventurers would dispatch them sooner rather than later at this rate.
“Right.” Smit thought towards his creations, his voice gruff as it was carried into their minds. “We got powerful intruders coming straight towards me. You lot will work together to repel them, understood?”
“Yesss, father.” The chief kobold man spoke, bending a knee towards the floating gem that was Smit. The rest of the creatures present bowed as well, showing him great respect.
Smit for his part simply stared at the Kobold for a moment, at a loss of words. Father? That had not been a word he had expected the Kobolds to learn, nor had he even expected said word to be directed at him. However, this was not the time to contemplate the mysteries of where the kobolds were obtaining this knowledge, nor was it the time to sit around idly to try to sort out how he felt about being referred to as father.
“Right. Good.” He grunted, glossing over the entire father business. “Now go, assemble in the next room. Try to make sure they don´t come in my core room, understood?”
“Yesss, father.” The kobold chief spoke again with that rough voice of his.
“Good. Get going then. We don’t exactly have all day, move it!”
The group rose as one and dashed out of his room. He couldn’t decide if they were running like that out of eagerness to follow his instructions, or because perhaps they were eager for blood… maybe it was both.
“Master? No, father?” A second voice called out to Smit, interrupting his thoughts.
“What is it Echo?”
“What about me? Shall I go with them and fight them as well?”
Though her voice was neutral, Smit, who had hundreds of years of experience with dealing with people, could sense a subdued eagerness in her voice. It was almost like a child that was too anxious to ask for something she really wanted, unsure of how to go about it.
“Hell no.” Smit grunted at her, his words blunt as a hammer.
As he suspected, Echo’s shoulders drooped down slightly. Smit suspected that if she could breathe, she might have sighed.
“You are my last line of defense, you fool. Why would I let you go fight with the rest?”
Her eyes seemed to focus on him, giving him a penetrating stare as if trying to unravel a deeper meaning to his words. Understanding her unspoken question, he sighed and began to explain.
“Look, you fool. As you are, your dexterity and balance are subpar at best, useless at worst. Thankfully, your body is sturdy enough to take quite the beating. From what I can see, their weapons will dull and crack long before they can destroy your body, unless they have some trump card that they have not played yet. Considering that they seem to be experienced, that is a possibility. Hopefully, if they do have a trump card, they will expend it during their fight with the kobolds, which will allow you to survive anything else they have planned. Get it now? You are my personal shield right now.”
Her golden eyes went wide at the explanation, golden irises shining brightly upon carefully carved eyes displayed their full radiance. Clearly she had not considered that as a possibility. Most likely, she had thought of maximizing their fighting potential to take down the intruders. That would be a good plan, if she knew how to control her body or fight in a team. As she was, she would most likely get in the way of the others. She was more intelligent than the rest of his creations, but she was hardly a tactician it seemed.
“If you get it come over here. I am not sure how fragile my body is at the moment, but take care to hold it carefully.”
Echo made her way closer and reached out to grab the core that levitated only a scant few centimeters from the ground, lifting it gently upon her open palms. His core, which was now larger than his fist when he was a dwarf, seemed to rest easily upon her open palms. She looked down at him with an odd expression, as if she was entranced, weary, and awed at the same time. It made him feel uncomfortable while he tried to focus on the fight that had just begun between the kobolds and the adventurers.
“Don’t just stand there. Sit down. What if they knock you over and you fall on top of me? Also stop staring at me like I grew two heads and beard out of my armpits. I am trying to focus.”
“Yes …father.” Her voice was softer this time, more relaxed as she crossed her legs and sat down, cradling his core next to her chest.
“Good.” Smit replied with a grunt, completely trying to ignore her now. He had to focus.
“This place is just full of surprises isn’t it?”Adder said drily, his forehead shinning as a film of sweat continued to grow slowly. While Ella and James took care of the getting up close and personal with three kobolds, Adder was doing his best to fend off three wolves that were constantly trying to sneak around them to target their backline, seeming particularly interested in Ziggurd. He was alone in this task, as Mei could not afford to let the Kobold magic caster have too much time. She kept firing snipping shots that should have ended the fight quickly, had it not been for the fact that the kobold mage refused to stay in a clear line of sight, working to stay behind the chaos of the melee fighters.
A wolf let out a growl to his right, and Adder reflexively threw a knife before he could even see the creature, his actions rewarded with a gratifying yelp from the creature.
His eyes darted towards the enemy he had struck, briefly inspecting the damage. Left flank. Right on the leg. He won’t be moving as quickly now.
No time for further thoughts was granted to him, as a second wolf made a lunge for his neck. Eyes going wide, Adder pulled a knife on time to slice into the beast, opening its throat with a swipe of his knife. Still, the dying wolf slammed into him, throwing him off balance. Two wolves pounced upon him, sensing the chance.
An arrow sprouted from the back of one of them, killing it instantly as the arrow pierced both the spine and the heart, though the other wolf managed to tear up the arm of the rogue pretty badly before Adder could end its life with a knife to the eye.
Gasping for breath, he swallowed his pain as he gave a wordless look of thanks to Mei, only to watch her get stumble to the ground as a water bullet smashed onto her left shoulder.
Nearby, Jame dealt with what could only be an abnormally large specimen of a Kobold chief, while Ella fended off two warrior kobolds. How the kobolds had gotten their hands on such good quality spears was anyone’s guess, but she could ill afford to think of such things. Though these kobolds were only mediocre with their use of their spears, they held the a triple advantage on her: weapon range, numbers, and strength. Though she was certain she could match the strength either of her assailants individually, the fact that she had to use two weapons while they each used one meant that she effectively had to fend off a two handed spear thrust with only one hand. As if that wasn’t enough, both of her weapons were far shorter than the spears, which allowed the kobolds to keep her in check as long as they worked together. It was truly unlucky that she had to deal with them on her own.
James seemed to be faring better, dealing with kobold chief on his own, but the creature was both more nimble and more crafty than its brethren, making it hard for James to land a decisive blow. Every time that the kobold chief launched an attack, it glanced off the armor or the shield of the James, who continued to try to close in on him to land a strike with his hammer, only to strike empty air.
In other words, they were at a stalemate.
Minutes slipped by unnoticed as the combatants struggled for survival, steel against steel. Cuts accumulated, fatigue started to set in. Hours of exploration taking their toll upon the adventurers as the fight stretched out, making their muscles burn with exertion. It was only through Ziggurd and his magic that none of them collapsed, as he kept trying to invigorate them with his magic, keeping them in the fight.
Salvation came to adventurers in the form of a knife, imbedding itself on the shoulder of the kobold shaman and eliciting a shriek from it. It caused the two kobold warriors to become distracted for a second. Plenty of time fir Ella to slip past one of them and pierce its belly with her rapier, letting the blade penetrate clean through to the other side of the kobold.
It was at this point that the tables began to turn. Slowly, with the death of one of their comrades, the kobolds were pushed back as arrows rained on them, and a third combatant with a knife joined the front line. Restricted and outnumbered, the kobolds started to fall to the onslaught, despite the amount of injuries they had managed to deal to their enemies.
“Hey, hey, hey.” Smit muttered to himself as he watched as the only the chief remained, scrambling all over the place as he did everything possible to dodge the incoming attacks, only able to make the smallest aggressive movements to nick his enemies with his spear. His allies all dead, he struggled to stay alive as he was riddled with arrows.
Smit had to admit he was impressed by his devotion and survival skills, managing to stay alive for even a few seconds against five opponents of that caliber was quite something for someone like the kobold chief, and yet the chief seemed to somehow survive as the seconds stretched out.
It would be a shame to lose him.
As if that thought had a will of its own, Smit felt his connection with the kobold strengthen, solidifying into something more tangible.
|Warning, creating a direct link to the essence of [Kobold Chief]. Do you wish to upgrade [Kobold Chief] and grant it a proper soul? This will allow you to store the soul of the creature even after it dies, and recreate it later.|
Without any time to hesitate, Smit accepted. It truly would be a shame to lose this child.
|Warning, [Kobold Chief] is a semi-sentient being, and as such has developed naturally a pseudo-soul. Cost of soul granting drastically reduced. Anima available is inadequate, expending mana to gather required Anima. Using mana to supplement link to essence of [Kobold Chief]|
Before Smit had even the chance to process the information, mana started draining out of him in waves, and he could feel his core starting to heat up several degrees as Anima rushed into him, forcefully drawn out from the world into him. It felt as if he was sitting to close to a fire, and it was slowly starting to burn his flesh.
Fucking shit, that is not pleasant. Smit growled mentally, trying to suppress the pain through sheer willpower. Fortunately, the sensation was short-lived, only lasting a few seconds before it began to die down.
Focusing again on the fight, he managed to see the last few seconds of it, as the kobold chief threw his spear at James despite being off balance, a last attempt to take the armored giant down with him. The attack was moderately successfully, knocking off his helmet and slicing his eye. Unfortunately that shallow wound cost him dearly, causing the kobold chief to get a rapier to the gut and a hammer to the face.
|Congratulations! A true soul has been granted to [Kobold Chief]. You can store the souls of any creature which has a proper soul inside your body and revive them at a later time, keeping their memories up to the point of their death intact.|
A moment later he felt a presence rushing towards him, only to be met with a small cloud of something that stopped before him. Of course, he could sense that it was the soul of the kobold chief. Satisfied, he drew him in, and stored him away for the moment.
Sigh. Well, they did a good enough job. I expected a defeat, but the fact that they couldn’t even take one of them down is disappointing.
It was all up to Echo now.
Groaning, James kneeled down as he clutched at his eye. The beast had managed to wound him at the end. He was lucky however. Had the angle been any better, or had the creature been in the proper position, the spear might not have just glanced his eye and knocked off his helmet. It might have pierced his eye and embedded itself in his brain. It would have been instant death.
“Zig? Can I get some help here?” James called out, his deep voice marked with tired tones as the adrenaline of the battle wore off. The lack of adrenaline caused his body to shudder briefly, as the realization of his narrow escape from death set in. He had been very lucky.
“I’m going. I need a moment, please.” Ziggurd replied as he hobbled over to James, using his staff as walking stick to reach James. “That battle drained me far more than I expected. I don’t have much left in me. Let me have a look at your eye.”
James removed his hand from his face and looked at Ziggurd, who grimaced at the view.
“Ugh. Split eyeballs are always rather unnerving. Give me a second.” Ziggurd began to mutter his spell, taking his time to word things properly. “-and by the grace of the moon and the power of the tides [Mend Wounds].”
James felt energy start to flow towards his eye, causing it to feel hot and uncomfortable, painful even. But he didn’t utter a single word as he held himself still, allowing Ziggurd to work his magic.
Barely half a minute had transpired before the healing was done. Ziggurd had turned pale by the end of it, seeming to falter for a moment, almost ready to faint.
“Don’t push yourself Zig.” Ella ordered, “You were casting constant invigorating magic on multiple targets for a while, and you’ve healed Mei, Adder, and James with mid tier magic. Not to mention you’ve healed multiple minor wounds before that. It’s a wonder you haven’t fainted yet, even with your mana pool.”
“Don’t mind me.” Ziggurd gasped out, letting himself plop down onto the floor, sitting down for a few seconds of rest. “I can still walk if you give me a moment to catch my breath, but I won’t be casting any more healing spells any time soon. Even in such a mana rich environment, I will take a while to recover from the mental fatigue and to recharge my mana.”
“That looked a lot like a final stand to me.” Mei spoke up, “I expect that fighting will likely be a non-issue, as it’s likely that the next room shall be the last. The dungeon core will be there.”
Her words rang true to her teammates, as that had been by far the most aggressive attack from the dungeon monsters. It was hard to believe that something similar to that would be waiting for them up ahead considering the level at which their previous fights had been.
“We better get a move on then, huh?” Ziggurd smiled weakly, standing up with the aid of his staff. “Let us get going and finish this then.”
Together, they stepped through the short hallway to the last room, basking on the feeling of victory after a life and death struggle.
The hallway twisted and turned in an S like shape, but it was hardly more than thirty meters in length, if that. However, when they stepped into the room, they held their breath as they were greeted by an unprecedented sight.
An empty room, at the center of which sat the most exquisite statue that anyone present had ever seen. The stone work was superb, the stone itself was of a color of unmatched in beauty as the light shined over it, reflecting the light as if it was the ocean made stone. Even the golden metal that created her hair, her eyes, and her lips seemed so real that one might even wonder if those lips were as soft as those of a real woman.
It was as if the statue would come to life at any second, a goddess that gazed gently upon a gem she in her hands. They could only assume that the gem was the dungeon core.
They stared in silence for a moment, their eyes enchanted by the statue of the young goddess of battle before them. It even took Ella a few to come to her senses enough to approach the statue. Carefully, almost fearfully, Ella inched towards the statue, followed by her party members who had begun to copy her.
A handful of minutes or only an instant, she couldn’t really tell the length of time it took her to be within arm’s reach of the statue of this beautiful battle goddess.
“Hey…” Behind her she heard Adder speaking in a hushed voice. It was almost unconceivable for that rogue to feel awe towards art, but she could hardly blame him in this occasion. “Who do you figure made this?”
“How would I know, fool?” She hissed back at him, her eyes never leaving the statue. She was not one for pretty paintings or fancy sculptures, but this? She could make an exception for something like this. How much would a noble man be willing to pay for such an exquisite piece of work? Would they even be able to pay for it? Forget noble men, she would wager that kings would probably bid for it against it each other.
“It’s beautiful…” James muttered somewhere behind her, shuffling closer to crouch down beside Ella. That was the understatement of a lifetime.
James slowly took off his metal glove, baring his hand as he slowly reached out towards the statue. “It looks so… real.”
His hand was mere inches away from the face of the statue when it looked up, eliciting shrieks from everyone in the party as they bolted away from it, as if they had been electrocuted.
Gathering their weapons, they scrambled to huddle into a defensive formation in a matter of seconds, with James at the front protected by his tower shield. Two projectiles launched themselves at creature that had induced panic into the adventurers, only for the knife and arrow to bounce off harmlessly from it.
The deadly projectiles clattered loudly onto the floor, and not a soul moved as the golem and the adventurers stared at each other for a few tense seconds. The piercing golden eyes seemed guarded, undecipherable, as if resisting the urge to do… something. Or perhaps the golem just did not know what to think of them. Either way, the adventurers were locked into a staring contest with the creature, and they were unsure if they should make a move.
Several seconds slipped by, and their hearts began to stop beating like war drums, regaining a somewhat less aggressive rhythm. A couple of seconds more went by before the goddess looked slowly down to the dungeon core for a moment, before looking back up at them. Her eyes, though not made of flesh, seemed to convey a slight feeling of uncertainty as she slowly raised on of the hands that cradled the core, shifting the core so that her other hand could support it fully.
The adventurers tensed up, wondering what would happen next, considering all sorts of possibilities before the statue simply… waved them off?
Wave them off it did. Uncertainly, the statue stretch its arm out towards the entranced they had come through, and made a hand gesture that was clearly meant to shoo them out.
Confused by the gesture, the adventurers stood in place, shocked, while the statue looked back down at the gem in her hand, and then back up at them, repeating the gesture with her hand.
There was no mistaking it; she just wanted them to leave.
The first to react was Ziggurd, who started to chuckle softly, before bursting out laughing, laughing hard until tears started to well up in his eyes.
“Ah fuck.” Adder exclaimed as he collapsed onto the floor, sitting down as he threw his head back. “This is too much. I am done. Let’s just go.”
Ella for her part could feel the beginnings of a headache starting to form as she sighed in defeat. How would she even explain this to her superiors? “I am with you. This seems to be the last room anyways, and I am in no mood to fight something that deflected an arrow with her face. We are done here. Let’s go.”
They gathered themselves up and started to head out, though they always kept an eye on the beautiful construct that had moved their hearts with but a glance.
“Hey, you.” Ella called back to the construct as they all started walking into the hall they had come through. “Not sure if you understand, but we will be back. Take care of that core.”
Without another word, the adventurer team “Azure Arrow” began their walk back towards the exit, only stopping to pick up the three spears that the kobolds had left behind.
They had quite the story to tell now.
|Species: True Dungeon|
|Name: Smit||Age: 53 days|
|Mana: 343 MP||Anima: 0|
|Mana Reg.: 119 MP/h||Anima Reg.: 3 AP/day|
|Floors: 2||Inhabitants: 30 Species|
|Titles: Eager Creator; Guide of the Bloody Evolution; Legendary Craftsman; Reincarnated One|
|Abilities: Absorb matter; Alter environment; Bestow Knowledge; Break down components; Craftsmanship; Creation; Digging; Destroy creation; Dungeon Laws; Enhancement; Equivalent exchange; Ether manipulation; Evolution; Interdimensional Storage; Life bestowal; Life-energy harnessing; Mana absorption; Masterful mana manipulation; Modification of creations; Monster Link; Telepathy; Trap building; Transfer dungeon.|
|Resistances: Magic (general); Mind control|