Pala took a deep breath as he readied himself up again, taking a stance as he faced off with his fearsome foe. Standing upon two thick hind legs, the fearsome creature he had hunted only days ago with his tribe, this so called “bear” roared out a challenge.
Pala would likely recall that day for the rest of his days. He and his tribe had arrived exhausted, injured, and sore. They had been attacked by a number of creatures seeking to make short work of them, but somehow Pala and his tribe had persevered. However, what awaited them was not what they had expected at all once they arrived to what should have been home.
Instead of finding a literal hole in the wall, they were greeted with an architectural master piece carved in many shades of green. If Pala had had any knowledge of what a temple should be, he would have immediately agreed that this was an entrance that would make even the mightiest temples feel inferior if one looked exclusively at the workmanship.
For Pala who had never seen a temple or any buildings for that matter, this was nothing short of a wondrous view. How else could he describe the graceful curves or the detailed carvings? It was simply a feast for the eyes. It moved him, and it made him admire his father all the more. In Pala’s mind, only the father was capable of imprinting such an emotion upon the soul of someone else with mere carved stone.
His thoughts were interrupted as the bear roared again, as if offended to be left waiting. He cursed himself silently, and turned to face the bear. “Sorry, brother. I am ready now.”
Pala sharpened his mind and let his other thoughts fade into the background. He had been given a direct order from the father. Every creature in the dungeon was to be put in a fighting frenzy, in which the survivors would accumulate power and experience. Pala in particular was to train with the bear that the father created, and they would each attempt to kill each other without dying themselves. This was the Spartan training that he had received from the father, in order to increase both his strength and experience at the same time.
For his part, Pala had welcomed the order with open arms. After his defeat at the hands of the adventurers, he was made aware of his own weakness, and he was mortified by the thought that he would be too weak to protect his home, and most importantly, the father himself. Pala didn’t fear his own death, for as long as the father lived, he could be revived. This meant he could throw himself at his newest brother and nemesis, the grizzly bear, and fight and die as often as he needed to, which in turn would allow him to gain experience.
Every day since his return, Pala had spent three hours every day sparing with the bear. He would sometimes die and be reborn through the will of the father, and then he would jump right back into the fray. Unfortunately, his ratio of wins versus the ratio of his losses was abysmal. Fourteen wins to eighty-three losses. And most of his wins occurred after he had tiered off the bear through previous encounters. But this time, Pala would make sure it would be different.
The bear snorted looked at Pala dead on, and issued one last roar before it dropped to all fours, and started to circle Pala, weary of the spear held by the kobold.
Both predators circled each other slowly, inching closer to each other as they looked for the perfect opportunity to strike. At an unseen signal, they both rushed at each other, and the clash began in earnest.
Though Pala had a good advantage with the range of his weapon, it did little to stop a bear who was not afraid to get cut. Though the bear was weary enough to avoid being struck in his head, he clearly did not mind a few cuts and slices. This, coupled with the fact that the bear could bat away his spear too, meant that Pala had a hard fight ahead of him.
Hence, Pala had decided on the following strategy: bleed the beast first, then hack at it until it died.
It was a simple and rudimentary strategy, but it was a logical strategy as well. With the range provided by his spear, he could cut and wound the beast, frustrate it, and maybe even bleed it enough that it could not react properly. The more wounds the better, as it would lead to him having more opportunities to kill the beast. The only problem was that he also needed to stay alive through the entire process.
The clash continued to expand from seconds into minutes. Long, excruciatingly tense minutes in which both creatures bloodied one another, tooth and claw versus steel. As the battle drew to a close, Pala threw his weapon at the beast, intending to end it all for once. His aim was true, but the bear lifted his arms to protect his face, and had his arm skewered, the blade only nicking the side of his neck as the forearm deflected the blow partially.
But he was not dead.
Roaring with defiance, the bear tried approach the kobold, rising on two legs as he expose his full height… Only to collapse awkwardly onto the ground. Breathing heavily, Pala observed the scene before him numbly, watching the blood ooze from a hundred cuts he had inflicted upon the bear. The final straw had been his last blow. His spear had nicked a major artery in his neck and the bear was finally dying of blood-loss. Pala struggled to his feet, wounded and bruised, some of his scales had been ripped clean off as he had been thrown about the room. But through all his pain, Pala managed to approach the bear and kneel beside him.
“Thank you, brother.” Pala said with a deep sense of satisfaction, his words tinged with gratitude. “Thanks to you, I have finally gotten my first real success against your kind. May you find comfort in knowing your sacrifice has protected the Father.”
Pala saw the bear close his eyes in satisfaction. This was for the father, for their home, and for their way of life. The bear knew his fate would be to die, and it had welcomed it readily. Everything was for the sake of the Father. It did not matter that the bear was not sentient enough to understand Pala. All that mattered was that the bear was satisfied with its end. It instinctively knew that this was necessary.
Smiling, Pala stroked the head of the bear one last time, before bending over and biting into its neck with his sharp teeth, ending the life of the bear once and for all. He chewed and swallowed a few mouthfuls of bear meat, before the bear started to dissolve into particles of light as the dungeon reclaimed his body.
But just like every time he had a victory within the dungeon, a tiny portion of the light came to him. He basked on the invigorating feeling of the light as new power entered his body. It was not a dramatic increase in power, but he could feel his strength had taken a step forwards. He could fight a little hard, for a little longer now. And that was good. Bit by bit Pala would claw his way to the summit, and claim the right to stand beside the Father as his protector.
That was his only wish.
The lively sound of people milling about resounds around the village of Nam while I stroll down the streets, inspecting the area at a leisurely pace. This place is good, imbedded deep within nature, and with abundant mana thanks to the nearby dungeon. As far as magical races such as elves would be concerned, this place would be a fantastic location for a town… if you ignored the noisy humans or the fact that the location falls within a human kingdom.
I am followed by a small group of people that are in charge of planning the expansion of the town. Apparently, I have been given the “honor” of helping pick out the best location for the future adventurers guild branch in the town. I don’t see what difference it makes where we put the guild right now, considering that there are barely over a hundred people in this village. By the time that the expansion is done, the guild will not be that distant from the center of the village anyways. The guild could literally pick any empty plot of land around here and that would be good enough in her mind.
But of course, she couldn’t say that. She had been chosen to pick the most “accessible location for civilians, while remaining strategically located in case of a major threat” which in other words meant “Pick a place that everyone can find easily but if we get attacked by monsters we can defend it or runaway easily like beaten dogs.”
It was a sensible train of thought, save that this place was little more than a large clearing at the foot of the mountains. There was really no place that you could say was particularly more “strategically feasible” than the other at this point in time. Really, if a wave of monsters decided to surge out of the forest all at once, this village would be razed to the ground within the hour.
Well, a job is a job so I have to do it, no two ways around it. I sigh and put my mind to it as I wander around the small village. Ideally, I suppose I should focus in finding a place that is wide enough to create fortifications and a training ground. Of course, it should not be too close to any houses or the forest in case of a fire, and I should look into having it made on as even ground as possible.
It’s not like I can make many more preparations considering that the village is miniscule and offers little protection or strategical advantages. At this point, I can only try to prepare for the future.
Speaking of protection, how have these people survived so far? I get that the village is barely four decades old, but they don’t have any walls around the village perimeter, and they barely have patrols. The most that some of these people have are flimsy wooden fences around their cattle. Granted, it was enough to keep the local wolves from having a feast, but if they ever encountered a real threat, they would be turned into food in the blink of an eye.
Grimacing at the lack of fortifications that were placed around the village, I finally decide on a location. It isn’t ideal, but it seems to be the most promising spot at the north end of the village. It’s a bit separated from the other residential buildings, but it had fairly flat ground and a lot of space to work with. It would need a bit of work, but it could be made to work. There was plenty of stone and lumber around this part of the mountain too, which meant that they would have plenty of available resources to reinforce and expand both the village and the adventurers guild if needed.
“Alright, this place looks good.” I nodded with satisfaction, pointing at the floor with a wide smile. “Right here.”
There was a collective murmur of agreement, and the squad of people I was guiding set about to work, pulling out tools of all kinds to take measurements, test the ground consistency, and to do calculations. It was almost impressive seeing them utilize their tools so nimbly despite how complicated they looked. But then again, with practice comes perfection. All these men working on the guild were easily in their forties, and they had plenty of experience with their craft.
Satisfied that I had completed my task, I turned on my heel and I was about to march away confidently when a nearly imperceptible sound suddenly caught my attention. It started as softly as if it was a breeze of cool air, but with a hint of… something that made my brain do a double take. The sound that I could barely hear even with my enhanced hearing at first seemed to be laced with some other power I could not identify.
I held my breath as my skin started perceive this sensation as well. Within seconds, I noticed that the volume of the whispered noise was increasing ever so slightly, but enough that I could start to distinguish a tone to the sound. I could not quite understand it, nor could I tell if there were the words, but there was definitely a rhythm to this sound. This melody began to change as time wore on, slowly, gently, and delicately, the sound began to take a shape, as if moulded by invisible hands.
“Shh!” I spun around to quiet down the man that had tried to interrupt my focus, a finger pressed to my lips as I glared at him. “Do. Not. Move.”
I didn’t even wait to hear his reply. I simply closed my eyes and tried to hear that whispered melody that was carried by that unusual wind.
My ears picked it up again in a matter of seconds, but the tone had changed just a bit again. It was not quite so gentle or mellow. Rather, the sound was more firm, as if the gods of the wind had decided to give shape to a single thought within the tone of the wind. I swayed slightly in place as the rhythm moved around me, inviting me to a slow waltz of unknown emotions.
And then it just ended.
The mysterious sound that moved my heart just… ceased to be. I strained my ears and swung my head around, trying to catch another second of that whispered melody, but it was all for naught. The music had stopped.
I opened my eyes with disappointment, and puffed my cheeks in frustration. What was that anyways? Where did it come from?
“Lady…Mei?” The same man from earlier asked in confusion, one foot suspended in the air as he quivered, trying to keep his balance.
“What is it?” I asked, sullen that I missed out on the musical tune that had ridden the wind to reach me.
“Can I move now?” He asked, and I realized that the man had no clue what was going on. He had just stopped because he thought there was something seriously wrong. I suppose anyone would if an adventurer just turned around and told them to shut up and stop moving with a very serious voice.
“Yes, yes, you can move.” I grumbled, watching the man sigh in relief, and place his foot down on the floor comfortably.
“Lady Mei, may I ask why I had to… freeze?”
I sighed in frustration and rub my temple with one hand. He probably didn’t hear it at all. It’s only due to my superior hearing that I even caught wind of it at all.
“There was a… noise. A very strange and melodic noise. I have never heard anything like it in all my life.”
The man’s eyes widened, but before he had a chance to make any odd assumptions, I interjected, stopping his train of thought. It would not do to have this man start imagining all sorts of wild things and alarming everyone else around the camp.
“Just to be clear, it did not sound malevolent or dangerous. Rather… it sounded soothing and beautiful. It could be a good omen of some sort, or it could be that we are near a colony of wind fairies. I have heard that they are excellent musicians.” Though I doubt that it is either of those things. I would have sensed something more with the fairies, and they are usually more playful too. “I just asked you to be freeze so I could try to identify the sound and its source.”
The man visibly calmed down, sighing in relief as he smiled at me again “Well that’s good… It’s always a welcomed thing if we can have a good omen at the beginning of a project like this. Perhaps one of the gods smiles upon us.”
I chuckled at his optimism, but merely nodded my head at this. Perhaps he was right after all.
Still, it wouldn’t hurt to go have a look right?
I excused myself, and ran back to find Ella and the rest of my party. The sound seemed to be coming from uphill. Perhaps the dungeon was to blame, and it would do us no harm to check it out. We have to go back in there soon anyways, might as well investigate a bit while we are at it.
If Smit could sweat, he would be soaked right now. His constant cultivating with such absurd speed, in addition to constantly trying to heal creatures was taking his toll on him. Smit was gambling here. Though he had placed the dungeon law “respawn” to refill his dungeon when it got dangerously low on creatures to defend him, he had realized that there was something to be said about keeping some of his defenders alive out of their sheer potential. Hence, he had created his third law amidst his cultivation.
Dungeon law [Scoreboard]. Put simply, it was a slaw that acted as a pseudo skill for Smit. It kept track of who were his best fighters, and if they seemed to be in critical danger during the fighting frenzy, he would aid them by funneling mana to their bodies, which would boost their abilities momentarily in addition to helping treat their wounds to some extent. Basically, this was a safety net for Smit.
In frenzies, there were no rules. It was kill or be killed, and it allowed his creatures to improve quickly… if they survived. But because the lack of rules, he had noticed that several weaker members would sometimes stumble upon a stronger, injured foe, and they would attack it as a group. Of course, this meant that now the strength gained by defeating that one injured creature would be divided into the weaker creatures. In other words, there was a dissipation of power, which he wanted to avoid.
The whole point of the frenzy was to do only two things: To speed up evolutionary progress (which required large accumulations of power in a member of a species), and to create experienced fighters that could help him defend his dungeon. If his best fighters died a useless death like that, it would make achieving those two goals much harder.
Thus, by adding [Scoreboard], he could give his most promising troops a chance to survive and keep progressing. It eliminated some of the “luck” aspect of his original method. Of course, because he was only funneling mana to them to momentarily boost their abilities, and to just do some patchwork first aid on them, the creatures could still die, but it gave them a fighting chance.
However, there was one drawback to this.
It required intense amounts of focus to heal multiple creatures at once and to cultivate simultaneously. The mental strain was something he had not expected, but his pride and his sense of urgency would not let him stop his cultivation for much more than a few minutes per day. His scouting dungeon mice had already detected movement in recent days at the village of Nam, and he knew that he had only a limited amount of time before more men arrived again at his doorstep.
But this time, things would be different. He would dazzle them in ways they had never expected, and he would force his trials upon them. The victors would be rewarded, and the losers would be punished. Such was the way of his dungeon
Additional Info: The cast
Smit: The main character, the Dungeon Heart
Echo: Smit’s first creation. Originally a dungeon core who lost to Smit’s soul in a battle of dominance and became wholly subservient to him. She currently has been bound to the form of a golem.
Pala: The second named creation after Echo. Pala is the kobold chief, leading the rest of the kobolds of Smit’s dungeon. Currently the most capable of Smit’s creations when it comes to defending the dungeon, capable of going toe to toe with a high C rank adventurer.
Adventurers: Members of Azure Arrow
Ella Graz: Leader of the party, C+ rank adventurer. Ella is a strict woman with a low tolerance for nonsense. Her weapon of choice is the rapier, and she typically uses a short sword or long knife as a side arm. Though her red hair, green eyes, and rather slim appearance are attractive, her technique is top notch amongst her peers of the same rank.
James Rhine: Party tank and defender, C+ rank adventurer. James is a giant of a man compared to most other humans, standing 210 cm, which combined with his muscular body make him an imposing figure. He is rather calm but his strength is by far the greatest in the team. His preferred weapons are his war-hammer and his tower shield, and he can be found wearing his full plate armour.
Mei Blatt: Ranger and sniper, C+ rank adventurer. Mei is a short and adorable half-elf that is quick and silent. Her detection skills are the result of hard work along with her half-elf heritage which allows her to have a heightened awareness of her environment. Her preferred weapons are the bow and arrow, though she always keeps a hunting knife handy.
Adder Ru: Rogue, C+ rank adventurer. Adder is sarcastic and at times obnoxious, but the dexterity that he displays with his knives make him one of the most versatile members of the team, allowing him to attack at short or mid-range with accuracy, or to hold his own at close quarters. He is not the most tactful fellow around, but his ability to discern traps and disarm them is well worth a bit of rudeness.
Ziggurd Am’id: Healer and magic user, C+ rank adventurer. Ziggurd is a polite and disciplined fellow that specializes in the use of light magic and water magic. He has large reserves of mana even amongst other C+ ranked adventurers, though his spells sometimes require longer chants to be carried out. He can often be found carrying a staff to help direct his magic.
Alester: Right hand to the king, acting as his representative or advisor depending on the occasion. He is on friendly terms with both King Vas and Ikfes. He is an intellectual man with a love for art.
Badack: Leader of a gang of highwaymen and thugs. He and his party became the first sentient victims of Smit’s dungeon.
Gat: Talented hunter of the Nam village. Despite being rather young, barely eighteen years of age, he has a talent for hunting and tracking. He was the one to alert the village of the presence of Smit.
Ikfes Massan: Guild master of the kingdom. Previously an S rank adventurer. Friend with Alester and king Vas.
King Vas: Also known as the “Red Lion” of duels. He is a well-known duelist of high skill, and a good commander. He is a passionate man with a high sense of duty.