Smit was euphoric at his current state. He would have never guessed that he would have acquired a body automatically, much less a dwarf-like one. He had a few gripes about the body itself, of course, such as the fact that he felt that he was significantly weaker than when he was alive and at his prime, and the fact that it felt, for lack of a better word, rusty. Like an old iron automata that hadn’t been properly oiled in years.
Still, despite these few flaws, he couldn’t have been happier. He had a body with joints! He could do so much more, now. He could feel, touch, move, and, most importantly, he could drink and forge!
“COME, MY CHILDREN!” His voice boomed out, the tone of it almost exactly as he remembered it, if a bit more… gritty, for lack of a better word. Then again, what else could be expected from a body crafted from ores? It felt like talking after having to keep silent for years. His throat certainly felt stiff and uncomfortably dry, but that was a very small price to pay for having vocal chords again… or at least, a mechanism that acted like them. He wasn’t quite sure if he actually had proper vocal chords, but he wouldn’t complain if he didn’t.
Hearing his own voice made the dwarf smile and he slapped his own belly as he let out a merry laugh. He paused for a second and inspected his hand, noticing that the sensation of touch was much more dulled compared to what he remembered. It was like touching something through thick leather gloves. He could feel it, but it felt distant. It sure wasn’t perfect, but it was a huge step up for him.
Now, what shall I do? He thought to himself, a smile plastered on his face as he started to slowly walk around the room, his steps heavy and somewhat awkward. I should probably test this body. Find its limitations and strengths. I doubt it will be exactly as my old one.
As these thoughts flowed through his mind, a thousand and one other followed. Did he require food or was his body sustained exclusively by the power of his dungeon? Would his sense of touch improve? Could he cultivate this body too? What about his sense of balance? To what extent could he use this body like his previous one?
Looking down to the ground as he thought silently, he blinked as he realized that he was still in the nude. Clearly whatever process he had undergone was strictly limited to creating a body, and excluded any extra accessories. In truth, it made sense to him. Avatars from dungeons were practically mythical, stories that sounded too impossible to be fully true or accurate. Even in these stories, he had never heard of a dungeon having an avatar that was made in the form of one of the sentient species. As far he had heard, avatars of dungeons were only found in the rarest dungeons, and most of these avatars were the very incarnations of defense, a final bastion that defended the core from harm.
In most of these stories, the dungeon avatar would be something like a scaled wyvern made of stone, or a slow, tusked creature with metal plates, or perhaps even a giant slime that could easily absorb impacts.
In truth, those avatars did sound extremely useful, but he wasn’t going to complain. He much preferred his current form to that of a giant slime.
Where are those kids? Smit wondered to himself as he used his senses to find them. Sure enough, they were rushing towards his location, and they should arrive in a matter of minutes. They just had happened to be fairly far from him, doing their training duties like good children.
Hmm… Enough time to at least create something to cover my modesty. Smit chuckled.
Thinking fast, Smit willed a chest to appear before him and set the item to be released within it to be leather trousers. Of course, he adjusted it a little bit. He made the leather thicker than normal, and the seams were reinforced. The tan was a pleasant dark brown and just a touch of embroidery at the seams was added. Nothing fancy, but it would do for now.
He willed the chest to disappear once he took the trouser and put them on jovially. “Ah, a perfect fit,” he hummed out, enjoying the fact that he could actually wear clothes now, too. It was such a simple, silly thing, but it made it all see more real. It helped solidify the idea that he had a body.
A moment later, the smacking of feet against the hard stone ground was heard and Smit smiled as he turned to the entrance of his room. Soon, three figures bolted through it, skidding to a stop a few meters before him. Three creatures, all very different in shape and size, but yet they were all siblings. His three children, Pala, Echo, and Arturus.
Grinning at them broadly, Smit put his large fists on his hips, and looked them with a glint in his eye. “There ye are, you sloths. What took ye so long!?” He asked with a booming laugh.
“F-father?!” Pala asked with eyes so wide open that Smit almost thought that they try to pop out of their sockets.
“H-how!?” Echo asked in a state of shock that was very uncharacteristic of her. Her mouth wide agape in a very organic gesture.
“You have a body!” Arturus added, his furry tail wagging up a storm behind him.
“Damn right I do!” Smit replied with a wide grin. “It’s not perfect, but I’ll be damned if it isn’t a huge step up from being a little crystal.”
“How?” Pala asked simply, his expression still disbelieving. Smit wasn’t surprised though. Seeing a stone, even one with a will, suddenly get a body was not exactly a common occurrence, even in his dungeon.
“By breaking through to the next stage, my boy!” Smit said proudly as he bumped his chest with his fist. “Now this old dwarf is back to walking amongst the living in this world!”
“But… that means…” Echo said with a bit of a sad voice.
Everyone turned to look at Echo with a bit of confusion. Out of all the moods that Smit had expected from her, sadness was not one that he had banked on. Shock was almost a given, joy was expected, but sadness?
“What is wrong, my child?” Smit asked gently, the mood of the entire room switching in a moment.
“If you have a body then… I won’t be able to hold you while meditating!” She said with a clearly distressed voice.
Everyone was silent for a minute, and Smit just stared at her with wide eyes for a moment. An instant later he broke into a merry laugh and slapped his knee. Even Pala chuckled and Arturus snickered at her reaction.
“Out of all the things…” Smit said slowly as he settled down. “That is what worries you Echo?”
She nodded vigorously, her face showing clearly that she wasn’t joking. Not that Echo knew much in the way of jokes anyways.
“Ah, my child,” Smit said with a wide grin. “If that’s what worries you, don’t fret. While you won’t be able to hold my core as you meditate, you can certainly sit by me while I meditate too. Moreover, now that I have a body, we can get more stuff done around here! Now come here you, it’s time I gave you something that has been a long time coming.”
Echo nodded slowly, still somewhat disheartened, but approached Smit. Smit was more than head shorter than her, but easily twice her width. The moment that she came to arm’s length from him, he opened his arms widely and pulled her into a powerful hug, squeezing her body. Her body tensed for a moment, unsure of what to do, but even then Smit didn’t let up.
“It’s called a hug, Echo. It’s a show of affection.” Smit explained with a chuckle. “You do it with close family and friends. People you care about.”
Nodding slowly, Echo’s face changed, a large smile slowly growing on her face as she returned the gesture eagerly, wrapping her arms around her father without uttering another word. Seconds passed by, and Smit turned to look at his other two children, who clearly had a look of envy on their face.
Laughing, Smit gave them a wink. “What are you two fools doing? Come here. We are gonna have a group hug.”
In an instant, the scene turned into an almost comical hug between all four of them, with Smit at the center of it all.
And he wouldn’t trade it for the world.
Arturus wagged his tail eagerly as he marched back to his training spot with Pala and Echo. His tail had simply not been able to stop wagging since the group hug with Smit. He had really liked that and he hopped that there would be more of these ‘hug’ things in the future. Perhaps Smit would teach them more things like that too, if there were any. If they were as enjoyable as these so called ‘hugs’, Arturus was more than happy to learn them.
“Father is amazing,” Arturus commented as he strutted beside his siblings. “To think that such a thing as ‘hugs’ excited… What a wonderful thing that is.”
“Indeed,” Echo replied. “It took me by surprise. It was extremely pleasant.”
“I second that,” Pala commented. “I am more shocked that he obtained a body, however. He seemed very excited.”
“Yes, very,” Echo nodded. “What do you think he meant when he said he wanted to ‘get his hands dirty’ however? That seems like a very odd request. Why would he want to do that?”
“I think it’s an idiom,” Pala replied. “Father uses such expressions sometimes. I imagine he doesn’t actually want to get his hands covered in dirt. He probably refers to some sort of work he wants to do.”
“It might be related to that ‘forge’ thing he was talking about,” Arturus supplemented. “He seemed excited about building it, whatever it is. And the distillery. What are those?”
“No idea,” Echo replied.
“He has mentioned the word ‘forge’ before, though,” Pala replied. “I am fairly certain it’s a place where you make stuff out of metal.”
“Can’t he do that already?” Echo asked with confusion. “Does that mean that the entire dungeon is a forge?”
“No, no.” Pala replied, frowning. “When father bestowed knowledge to me when he created me, I gathered… bits and pieces of information. I think a forge is a place where you make things from material, not from mana.”
“Oh,” Arturus said thoughtfully. “That sounds complicated. Why would he want to do that?”
“Who knows,” Echo said with a shrug as she walked on. “But if it’s Father, then something amazing will come out of it, right?”
“Of course,” Pala nodded with certainty.
“Without a doubt,” Arturus seconded that. “And this ‘distillery’ will probably be great too.”
“But for now, let us focus on our training,” Pala said seriously. “Perhaps, if we improve enough, there will be more hugs?”
The moment that he said that, the atmosphere changed between the siblings, and they looked at each other with a serious expression.
“Do you really think so?” Echo replied.
“Perhaps he will give it sooner the faster we improve?” Arturus supplied.
“Then I will improve faster!” Pala exclaimed, and he suddenly took off in a dash, running towards his training area.
“You won’t get ahead of me!” Echo shouted and took off to her own training area with determination.
“Don’t count me out! I shall be the winner!” Arturus shouted as he followed suit.
And so, Smit had to respawn monsters on the fifth floor about twice as often as usual, due to the eagerness of his children.
A crowd of people gathered outside the adventurers’ guild. Adventurers, villagers, slaves, merchants, and nobles, all of them stood by the entrance as a refined looking man stepped up on a large wooden table that had been set for him. The man was none other than Alester, the voice of the king in these remote parts of the kingdom. In hushed silence, everyone awaited his announcement.
Alester, for his part, looked out to the crowd with what seemed to be a mildly uninterested stare, though in reality he scanned the crowd with careful eyes. A total of twenty-seven teams had shown up in time to register for the event, a total of a hundred and thirty-two people that would dive into the dungeon in search for wealth and glory. A hundred and thirty-two people that could potentially be working for the wrong people, looking to cause trouble.
Putting those thoughts aside, Alester cleared his throat as Ikfes joined him, standing by his right side. This would be the start of the event. All he had to do was give the instructions. That was a simple enough task, far more easy to manage than what he usually had to deal with.
“Greetings, people of the kingdom!” Alester started, his voice loud and clear as it washed over the crowd before him. “On behalf of the king, I welcome you to the village of Nam! As I am sure you all have heard, the king has organized an event to explore the recently discovered dungeon that lies in the mountain just north of here.”
He paused for a second to let the crowd focus on him before he resumed his monologue. “Allow me to explain the entirety of this event, as some things have changed slightly. First, the purpose of the event is to decide on a new lord to rule this area. Every noble has the right to call upon a team of adventurers that is a maximum level of mid B rank. The team that wins the event will give their sponsoring noble the right to lord over the area.”
“The terms of the dungeon dive have changed, however. The dungeon has been discovered to be more extensive and complex than originally expected, thus the rules have also changed. The adventurers will have a time limit of twenty days to dive into the dungeon with their sponsor. Whoever manages to reach deepest into the dungeon before the time is up, while protecting their sponsor, will be the winner of the competition. Each adventurer will receive a magically embedded token, which will record the intensity of raw mana, thereby recording the proximity to the dungeon core. These tokens are difficult to manufacture, so do not lose them. You will not be given a replacement.”
A murmur went up from the crowd at the announcement, but Alester ignored it as he proceeded. “As for the adventurers, there will be awards for them as well. The winners of the contest will be granted two-hundred gold coins and one piece of equipment of their choosing from enchanted steel will be given to each team member. The weapon will be crafted by a master smith, so the quality is assured to be excellent-”
A loud cheer rose from the adventurers, forcing Alester to stop talking for a moment, before Ikfes barked to them the order to settle down.
“For the second place,” Alester continued, “the award will be a hundred and fifty gold coins, seven mid-grade healing potions, and two intermediate grade magic scrolls. For the third place, one hundred gold coins, and five mid-grade healing potions. For the fourth place, seventy gold coins, three mid-grade healing potions, and one midgrade consumable item of your choice. And fifth place will be granted fifty gold coins, and one mid-grade healing potion.”
Cheering erupted once more, but this time, Alester rode it out, signaling to Ikfes to let them cheer for a while. He observed the crowd quietly while they cheered, examining it with care before he signaled to Ikfes to order them to be silent again.
“There are also a few rules to be mindful of,” Alester added. “Adventurers are not to kill each other. If any sign of murder is found, the responsible team will be disqualified and they may be subject to disciplinary action by Sir Ikfes. Furthermore, sabotage is forbidden before entering the dungeon. Within the dungeon, you are all fully dependent on yourselves. Other teams may try to mislead you or cause you to retreat. Games of wit and thought are permitted, but foul play involving poisons that leave long-lasting effects, triggering traps on purpose, or purposefully ambushing other adventurers with the intent to disable them physically are also considered grounds for disciplinary action.”
“Lastly, the dungeon is suspected to have five floors containing a large number of creatures and traps. You are free to retreat at any point before the time is up. You are also free to take anything you find within the dungeon. That is all, the event will begin the day after tomorrow at sunrise, which should provide you with ample time to prepare and get up there in time. The tokens will be distributed in a minute by Sir Ikfes and myself. Please form up in two lines to receive the token. Ladies and gentlemen, may the gods be with you!”
A thunderous cheer rose from the crowd, and Alester simply turned away, hopping off his makeshift platform with Ikfes by his side. In a moment, they were flooded with adventurers, all of them rushing to get their token. Thankfully, the low number of adventurers allowed the entire affair to be over in minutes. Once that was concluded, the two friends stepped into the empty guild hall and started walking up towards Ikfes’s office.
“What did you think, Alester?” Ikfes asked with a happy hum. “Bunch of happy folk if you ask me.”
“Indeed,” Alester said with a frown. “It seems that most of them are here without bad intentions. This is good.”
“However…” Ikfes egged him on, knowing that Alester’s frown showed that not all was well.
“However, I believe that there are a few here that are going to be trouble,” Alester muttered. “We already know for a fact that at least two of the nobles we didn’t want catching wind of the event showed up, but a few of the adventurers I saw seemed conspicuous. I am concerned, Ikfes. What if they are not even adventurers of this kingdom?”
“I see,” Ikfes replied. “Indeed, there were some that felt a bit off. But I would not worry, they are by far in the minority. I would argue that we have a very good chance here. The three lesser nobles that the king is secretly sponsoring seem to have selected excellent B rank teams.”
“It still troubles my heart, Ikfes.” Alester said heavily. “This is a gamble, no matter how well thought out. If it goes to hell, we could have a civil war in our hands.”
Ikfes’s face changed from its usual charming, mischievous smile, to a serious expression, his amber eyes glaring into the distance. “Do not worry Alester. Should the worst come to pass, I will be prepared, and so will the king.”
“I hope so,” Alester sighed, as they entered Ikfes’s office.
“Cognac?” Ikfes offered as Alester collapsed into a cushioned seat.
“Yes,” Gods knew that he needed it.