Chapter 1: So Comes the King
King Vas was an amicable fellow, despite his fierce appearance. His red mane of hair along with his sharp eyes gave the impression that he was a lion turned man, to the point that there were mutterings and rumours about the source of his strength. Some said that he had always been a fierce warrior, so much so that the gods had deemed it fit bless him with strength befitting of his appearance. Others said that he killed a Nemerian lion and ate his heart, which nearly killed him, but granted him some of the beast’s strength. Yet others said that, back in a time when he would still dive into dungeons with Ikfes and the rest of his adventurer team, he had conquered a demon infested dungeon and was blessed by the gods for his deed.
Whatever the case might have been, the only truth of the matter was that within the kingdom, King Vas’ strength was second only to that of guildmaster Ikfes. He was a man that was loved, feared, and respected by his kingdom; a fierce man that would defend his country like a lion would protect its cubs.
Which is why most people would have found the sight of the fierce man wearing fluffy slippers and a nightcap baffling or even funny. As the king felt no rush to get from the capital to the village of Nam, he had taken his time to set camp as he liked, in the comfort of his prefered night wear. A handful of servants attended to his needs, fully used to seeing their king in such wear, but it was shocking to some of the members of his royal guard.
Not that anyone dared laugh or tease the king. As surprising as his morning appearance was, wearing a silken night robe, slippers, and night cap, he still carried himself with the aura of a king. As such, as much as the contrast was off-putting, no one had any doubt that if need be, the king could still single handedly beat any single member of his royal guard.
Dressed in this nightwear, the king arose from his slumber. His tent was spacious, though modestly decorated, consisting of a bed, a small chest of clothings, a small table, and a chair.
“Archimedes... Archimedes!” The king called out loudly, and a second later a small man, perhaps no more than a hundred and sixty centimeters in height, seemed to materialize out of nowhere. Though slightly balding and of plump features, the man was dressed pristinely, with black trousers and a red long-sleeved shirt. Even his his thin, upwards curling mustache seemed to be meticulously cared for.
“Yes, your majesty!” He said, as he stood at attention; ramrod straight and with his hands at his side.
“There you are,” the king said as he looked at the man with satisfaction. “Any news?”
“None worthy of note, Your Majesty,” Archimedes replied, bowing slightly. “However, the royal princesses are sparring with some members of the royal guard just outside the camp area.”
“I see. Fetch me my travel clothes,” the king said as he started to disrobe in the privacy of his tent. His back marked by the large muscles that told the tale of a man trained from youth to wield the sword and shield in full plate armour.
Moving as swiftly as the wind itself, Archimedes wasted no time in gathering the kings travel clothes, neatly presenting them to the king as he aided the king in dressing. A pair of fine trousers woven from amber spider silk, resistant but light, capable of retaining heat better than cotton. Next, he helped the king to put on a white long-sleeved shirt with gold trimming at the neck and the sleeves, and on top of that a well crafted vest of boiled leather. A pair of dwarven-make boots from colchis ox, sturdy enough to walk hundreds of miles without any signs of wear-and-tear. Lastly, a crimson cape with gold thread trimmings was placed on his shoulders, and a circlet crown (which in reality was more of a band of solid gold with a ruby at its center) adorned his brow. With his preparations concluded, the king commanded to be led to his daughters.
Having arrived, he started spectating the sparring between the princesses and his knights. He estimated the girls to be at a low B rank in terms of strength individually, perhaps flirting with the intermediate B rank. However, their synergy was outstanding, so much so that he could not help but to swell with pride. In a few years he wouldn’t be able to spar with the both of them at the same time and win. In a decade they might be able to match him individually, blow for blow.
He was truly proud of the strong women he was raising.
Dianna pressed a knight with her blade, letting loose a flurry of blows that were blocked or deflected with deft movements. Her red hair swirled in the morning air like fire roused by the wind as she danced with her sword, thrusting and slashing with precision. Even with his skill, the knight seemed to focus on Dianna, seeking to strike only when the opportunity presented itself. The roles were reversed in the blink of an eye with a sly counter from the knight, caused by simply angling his sword so that hers would slide right over his own, which thrusted towards her with intent. She parried the blow, but the initiative was taken from her, and she found herself on the defensive instead.
Behind the two warriors who waged battle with each other, sorcerers fought from the back lines. Emma, the youngest of the king’s daughters, summoned fire and earth to attack the opposing mage, occasionally firing a simple fire spell towards the knight fighting Dianna in an effort to distract the knight. However the opposing mage was no slouch, countering her efforts with earth and water spells.
Overall, the king deemed the situation a fairly high-level battle, which made for an excellent show. So much so that he called Archimedes over and had him set a table and chair nearby, so he could have his breakfast while he enjoyed the show. Nothing like a cheese filled omelet with roasted sausage, and honey milk drink to start the day. Granted, it was not the most luxurious meal that could be prepared for a king, but he delighted on the flavour all the same.
By the time he had eaten his fill and drank to his heart content, the girls and their sparring partners concluded their training session. Standing with a broad smile the lion of a man stood and clapped appreciatively as his daughters, now covered in dirt and soot, made their way towards him.
“Well fought!” He said with a broad smile, pulling the two girls into a bear hug at the same time. Not one to shy away from displaying his affection to his daughters in front of his men, the king displayed fierce affection for his daughters, doting on them shamelessly.
“Dad... you are… suffocating us,” Dianna croaks out as she tries to escape the powerful hug. Beside her, Emma nods her head eagerly as she can, agreeing with her sister.
“Bahaha!” The king laughs as he releases them from his grip. Placing his fists at his hips, the man looks them up and down with a critical eye. “Well done both of you. Dianna, you are still as overeager as ever. It’s fine to be aggressive, but don’t forget to look out for feints or intentional opportunities created by your opponent! Sir Rennard turned the tables on you with a cleverly disguised trap that put you on the defensive. And Emma, while your magics are powerful, your repertoire is limited. Use it wisely. Mix your attacks more, instead of repeating the same thing over and over.”
“That wouldn’t have happened in a real battle,” Dianna replied sullenly, “I would have aimed to kill and that wouldn’t have mattered.”
The king’s eyes turned serious at her statement, and he crossed his arms over his chest. “He would have been aiming to do the same in a real battle my dear, and you would be dead. Sir Rennard is not physically the strongest of the royal knights, but he is one of the cleverer ones. That little trick he pulled of sliding his sword against yours like that? Imagine if he had aimed at your throat instead of your shoulder.”
“Hmph,” she said with a pout, crossing her arms. “...Fine.. Your words are true. I’ll be more wary in the future.”
Emma giggled as she watched, knowing better than to argue with her father’s advice when it came to battles. As far as fighting went, her father missed very little. He was the reason why she and her sister were so strong at such a young age, after all. Him and the other tutors, of course.
“See to it that you do,” the king said with a nod. “Now! I assume you two have eaten already, correct? Good. Go, clean yourselves quickly before we get back on the road. Your mother would talk my ear off if she heard that I let you travel in dirty clothes.”
After the girls curtsied and made their way to their tent to get changed, the king stroked his beard, which was slowly growing more unruly as the days passed. He would have to look into getting a barber to trim the thing when he got to Nam, and make him look more presentable. He couldn’t have himself be looking a barbarian outside the battlefield. That was something that his father and mother had taught him at a young age: the image of a king could make or break alliances.
Strolling around the camp while the servants packed away all necessities, the king took the opportunity to breathe in the fresh air of the countryside. It was one of the things he missed of adventuring. Now, as a king, his duties demanded that he spent most of his time at the capital, dealing with a myriad of issues that came with the responsibility of ruling a country. From the reparation of a sewage system to diplomatic talks with other countries, the king had to oversee hundreds of issues.
But out here? Out here he was free of that burden, if only for a moment while he strolled around the camp. He was free to lose himself in thought, to reminisce about simpler times when he and his team could just wander across the land in search for adventure and glory.
How distant those times seemed now.
Allowing himself to exhale a small sigh, the king smiled lightly, reminding himself that not all was bad. The crown came with many perks, one of the most notable was raising his children with the best education available. That alone was worth most of the irritating conversations he had to deal with when the nobles tried to carry out their nonsensical schemes for power.
And the food. The gods knew that he loved the food from the royal kitchens.
“Your Majesty?” Archimedes quipped, appearing from seemingly nowhere. “The preparations are just about complete. We should return to the carriage and be on our way.”
“Hm,” the king replied as he was brought back from his culinary fantasies, merely nodding in Archimedes’ direction and following him to the carriage. “And the girls?”
“The Princesses have changed and should have boarded the carriage already, Your Majesty.”
With the carriage in sight, the king allowed himself to let his musings from earlier fall away, his mind coming to his roles a as a father and as a king.
A shame to leave such a lovely clearing… He thought to himself with a chuckle, but there is work to be done.
Smit breathed a sigh a of relief as he released his meditative state, opening his eyes. It was still odd to him, this new body of his. It was heavy, and he could feel that it was heavy, yet it did not restrain him, nor did he find it overly difficult to wield as he wished. Sometimes, however, when he had to do more delicate movements such as opening his eyes slowly or moving his fingers carefully, he could distinctly feel like he was moving through water. Slower than it should be, only by a fraction of a second, and his movements slightly less precise.
These little moments concerned him, for he knew that he could not truly do his best work if his movements were not perfect.
But at least he had a body.
And since he had a body now, it was high time that he started to make use of it. The brewery was but the first step. He needed a forge, too, as well as a multipurpose workshop for his other crafts. But he couldn’t forget about Ziggurd, or about expanding the entire dungeon.
Smit let out a sigh at the thought of the mountain of work that was awaiting him, but resolved to get it all done. Besides, the sooner he was a mighty dungeon the sooner he would have time to indulge in his personal projects. Now, the question was… Where to start? The current floor was already at its limit for space, so he supposed that whatever he did would have to take place on the sixth floor.
Frowning, slightly, he sank into thought. What should the sixth floor look like? How would he distinguish it from the other floors? And how would he create a masterpiece out of it?
Just as he thought of these questions, Ziggurd’s soul floated into view, wandering about as it had done for nearly two weeks since it had been bound to Smit. Frowning, Smit decided to give him a corporeal form once he had completed a few floors. He expected that he should be able to have more available spots for floor masters once he reached the tenth floor, and then he could turn Ziggurd into a more appropriate creature.
For now, he would create something more... Roomy than the maze he had created. As proud as he was of his maze, creating an extension of the maze would be rather boring and unimaginative. Considering that the deeper the floors were, the larger he could make the floors, he should take full advantage of that.
Nodding to himself with satisfaction, Smit set to work. He willed the earth itself to move, and a his entire core room began to tunnel down into the earth, sinking slowly like a boat in the ocean. Once he was deep enough, he began to work. Since he wanted to create something spacious, he decided to make a floor with a high ceiling, creating a space between the ceiling and the floor of fifteen meters. He decided there would only be five rooms on this floor, connected sequentially like a spiral. At the center of it all, he would place his core room.
Next, each room gained a few select topographic highs and lows. Creating a few small hills that rose from the flat earth, creating for a more interesting and rugged terrain. Then, from the walls themselves, trees were carved out of stone. Each tree was delicately carved, as if the stone itself had given birth to actual trees, down to the detail of bark, the pattern of the leaves, and the bend of their branches.
These trees were as haunting as they were beautiful, for their dark grey color made it seem like they had been frozen in time, petrified by some unknown curse. The trees, of course, were not growing out of the walls, but rather, it seemed like they had been partially unearthed from the wall, which added to this haunting feeling.
Looking at the ceiling, Smit frowned at the roughness of it. He held out his hands, and summoned his mana, as he twisted and shaped the surface of the ceiling as he wished. Slowly, gently, he made the mana do twists and turns, guiding the stone to create a representation of small waves, like those on the surface of the ocean in a calm day. The process was by far the most complicated step so far, requiring him to spend a half a day per room to complete.
Once the texture of the ceiling was finished, he created little droplets of silver, and embedded it gently into the ceiling, making it glitter when light shone upon its surface. He wasn’t finished yet, though. Next, he added black obsidian and serpentine of a green-blue hue. He coated the ceiling in their colors, creating an image that was surreal. If anyone were to step into the room, they would think that there was sorcery at play, for they would think that the ocean now flowed in the sky.
Smiling, he looked at his work with satisfaction. Halfway done, more or less.
Now, he added texture to the ground. He broke part of the hills in some places, and added boulders in others. Gravel and soft loam were scattered in some areas as well, making the footing treacherous. Onto some of the boulders he added various mosses and lichen of dull colors, including a few patches of blood moss.
To top it all off, he even added a few small plants that looked like daisies, but their petals were pitch black. Black daisies were a rarer variant of plant with little use other than a handful of common remedies, but their presence made the entire dungeon level appear all the more mysterious. Darker colours dominated the setting of this floor, like the outskirts of a haunted forest, and they made the little silver droplets in the ceiling stand out all the more.
Lastly, he populated the floor. He began with insects, such as worms and beetles, they would help maintain the plants in proper condition. He then created, for the first time ever, birds. They were nothing fancy or extremely exotic, but they would do. First, he created ravens. Smart birds, and black as the night itself. Their feathers luscious and neatly preened. Of course, he spent extra mana to make the critters larger than they were normally, their talons and beaks were sharper, too.
Then he made sparrows. Swift and decisive, these birds danced in the air effortlessly, like fish swimming in a pond. These sparrows he made tougher and more aggressive. It took him a couple of tries to get it right, but they were far more territorial than they ought to be once he was done with them. Of course, he didn’t miss out on the opportunity to make their beaks as sharp as knives.
Beyond that, he created golems to inhibit the area, and an entire pack of wolves was assigned to each room. Each room also had a small population of mice, lizards, and snakes, just to increase the diversity of the room a bit.
Only after having done all this, he stepped back to admire his creation. After some contemplation, though, he realised that it was yet still missing a little something. He frowned and scrutinized his work with care. Eventually, he realized what it was. It all felt very... still. He needed to add something vibrant.
Thankfully, he had just the thing.
Summoning his mana, he created small spirits to inhabit the room. Just a few to work their magic, but he focused particularly on wind spirits so that occasionally a small, light breeze would run through the dungeon. Just a bit, that’s all he needed to create that sense of unease in the hearts of men and women alike. He chuckled as he imagined a knight with a great axe at the ready, warily scouting his dungeon, before nearly jumping out of his skin as a light breeze of cold air tickled his neck.
Terrified, the knight would turn and find nothing more than empty space around him, making his heart beat like a drum.
Chuckling, Smit allowed himself a smile as he retreated into his core room again to cultivate once more. He had made good progress, despite spending four days on a single floor. Tomorrow, he would work on the next floor. Perhaps he would dwell more on the haunted forest idea.
And so, Smit closed his eyes, and breathed in slowly as the powers that surrounded him gathered into his heart.