“Good help is hard to find”
“The dungeon’s old and doesn’t care,
It drops the spiders in your hair.
But the dungeon’s web is far more great,
You’ll hunt for gold but find your fate.”
Caden wished he could trade Exsan for a dungeon fairy, because his current companion was clearly defective. He even looked into the AP menu to see if some kind of companion was purchasable.
He looked for help menus for information of any kind, but there was nothing. Nothing that is, with the exception of Exsan. And Exsan’s problem was that while he understood what Caden said, he failed to understand the implied information he should be providing. While his language lessons we’re going well, as far as Exsan’s diction, they completely failed to cover his failure to grasp what was desired when he was questioned.
In some ways, Caden felt like he was talking to a computer, it would do exactly what one asked of it, and only that. Caden had never fully realized how imprecise the English language was, until he tried to specify exactly what information he wanted Exsan to provide without him needing to explicitly ask for it every time. It turned out, that precisely defining the concept of relevant information was practically impossible. Caden hoped that Exsan would learn simply from repetition, because Caden had to constantly define what information was needed.
Caden’s exasperation with Exsan was nothing new, but this particular episode was more exasperating than usual. Exsan had finally completed connecting his aura and almost the tunnel to the outside. Upon doing this, a prompt had immediately appeared.
Outside connection is about to complete, would you like to make this a dungeon entrance? Available dungeon entrances 2/2.
Caden had, of course, immediately replied yes, only to see this:
Dungeon does not meet requirements. Dungeon core must be accessible to entrants.
Of course, it had not defined what accessible meant. And Exsan had been no help, nor had he bothered to warn Caden that this would happen. He knew that he should have expected something like this. After all, how could a dungeon ever be in danger and be destroyed if no one could access the core.
Caden had ultimately decided to treat the requirement literally. It would be accessible, in only the strictest definition of the word. He had also decided that there were going to be decoys, lots and lots of them. He did, after all, have a title that would make finding him exceptionally difficult. Even the decoy cores would be practically impossible to get to.
In the end he created twenty different decoys, each of which was obsidian black, like the original dungeon core. He could not say for certain whether or not this was what dungeon cores actually looked like, but he figured it was a decent guess. Only one of these cores could actually be seen. It was behind a twenty foot thick wall of ultra dense, perfectly clear, crystal after the boss room.
The route needed to get to it was not hidden. It was in fact, patently obvious, and also a complete and utter death trap. The route through was filled with spinning blades of razor sharp reinforced obsidian, all of which were spinning at different rates. Theoretically, all of the blades would allow a person to get through when they were all in perfect alignment. Given the number of blades, Caden was fairly certain that this would not happen even a single time during a year.
All the other routes were much better hidden and even more deadly. They involved boiling water, pools of sulfuric acid, any and all of the various traps he had to come up with, and pleasant trips through monster infested areas that were under no restrictions, and also these areas had no loot whatsoever.
Getting to the real core involved diving through a half mile deep underwater cave system, that constantly branched and was filled with underwater monsters. After that was a climb of about a mile back up a perfectly smooth tunnel loaded with more deadly traps. The air in the shaft fluctuated wildly between stillness and violently blowing downwards. Each time the air stilled, what was blowing in the tunnel air changed.
This varied from aerosolized acid, to powdered crystal, and other nasty substances. The temperature also varied between boiling and freezing. Should anyone manage that, there was further nastiness. Also, the protections of sacrifice would not work there either.
Caden did not want to kill anyone, but he was not an idiot. Anyone going past the boss room and trying to access the core could not possibly mean him well, and he was going to assume they were trying to kill him. If they died, he considered it a clear case of self-defense. To Caden’s amusement, when he tried connecting the entrance again it worked. Honestly, he thought he was going to have to tone it down a bit.
As he accepted, a thrum of power vibrated down the strings of his aura and down the long miles of tunnel connecting to the entrance. The surge of energy unfurled into his aura and, a few moments later, the entire length of the tunnel became part of the dungeon to a diameter of fifty feet.
Exsan was the worse dungeon companion ever. He stopped for a moment as a thought struck him. Technically, he was the dungeon companion… nope, he wasn’t going there.
Regardless, he now needed to customize the entire tunnel, so that it would match the intricacies of the dungeon’s decorations. His dungeon protection options did not work in his basic aura, so he had left the tunnel blank so he did not need to worry about theft.
For now, he built a blank stone cover over the entrance. After that he divided up the tunnel into hundreds of individual safe zones. That way, he could make changes to any section someone was not in automatically from a blueprint if he so desired. He whipped up a quick infinity knot pattern for the walls with a few dozen colors of stone winding over and under each other. They were designed so that each section would match up to each other, so the pattern would continue the entire tunnel. That way he only needed to design a knot for the beginning and mirror it for the other end. He used thirty feet of the available fifty foot width, and made the floor out of basic roughened stone for grip, since the entire path was a slight incline. He also provided lights for the entire tunnel, wincing at the cost in his available mana density. He would obviously need to replace them with self-sustaining lights as he got the mana.
Soon the dungeon was almost ready to be opened, though Caden was dithering about what design to use on the main entrance. He was tired, and even before the latest delay, he had not had a good few days.
-A few days prior-
Caden was an idiot. It was undeniable.
He had been messing with the runic arrays ever since he gained the alphabet without much success. Actually, that was understating the issue; every emblem he tried to make exploded in a twisted mess of metal and stone when he tried to activate it. Based on how violent some of damage to the surroundings was, he realized just how close to death he had come when he messed with the emblems Tam had made.
This, however, was not the only reason that he felt like an idiot. That was due to him forgetting he had placed the enchanted gate from the sewers in his storage and then promptly forgot about it. Admittedly he had been in the heat of the moment, but even so.
He had been looking at the work of Tam, and trying to figure out how to create emblems from that. That was like trying to figure out how to carve stone from looking at Michelangelo’s David. That was a great end point, sure, but when you are just starting to work a chisel you need something a little simpler. Or, as he had realized by looking at the gate, something more complex but much rougher.
Apparently emblems usually had safeguards to prevent the messy business of them exploding. Tam’s creations were too simple. There were no safeguards, no extra tolerances, because Tam was obviously an absolute master of the craft and didn’t need them. His work fit together so perfectly that adding anything would detract from their function.
The gate on the other hand was messy. It had all the background that was needed when one could not create something flawlessly. It had overt runes for handling mana storage, tolerances to damage and wear, as well as some very basic runes to take mana from the area to power the emblem. It also had a single main function, which was to be incredibly strong. Exactly whom they had been wanting to keep in or out Caden couldn’t say, though he hoped it didn’t cause any issues.
If this had been all, Caden would have felt a bit dim, but would not have thought very much else about it.
No, Caden had started wondering what else he had left in his storage that he had forgotten about. That answer turned out to be much more complicated than he thought.
The first thing he found was simple. It was the dagger that had been embedded into the shoulder of the man he saved. He digested it and was pretty sure that between the metal and the handle he had patterns for iron, steel, and some kind of leather. Not to mention he had a pattern for a throwing dagger.
After that it turned out he had stone. Masses and masses and mountains of stone. All that stone he had been dissolving with his manipulate earth ability had not in fact been dissolving. It had all gone into his storage. The shear amount of material was mind boggling. Of course, he had cleared out giant spaces for the dungeon and all that material was now in his storage. And if there was some way to organize the storage better, it had yet to show up.
Between the spaces he had cleared and the tunnels Exsan had been constantly working on, Caden was guessing he had somewhere between a half-mile to a mile of cubic stone, dirt, and sand. Honestly, he was impressed with the sheer scope of his storage. However, he had no idea when it would fill up. So he had started an enormous and boring project. He took areas of stone that did not have any water filtering through them and compressed them as heavily as he could. Then he would put stone from his storage into place and compress that, repeating until he had filled the space opened up. Sure he could split his mind into multiple perspectives and get it done faster, but that just meant he experienced the same boring task multiple ways all at once.
Just as he was finishing that, he and Exsan finally hit level six. The extra 990 AP, and their mana regen rising to 132 per day were great. What made Caden want to hit a wall was the new ability. Appraise II. It gave details about a creature’s approximate strength, names of various items, and most importantly the value of materials appraised. It would have been wonderful if he could have had that to appraise everything he had been removing from his storage of the last few days. Now he was going to need to appraise all the types of stone and materials everywhere in the dungeon. He would also need to make sure the first dungeon level was at the appropriate minimal strength… again.
Caden was now tired. Without actually being capable of being tired. Maybe he should look into his soul about that. Well, that would all come later. For now, it was time to open up the dungeon. He looked closely at the enormous blank slab that was waiting to become a door. Should he just repeat the phoenix theme? Surely he could come up with something new? These doors would hopefully be open most of the time…
Finally, he decided on something different. The exterior of the doors would usually be hidden against the mountainside, so why have doors at all? He created a model using inspiration from Earth, specifically the Greeks. Yes, a touch here, a touch there, and it was ready. It was time to begin.