Dungeon Heart

by

MinningDragon

Vol.2 Chapter 19: Guardian of the Hanging Gardens

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A note from MinningDragon

Well boys and girls, this is it. The last chapter in royal road. The book is scheduled to release in December 15, 2020. Everything is ready to roll! Heck, we have a sick cover too! Check it out below! 
Dungeon Heart: A LitRPG Adventure (The Singing Mountain Book 1) by [David Sanchez-Ponton]

Thats the coolest thing to me. By the time some of you guys see this, you will probably notice that I have already removed a good chunk of the story from RR, but I plan to leave up at least the first few chapters. 

DONT WORRY, THE STORY WILL CONTINUE ON AMAZON. 

And it will be better than before, with more details and information, and obviously more dungeon building. This is just the first book of several (assuming it sells well... fingers crossed, eh?).

Also, it seems like there WILL be a paperback version made too, but I am not sure as to when. What else... oh right. The link! 

For the american readers in the US:  https://www.royalroad.com/amazon/B08P7WNHMQ

For everyone else who is planning on buying the book, please make sure you use the right amazon website for your country. Sometimes amazon can be picky about downloading books if you are in a different region than what teh website was designed for. 

OKAY, ENOUGH OF THAT. Please enjoy this chapter guys, you have been amazing and I can't thank you enough for sticking with me to the end. I probably will post some stories here in RR still on ocation, so dont be too sad yah? 

ONWARDS TO MY WEB OF WORDS!

 

Maxim Trevol rolled his shoulder slowly to relieve some of the stiffness he felt near his shoulder blade, and sighed in relief as some of the pressure was relieved. He had never expected the amount of work that he had to do so soon after arriving to the dungeon town. When Ikfes had said that he wanted Max to inspect and test the entire militia, he had not expected there to be so many people in the militia in a town so small. On top of that, it felt like every child in the village had also been brought for testing once it had been announced that the testing was free for non-adults. It was quite amazing really, though considering what he had heard about the town, he supposed it was logical.

Being overrun and chased by such unholy creatures must have been a nightmare for all the folks of the town. He wouldn’t be surprised at all if that trauma was the driving force inspiring the size of the militia and the eager parents that encouraged their children to be tested. He had tested hundreds of people since he got to the village, and thus his assignment had been far more tasking that he had expected.

On that note, the results were also better than he expected, even considering the surprising number of people to examine. It was well known that humans that had the ability to feel mana were about one in a hundred, and of those that could feel it, roughly one in ten could utilize it enough to become a mage or sorcerer proper. In this case, the village was abnormal, as he had found fifteen people capable of sensing mana, five of which showed the potential to become a mage. This was very unusual, to say the least.

To add to this mystery, the distribution of these fifteen who had tested positive was rather odd as well. Five were adults, of which three had lived in Nam their entire lives, the other two were immigrants from other places in the kingdom. The other ten were children, eight which were born and raised in Nam, and the other two were young immigrant children of merely five and six years of age. Statistically, this was quite the anomaly, even allowing for some room for error. Keeping in mind the standard, the village of Nam had an obscenely large number of potential mages, roughly having three times the expected ratio of people able to sense mana, and about six times the expected amount of potential mages.

Considering that he had not sampled even half of the population in Nam, the number of potential mages could theoretically be larger, if the ratio remained constant at least. Leaning down against his books once more, Max rubbed his neck and poured over the information again. No matter how he looked at it, the results he obtained suggested that there was something else at play that was affecting his results. Fortunately, there had been some studies on the matter, and there was proof that suggested that the standard ratio varied depending on several factors, such as the surrounding environment, bloodline, and consumption or use of rare materials.

This was his starting point. The issue he faced was discerning which of these factors, if any, applied to his situation. As with all studies, Max encountered numerous difficulties, such as identifying if there was a particular bloodline that enabled that was more gifted with magic spread amongst the population, or if the people of Nam had been unwittingly eating something that boosted their compatibility with magic. Fortunately for him, with a town of this size, it was rather easy for him to gather information. He shuddered at the thought of having to investigate a similar phenomenon in a large trading town or city, for even if he could create ten copies of himself it would not have been enough.

Still, given his limited tools he had only carried some simplified forms of research, but they were enough. Simply having the militia come in again and ask them as a group questions about their heritage provided sufficient information for him to be fairly certain that there was no such bloodline in the population. A quick survey of the fifteen people that had tested positive also showed no indication of regular intake of rare materials.

Which left only left the environment as a potential cause. This factor was, unfortunately, the least studied and least understood of the three, and there were multiple theories that proposed why and how this occurred, none of which could claim to be fully correct. Thus, with no concrete theory to guide him, Max was forced to simply speculate about the reason for this phenomenon. His conclusion was simply that it had something to do with the dungeon near the town, which in a twisted kind of way would explain why the crown was in such a rush to develop the town. However, if that was the case, why would they have hired him to examine the people? Could it be that they were only using him to ascertain their suspicions, or was this all merely a set of coincidences that happened to fall in the right place?

These thoughts swirled in his head for a while, but no matter how much he thought about it, they did not sound quite right to him. Instead, Max felt like the crown was expecting something from the dungeon town, but he did not think that the royalty expected the town to produce an obscene number of magic users. But if it was not the potential to rise an unbelievable amount of sorcerers, then what was that something?

He shook his head after pondering the matter for far too long for his taste. He only had to do his job and report his findings. He was not tasked with researching into the more obscure intricacies of the influencing factors of the appearance of mana sensitive people. The only problem was that his brain would not let the matter rest easily, and normally he would have sat down and immersed himself in his research. That said, he had no idea what the root cause of this unexpectedly high ratio of mana sensitive people could be, nor did he have the time, resources, or tools to properly indulge his curiosity. He had no choice but to leave the matter for now.

Disappointed, he released a sigh from his lips and resolved himself to let it go, for now at least. He couldn’t do anything about it now, but perhaps with a little help that would change. He eyed his table for a moment, he grabbed paper and dipped his quill in ink, and began to write his first report.

 

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Smit had learned a lot more from Zig than he had expected. Not just in terms of spells, but also in terms of how professional adventurers thought. This was something that he had not ben exposed to much, despite the fact that he had interacted with many adventurers once upon a time. Thinking back on it, it made sense to Smit that he had not been fully aware of how an adventuring team worked, as just about all his knowledge revolved around the weapons, armours, and accessories. He rarely had had to delve deeply into the complexities of the interrelations and behaviours of the adventurers to produce his wonderful creations, so it shouldn’t have been a surprise to find his knowledge lacking in that area.

The structure of parties and roles were simple enough to understand, as they were what largely dictated the use of the tools and equipment and adventurer needed, and therefore what he was most familiar with. The strategies, the thought process, and common practices, however, were not quite as intuitive for him. Smit patiently absorbed the information as Zig pointed out here and there things that adventurers might do in certain situations, and how they would prioritize their survival. It wasn’t a quick and easy learn, mostly because Ziggurd had to stop and think sometimes about the questions posed by Smit.

Sometimes, there were questions that Zig could not answer, or provided his best guess with a sheepish voice, but that was not an issue for Smit. He was very aware that Zig was only a single adventurer who had only a limited amount of experiences adventuring. No matter how skilled he was in his own field of magic as an adventurer, Zig could not be expected to provide an answer to any and every hypothetical scenario that he had come up with on the fly. This was specially true when the scenarios varied from his own experiences adventuring, as the larger the difference, then the more guesswork was involved.

On the flip side, Ziggurd’s last adventuring party was considered to be quite representative of a the average high-level party composition. Most adventuring parties of C rank and above had between four and seven members, of which at least one was capable of using magic and at least one member which prioritized defensive positioning. Hence, this meant that Ziggurd could reliably hazard a guess on how things could play out with a reasonable degree of confidence. It also meant that Smit sometimes would ask him about the same scenario multiple times, with each iteration containing small changes to the original scenario.

When this happened, it almost felt like a test of some sort to Ziggurd, as Smit would simply accept the answer he was given, and then the next iteration of the question would force him to rethink his answer. It was as if Smit was trying to poke holes in his logic, without actually pointing out the flaws in his answer. Ziggurd knew this was not the case, but he could not help but to feel like he was under some kind of giant magnifying glass when this happened.

Nevertheless, despite those uncomfortable moments, Ziggurd was more than happy to be of use to Smit for the next few days. It was rather rare to have someone show such interest in what his opinion was, specially for a prolonged period of time. That was not to say that Azure Arrow had neglected his advice or thoughts, but rather that he had been treat as a specialist of sorts. Most of the time, his advice was asked for regarding magical matters or healing, much like Mei was the authority in matters regarding tracking and archery in the group. Most of the time, decision making was left up to Ella and Mei during missions, as they fulfilled the roles of leader and guide respectively.

In other words, everyone had their designated role in the party, and rarely did the others intrude in their domain. The other members of Azure Arrow didn’t particularly care too much about how or why Ziggurd could do something, they simply cared that he was capable of doing it. That was just a by product of the adventuring life: they were all members of a family of sorts, but each member still had a role to fulfil and that role was above everything else, lest you cause the death of someone.

Surprisingly, despite the many scenarios and questions, Smit did not change much of the dungeon beyond the few traps he added in their initial walk through of the hanging gardens. Sure, he made some minor adjustments here and there, but otherwise he simply absorbed the information and moved on to the next question in his mind. Upon being questioned about this, Smit tilted his head slightly and rose an eyebrow at Ziggurd before replying, “I am not trying to create an unescapable murder trap, Ziggurd, not that it would be possible for the current me anyways. There are too many factors, too many unknown players too, and above all, even if I could do that it would attract too much attention. We just made an alliance with the king, we don’t want to make them rethink their alliance with us so soon.”

Ziggurd was not fully convinced with his answer and suspected there might have been something more to it than he was letting on, but he did not ask more. It was not his call to make after all. Not to mention that, considering Smit’s resounding success to date, if there was ever someone qualified to judge what to include in a dungeon, it was Smit.

Still, he was satisfied with playing the role of Smit’s personal advisor for a while, taking pride in the matter. He was, after all, the only one intimately familiar with the lifestyle of an adventurer and therefore the only one which could help Smit see things from their perspective. He offered and exclusive insiders perspective into the life of not just the higher echelons of the adventuring society, but also the perspective of the middle and lower ranks, as he had worked his way from the very bottom to a relatively high position.

Ziggurd even felt that Echo and Pala were a little bit jealous of him because of this, as they were not used to being completely out of their depth on a subject. As a matter of fact, Ziggurd was fairly certain that they probably had never even considered that there would be a time were Smit would have had the need to be taught something to this extent. He couldn’t fault them for this however, Smit was an impressive dungeon architect even without any guidance or assistance. If he was in their shoes, the idea of Smit requiring help for anything would have seemed rather unbelievable too.

Their jealousy did not have much time to grow however, as within a few short days, Smit had stopped inspecting the hanging gardens with Ziggurd in tow, and the endless questions finally ceased for good. It wasn’t because he thought that Ziggurd had no more useful knowledge to provide, nor was it because he had grown tired of the subject. No, he simply had enough to think about for now, not to mention that he still had plenty of work to get done. Such as creating the guardian of the twentieth floor, something which he had postponed for long enough.

Smit thanked Ziggurd for his help, assuring him that his knowledge had been useful and interesting in equal measures, and then departed towards the last floor. Along the way, he gazed upon his creations again, and savoured the sweet taste of success and achievement from his own labour. There were few things as rewarding as the pleasure of completing a challenging task, even more so when one had put their heart into it. The hanging gardens were one of his most inspiring works to date in his opinion, and certainly the largest.

As he finally reached the final floor, Smit hummed thoughtfully, his mood uplifted from his walk through the hanging gardens. This large space below the nine floors of the hanging gardens… who would be the one to protect it? Such thoughts crossed his mind not for the first time, and again he reviewed his possibilities. There was so much he could work with… but what would be the best?

He looked up at the nine floors above him, and he could not help but to think how lovely it would be to move freely within the garden. There was so much open space, so much greenery… it was a vibrant place. That thought, more than anything, spurred his decision on the guardian of the hanging gardens.

It should have wings to move freely, he thought. Not too large, so it can maneuver easily, letting it swim through the sky. It must be strong, however, to protect this place.

Such thoughts occurred to him, his mind already detailing the creature. A swift, powerful protector, a lord of the wind. It should be a bird. A gorgeous creature that commanded respect.

Thus, he hesitated no longer, and opened his list of species first, narrowing his search down to birds exclusively. As it was to be expected, the selection on the types of birds was not too large, but still boasted of nearly three dozen species, including the evolved forms of some of the base species such as the night ravens. From the humble finch and the portly pigeon, to the copper hawk and the night raven, the selection was more varied than he had expected, but then again, this was the reward of breaking through to the next level multiple times.

Sadly, most of them were not viable for what he was planning. He immediately excluded many of them, as they simply would be much use without extreme modifications, even if he evolved them first. The smallest, weakest, slowest, they were the first to go, cutting down two thirds of the list. From those that remained, Smit assessed each with a critical eye again. The standard ravens were dismissed after some thought, even though they were quite intelligent, they fell woefully short in combat capabilities. Similarly, the night ravens were not suited for the task as they were designed with intelligence and teamwork in mind. Even if he upgrade one extensively, he was doubtful that the combat abilities of it would be capable of reaching the level required to properly protect the level.

Next he dismissed the magpies, despite their aggressive nature. They were quick birds, aggressive as well, but they lacked the sheer mass and intelligence to deal with a group of adventurers. The swans were a strong contender for a while, though they were ultimately removed for their relatively low speed in flight, which would have made them easy targets for any competent archer. He also dismissed the horned owl, despite its impressive capabilities as a hunter, it was meant to hunt silently as an assassin of the night rather than act as a defender.

So on and so forth, Smit reviewed the remaining creatures available with great care, dismissing three more before being left to choose from two: the goose and the copper hawk. Ironically, these were the most suitable in his mind, as he regretfully had not a single other large bird of prey to take the top spot. An eagle of some sort would have been ideal, perhaps even a gannet. Nevertheless, these two were not bad at all in his eyes.

The copper hawk was a fairly large bird, and quick to hunt its prey. It had a gorgeous copper colored underbelly, and the plumage on its back was a stone-grey color that somehow added to its charisma. A carnivore and an expert bomber, the little hawk could become a forced to be reconned with, given a little help from Smit. Its largest downside was that due to its structure and design, it would be likely a glass cannon, capable of great damage in the right conditions, but would be unlikely to be able to take much punishment.

On the other hand, the northern goose was twice the size of the copper hawk, and boasted of an aggressive and territorial nature. Smit was also surprised to learn that the goose itself was not much slower than the copper hawk, not to mention that it had considerable stamina too. With a dignified black plumage that extended from the base of its neck to its beak, only interrupted by a white stripe that bounded the jaw, it accentuated the grey-brown and white plumage of the body that reminded Smit of a snowy mountain in mid spring. However, the greatest weakness of this bird was it would not be able to maneuver between multiple long ranged attacks easily, given that it was not design for quick and sudden aerial maneuvers.

The choice was quite difficult for Smit, both creatures offering a different set of skills and strengths that they could use to their advantage, and both were quite pretty to look at. Undecided, he contemplated their other qualities, such as their social behaviours and their preferred nesting locations. Ironically enough, the deciding factor for Smit ended up being fear. Not the fears of the two birds, mind you, but their ability to induce fear onto others.

The goose was the one who was clearly superior in this aspect. It was quite counter intuitive really, as at a glance the goose was clearly the most charming of the two, as the hawk had a more regal and commanding appearance. However, that was exactly why the goose had been superior to the hawk. Anyone could see a powerful hawk and realize it was a dangerous creature just by glancing at its beak and talons, if the piercing gaze didn’t already give that away. On the other hand, the goose looked rather dandy and tame, not to mention that most people associated them with romance and beauty.

Not many would be more terrified of a goose than a hawk, at least not at first. Even if the goose was unusually large, most would likely be confused or surprised, maybe even relieved or amused. Until it greeted them with an angry open mouth of terror and a fearlessly aggressive disposition that is. While not possessing a razor sharp beak like a hawk, the inside of the mouth had small and sharp teeth-like protrusions, as did the edges of the tongue. It was a jarring contrast to the gorgeous outside of the bird, and it was sure to be jarring to more than one person that encountered it. It was a psychological attack, in a way, and one that Smit would very much like to capitalize on.

Satisfied with his decision, Smit rubbed his hands together as he began to concentrate. Gathering his energy, Smit drew upon the information needed to create the bird. He first imagined its base shape. The long, elegant neck, aerodynamic body, webbed feet, all of it came to mind as he roused his power and started the process. However, just as he was beginning to create the goose, a thought came to mind. He had never created a creature from scratch and designated it to be a dungeon boss from scratch. He had always selected someone that was already suitable for the role.

How would this affect the creature? Would it the sudden surge of power stun its future growth? Would it result in a mediocre monster? Would it forcefully evolving it into a dungeon boss make it evolve in a random direction?

All these questions and more flooded into him, just as the progress began. Stopping suddenly felt like it would cause something to go terribly wrong, thus Smit listened to his instinct and somehow managed to stop himself from stopping the entire process on the spot. Thinking quickly, Smit searched for a solution, for anything that might help him correct this mistake as he kept panic at a bay in his mind.

Had he been made of flesh, he surely would have been sweating, his heart probably would have been beating in his ears like a drum. But his body did not allow for that. Instead, he was met with the sound of the waterfalls from the hanging gardens, the echoes of birds, the sound of the wind created by the elemental spirits he created.

And that was what saved him. Inspiration came in like a flood as he recalled the last few days, and the sounds of the hanging gardens spurred him on. He reached out with his mind, searching the entire dungeon, and gathered the most promising candidates, who came at him in the form of a gust of wind. Grabbing hold of them firmly, Smit assessed their evolutionary capacity in an instant, and decided to follow through with his improvised plan.

He relied heavily on his experience of past experiments with mana, particularly those of Echo, the two headed spider and Ziggurd, exerting unbelievable amounts of focus as he did so. He molded wind spirits with the form of the goose, holding them together with delicate precision as he let his raw mana fill the gaps, then he used what could best be described as a thread of ether to bind them to each other as there was no soul to form the body around to.

The unstable mix seemed to resist at first, but through sheer power of will and skillful manipulation of the energies available to him, Smit managed to stabilize the soup of powers and spirits. Holding onto this first success, Smit pressed onwards with grim determination and unwavering focus as he began to mold his creation. First came the webbed feet, with short obsidian-like claws at the tips of each toe. Then the long legs, though he made them strong enough to pull along a man.

Next came the body, which he changed to be slightly more elongated and aerodynamic, the feathers reminiscent of the color stone dotted by patches of snow. The wings were what he worked on after the body, long powerful wings that could stir the wind, and strong bones to handle the force of his muscles. Up next was the neck, long and refined, the black feathers so wonderful that they seemed to be made of onyx, and tougher than leather armor. Second last was the head, streamlined and dignified, crowned by three larger feathers that gave the appearance of a royal crown. Finally, the beak of the creature was the last thing he modified. He made the tip of the beak protrude out in a point, almost as if a miniature horn had grown from it, and the inside of the mouth was reworked such that the tiny teeth-like protrusions of the beak into actual tinny fangs that could rend flesh.

Just as he began to conclude his creation, Smit noticed that the eyes were of a silvery hue, the tips of his feathers becoming almost translucent and taking on a faint glow. These were not changes he had made, nor were they part of what a normal goose should have, but there was nothing to be done about it. Pressing on, his large creature was finally complete after nearly two days of work from start to finish.

Congratulations! [Crowned Goose] species has been created!

But this was not the end of it all yet. Despite his desire to stop and rest, he could not, not yet. He still had to follow through with the final step. He had utilized his most advanced wind sprits for this, those that he thought could evolve at any time, hoping that by declaring his new creature a dungeon boss, he could push them past the evolutionary threshold. The issue lied in the fact that he had mixed these advanced spirits into a different entity, much like he had done with Ziggurd. The main difference between the two was that Ziggurd was created by using freshly summoned spirits, instead of selectively gathering those that seemed most likely to evolve in the near future.

This, of course, was a gamble on Smit’s part. Worst case scenario would have been that adding his precious elemental spirits had no bearing on the evolution for this new creature, and thus he would have sacrificed them for nothing. Not only would the goose not be able to advance to a more useful evolution and have to level from the ground up like Ziggurd, he would also have lost the most likely candidates for an elemental spirit evolution. On the flip side, if he was lucky he might be able to succeed in creating a very unique and useful creature.

He could not wait to find out which result awaited him.

Warning! You are about to select [Crowned Goose] as the guardian of the 20th floor. Are you sure you wish to proceed?

Taking a deep breath, Smit selected yes with his mind.

Assessing…

[Crowned Goose] is unnamed.

[Crowned Goose] has just been created.

[Crowned Goose] is near evolutionary threshold.

Smit read the blue windows as they came, relief starting to flood his mind at the lack of concerning messages from the voice of the world.

Conditions met. [Crowned Goose] maybe evolved and assigned as guardian of the 20th floor.

Warning! Evolution will require additional use of mana. Would you like to proceed?

There was no hesitation. Smit gave the affirmative immediately. Without warning, mana rushed out from his body and engulfed the large goose, rushing into it as if to devour it. Smit tried to guide the evolution himself, but found that it was far more difficult than in other occasions. There was no time to wonder if this was the drawback of evolving a dungeon boss through the voice of the world instead of through his own efforts. He dedicated entirely to trying to wrestle control of the evolution, and achieved only limited success.

It only took an hour, but the results were glaringly clear once the evolution was complete. The goose who had been Smit’s height (if the goose stretched its neck) now was about two meters tall, with lustrous feathers that seemed like polished glass. All feathers started with a strong color at the base, and became more transparent towards the tips, to the point that the tips of each feather almost seemed like glass. The silvery eyes held within them slowly swirling patterns that sparkled with tiny stars, and its graceful neck was strong and sturdy. However, its tongue was extremely long, lined with those teeth-like protrusions on the edges, and it when it opened its beak threateningly, it gave the appearance that its mouth belonged more in the mouth of a giant predatory lizard than that of a bird.

It was exactly what Smit had hoped for.

Congratulations! [Crowned Goose] has evolved into [Gale Crowned Goose].

[Gale Crowned Goose] has been accepted as the floor guardian of the 20th floor.

 

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A note from MinningDragon

Hurrah! Happy Holidays to you all, whatever you celebrate, I hope that this chapter finds you well and healthy! Have awesome holidays, and stay tuned for more stories! 


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