The statue was wonderfully done.
It was of the last adventurer of any interest to fall. An archer with a dark armour that had tried to sneak attack most things. That made 12,421 of that particular class to have come. If they used magic to heal or ate food like a glutton, then she would have been part of the much larger sub-class.
He assumed he’d see more before the year was up.
A quick check on some of the few levels dedicated to the rising popularity of watches, pocket watches, hourglasses, and anything related to time. The grand Ticker-Dragon was inert in the last room of this floor.
The chrono-aura it produced gave him a good feeling for time outside the Dungeon.
Hm... how had three months passed? Really, time did slip or... sleep in this case, away from you when you had fun. He could hardly blame himself.
A new king hadn’t been down in years. Yal was getting a little bit bored.
At least the fresh adventurers always made things fun. Another few hundred and he’d finally have enough Reality Markers to afford a new creature for his 133rd floor. His Mana was, of course, rather endless at this point with the sheer amount of Mana Vents he had uncovered. Hence his new hobby.
Statue making. It had started as a way to pass the time but the more Yal did it, the more fun he had! Soon, it became a work of passion. Yal really wanted to make more statues everyday.
He started leaving the boring ones or the not-as-good ones near the first few floors. Spooking quite a few people. Yal could accept that.
He hadn’t touched those floors in years.
So done… so boring... so unimportant.
He guessed any change up there besides the slightly better doors and artwork would be noticed. Looking at those floors brought so many memories back. The grey period of not being aware but being. The urge to dig deep and grow stayed with Yal to even this day. The years of learning what worked and what didn’t.
Learning how people thought.
Being shaped by every death and tribute.
His first floors were also reminders. Fixed points of his own history. He didn’t know about other Dungeons but the idea of changing or messing with his first few floors felt... distasteful. The first thing being that he would be spending precious Reality Markers to upgrade what was, at this point, toys... was a hard idea to swallow.
Another thing would be the fact that seeing how far he had come from crude wooden spears to the splendor of his lower floors was always a kick.
The last reason was simple economics. If he improved the lower levels of floors, the people would stop coming. They would choke his floors by never leaving. He could see the reasoning.
Imagine having the Dream trap of the 42 floor on the 2nd? The Terror Knight of the 50th on the 1st? The Kingdom would be ruined. Long standing routines had been forged. Masters of their classes could convert his Dungeon into reality.
Things that would last and this city had enough masters to grow fat off of it.
Not that Yal did this out of any sense of kindness. Yal was paid in the blood of the foolish and the eager. Messing with those floors would merely... stop new folks from coming for a while. He was too near his next thing…
So... he played with statues. Honestly, he had gained so many odd materials over the years that the statues became a little more exotic in nature. Things that didn’t show any promise of being better were suddenly useful because an ore made of pink minerals that shatters easily is no good for a door but for a whimsical art project it’s perfect.
Besides, he was sure the current king was not long for this world. The next prince or princess would have to come. It was basically the rules. He built floors and the potential ruler made it to the bottom. The only thing stopping Yal from basically winning by numbers over the year was the crown. His own gift to the people.
The Crown of Yal. His masterpiece. It had started off as a junk thing but he had worked on it... then the first king to appear beat him with ease and took it. Then came back as an old man as if to return it.
But Yal had been touched in a sense. A little unsure of what to expect so he did what he always did as a dungeon.
He took the crown. Ate it. Then spat it back out an improved version with his growing experience as the final drop of the 30th floor. If the new ruler could make it there, they could get the crown and all the lovely enchantments Yal had made for it.
Some real... boosts to one's power. Sure it gave rise to tyrants more often than not but that was the humans’ issue, not Yal’s. Once they got the crown, they would have to reach the bottom of the Dungeon before they died, or the crown would appear on the 40th floor next time.
Yal was clever like that.
Two kings had declined to risk their lives so the crown had dropped from level 10 to level 30 as a result and no King or Queen dared to let it fall lower. One Queen, very sickly, had nearly died trying to fulfill the deed, so Yal ‘accidently’ forgot to lower the crown that one time. Effort counts, and Yal appreciated effort.
Yal formed another block of Red Diamond and pondered his next project. There were dozens of folks in his Dungeon right now. No one really stuck out right now, nor did they seem to be carrying anything new.
Yal watched a confident mage fellow that focused on explosions. He would be the 104,512th of his kind to set foot in Yal’s home. Explosions mages did well for a while until they hit level 70 which had a, ‘No magic beyond 5ft’ rule all across the floor, at which point they tended to blow themselves up or run away.
Funny but a little sad as well.
Well, Yal never knew when something new would appear when someone stepped inside. The thrill of a new device or a slightly different magical enchantment or even better... a personal object... was always a delight.
You could only eat so many iron swords after all. Yal had literally stopped getting resources from half the things in the capitol over the many years. Shaking himself, he focused back on his project. Every tiny bead of its existence would be perfect.
He just needed the perfect subject.
The answer came only three days later. Yal was still staring at his unshaped statue when a group walk into the dungeon. His old enchantments and works alerted him that royal blood had requested entry.
His entrance was mild, it merely required the entree to be breaking no high laws of the kingdom (everyone broke a small one here and there after all). Yal really did not like or even find amusement in them. Honestly, it was Kingdom’s fault. He had seen and enjoyed so much of the King’s knights at work that Yal himself took on an appreciation for stout fighters. The few rogues that snuck in by being ‘this side of legal’ when it came to the high laws were dreadfully boring. Most of the Sneakers, as Yal dubbed them, usually learned to be sneaky from either being a mage or an archer.
It was so boring to see the endless amounts of rogue archers that thoughtthink his monsters wouldwill stop looking for them after five seconds after getting an arrow through their throats. Did these people think his Dungeon monsters where idiots?!
Calming himself, Yal floated down to see a princess of all things enter the entrance hall of his Dungeon. Yal examined the group and his mood soured just a tad at her guard.
The Royal knights. Two of them.
One was a man with a long flowing mane of black hair and a feral gaze walked past the injured or waiting adventurers. His mere aura drove most to duck or look away from him.
Yal knew of this one.
Zane the Blood Night. Yal was pretty sure his second title was ‘It’s spelled right’. The man had been one of the few to make it to his core on his own. Yal had seen very few with such savage strength. His ‘armour’ was an open jacket that exposed his heavily scarred torso. The dark trousers with metal plates protecting the side of his legs was all pretty normal.
There was no weapon on his form. Zane liked doing things with his fists, Yal had learned in amazement.
The second was also known to him.
After all, as their final test of joining the order, they had to clear his Dungeon to become a Royal Knight. A feat that made sure every generation was more efficient than the last.
This one was Brilda of the Spear. Yal liked her, she was rather sane for one of the Royal Knights. Her tight blonde hair in a sensible bun meshed well with her ornate armour and protected legs clad in similar metal. She carried a long spear that was angled to be pointed down at moment’s notice.
The weapon was made of a white wood whose head looked like she had stuck a crude jagged crystal on the end.
So... she was still using it? This gave Yal some pleasure as a Dungeon.
A third Knight joined them. Yal’s mood at this point was plummeting but froze at this one. This one wore a simple brown cloak with no outstanding features. Yal liked to think he got people at this point.
Knights were obvious. Knights were loud. Sneakers were hunched and sneaky looking.
Lorsa was the mesh of Knight and Sneaker. At least Lorsa made the thing look honorable at times… Yal wondered if Lorsa still used that magic.
Royal Knights, beings far beyond the Royal Family in power, but they bent their knees and swore a magically binding oath for this power. Yal was pretty sure that a few of the Knights over the years were pretty much tricked into being Knights.
The princess was not one he had seen before. If Yal hadn’t accidentally slept through another generation... he guessed this was the youngest of the current Royals.
What was her name... the shy one... the King had talked about her a few times when he came down for the yearly talk.
“Princess Serma, you finally reached your 16th Birthday,” said an old man that looked like the first few attempts of Yal’s crafting. The young girl had long brown hair, a slightly large nose and a reserved look about her as if she would rather be anywhere else.
Serma! That was it. Yal was so good at remembering. The priest, the golden staff and funny hat had to make him a priest. Yal had eaten more than a few in his years.
About 97,334 if he didn’t divide them up by gender or religion.
Yal knew a healer when he saw one... or in this case, a task giver.
“As tradition for your family and to show your blood’s power, you will seek the Level 10th boss and end its life. You have spent many afternoons studying the maps, the monster sketches, the hidden paths, and even the tactics often best used. I have seen you grow into a fine woman. I have faith in you,” the old codger smiled.
Serma smiled weakly. Zane looked around.
“Nothing ever changes,” he said with a sigh. Brilda was silent. The woman gave eternal Monks of the Coming Silence a run for their money. Lorsa spoke in a whisper of a shadow of a ghost of a tiny tone.
“The people are new,” Lorsa pointed out. Zane shot the cloaked figure an annoyed look.
“I noticed. It’s almost like this is the busiest Dungeon in the land!” he said with a heavy sarcasm.
“I won’t... be doing anything. Zane will kill everything... Lorsa will will get rid of the traps... Brilda will use magic to shield me. I won’t... prove anything,” Serma said. Yal was silent for a moment. He had sudden memories of other princes and princess being escorted by Royal Guards. He usually didn’t watch them... it got boring but... now that he was looking for a subject for his statues.
Serma was right there but her expression...
Yal wanted to reach out and correct it. It was all so wrong! The Knights were just going to carry her to the boss and blow the whole thing off? Sure, Yal didn’t care, it was the first few floors but...
He needed the Princess to smile! She was his next subject. Yal needed to do something! The priest was chiding her and soon they would go in! They’d beat the bosses and Serma wouldn’t be happy!
Okay... Yal had to think hard and quick...
Serma didn’t want to be carried by the Knights. So, Yal had to make the Knights that guarded Royalty stop guarding a princess…
Easy. Yal’s word carried more clout than the average king after all.
He appeared. Well, not instantly. Yal had learned how to enjoy forming his avatar over the years for the most shock value. He flicked through the list of forms and settled on one of his more confusing aspects.
He had made quite a few over the years to create a whole pantheon of personas. It allowed him to pretend he was all sorts of folks for the sake of fun.
His body appeared as all the torches blew themselves out. The Knights of course went into full offensive mode but his glowing body made the Priest shout for everyone to stop.
“It’s the Prince of Challenges!” the man said hoarsely. Yal’s avatar took the shape of a young boy with a glowing white aura around his form. He simply wore brown trousers and a white cotton shirt that was several sizes too big causing his hands to be hidden in the flapping sleeves. Yal had settled on white hair and golden eyes when making this form.
The only other feature of this avatar was the simply golden crown that again was too big for his head and thus rested around his neck like a collar.
The Prince of Challenges was his attempt at luring people to certain new creations or challenges. He found a wise old form made them cautious while a kindly woman form made them fight between themselves for the woman’s favour.
This form, however, had some benefits that really meshed well with humans and their highly proud nature.
“A meek bird wants to reach the 10th floor? Send her home so she can wallow elsewhere,” the nasally annoying voice of the Prince declared.
This avatar annoyed people to almost sinful levels of pleasure on Yal’s part. When he took on the avatar, he felt almost like parts of himself were narrowed... focused while other parts were pushed back.
His younger and more childish nature combined with his pride as an ancient dungeon caused... well... The Prince.
Avatars were odd like that. They couldn’t contain him entirely once he had outgrown them. Creating one when he was a young 15th floor dungeon meant now, he could barely fit into the darn thing without being reduced to a single word blob of light.
Yal would use his latest Avatar that he had made near level 100 but...
Using it on people without the proper level of Mana-adaptation would cause them to slightly... burn a little on the inside.
The Knights were suddenly respectful, weapons put down or stances remained neutral. The Priest spluttered as the Princess looked like she had been slapped.
“Oh great Prince of the Dungeon! The Princess is ready to take her test and reach the 10th floor, she means no disrespect,” the man promised. Yal knew this, in fact, he was quite unbothered by the words of Princess Serma but he needed to do this carefully.
The wrong word or idea might have consequences that Yal couldn’t be bothered with.
“A test? A test in the Dungeon which she has declared as... easy or below her?” he mused as he stepped on the ground. The people around took a step back. Wise.
The Prince had been good at blessings... well... Yal’s version of them.
“I d-didn’t mean it like-” the Princess began but Yal spoke on.
“The little bird will waltz on while her tigers devour all challenge. Am I a joke to the royal family now? Do they think so little of the spirit of my dungeon?” The Prince flared his nostrils as the crown around his neck glowed just a little.
The Priest looked ready to drop dead from horror. Yal would have to hurry this up before he killed the man.
“No! It has nothing to do with you, Master Dungeon. I want the challenge!” the Princess said with frustration that had been building for a long time. The Prince blinked slowly and the glowing crown returned to normal.
“I see... the Bird wants to fly but lives in a gilded cage. Well, well,” the Prince turned to the entrance of his Dungeon proper. The black marble arch with twin knights crossing swords over the first tunnel.
Anyone stupid to ignore the entrance requirement would have their own trial suddenly underway. Honestly, the knights were rough and ugly now... Yal sighed.
He would need to change them now that he seen them. His new artist soul demanded it.
“I will forgive this offence...” his avatar spoke and the gathered people all visibly relaxed. Not that the Knights were that bothered by Yal or his words. They had seen his most exposed Core after all. It was good that the Knights were bound to the royal family. One of their duties was to protect Yal’s core after all...
No Yal... no city. It was that simple. Sure, it was pure ego but the city was literally and symbolically built on his dungeon.
“Thank you-” the priest began but the Prince waved a hand.
“On one condition,” he added, voice filled with a smirk.
He turned and his golden eyes burned.
“The Princess must return with three. No more, no less, bronze-star 1-3 adventurers as her party. No royal guard or someone with high Mana-refinement may aid her on purpose or knowingly,” he listed his terms. The Prince Avatar was rather good at looking like an arrogant child.
The City of Verluan used a very traditional system of ranking their various folks of adventure or glory seeking types. Bronze, Silver, Gold, and other. Inside each metal was ten ranks. Yal was pretty sure, since he obviously hadn’t been to the local guild buildings himself, that doing quests or doing something worthy of the rank got you promoted.
Through his years of eating people, Yal had devoured more than a few seals of rank. A circular metal disk. He matched the disks to the level of the person that died... the rest was just logic.
A bronze disk with one a single star carved into the edge meant Bronze-1. The lowest of the low. Basically, Yal was sure that anyone that paid the fee and signed something could get this thing. From there, it rose right up into the gold and others.
Yal knew full well that he just told the Princess, and by proxy the entire Kingdom, that he wanted one of the most important people in the city to undergo the dungeon with help of basically combat novices at best and civilians at worst.
Everyone’s face was pale. The Knights finally looked tense, the priest was grasping at his chest... the Princess looked overjoyed.
There was that smile... it was brief before she composed herself. Yal needed to see more of it!
His art demanded it!
“If this fails to happen... well, I’m sure the city will enjoy a brand new Dungeon... floor by floor. Years of expectations... gone. Classic rules and trade business between the merchant guilds... destroyed... the levels purchased by your various guilds for training... turned either into worthless or gold. I’m sure mixing the bosses up or just straight replacing them will be fun,” the Prince’s wide grin was only matched by Yal’s real one.
Everyone slowly looked at the Princess. Her joy slightly lost at the warning but her eyes held that glint.
He had seen that glint somewhere...
Yal thought about it, brushing dust of ancient memories.
Ah yes... the very first. The one who carved his own Kingdom.
Yal laughed as he returned to his lower floors.
He would have to thank the odd system notification for acquiring a hobby. Yal hadn’t had this much fun in years!
He had no idea why his usual gold text boxes had turned orange for that one message alone, but Yal merely decided that it did not matter. Now that he was looking... there was a lot of things he could do to encourage more interesting people to come so he could make a statue of them.
Maybe he should make a hall of fame? Make people reach the goal of being in it? Yal plotted hard as he went over this idea.
He would need to make a lovely reward for them...