The first rays of sunlight finally began to peek out from over the horizon, painting the skies over the Hynix Grand Reef a brilliant orange yet again. The waters were picturesque, unnaturally so, and there wasn’t a sign of land in sight. It would have been the image of serenity, even, if it weren’t for the sheer amount of activity going on during this time.
Floating on top of the mild waves was a stout building, surrounded by all forms of smaller boats. The Dungeon Hall itself was still in a state of minor disrepair, the chaos a few days prior was mostly sorted out, but the throngs of races fighting for a simple spot in, or on, the Dungeon Hall meant that there were problems with minor details. In the end, the free floating building was even more barren then before, simply a board to pick out some of the many requests to fill, and how to get in contact with them after the fact, some tables and benches scattered about, and a sizeable amount of peddlers trying to sell their ‘goods’, be it trinkets and artifacts, items or potions, or even the information they had gathered they thought unique.
And of course, that was just the building itself. In the week since the dungeon’s reveal, and its ability to create elemental stones which got out not long after, people have been flocking to this otherwise unremarkable hole in the bottom of the sea, aiming for wealth, power, fame, or whatever else would tickle the fancy of an interested listener. And judging by the ships peaking over the horizons, the communities of aquatic races uprooting themselves to move closer, and the general buzz surrounding the dungeon, it would only continue to get busier.
The only area that could be considered orderly was at the ‘gates’, more of a symbolic approximation of what was standard in practically every other sanctioned Dungeon Hall. Here, instead of shouting matches or fights breaking out, it was calm, or at least a tense agreement. Unspoken rules that those who show up first dive first, enforced by the fear of getting blacklisted by both the Guilds should they be too impatient. Such a thing wouldn’t be considered much of a threat if it came from anyone else, but the fact that this was likely the only thing the Atlanteans and the Adventurers have ever cooperated on so aggressively, it carried some incredibly considerable weight.
And so, as the sun rose higher, and the orange finally returned to day-blue, more people found their way into the packed line, both above and below the waves, kept in check through the ever-increasing pack of guards. Some tried, and usually failed, to bargain their way up the line, some were content with simply envying the ones before them, and some didn’t even bother, lacking drive to explore something totally new, the will to risk their life in an unknown dungeon, or just the patience to cram themselves into a line that would take hours or even days as it was shaping up to be.
Fortunately for this last group, there were talks of lowering the wait times between dives, or letting more groups descend together, but they were still very much just talks, and more information was needed. The other solution floating around was to put a hard limit on the minimum level of strength possessed by the ‘challengers’, not just those officially belonging to the guilds; this was also the more popular option, at least currently.
Still, none of this mattered when the unnaturally stoic guards finally waved in the first group of the day, their excitement was palpable, but overshadowed by the anticipation of the groups directly after them. Already they had started counting the seconds, be it through a device, a construct, or just plain willpower, and some of the newer guards from the Atlantean Guild still found themselves surprised with how unnaturally dedicated to keeping track of when their turn these challengers were. They’d been told by the Adventurers stationed here how the divers tended to be, and each of those had at least some actual experience running this sort of outpost, but it was still strange to the aquatics for them to see people so motivated, especially when it was mostly the terrestrials that waited with such baited breath.
Sure, there were plenty of Amphibians and even Aquatic races, mostly the Mer, that wanted in on the action, but that was because they knew there were elemental crystals almost for free in those tunnels, and one would need to be a fool to not feel excited over that. No, over the past few days these aquatic guards realized that they simply didn’t have the same drive, the same ambition as those terrestrial races, who were willing to risk the danger of simply being in the water under threat of the Burn, much less trying to better explore the halls that everyone realized were more than a simple challenge. It seemed insane, that there was so much wealth even at the top, where most people could explore and come back unharmed, but they felt the need to push onwards, go deeper, and figure out secrets about this thing nobody else knew yet, even if everyone realized that some of those secrets were definitely unfriendly.
The Adventurers, both the guards stationed on the ‘guild hall’ and those looking to dive into the Reef Dungeon saw things in a very different light. Just as the Atlanteans, and a select few Amphibians, were unable to piece together why they were so eager to be the first to figure out any little thing, they weren’t totally sure just why the other groups didn’t do that.
To try to explore and discover should be an almost universal ambition in anyone who’d had even passing knowledge of a dungeon, they thought, even if their reasons for it were anything but shared. Some groups, like the first party to push their way past those fish people and descend into that watery hole, just wanted to make their names known. As one of the more well-established groups of dungeon divers, they were already well on their way to doing just that.
Directly behind them was a group of Amphibian members trying to sweet talk their way into the dungeon a few minutes early, common enough despite having never worked, they were quite interested in seeing if there were any creatures for them to tame in here, a dungeon always had some exotic species and one in a place so rich with life couldn’t possibly disappoint.
Continuing down the line, the list of reasons for diving into the dungeon had as many entries as the groups themselves, or at least for the terrestrials. Fame, power, wealth, a cure for their mothers’ ailments, a reason to take over their families’ businesses, even their own opportunity to push themselves into S rank; these are just a few of the reasons these people decide to delve any dungeon, much less one so unique, seemingly promising so much to those who can figure out its secrets.
The hustle and bustle continued, lasting unimpeded for hours as people funneled in, but only trickled out. Even seeing groups come out totally battered, bruised or beaten or worse, still wasn’t enough to discourage many of the people still in line. Those that sauntered out weaving tales of glory and success, or simply letting the bags overflowing with glittering crystals that promised nothing but wealth do the talking only served to further fuel the high spirits of the many transients.
Things could still happen even further outside the norm, and, while rare, they could even disrupt the questionably oiled machine of the Guilds. When someone was spotted burning spells at a nearly dangerous rate to rush towards the Hall, coming from somewhere a fair bit away from any town, land or sea-based, people were confused; this man was a little too frantic. When they noticed the pair of bodies he was dragging behind him, stuck together by ice and spear, they grew worried.
But it wasn’t until they realized that the merman, spear still in his chest, was wearing the standard uniform of one of the guards, that people raised a fuss. Immediately, a Mermaid broke off from the others, swiftly joined by a lamia that had been relaxing at the surface. A human guard, too, decided to go investigate, hopping on a boat and joining up with the other two as they dragged the pair towards their post. They were all aware that they wouldn’t be able to accomplish much, this needed to be checked out.
And that they did, taking only a moment to come to the realization that they didn’t know either man, which shouldn’t happen with a small, tightly knit group of people trained to, among a great many other things, remember the faces of their ‘co-workers’ as part of their job working here. This meant, when coupled with the fact that a few spare uniforms they kept around had gone missing only a few nights prior, that anyone with half a mind would be able to put together a picture of events that was sure to at least cover the basics, more than enough to start writing up a report that needed to be delivered to their employers, along with the ‘evidence’.
The crowd starting to gather around only made talking to each other and figuring out how exactly they wanted to deliver this to the island more difficult, and it wasn’t until the human nearly tipped his small boat over with his animated shouting that they were able to get some calm, enough to let him send a bit of mana into a milky white crystal. Nobody expected that they’d be burning through communications crystals so aggressively, not even the man on the other end, if his dejected sigh was any indication.
“Hey, Rok.” The human began, having the obligation to talk to their employer by virtue of knowing him the best. “Yeah, so, there’s something you should know…”
One five minute conversation later, and the human motioned towards his comrades, the content of the ‘discussion’ had been loud enough for quite a few people to realize what the boss’ orders were, and so they hauled their ‘catch’ onto the too-small boat, the trio setting off for the island as only a handful remained to see them off, the rest going back to whatever it was they were doing previously, or laughing at that one group who were a bit too curious and lost their place in line because of it.