The elves condemn the dwarves for not respecting nature and tradition, while the dwarves condemn the elves for not respecting science and progress. The humans condemn the demons for their kraterocracy, while the demons condemn the humans for their aristocracy. For how many thousands of years have the sentient races of this world warred? Differences in society, in appearance, in the mere circumstances of ones birth, all used as excuses to declare oneself better than others. For all their differences, every race of the world has a remarkable ability to divide the world into 'us' and 'them'. 'We' are superior. 'We' are right. 'They' are inferior. 'They' are wrong. 'They' are the enemy. 'They' should be controlled or destroyed, for the betterment of the world. The balance of power between the races has always held, uneasy alliances springing up wherever it looks like one race is pulling ahead. But times are changing. The elves have developed terrifying new soul magic, turning whole cities of their enemies into brainwashed slaves. The dwarves have built horrific weapons of war, tons of magical and enchanted metals formed into mobile and impregnable shells, rolling over fortress walls as if they were the creation of a child playing in the sand. The humans perform twisted experiments on their own lower classes, turning their citizens into monsters, mindless beasts capable only of killing. No longer is this sustainable; the endless wars between the races will soon end. While the leadership of each race believes themselves to be superior, and the guaranteed eventual victors, we believe differently. In our opinion, there will be no victor. We believe that the war will not stop until the whole world is laid waste, and that there exists no means to prevent it. That being the case, we should plan for what happens after. How to rebuild the dead world, once all of the races are gone.
- Statement of purpose of the Arc project.
The title description did clearly state that it would be lost if Erryn behaved in a way contrary to the spirit of the title, but Erryn hadn't expected an almost physical urging to fulfil it. Perhaps that was more to do with the class than the title, but since the class description was missing completely there was no way to be sure without switching the class out. Not that it mattered; Erryn intended to deal with the hex bomb remnants anyway. Spreading itself into the crater felt disgusting, the corrupted mana far worse than the smaller fortress that Erryn had encountered previously. However this time Erryn was stronger, and had access to light affinity. The speed of its spread barely slowed at all as it pushed back against the loathsome mana.
The writhing mass of blood red tentacles lashed out at the invisible antagonist that burned at them, but to no avail. Neither side had a physical body there to attack, and only their mana permitted them to interact. A battle of mana that mere shattered fragments of souls, degraded by the decades and corrupted by the evil weapon, could not hope to win. Erryn flooded them with its light, purifying the corruption. It took time, but Erryn's eventual victory was never in doubt. Unwinding the anchors from the earth, Erryn released the remnants, granting them peace at last.
150 bound souls freed. Awarding 150 dungeon points.
Erryn's first dungeon points! Shame it was unable to spend them, but still... It was nice to get some at last. From fulfilling the obligations of its class, presumably. A dungeon killed things, but it had a human class now. Although since [Merciful] stopped it getting points from killing intruders, there must be other ways too, even for better behaved dungeons.
Dungeon points aside, Wyndblake was a bust. Erryn dug some distance into the ground throughout the crater, but there was nothing left of the city. Neither the strongest walls nor the deepest basements had provided sufficient protection against their aggressors. In the end Erryn was not even able to find any evidence that a city had once existed here.
Over the next few weeks, Erryn reached the remaining towns, adding another pair of cores to its collection, but otherwise finding nothing of note. The last point of interest within its current range was the mountain, the first peak of a range stretching north almost as far as the coast. Practically speaking it was a way to inspect the smog that blacked out the sun, but really Erryn was looking forward to getting a view of the sky. Not that it would admit so to anyone. It was a dungeon; it wasn't supposed to see the sky in the first place. Erryn had to admit that it's emotions were getting rather... human as of late.
As Erryn began climbing the mountain, neither the sky nor the smog turned out to be the first interesting thing it hit. Rather, it found a... hole. It didn't look out of the ordinary; there were no barriers or unusual mana flows. There was simply a patch of the mountain in which Erryn couldn't be. Any attempts to assimilate the area failed without cause. It was disconcerting, like trying to step forwards but finding that you had forgotten how legs work. Never one to leave the unknown alone, Erryn began digging under the surface, taking over as much of the interior of the mountain as it could. It would take some time, mountains not being known for their diminutive size, but there was smog to inspect while it was digging.
The smog turned out to be dust and ash, tens of metres thick, threaded through with corrupted mana. The corruption was all too familiar, stinking of hex bomb. That it hadn't decayed in all this time, that the dust hadn't settled out of the air, meant that somewhere the remnants of a hex bomb were anchored to the sky. It could just be a mountaintop fortress, but Erryn knew that wasn't it. To cover the whole sky with so much dust... That was not an attack on the scale of a fortress or a city. The fact that the loss of the sun was not mentioned in any writings Erryn had found so far spoke that this came from the final attack, the one that had ended it all. Erryn curbed its expectations of finding new information in Soutso. Chances were that all it would find would be a country sized crater.
The smog was high enough that Erryn could get its best view yet of Jetosu from just below it on the mountain. What it saw was a ravaged country, pockmarked with craters, coloured in shades of brown and grey. No fields, no forests, no greenery of any kind in sight. Towns and cities were decayed or destroyed. No signs of life. A disappointment, but not an unexpected one. Erryn looked away from the depressing sight, and turned its attention upwards. Above the smog were blue skies and a yellow sun. Erryn paused for a while in the beauty of it. The first bit of nature it had seen that was untouched by the devastation humans had wrought, safely out of their reach.
There was a void within the mountain. The patch on the surface extended inwards a few tens of metres, as if it were a passageway, but then it ballooned out. A space that occupied much of the mountain interior was completely inaccessible to Erryn. There were no other points it touched the surface. What could it be? As far as Erryn could see it wasn't a dungeon, with no dungeon stone or other materials in view, and no mana flow. But as far as Erryn could see, it wasn't anything. At the point where Erryn's expansion cut off, there was nothing but normal rock. Erryn would admit to not knowing much about the uses of magic. Was this some sort of stealth spell? But mere stealth wouldn't block Erryn from expanding into the area. Erryn spun a basic slime out of the ambient mana on the surface, and ordered it to explore the gap. It refused.
Erryn stared. The slime hadn't 'not been able' to carry out the orders. It had 'refused' to carry out the orders. Erryn's own monster, in Erryn's own territory, was refusing Erryn's orders. Erryn ordered it to move about other areas of the mountain, and the slime happily obliged. Something had blocked it specifically from entering this void. Presumably the same something that blocked Erryn. Whatever was in there could control monsters. Could control dungeons. Could control Erryn.
Erryn was disturbed. It wasn't being held back by a barrier or magic or any sort of force. It was being controlled. There was an area that it was not permitted to enter, its own will be damned. Erryn spun up some more monsters, and attempted to have them throw each other into the void, but again they refused. It built up a precarious rock above the shielded area, placed a slime on it and attempted to cut the rock lose. It couldn't. There was nothing physically stopping it from cutting the rock, but nevertheless the rock remained resolutely attached despite Erryn's intentions. At least whatever this was didn't seem to be messing with Erryn's mind; it could see the void and think about attempts to enter it. It was just any action it took that would result in something entering the area that was blocked.
Erryn decided the make use of one of its most abundant resources; time. If it couldn't willingly enter the area, it would just need to arrange matters so that it unwillingly entered it. It cut down the connection the rock had to the mountain to the smallest slither that would support the weight, then withdraw itself. The dungeon stone would wither, and regress to ordinary stone. The weaker stone would snap, dropping the slime into the forbidden area. Feeling pleased with its ingenuity, Erryn took another look downwards at the devastated landscape.
Erryn had three spare cores. It couldn't sense barriers at long distance, but it knew that larger settlements that were still intact had a good chance of containing another core. Each crater would hold anguished soul remnants it needed to release. It was a puzzle. Where should it place new cores to be able to cover the whole landscape? From this vantage point it could see a great distance, but not the whole continent. Nor did it know exactly which settlements that it could see contained cores. It was playing the game partially blind. Not that the game was particularly high stakes. In the case of failure, Erryn could sacrifice territory to relocate cores. So it picked 3 likely locations, and started to dig.
Wary of system shenanigans, Erryn populated only one with monsters. Twenty four floors deep, to match the main dungeon without the need for surface monsters. Fortunately the cores were susceptible to [Relocation] while in their dormant state, so Erryn didn't need to send monsters across the landscape carrying them. Erryn relocated a core to the bottom of the new labyrinth and reinforced it as far as possible. The reinforcement didn't add anything to Erryn's mana capacity according to its status, but it wouldn't hurt, and it would be a pain if in the future the system decided to use new cores to reinforce these extra ones instead of granting new subsidiary cores. Erryn awakened the new core. Immediately the strange doubled perception returned, but knowing what to expect Erryn was able to work through it. After taking the time to acclimatise, Erryn risked poking the system. "System, how many floors do I have?"
Error: Subsidiary dungeon exists that is unregistered. Registering 1 additional subsidiary dungeon.
Error: Floors exist that are unregistered. Registering 24 additional floors.
Main dungeon floors: 19 (effective floor increased by 5 due to excess external ambient mana)
Subsidiary dungeon floors: 24
Thankfully, that had gone well. The system acknowledged the new dungeon without complaining about anything, or trying to erase any monsters, or granting Erryn any more weird designations. So Erryn repeated the process with the two other cores and restarted the surface expansion.
Looking for something to do while it expanded across the surface, Erryn checked up on the lone slime sitting atop a rock back on the mountainside. Building up the new dungeons and populating them with monsters had taken weeks, so the dungeon stone should have weakened considerably. Indeed it had, but... the rock was still well connected by a thick strand of stone. Erryn recalled thinning it to the limit, but reality disagreed. Erryn made a new rock, and repeated the process, placing a new slime on top. It then moved to a different cliff face elsewhere, and constructed a similar setup. Comparing the two, the rock it had placed above the void was obviously far less precariously connected, despite Erryn's intentions to build exactly the same structure in both places. This turned Erryn's disturbance up a few notches. This void was messing with its perception, ensuring that the rock wouldn't fall even after the dungeon stone withered. And it had stopped Erryn from noticing that fact. It seemed it would need to reassess its opinion that the void was not messing with its mind.
Erryn tried to relocate the rock it had constructed elsewhere to above the void, but couldn't. It seemed that anything Erryn did with the intent to enter the area was blocked, even if the intent was indirect. Erryn tried making the edge of the rock unstable, unable to take the weight of a slime, then ordered the slime to move to the weakened section. The rock held, and inspecting the rock Erryn could see that its weakening had been ineffectual, its perception again having been manipulated.
Erryn built up some unstable rocks like dominoes, placing a slime at both ends. Now the slime at one end could push the first rock over while being ignorant about the result, and the final slime would fall into the forbidden area through no action of its own. Erryn ordered the first slime to push, and it did, but the falling rock completely missed the next one in the chain. They had been spaced too far apart. Another attempt resulted in a miss due to a domino in the middle being at the wrong angle, and missing the next one in the series. Erryn built up the same structure elsewhere, away from any influence, then recreated it next to the entrance to the void. Erryn carefully checked each piece, measured each distance, confirmed the setup was completely identical to the template. Then it did nothing except leave it there unused. It repeated all the measurements again the next day, confirming nothing had changed. And then it ordered a slime to push. Or tried to; Erryn could not give the order. Each time it tried, Erryn was struck with an inability to communicate with its monsters. This was... concerning.