“Hurry, back to mines,” Fred urged the townsfolk, “We can use the merchant stands there as barriers! Come on the, move it!”
Grecian ran up to Fred as the last of the towns-folk disappeared into the tunnels. “That’s everyone Fred,” Grecian reported, “the two princesses are directing the men to make the barriers. Come on, we have to reach them before they finish.”
“Alright, let’s go,” Fred agreed.
The two men ran together down the torch-lit passage.
“This isn’t good,” Fred muttered after a moment’s time, “To think we’d have traitors so high up in the leadership. We aren’t prepared to fight a mindless army or their demon-empowered leaders.”
“Just be grateful we didn’t bring the children,” Grecian reminded him, “I do wish, however, that we’d have had the mind to invite the elves. They would have been able to assist us with their magic and experience.”
“Hwy, at least we have the princesses,” Fred chuckled as they arrived at the center room for the mines. They saw the two girls calling out orders, the men pushing merchant carts toward the entrance to barricade the room.
“They are certainly more than I expected,” Grecian admitted, “Between them and their passed sister, I do wish princess Diana were still alive to guide us.”
“As do I Master Grecian,” Hilda agreed as she approached the two men, “However, she has gone before us and so I will take up the staff she and my mother left behind. How long will it take for the enemy to arrive?”
“Not long,” Fred shook his head, “As well-intentioned as Orso was, he lacked the numbers and preparation to face such a threat as the generals. Thankfully, I don’t believe they’ll die, but the enemy should defeat them within the next ten minutes. Maybe in less time, but I suspect their arrogance will have them tie up the temple knights to be given to their despicable masters. That should buy us a little time.”
“Then we must hurry,” Hilda frowned, “I’ve ordered the men to block the passage for now. Master Grecian, are you aware of the mine monster’s schedule?”
“You mean The Glob?” Grecian confirmed, “Yes, I believe it appears soon within the west portion of the mine. What is your highness thinking?”
Hilda turned to Fred, “Sir Fred, can you and the other hunters hide our tracks and create a fake path into the west mine?”
“Perhaps,” Fred mused, “But that will require everyone else to stay hidden somewhere else.”
“I’ll have everyone begin moving into the north part of the mine,” Hilda declared, “With any luck, the generals will follow the tracks into the west part of the mine and get eaten by The Glob. That’s our best plan of action.”
“Yes ma’am,” the two men bowed to her. They separated to begin their respective tasks.
Shiva came up to Hilda and pulled on her clothes. “Hilda, will the plan work?” she asked in trepidation.
Hilda sighed and rubbed Shiva’s head, “I don’t know Shiva. Those evil generals probably don’t know the mine’s schedule, but we should prepare for the worst. I’m sorry I dragged you into this death-trap with me.”
Shive shook her head fiercely, “No! You didn’t do anything wrong! I want to follow mommy’s example too and be a great leader someday!”
Hilda smiled gently and patted Shiva’s face, “You will be little sister. Now, let’s help get the people moving. Let’s all do our best to survive this death trap.”
“Claire, what’s happening out there?” Milly asked worriedly. She and all of Doc’s sentient monsters were waiting together on the 26th floor, anxious to hear about the situation outside.
Claire the pixie turned her eyes up to the ceiling, “Doc, can you pleases give us a report on what’s occurring topside?”
“It looks like an adventurer verses adventurer fight of some kind,” Doc reported overhead, “The leaders of the shiny army seem to have defeated the church people and are stringing them up. The magic ladies in the big hats and the shiny army aren’t doing anything but waiting. Oh, looks like the leaders are making some of the shiny army carry the church people back to town. They are all entering the dungeon now.”
“You said my father was there right Claire?” Milly turned to Claire fearfully, “I need to get to him!”
Claire shook her head, “I’m sorry Milly, but we can’t let you join them. How would you be able to explain how you got to them through the that army?”
“I could say it was a miracle brought my desire,” Milly argued, “I’m sure they’d believe that!”
“Miracles don’t happen in dungeons,” Anadine said sadly, “Only the power of mortals is unhampered here. Even your goddess would be hard-pressed to do anything with Doc’s walls.”
“You won’t let me out to fight, fine,” Milly glared at Claire, “Just go up there and fight the enemies yourself then. Doc can easily defeat those generals, right?”
“I’m sorry Milly,” Claire said sadly, “But to us, everyone up there is an enemy. Doc entering the fight would just result in both sides getting eaten. Out of respect for you, he’s going to wait until all your loved ones are dead before attacking.”
“Is that true Doc?” Milly gasped.
Doc said nothing, and his silence said everything.
“No,” Milly whispered, “Please, someone do something.” She turned to Rowen pleadingly, “Rowen, please. Help me.”
Rowen clenched his fists as a tear rolled down from his eye. “I can’t,” he said finally, “Doc’s power is preventing me from interfering.”
“I don’t accept this!” Milly screamed, her daggers flying up to surround her. The red glow of desire pulsated out from her body, filling the space between her and the daggers.
“Enough,” Doc’s booming voice echoed through the 26th floor. Instantly, Milly’s power vanished and the dagger dropped to the ground. Milly herself collapsed into unconsciousness at the sudden loss of power, caught by Rowen barely before she hit the ground.
“Will she be all right?” Rowen asked Claire.
Claire examined Milly thoroughly before nodding, “Yes, she’ll be fine. Doc just cut off her connection to the divine, resulting in her using up all her strength to power her spell. Her untrained body didn’t have enough mana, and so she fainted from mana exhaustion.”
Rowen turned his head up to the ceiling. “Is this really all right Doc?” he asked, “those traitor generals are the real enemy you know. If we save the townspeople, then they’ll be grateful to us.”
“I can’t take that risk,” Doc’s voice came down from the ceiling, “I’ve learned a lot since I helped fight the undead dungeon, both from Claire and my own experiences. Only a few adventurers are aware of my personal involvement during the invasion while the rest believe I was only fighting out of a territorial desire. If I attack selectively now, then I’ll have proven myself a sentient force to reckoned with. Adventurers associate safety with me because they believe I am not sentient. Once that changes, they’ll begin to fear me. What I am doing is for the good of dungeon.”
“But is it good?” Rowen questioned quietly as he laid Milly on the ground, “Can this really be the right thing to do? My human self is telling me to help, but my undead self is telling me to obey.”
“What Doc is doing is right,” Claire flew down to Rowen, “As the leader of this dungeon, he has to make the hard choices to preserve our way of life.”
“Adventurer should all go die,” The Twins spoke up from their sleeping postures. The two were the only monsters to feel nothing for the current situation.
“While they may have said it a little harshly, they are not wrong,” Claire continued, “To dungeon monsters and the dungeon, adventurers are only a source of food. If something comes to kill them, then we’ll fight the predators who steal our prey. However, we don’t care so long as there is food.”
“But by that logic, we are in danger!” Rowen argued, “The Empire is going to kill everyone in town!”
“From what I’ve heard, the Empire will soon move in to replace the people who die here,” Claire argued, “Even if the new people attempt to slay us, it is still within the natural course of nature. We will act accordingly.”
“And what if no one comes?” Rowen continued his argument, “What if the Empire leaves behind a barren land with nothing living? What will we do then?”
“We’ll adapt,” Claire said coolly, “I know it’s hard to understand with the human head of yours, but this is how things are. I agree with Doc’s actions and I’m proud of him for finally maturing enough to see the big picture.”
Rowen clenched his jaw, but said nothing else. Anadine slid up behind and embraced him into her gelatinous figure. Rowen finally let loose the tears he had been working so hard to keep in. The slime woman let the tears dissolve within her body, staring emotionlessly at Claire, who also had tears coming down her face.
“Is everyone inside?” Hilda asked Fred.
Fred nodded, “The last of the hunters has made it in. The trap has been set, so all that’s left is for to wait patiently. Either we’ll survive this, or we won’t.”
“Not the most glorious or inspiring manner of saying it,” Grecian grumbled as he appeared from behind Hilda, “but I suppose it’s well enough for the occasion. Princess, if you would kindly follow me to your sister.”
“Yes, thank-you Grecian,” Hilda smiled as she took his hand.
Fred watched the two disappear, and he let out the breath he had been holding. Slowly, he turned and took out a small object from his short pocket. Fred smiled softly at the precious picture, taken back when his wife was still alive. The magic image-taker showed a happier time, an image of a smile Fred and Milly, along with his wife.
He kissed the image before placing it back in his pocket, moving forward to rejoin the other towns-people in the mine.
“Sir Fred,” one of the men called out and saluted, “We’ve gather all the men with usable weapons to be the first line of defense. The few adventurers who joined Sir Orso are also here as well.”
Seven men and woman gave Fred a salute. Fred noted the color of their Adventurer IDs.
“You’re all rank F are you not?” he confirmed.
“That’s right sir,” the lead adventurer agreed. Her hand clenched her sword tightly, her eyes narrow with pain, “We were saved during the ambush by the actions of Fiora and the rest, but at the cost of their health. My fellows and I believed that they should have let us die, but at least we can use our lives for a noble end.”
“I don’t plan on dying here, and neither should you,” Fred barked at them, startling the adventurers, “Death is an ever-constant companion in this line of work, so why stress over this moment in your life? Whether you live or die today, always fight to stay alive in the hopes of a better tomorrow. Or have you not been learning from Master Mary’s lessons?”
“We have sir!” the adventurers cried out in unison.
“Good,” Fred smiled at them, “As long as we fight our best, we’ll make sure they pay for every step they take!”
“Oh, is that so?” a mocking voice echoed through the tunnels, freezing the defending warriors in place. Fred turned around and saw the generals walking toward them. The army and witches were not with them.
“How did you find us so quickly?” Fred asked quietly, readying his blade.
The eloquent general chuckled evilly, his body glowing in a dark, malevolent power like his fellows. “You fools believe that we were made generals so easily? We’ve read every report about this dungeon and know its every move. Creating a false trail leading to the mine section The Glob will be attacking soon? Very smart, but our enhanced powers allowed us to smell your true path.”
“Where’s your army?” Fred silently signaled for everyone to begin moving backwards.
“We need those warm bodies to forge a path to the dungeon core for us,” the eloquent general revealed, “Even we would be hard pressed to reach the core on our own; better to pave a bridge with someone’s corpse than your own after all. Besides, me and my fellows figure massacring you feeble weaklings would serve as a good warmup.”
“Lads and ladies, raise up your swords,” Fred commanded.
“Try not to die too quickly!” the general laughed as they charged the defenders.
“Fred,” Rowen cried as he watched the battle begin. At his request, Doc had changed a portion of the wall into a crystal surface to project the scenes of battle going on above them. Rowen, restrained by Doc’s authority, could do nothing but cry and make Milly’s unconscious form more comfortable.
He gave Claire another pleading look, but she did not meet his gaze.
“Doc, please let me help them,” Rowen pleaded again, “I can appear at the entrance of the mine and pretend and majicked my way through the army. I could say I figured out how to teleport. I could . . .”
“I’m sorry Rowen, but nothing works to explain your presence without a connection to me,” Doc finally answered, “the army and witches have set up a magic barrier at the entrance to my dungeon, preventing any reinforcements from entering. It’s very thorough, and even I cannot stop it without corrupting the land outside my dungeon. I would if I could, but a group of injured adventurers and church people have appeared outside the barrier. I cannot allow you to endanger your fellows or myself.”
“So, there’s nothing we can do,” Rowen slumped down onto the ground, watching as two miners were cut down and slaughtered by a laughing general.
“Your human feelings are what’s causing you pain,” Doc sighed from the ceiling, “and I can’t fault you for them. If this were happening back when I first came to life, I would too interfere for the sake of doing the right thing. I did that once, and that was how Anadine came into being. In my one year of existence, I’ve found that what’s right for someone may not be right for another. It’s all about perspective.”
“Then can you justify just watching this massacre, as right?” Anadine suddenly spoke up, her eyes watching the defenders getting pressed back to the other townsfolk.
“. . . It is right for us,” Doc said after a moment.
“That’s not righteousness, that is selfishness,” Anadine pointed out.
“And is that so wrong?” Doc muttered, “It is a leader’s duty to protect his own first before helping outsiders.”
“But are they truly outsiders?” Anadine continued, turning her gaze to look up at the ceiling, “In this one year of life for you, how many disasters and crisis’s have you faced together with these people? How many of your slimes have come into being into thanks to the actions and objects made by these people? Can you truly say you feel nothing at the prospect of their deaths?”
When Doc said nothing, Rowen and Claire looked up at the ceiling, a faint trace of hope on their faces.
“I . . . I feel . . .”
“Sir Fred, we can’t hold them!” an adventure screamed, right before being sent flying into the mine wall by a punch. The generals roared in laughed as the man coughed up blood and slid down the wall like a piece of meat.
Fred felt the rise of despair as he and the last of the defenders were forced back to the group of townspeople who were not prepared for combat. His sword arm trembled from the many blows he had exchanged with the enemy, his brow wet with his sweat and blood.
“You earn your former reputation Fred, former B-ranked adventurer,” the eloquent general mocked, “Too bad age has caught up to you, or maybe you would’ve put up more of an interesting fight. How about this; surrender now and we’ll ask the mistresses to bless you as they have us. You’ll be young and strong again, and your daughter will not be harmed.”
“If I did that, my dear Moira would never forgive me,” Fred grinned savagely, “I may be old, but I’ll take at least one of you with me!”
“You can try!” the eloquent general chuckled, and then punched his fist into Fred’s stomach. Even with his skill, Fred couldn’t stop the blow from sending him backwards onto his back, a shallow, fist sized hole bleeding out from his stomach.
Fred coughed, feeling the weakness spreading through his body. He opened his eyes weakly and could do naught but watch as the defenders were slowly worn down and knocked out of the fight. A few towns people lifted Fred up into a comfortable position. Someone poured a vial into Fred’s mouth, forcing a cool liquid into his body. Fred felt his strength returning, and his eyes focused on the face of Princess Shiva, who was crying profusely.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered down to him, “all I can do is keep you alive just to watch us all die.”
Fred smiled and wiped away her tears, “Now, now, don’t fear Mil, I mean Princess. It’s alright.”
Out of the corner of his eye, Fred saw Hilda pick up a fallen sword and move to stand in front of the cowering townspeople.
“Ha ha ha,” the generals laughed at her trembling figure. The eloquent general mimed wiping a tear from his eye, “Little princess, put down that sword. That’s a man’s weapon.”
“Men aren’t the only ones who can fight!” Hilda yelled, “my twin sister and mother were both strong warriors, and so am I!”
“Really?” the eloquent general grinned as another general slung his sword and cut Hilda’s sword in half. Hilda’s face broke down as she stared at the shattered sword in her hand. She fell to her knees and dropped the sword hilt.
“Be sure to greet you mother for us,” the eloquent general gloated, “I would have loved to taste of her flesh while she was still alive, but I’ll settle with eating her corpse once we dig it out.” Drawing his sword, the traitor general swung down at Hilda’s neck.
A blue flash, and the man found his sword against a hardened slime tentacle. He looked up in shock to meet the fierce gaze of Anadine.
“Hey, that’s my sister,” Anadine growled. Another tentacle burst forth from her chest and slammed into the man, sending him spinning into the air.
“For the crimes against the royal family, this town, and the dungeon,” Anadine announced, forming more tentacles, “I sentence you all to death!”