Phenoc Colony, Medea Island, Kalenic Sea
The Next Day
The sun dawned like always, though there was no brilliant sunrise to observe; the usually clear blue sky was obscured by thick cloud cover. The entrance to my dungeon was crowded with parties prepared to enter. Some temporary shelters had been constructed to keep the heat off, while the visiting Guilders waited for their turn.
Some of the local Guilders had been recruited to perform guard duty. They kept fights from breaking out, kept parties from 'jumping the line' and made sure no one could sneak in early.
I'd learned plenty about the guild from the people I've 'eaten' but the small things like this always seem overlooked. According to the Guild's charter there was a waiting period imposed between parties delving into dungeons. It was only an hour, but that apparently was enough time for most dungeons to get at least a few monsters in the way of the next invaders.
This rule came about because any sooner than that, and there would be complaints of more experienced parties clearing all the monsters, not leaving any for the rest of them. It's fascinating to me, since it implies that humans get something out of killing monsters just as monsters get something out of killing humans. Humans did seem to 'absorb' a monster's mana the same a monster would theirs, but the amount was tiny in comparison. Perhaps a fifth of the monster's mana was absorbed, while the rest returned to my dungeon.
They might only be able to absorb certain 'parts' of a monster, maybe parts that could be considered 'purer', where the rest was unusable. Either way, all the 'higher tier' Guilders I've observed so far have larger manacores. Likely from the sheer number of monsters they've killed.
The 'sunrise' was more a constant lightening of the cloud cover, though at some point an invisible line was crossed and the guards let the first party through. These men and woman were a well-mixed party, self-professed to be Silver ranked. Three close-combat specialists, two rogues, two combat mages and one healer. Every party had been given a hastily written primer on my dungeon that included what monsters to expect, their capabilities and a vague layout to expect. This party was no different in that respect.
They entered cautiously, obviously expecting a wave of crabs to rush them in an attempt to overwhelm and kill them all.
Well, I live to defy expectations.
They encountered around seven "squads" of crabs on their way through the dungeon. All but the last lacked the new breed of monster. Each fight was intense, the Crabs proving they weren't just trash mobs to be brushed aside. The party accumulated cuts and bruises, easily healed by their resident priest.
It was when they reached the fourth cavern that I had them confronted by two squads of Brawlers and Squires, and one single... Flamer? Eh. It kind of works, but doesn't quite feel right. I'd kept her hidden behind a rock formation while the human party engaged the crab squads. It was only when they were fully committed to the fight that I brought her out.
You see, the two normal squads came from the direction of the Boss Arena, acting as obvious obstacles. With the party having reason to suspect a trap or ambush, the Flamer came around from behind their back line and got within a dozen yards of their healer. Pointing both pincers at the man, she poured fire mana into the small chambers near the joint. The fire mana converted into a teal fire within these chambers and an expression of will forced a plume of flame to erupt from the barrel of each pincer.
I'd tested their range extensively over the night, which showed in the Flamer's stream of fire engulfing the healer. The very edges of the flames turning orange and dissipating just past the man. He screamed, of course, as a man on fire is expected to do. That distraction cost one man his arm, sliced off by the Squire he'd been dueling. A second swordsman had a couple of ribs broken by a Brawler. One of their rogues found his left achilleas' tendon sliced by a newly revealed Crabssassin.
With their healer on fire, two of their melee fighters with major wounds and a limping rogue, the second rogue panicked and grabbed his teleport crystal. The white flash prompted the rest of the party to grab for their own crystals, with the burning healer the last one to disappear. These guys were certainly prepared to run at the first sign of real resistance, weren't they? At least they're not suicidal or too overconfident.
I dispersed the Flamers I'd created last night, assigning one to every other squad. I also re-arranged the squads so that the further in a party managed to reach, the more crabs they would encounter at once.
The next party, also silver, fought their way all the way to the boss arena. Now forewarned of the Flamer and reminded of the Crabssassins, they were prepared and watchful. The Crab Knight was also ordered to 'go easy' on the party. Just difficult enough to push them; to challenge their skills. She was very accommodating, accepting of the limitations though not exactly understanding why.
Why. Isn't that the million dollar question.
The first floor, by virtue of being the first floor, was going to see the most traffic of any of my floors. Higher 'Ranked' parties would plow through them almost without trouble, as observed in Isid's party. I threw hundreds of Crabs at those five, and they just breezed through them. I got lucky in ambushing them on the second floor.
So, knowing that this would continue as long as people delved me, I had to plan.
Throwing a wave of monsters at every party who entered would take a huge amount of mana and attention to manage, for little potential gain. By sending squads at them on the first floor I could potentially lower their estimation of the difficulty now could have them slip up on the deeper floors. it also meant I could get a more accurate estimation on a party's overall strength and ability.
This particular party was somewhat strong, though they certainly struggled against the Crab Knight even if she wasn't using fire magic. They managed to down her in the end, though there were enough injuries and close calls that they decided to call it quits for this delve. They took the boss's core and filled a bottle with water, then teleported out.
The next group seemed a little more competent. Maybe they'll actually make it past the first floor? I make sure to up the number of monsters
Moving the majority of my attention away from the first floor, I focused on the excavation of my fifth. It was coming along nicely. Gull? Could you get me some fungus? Thanks, you're a good bird.
|AN: This novel Is free on RoyalRoad and Sufficient Velocity under the name StrangerDanger51. If you are reading this anywhere else, especially if you have to pay for it, know you can find this story there named "The Dungeon Without A System."|
Layla watched as the second group let into the dungeon appeared on the teleport pad. It wasn't sophisticated pad like the one at her grandfather's guild; more just a cleared out space with a redirection enchantment to catch anyone teleporting out of the dungeon.
"These ones seem to have fared better than the last" She commented to Felin. The two had set up under a marque near the pad to keep an eye on the proceedings and receive the after-action reports that everyone who delved from today onwards was expected to give. This wasn't explicitly something they had to do according to the guild's charter, but she could put entry conditions on the dungeon, as the local Guildmistress.
That promotion had come through. She wasn't very happy. She didn't feel like she'd earned the position. Though, it had worked out in her favor in this instance.
Most Guildmasters added one or two, normally minimum rank requirements. On dungeons where not much was known, like this one, it was almost expected a report condition would be added.
The six party members were each directed to sit down in front of a scribe, who took their reports and questioned them extensively. All in all, they seemed rather more put-together than the last group. Layla winced at her memory of the swordsman without an arm, and the healer who appeared from the teleport on fire.
She really wasn't surprised the dungeon had bred a fire-magic using monster. After her aunt Isid's report on the fish that harnessed lightning in underwater clouds on the second floor, she knew a monster that harnessed fire in some way would appear.
She turned to the medical pavilion, erected after that first party's return. A group of healers were working over the injured there. They should all be returned to full strength soon, though she was sure the memories would leave a deeper scar.
It was ten minutes later that the next Party was admitted entry and a half-dozen reports found their way to her hands. She read them quickly, skimming the earlier sections. Hmm. "The dungeon's done something weird again." She quietly commented to Felin, who grunted questioningly.
"After it tested its new monster against that first party, it spread them out through the dungeon. No wave attacks, which is the weird part. It seems to think the Silvers don't seem to merit the same response. It's... oddly reasonable, in that regard. They encountered just enough monsters to challenge them and, after fighting the Guardian, they made the right decision; to return immediately." Too many young Guilders lost themselves in the dreams of riches and fame, often leading them to make dumb decisions that got them killed.
"Conserving it's strength?" Felin asked, his rasping voice thoughtful. Layla turned the concept over in her head for a few seconds, worrying her lip.
"Possibly. Following that thought, the dungeon knows how many Guilders are out here and that they want to delve today, intent on killing it. Conserving your strength makes sense in that context." She turned to address Felin directly. "If you were going into a tournament and had to fight ten people in a row, you'd do your best not to overexert yourself, right?"
He nodded with a grunt, frown lines decorating his weathered forehead. Layla continued, more thinking out loud than anything else.
"So, it's defending against the weaker parties with the minimum number of monsters possible. Just enough to dissuade the Silvers from delving further. It knows there are Guilders who will carve though it's first floor like a scythe through wheat, as my Aunt and Uncle's party showed." Here, she started speculating a bit.
"If the next party comes back, only having finished the first floor, we know it's scaling it's difficulty to the strength of the party. That's the part which confuses me the most, and also shows the most intelligence out of all this. It could have just overwhelmed them with monsters at the start, killing them and ending a future threat before they could get strong enough to delve deeper. But it isn't doing that.
"It's letting them leave. Scarred and injured yes, but alive and mostly whole. For a Lost Dungeon, that just doesn't make sense. They're proven to be exponentially more lethal the deeper you go; more and more desperate in their defense with the intelligence to turn that desperation into lethality." She shook her head, nursing a growing headache at her left temple with her thumb.
"If it wasn't for the obvious architecture and runes we found, I would doubt we have a Lost dungeon on our hands." She concluded. Felin grunted.
"At least this job wont be boring," he said, eyeing the line of parties waiting their turn. Layla frowned at her friend, who was leaning back in his chair, completely relaxed. Glancing back down at the reports already scattered on her desk, she had an idea.
"It sounds like I'm not giving you enough work to do," she said, slyly. She collected the reports that had been spread across the desk and handed the pile of papers to him. "Here, take these back to the dungeon room. Oh! Could you bring me a drink when you come back? Something fruity. Thanks, Felin." She turned from his bewildered expression, desperately trying to keep a straight face.
He grunted, stood, and left. It was only when he had entered the guild building she let herself giggle. That look on his face!
As the sun set on an exceptionally long day, the last silver party teleported out of the dungeon after facing the Crab Knight. Out on the beach a party had broken out, and looked like it would rage well into the moonlit night. It was mostly the Silvers comparing kill counts and swapping stories, though there were a few Golds in there listening in for anything that would give them an edge tomorrow. It may seem macabre at first, but they certainly had a reason to party.
Only a couple of them had died, in the end.
It was certainly tempting to kill more of them; My instincts were screaming at me to kill them all through the day. I mean, it would have been the quick and dirty solution, but not the best one. Just killing everyone who entered would likely end in some super powerful Guilders being called in to deal with the impossibly difficult dungeon.
Yes, these ones wanted to kill me too, but they weren't yet up to the challenge. Killing too many of them too quickly would likely dissuade the weaker guilders, but then I'd end up dealing with Gold or Platinum guilders exclusively.
Lower tier guilders will take up an hourly time-slot and are unlikely to pass the first or second floor. That will prevent parties who could penetrate farther from delving more often. Overall safer, in the end. With more breathing time between the delves of tougher guilders.
As the beach party raged on, I was also listening in to a dozen conversations through my little rat and seagull spies.
The general attitude of the Gold and Platinum parties was that the Silvers weren't trying hard enough. They thought that because of the dozen Silver ranked parties had delved me yesterday, not one made the risky decision to delve further than the first floor boss. They listened as the Silvers recounted my monsters weaknesses and tactics they found that worked, forming their own strategies with that information.
I already knew the Golds would be able to pass through my first floor mostly without trouble. There was just a qualifiable difference between Silvers and Golds.
Silvers were tougher than normal humans, that's for sure. Stronger, faster... but it wasn't much stronger. Not much faster. I'd call them peak human, or just past that. Golds were in superhuman territory, reacting quicker, lifting more than their muscles should allow them, swinging with more explosive speed and momentum.
If Golds were low-superhuman, Platinums were high-superhuman. They were Golds dialed up to seven at minimum, ten at the highest.
A Copper Rank does exist; they're Guilders who haven't started training, just started training, or are unaware of their potential.
The memories I'd gained were unclear on the rank beyond Platinum. They all agreed that it existed, but they must be vanishingly rare.
I'd be using the Wave strategy tomorrow. Not because I thought it would work, but because it would hopefully drain their mana and potions supplies enough that after exploring the second floor they would give up to return another day.
All through the night, my dungeon prepared.
The Crabs welcomed new members to their community, praising my name and re-devoting themselves to my defense.
The Fish fought amongst themselves. Turns out they can eat each other and gain 'experience' the same way they would if they'd killed a human. It was vastly less, but noticeable.
The Kobolds formed a third Village, this one headed by the first Shaman who could harness Lightning mana.
The Rats did as the fish did. Collectively and independently judging that the strong would survive. The weak would be food for the strong.
The Fifth floor expanded deeper under the island.