“We’re here,” Saros whispered, his voice almost lost in the howling winds.
He beheld the ruined castle protruding from the base of a towering mountain. Its decrepit walls still stood tall, even if the watchtowers had eroded with time. A large archway led into the former Dungeon, its gates having been broken through a thousand years ago.
This was the Fallen Wyvern’s Keep. The rest of its structure was submerged into the mountain itself— an ancient dwarven structure from a time long ago. Now, most dwarven cities were above ground, especially after conquering most of Alius and taking hold of regular cities. But at one point in history, dwarves mostly lived in mountains and caves, battling with ogres and trolls to defend their territory.
And after their successful conquest of Alius, when they had sailed across the continents to their closest neighbor— to Laxo— they had tried to establish a foothold in the mountains to expand their territories overseas. But they failed miserably, learning that there was a reason why humans needed the Adventurer’s Guild. After all, unlike Alius which saw monsters as hardly a threat to day-to-day life, this continent was teeming with monsters.
This former Dungeon was one such lesson. It had been called Fort Heim once. A stronghold that could repel an army of a hundred thousand. But a large flock of wyverns had found this mountain castle and tore through its defenses like it was nothing. It had been a complete massacre.
Those creatures of calamity proceeded to nestle here for a few decades before migrating elsewhere, leaving the ruins to fester into a Dungeon over the next few centuries. But now, a decade ago, an expedition of adventurers had ventured into this ruined castle and liberated it together.
The Fallen Wyvern’s Keep was then classified as a former Dungeon. Supposedly harmless. At least, unless enough excess mana gathered in the area once again to revitalize its threat to nearby cities. Saros didn’t think that would happen any time soon, but he saw the fresh tracks in the snow right before the gates, and he knew that it was a Dungeon once more.
Shaking his head, he turned to face the two women accompanying him. “We need to be careful. Whatever has taken up residence here is dangerous—” he started.
But Amelia just spoke over him, crossing her arms. “I knew you were getting us lost. Again.” She faced Noele who shrank back nervously. “It’s a good thing we ran into Saros or we’d have been searching this mountain range for the next six hours.”
“Look— I was just following the map!” the blonde girl protested, throwing her hands into the air. “And it wouldn’t have taken that long. We were heading in the right direction, but the map was just wrong about the exact location.”
“Maybe you should’ve gotten a better map—”
Saros wobbled as he watched them argue. The two continued bickering, and he nearly fell off his feet. He gritted his teeth.
“How was I supposed to know the map was wrong?”
“We could’ve checked with the Adventurer’s Guild like I said—”
“That’s enough,” the gnome said, cutting them both off.
They turned to him, blinking. Well, only Noele turned to him. Amelia just raised her head slightly as he harrumphed.
“If you two aren’t going to take this seriously, then I’ll go into the Dungeon on my own. This is an A-rank mission.” He eyed Amelia as she just stared at him. “Even if you are an S-rank adventurer, you should treat this job no differently than one of your own. Otherwise… someone will get killed.”
He spoke in a low voice, and she blinked. For a second, she said nothing, her gaze shadowing over. Then she raised her hand, pointing at the gnome.
“Sorry, it’s a bit hard to take you seriously when you’re on Noele’s shoulder.”
Saros paused. He stared down at himself, standing on the blonde girl’s right shoulder as she held him to give him support. She had picked him up and carried him because he kept falling over while trudging through the tall snow, much to his chagrin.
The gnome flushed and hopped off. He landed on the stone ground, turning away to hide his crimson face. “I am here on a job, even if you two are treating this like some sort of midnight outing.”
Noele pursed her lips as she watched him go. She clenched a fist for a moment, before sighing.
“I am treating this very seriously, Saros,” the blonde girl said as she held his gaze. “Amelia’s just… helping me keep my nerves.”
Saros frowned. He narrowed his eyes at Amelia. But she just shrugged in response. The gnome shook his head and started forward as he grunted.
“Just stop fooling around. I don’t want to get killed by the army of undead hiding in this damn Dungeon because you two are supposed to watch my back but were caught lacking…”
The three adventurers slowly entered the gates of the ruined castle. Saros swept his gaze over the entrance, seeing piles of bones and rusty weapons lying scattered right by the corridor leading further into the mountain.
Did the yeti get them too? he wondered, then shook his head.
Now wasn’t the time to think about that. He could sense the mana permeating the air. His heart began to race in his chest as he clutched his Bag of Holding for his artifacts and tools. He produced his dagger— then shook his head. It wouldn’t work, that accursed thing.
Instead, he pulled out a small scroll. He held it at the ready as they entered the tunnel, pushing further into the Fallen Wyvern’s Keep, ready for any traps that could be within.
This was going to be dangerous.
The Dungeon was completely empty.
There was nothing here. We had gone down three floors now, and all we found were skeleton bones and rusty weapons. There were no traps, nor were there an army of undead like Saros insisted there was. Certainly, there was no danger here at the moment. There were only two more floors to investigate.
The bottommost floor to the dungeon was where the wyvern skull lay. It was also where Noele’s parents’ destination. I could tell the blonde girl was starting to get antsy again since she saw no signs of either her mother or father left behind here.
I couldn’t lie and say I wasn’t getting a little bit concerned for the blonde girl. Even though we had left as soon as we could, according to the report from the Northon Adventurer’s Guild, her parents had been missing for at least a week before they finally sent out a request. And when their adventurers failed to reach the Fallen Wyvern’s Keep, they bumped up the quest to an A-rank job and sent out the open request across the Astrad Kingdom just a day ago.
So we were late. We were very late. We would have been late even if we had gotten here the very second we heard the news. We would have been late even if we had gotten here yesterday.
I was already mentally preparing myself to have to comfort Noele if the worst came to worst. But right as we went down another flight of stairs and reached the fourth floor, we found something.
“What is this?” I blinked as I stared at a large open room, unlike the other floors so far.
“This is… a lair,” Saros said as his brows snapped together. “Be careful— you don’t want to activate any traps.”
I eyed him with a sidelong glance. “...weren’t we already doing that?”
He harrumphed and didn’t respond. He just marched forward, clearly annoyed. He began investigating the lair as Noele pursed her lips.
“I think you made him mad, Amelia.”
“I think he was mad at me from the very beginning, Noele,” I said dryly. “Maybe he wanted to be killed by that yeti and that pissed him off.”
“...that’s true.” The blonde girl sighed. But she proceeded to give me a pleading look. “Let’s just try not to antagonize him any further.”
“Sure,” I acquiesced.
I was more than willing to play nice with the gnome. But I was fairly certain I wasn’t the only one who was upsetting him…
These damn humans… Saros gritted his teeth. He was getting tired of them— the both of them. First they came and tried to take a job he had accepted, then now they were treating this Dungeon like it was a joke.
His slightly pointed ears twitched as he heard their casual conversation behind him. The gnome didn’t have elf ears— but they were still longer than a human’s who had oddly-shaped round ears. Still, even if he didn’t have any enhanced sense of hearing like elves did, he could hear Amelia and Noele chat casually loud and clear.
“Why didn’t you kill that yeti, anyway?”
“Because it wasn’t trying to kill us. It was scared and trying to chase us away. So I just chased it away instead.”
Saros wandered around the large chamber. The entirety of the fourth floor seemed to have been cleared out— including all rooms, with their walls removed— to create a square hall that stretched a hundred feet in all directions. There were long tables set up towards the center of the room, with documents and books haphazardly scattered around.
It was quite obvious what this lair had belonged to, especially when considering those skeletons propped up in stands at the corner of the room. The Gnome Inventor’s hunch was right.
Neither Amelia nor Noele visibly reacted to his comment, which mildly irked him. But he had already decided he would ignore them entirely. If they fucked up, he would leave them behind. Because he knew they would somehow screw things up and he wasn’t going to deal with whatever mess they caused.
Saros came to a halt at the desk, eyes glazing over a piece of rotting flesh. He furrowed his brows when he caught sight of a glowing tome lying beneath a few sheets of paper. He shifted the documents aside and stared.
“A necronomicon,” he whispered.
His hands hovered over the magical tome, brimming with power. While the Gnome Inventor wasn’t a [Necromancer] himself, he had often found that he could often scavenge quite a bit of material out of artifacts or the like used by [Necromancers]. His lips curled up as he reached for the tome.
“Did you find something, Saros?” Noele called out to him. She approached him from behind as Amelia waited by the stairway leading further down into the Dungeon.
Saros shifted back. “Nothing!”
He wasn’t going to let either humans see this. He had read the title of the tome. He saw the power it radiated. It was the The Unholy Scripture of the First Lich King. If they caught a glimpse of it, one of them was going to somehow rip out a page or something.
He tried to quickly hide the tome. He grabbed it, trying to stuff it into his Bag of Holding. But the moment he moved the necronomicon, the ground shifted.
Noele blinked. Saros glanced down to see a glowing circle flashed around the table. It enveloped both himself and the blonde girl only. Amelia raised her head, narrowing her eyes.
But an instant later, the rest of the room flashed. Everything outside of the circle vanished. Saros watched as the room was cleared in an instant. He tried to process what just happened, but he heard a rattling coming from both stairways leading up and down to the rest of the Dungeon.
Noele just stared with wide eyes as her mentor vanished in the blink of an eye. She spun around, looking at the gnome in shock.
“What did you do?”
Saros tried to work his jaw. He heard the clamoring draw closer. The echo of footfalls rushing their way. And he just sighed.
“I-I… I think I was the one who fucked up.”
A moment after that, a horde of undead rushed into the chamber, charging for the two remaining figures there.
I had sensed the magic going off— I was just about to grab Noele to get her out of there, but I realized that it was a protection spell that had briefly flickered around her, not a dangerous trap. And that confused me long enough to be caught in the radius of the teleportation field.
When I blinked, I found myself in another room. No… not a room. I was standing in the middle of a long passageway, surrounded by a thin layer of mist. I narrowed my eyes as I looked around at the ancient walls covered in moss. I saw the runic inscriptions carved into the stone, glowing softly in the dark.
I felt the ground shifting beneath me. As if the floor itself was moving. The walls changed around me, and a set of brand new passages opened at my side. It happened mechanically— like the turning of the gears inside a clocktower. And the runes vanished when the passageway settled down.
“This is going to be a bit annoying…” I muttered.
Because I wasn’t just trapped in some room. I was trapped in a labyrinth.
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