I was earning a shit-ton of Dungeon Mana per day, give or take a couple hundred points. 2,704 from the Dungeon, then a whopping 4,405 from the five hundred maple trees above. The fruit trees hadn't yet grown to adulthood because I was spreading the Mana around when the humans showed up on the surface. I didn't want to leave fruit hanging on the branches in case people actually reached the second floor. If people could take a hint and leave me alone, I wasn't pressed for time.
This party was composed of five men and one teenage girl. They looked stronger than the party that came before, the Timberwolves as they had just called them. Better prepared, too. And by what I overheard them talking, they were here after me. But they would only find death and maple syrup in here, in this exact order.
Part of me wanted to dissuade them from coming inside but I doubted it would work. I didn't want to let them know I could understand their speech. Let them talk, and grab some nuggets of information.
"This shaft goes down deeper than my senses can reach. John, can you help?"
Their archer-ranger reached the edge and shut his eyes. With a shout, he opened them wide, "Eagle Eyes!" The mage helped John brace as he stared down the shaft. "I see... It's a mile straight down. Then... green? There's something... moss? It has green blades like tiny daggers poking out of the ground. and... BY THE PATRIARCH'S GRACE!"
John walked away from the edge. He was hyperventilating.
"What did you see? Speak, man!"
"Trees. Trees with red leaves, tall as five men on top of each one's shoulders in neat rows. There are hundreds, no, thousands of them down there! Some are small but..." A tear ran down the man's face.
"Bullshit!" The goth rogue girl snickered.
"I swear by the Patriarch." John rebutted with the most serious voice he ever made. "It is just like in the paintings."
Wait, what? Are you shitting me that these people have never seen a real tree? How fucked up the world out there is?
"If that was real, it would be paradise. Trees give fruit, right?" The girl disbelieved.
"The artifact stolen from Lord Marshall was in the shape of a fruit. It is probably what is powering the bounty below," the knight declared.
"How are we climbing down?" the priest asked. "I don't see any way to go down except falling."
"We don't have a mile of rope either," the girl bemoaned.
"I'm going to cast a spell," the mage declared. "And confirm if there are trees down there or not. "Magic Eye!"
I sensed when it entered my Domain. A magical construct in the shape of an eye, invisible to normal sight. I started draining the Mana out of it once it was out of the combined auras of the people above.
"Something is resisting my magic. It's draining my MP. I'm cutting it down." The spell winked out. He sighed in relief. "Sorry, guys. I would run out of MP before the eye reached the bottom."
"Can't you fly us down there?" the goth girl teased the mage.
"Yes, I can. You know I do." He replied, annoyed. The girl snickered and grinned.
"I can see some faults in the stone below," the ranger commented. "I think they might be traps. My Danger Sense is tingling."
Did Spiderman comics survive? Or just oral tradition?
The men all looked at the girl. "Fine, I'll check." She went to the edge and used her magic. "Find traps!" She jumped back. "Bloody hell! There are hundreds, maybe thousands of traps in this shaft."
about 16,000 traps, to be precise. It took me a lot of time and Mana to install all of them, thank you. Now please go away or die.
"Everyone gather around," the mage said. "I need to make the levitating platform as tight as possible."
They joined for a group hug, then the mage created a plane of Force energy underneath them. He levitated his party to the middle of the shaft, then started to descend. I let the SPLINTER traps fire. Boing, boing, boing, the volleys of darts flew at them, one after another, a cacophony of springs going out and darts flying about. The first surprise darts struck them but didn't do much damage. Their clothes and armor seemed to be enchanted for protection.
Then the knight surprised me. "Holy Bulwark!" And earned an upgrade to a paladin.
A ring of golden energy surrounded them, with glyphs and runes woven around in two bands in the middle, slowly spinning in opposite directions. The SPLINTER darts bounced harmlessly on them. I had set a rule to absorb anything that came 3/4 down the shaft and the darts vanished as intended.
These guys were trouble. At least the disk moved slowly, at a walking pace. It would take them a lot of time to cross a mile. More than enough for my next move. When they reached a quarter mile away from the mouth of the shaft, I acted. A Domain Beacon shone straight up starting from the mouth of the shaft. 1,520 feet above ground level, 4,000 points of Substance and about two hundred DM transmuted into a ball of steel eighteen feet in diameter seven seconds later.
Then I sang to myself, "I came in like a wrecking ball / Left me crashing in a blazing fall..."
Darts kept poking and probing the golden barrier for any weakness. They found none but each attack sapped some of the paladin's power. More importantly, kept their attention away from straight above.
"Danger Sense tingling!" The ranger shouted as he popped his ears. "Where?"
"More traps? Lidia?"
"They're everywhere! We are going down the maw of a beast! We're gonna die!" Lidia sobbed.
"Keep still! I have to keep the disk balanced!" The mage complained.
"Above!" The ranger shouted.
Air pressure increased drastically inside the Dungeon as the ball of steel plugged the shaft. Air rushed down the gaps between the ball and the wall. If not for this cushioning effect that was warming up the ball, it would've crashed against the adventurers at three hundred miles per hour after fourteen seconds from its creation.
By the time the ranger gave his warning, they didn't have time to use any Perk or Skill. The six of them were turned into a red paste by the ball, like bugs against a Kentucky trucker's windshield going at 135 mph.
> For killing level 67 ranger, you gained 16,000 Experience points. You gained 230 DM points.
> For killing level 65 priest, you gained 16,000 Experience points. You gained 330 DM points.
> For killing level 68 mage, you gained 16,000 Experience points. You gained 430 DM points.
> For killing level 62 paladin, you gained 16,000 Experience points. You gained 180 DM points.
> For killing level 61 warrior, you gained 16,000 Experience points. You gained 100 DM points.
> For killing level 52 rogue, you gained 2,152 Experience points. You gained 90 DM points.
> Your training and knowledge improved your Implements of Demise to rank VI.
> Rank VI benefits: AOE effects from weapons you built and used are up to 5% wider per rank.
> You gained 11 levels. You gained +110 Intelligence, +66 Wisdom, +88 Will, +55 Clarity, and +77 Hardness. You have 110 Attribute Points.
> You learned the DM to SP Conversion Trait. You can convert 10 DM into 4 SP or 10 SP into 4 DM.
> You learned the Green Energy Perk. Regenerate 0.5% of your maximum MP every hour for each tree at most sqrt(Wisdom) feet away from you.
> You learned the Major levitation Perk. You may levitate yourself and up to 50lb of matter at any height. No vertical movement is allowed.
> You learned the Flight Perk. You may fly at a speed of 10ft per second, levitating up to 100lb of matter after you. Fine manipulation of this levitated matter is impossible.
> Minor Levitation and Major levitation have been converted into Attribute efficiency. Select an Attribute to increase its efficiency by 10%.
> You learned the Demiplane Collapse Trait. You may collapse your whole Dungeon or just a portion of it into a demiplane. A permanent portal will be left behind at the entrance to that section and at the point where the collapse happened. DM generation remains unchanged. The Demiplane cost 20,000 DM per day to maintain. Failure to maintain dumps all matter inside the demiplane out through the portal at once. Inside your Demiplane, Dungeon walls are truly invulnerable but you must keep a path from the portal to your Core at all times.
> You learned the Omae wa mou Shindeiru Perk. After you deliver lethal damage, you may choose to delay death by up to a minute, to let your enemy say their last thoughts. All of their System abilities will be locked and the target cannot receive any healing. This is a minor compulsion effect. If the enemy fails a Willpower check, they will reveal major information before dying.
> You learned the Animate Weapon Perk. You may wield a weapon you crafted telekinetically. Replace Strength with Willpower, Dexterity with Wisdom, and Agility with Intelligence
> You learned the Gnu's Not Unix Perk. When you use your Daydreaming power, you may receive one FOSS software package instead of insight.
> You learned the Knuth Check Perk. Finding and fixing unintentional bugs in your software now grants 8 Experience points per bug.
> You have a new Sub-Class Slot.
Bloody hell. I broke the leveling system and hit some sort of maximum Exp cap per kill . No, no time for gawking!
I immediately started absorbing the ball. At the same time, it required to appear later, it was gone, leaving only the adventurer's corpses to splatter on the grass and create a mini-crater. Absorbing them granted me almost the same amount of DM as the kills. I channeled the excess DM into the trees as it came, using them as a kind of Mana batteries. Then I fixed the grass.
Boosting my Attributes by more than half gave me a massive headache. Get off my back, I can still feel the ache even without a head... or a brain. I almost passed out.
About my free points, I spent 36 on Hardness, boosting my Armor rating to 36. 21 points of mitigation should make me immune to most normal weapons. Now that I had resource regeneration and a lot of contested checks to make if I was invaded, Willpower became very important. More willpower, more Mana per day. I wasn't hurting on the other Attributes so I put 50 points in there. The remaining 24 went to Wisdom. Wisdom meant a bigger Domain Beacon, and also a faster Materialization speed. It would be important if I tried to do the wrecking ball stunt again.
No way in hell they would leave me alone. If my modest mousetrap at the bottom of a landfill drew attention, I might as well put a searchlight on top of the shaft.
I accelerated the construction of the third floor. I also solved the issue of accessing other floors. I just added a ramp going across one of the sides, ascending at a comfortable slope of sixteen degrees. When not in use, this ramp would be closed off. I needed to leave a path to my Core but only one of the sides would be exposed at any time.
But visiting the maple floor would be a huge problem later on. I doubt people would stop getting themselves killed in my Dungeon anytime soon. No matter how good the Exp they gave was, I didn't want to incentivize them.
I spent my time nurturing the maples so they started repaying the mana I spent on them. Each maple needed 200 days to repay its debt. Every now and then, I cast a beacon scanning the land around the shaft, seeing if they'd sent someone else. But it would take the party who came here days to investigate and return. If the Timberwolves' disappearance was any hint, I had about a month.
I spent only one week growing the maples, then withdrew. I needed to plan the maze leading to the third floor.
What I came up with was even more annoying than a maze. A narrow pit fifteen inches wide went straight down for three hundred feet. From there, three claustrophobic tunnels gave access to another pit going up. Delvers would need to go up and down about three hundred times to reach the exit and access the third floor. This maze of pits was even better for my Dungeon Mana generation. Though the narrow shafts and tunnels gave only one DM for every fifty feet instead of thirty, I still got 2,400 Dungeon Mana per day from them alone.
Fifteen inches was two more than the average shoulder width for humans before the Apocalypse. People can cross that just fine!
The third floor was more of the same. I didn't have any need for a specific tree so I had another 3,300 maple trees to nurture. The boost from the dead Adventurers helped a fucking lot. My MP regeneration doubled, allowing me to also nurture twice as many trees per day.
But before I could finish growing the trees, people showed up. And not just a handful or a dozen. A whole army.
They brought soldiers, support staff, and wagons pulled by beasts of burden that only resembled horses and oxen en passant. They had the wrong proportions and looked... emaciated. In fact, everyone was on the wrong side of being well-nourished.
Some mages approached my shaft but didn't even set foot on the stone. They cast spells, and sent probes down my shaft, I ate them and converted the Mana into more trees, then they gave up and erected a magical ward around the shaft. It didn't block my Mana absorption so I let them keep it there. The ward blocked my beacon, though.
During the next few days, I kept growing maples on the third floor while they set up camp. They cleared the debris using strong people who could shovel a half-ton at once, mages who could levitate debris into carts, and other mages who could shape the concrete to make walls and houses. I also suspected some of the soldiers went around clearing the Infernali that had moved in during the last few months.
The guy in a gold and silver plate armor ornate with eagle wings and fancy military knickknacks like those shoulder brushes and tassels came with some aide-de-camp and the mages.
"Is this the Dungeon?"
"Yes, my Liege," the mage said. "We are positive the Mana signal is coming from here. The amount of Mana being drawn in from the atmosphere is staggering."
"What do you think happened here?"
"The artifact they stole from you must've awakened and created this. We believe the artifact is deep below."
"I meant how did the Silver Sabers die?"
"We glimpsed their final moments. They died crushed by a steel ball that came from above. We know little more, sire. Our attempts at scrying inside this Dungeon have failed so far. The Dungeon is strong."
"I need that artifact. Prepare to send the slaves."
Slave. The word chilled my crystalline apple core core.
What followed next was blood-curling. Adventurers down on their luck and criminals, in chains, were brought to the edge of the shaft, given some basic equipment like leather armor and swords, and told to get down into the shaft. They were obviously using them as sacrifices, aiming at gaining knowledge about me to invade later with more able troops.
Once again I had mixed feelings about killing these people. On one hand, they were invading me, and killing them was probably an act of mercy by some people's account but they were also being forced and threatened to do so. Their auras were so weak they couldn't be above level twenty.
I had more Dungeon Mana and Substance than I knew what to do with. And these people deserved a new life. One free of oppression. I would be a hypocrite if I wished that only for myself. I also had a mile of opportunities, quite literally, to do something about them.
So I did. I first created steps going down the shaft, four feet long. these steps descend for a couple hundred feet and then opened to a side tunnel. I dug furiously, converting the stone into Dungeon walls, and then branched out into four rooms of fifty by fifty feet. A layer of soil, grass. I planted berry bushes in them but wasn't close enough to cast Plant Growth on them. If I could cast it through my Domain, they would have berries to feed themselves with. But all I could do was add some good herbs like mint, lettuce, cabbage, parsley, tarragon, cilantro, and thyme, among others. Flax for clothes, a faux stream with pebbles so they had fresh water, and some water flow to keep it fresh. I had no problem with them defecating everywhere, I could just recycle the shit. They would grow three times as fast and I could add more anytime they needed. The ceiling stone glowed and I finally spent a slot programming the whole Dungeon to follow the day and night cycle of the surface.
Oh, I also disabled the traps. I'd almost wasted all my rescue effort there.
The slaves walked in a line, climbing down the steps carefully, hugging the shaft wall, and probing each stone slab in front of them as if it would retract and cause them to fall. Which was a pretty neat idea for later. If I use hinges and pins... But I digress.
While they slowly climbed, I replicated the four-room pattern five more times, creating six such side branches. They gave me a trickle of Dungeon Mana which was lost in the ocean of Mana I was happily drowning in. Trees are great, I forgive you, weird System bug-eyed Grey aliens.
The first slave reached the end of the steps and the only way forward was down the tunnel. he walked in. The person next to him did the same. I noticed all the slaves were males. What happened to the women in this world? I had no idea, like many other mysteries.
Soon, I had fifty people inside my rooms, devouring the leafy greens and even the grass blades before they had a chance to properly grow. Some threw themselves in the stream, savoring the water like desperate desert travelers. Most had the same reaction as the ranger when he saw the trees. The mental image I had of the world outside was of Mad Max deserts everywhere.
The people above stared with scowls at the tunnel mouth, mumbling something about losing a bet about how many of them would fall from the stairs. Unbelievable.
I retracted the steps and rearmed the traps except those aimed at the mouth of the tunnel with people. Now I needed to have a little chat with my new guests. It was past the time I had some answers about this world.
|Name:||Skip May Neming||Species:||Dungeon Core / Plant (Apple)|
|Level:||51||Exp/ Level:||257 / 8,000|
|Main Class:||Electronic Apple Orchard (L)|
|Sub-Classes:||Architect of Destruction (V)||Computer Engineer (E)||Open sub-Class slot|
|Attributes||Base Score||Efficiency||Modified Score|
|MP (Cl)||180||64||1616 (2131/day)|
|Armor sqrt(Hd):||36||---||(21 / 75%)|
|Traits||Puzzle Dungeon||Dungeon Automation||Replicate Electronics|
|Sanctuary Orchard||Dungeon Domain||Rock Hard|
|Algorithm Encyclopedia||Spawn Explosives||DM to SP Conversion|
|Skills||Engineering V||Implements of Demise IV||Computer Sciences I|
|Plant Sorcery I|
|Grimoire||Plant Growth||Empty Spell Slot|
|Perks||Flight||Telekinetic Button Pusher||Domain Beacon|
|Sturdy Domain||Extra Crystallization||Tough Capacitor||Hardened Device Casing|
|Speak Binary||Green Thumb||Rapid Growth||Pesticide Aura|
|Orchard Mana||Ambient Light||Peace of the Forest||Shield Plants|
|Plant Shield||Pacifying Grass||Green Energy|
|Glistening Blades||Chink in Armor||Wind-Gliding Bullet||"Oops, I was in range"|
|Mad Volley||Premeditated Murder||Omae wa mou Shindeiru||Animate Weapon|
|Keyboard Basher||Debug Console||Insulated Circuits||Silicon Sense|
|Third Fork||Coffee in, Code out||Gnu's Not Unix||Knuth Check (8 Exp)|
 MDW: When I drafted this thing, I didn't have the Exp table in hand. I saw the real numbers and panicked (it would be 26 levels in one shot). Then I spent an hour thinking of a solution and bam. An Exp cap to prevent abuse (like having a level 0 teen kill a level 100 Common Class prisoner to skyrocket in levels - possibly gaining more than 100 in the process). My Exp formula works for levels close to one another, but breaks with large differences. If anyone is curious, the 4 Exp Skip gained from the tree was also unexpected. It happens because of a recursive rounding function in the formula. That's LitRPG design for you.
Bio: The author would like to reinforce for the umpteenth time that the characters' opinions are their own, may be intentionally wrong, do not reflect my (MDW's) personal viewpoints neither are included in this work to further any political agenda (I don't even live in the same hemisphere or country as you, whichever those are. I'm writing from the Earth-Sun L3 point for all I care). My works serve no purpose other than to tell stories with conflicting viewpoints. Use of the reader's critical sense is highly advised.