Lord Marshall stood on the roof of his palace. The day started with the rumbling of thunder in the distance beyond the horizon and now it felt like a wrathful God had descended upon the Earth and laid its punishment upon the Infernali.
To the east, the rising sun became obfuscated by a plume of dark smoke that clouded everything. A wall of black fog that was ominous and scary. Even someone as high level as he couldn't help but be a little afraid of what was happening there.
He knew what it was, obviously. He received an early warning and he instructed his guards and police force to keep the peace. The city was crowded with refugees and unrest from the old inhabitants was reaching a peak. They had two months before Jabberwock reached their city and they were drowned in monsters.
What was happening there, far to the east, was something that should give them hope. Each peal of thunder, each tremor that shook the land should be a sign that Infernali were dying by the thousands. By the tens of thousands.
Marshall knew that. And it made him afraid not because the thunder and tremors and the smoke were ominous. Because he knew what it was, obviously. He received an early warning. The Dungeon was the source of all that destruction. He remembered the conversation they had in the mirror box. Tower, considering how high the Dungeon rose those mirrors.
The Dungeon said it could've killed Marshall at any point, it only hadn't done so because of the civilians he had brought with him. Staring at the clouds of dark smoke and soot that were forming and casting a long shadow on the horizon, he believed it wasn't even a threat. That statement told so many things. One, that the Dungeon, of all things under the stars, knew and exercised compassion. Two, that Marshall was way over his head when he tried to seize the Dungeon Core.
He should consider himself fortunate he only got nineteen people killed by the Dungeon. Twenty-four if you count the first party of Adventurers that came here tracking the Dungeon Core but he wasn't sure if it was the Dungeon who killed them. They were level forty and this was a level fifty area before everything started. It was inconsequential. The Dungeon might save two hundred thousand people from a fate that was borderline better than death.
Fleeing the Jabberwock was a chore that never ended. Even now, he felt the pain of seventeen years ago. They sacrificed so much, yet they only bought seventeen years.
The earth shook again. Even stabilized by the Dungeon below, he still felt it. Thunder roared and cracked. The only lull in the cacophony of destruction was the shifting winds that accelerated or delayed the sound, creating the impression of a pause. The Sun was almost rising from behind the dust cloud. Marshall looked at his timepiece, a relic from the world before the Apocalypse. One hour to noon. The impression of a pause, indeed. The Dungeon had been going at it since before dawn.
How many levels was the Dungeon gaining? How powerful would the Dungeon be when it returned?
People who gained levels too fast became stunted. The Laborer whom he had to execute after the horde was one such example. But did Dungeons level like people? He tried to remember. Did the Dungeon mention levels and Classes? It mentioned Perks, he was sure. No. It had a Class and Sub-Classes. He remembered how the pause between sentences was longer when he mentioned yesterday that the Dungeon should spend the sub-Class slots as they gained them, to avoid having them discarded by the System.
Still, it was stunted growth. Seldom did the person picking a sub-Class on the run select the optimal choice. Unless they had planned their evolution, which most didn't. It was a skill that had to be taught to every noble scion.
The Dungeon was huge. It extended twelve miles from the pit that named this City in all directions, and at least three miles down. More than two hundred people lived in the underground. If the Dungeon hadn't lied, they were as happy as they could be. Some of them were even swapping their Classes, eating good meat every day, and gaining levels from the animals the Dungeon could create.
Animals, not monsters. The Dungeon never mentioned the ability to spawn monsters. Even during their treaty negotiation, it stressed it couldn't supply monsters for the training grounds. He looked at the huge box of stone that was a landmark on the city skyline. That box made Marshall a rich man. And the Dungeon asked for books. Another anomaly.
But the Dungeon was once a man in the world before the Apocalypse. What wonders did that person see, Marshall mused. Cars, airplanes, jungles. Places where millions of people lived and didn't have to worry about their souls being ripped off of their bodies by the Infernali. Computers. Strange machines that could create wonders Marshall only knew of en passant.
So much was lost. Marshall reached into his bag of holding and withdrew a pear. He bit into the fruit's flesh, savoring the juices and the sweetness. He could sense the thick mana in the fruit. The Dungeon Core resembled a fruit. The Dungeon Core piloted a robot. They called it a "Mecha". A mechanical man. One who could fight like a level 100 warrior. And the Dungeon mentioned it had only recently created it. That they were learning to pilot it.
How was all that connected? What other wonders would the Dungeon show Marshall, if he stayed by their side? Something flashed in the corner of his vision and he stared at the east.
The feeling that an angry deity was delivering holy punishment on the Infernali became almost certain.
He witnessed blue spears of light stabbing the world, extending for impossible distances, rending the very air. Shining as bright as Heaven's judgment. Marshall found a knot in his throat. He swallowed.
So far, he was safe in the treaty. He couldn't harm the Dungeon and the Dungeon couldn't harm him or the city. Not that it displayed the intent to.
He hoped that wouldn't change. Though he wished the Dungeon could slay Jabberwock, Marshall would be a happy man if he and his people could survive what was to come. Even if they had to worship the Dungeon as their new God.
He laughed a dry chuckle. Perhaps the distance between Dungeon and Deity wasn't too far.
I grimly watched as the ocean of Infernali started to bend at the sides and rush to flank my FOB.
No matter how many miles my cannons could carpet-bomb, the horde extended for fourteen miles in all directions around Jabberwock, except for behind. Not even the Infernali wanted anything to do with the blackened scorched earth Jabberwock left behind.
"Thank you, Gentlemen, for volunteering to participate in my next experiment," I said to nobody (I couldn't speak) as I rose and stared at the flanking monsters. "Deploy the ARCHANGEL Spears."
The Annihilating Retrofitted CHanneled Annealing No-Gore Enhanced Lasers.
The ground opened and elevators brought the twelve 60kW laser emitters up from their silos. Each was mounted on a tower, forming a wedge with different heights so they all could fire forward.
"Lay Suppressing fire," I ordered Dungeon Automation. With the levels, I earned came more slots of Dungeon Automation.
The lasers' motors whirred and moved the giant silver cylinders into position. The capacitors charged and sang a chorus of high-pitched whines. The heat sink openings flared open as gills on a fish. Then the blue lasers shone their death rays into the hordes of Infernali.
The beams swept over the Infernali inside my Domain and I watched to see the damage they would cause, to adjust the sweep speed. It made no sense to focus the lasers in one spot. They turned rather slowly as compared to the crossbows and ballistae and delivered a ridiculous amount of energy. The lasers I was using could cut through five inches of steel like it was butter. So they swept back and forth as Dungeon Automation sensed the targets in my Domain and traced the path the lasers needed to take. It would wash over a Newton's Third Boar, shining on the monster for half a second and then moving on, leaving a charred bisected pig demon in its wake.
It also created no gore. The lasers cooked and cauterized the flesh, leaving boiling husks behind. Moments later, if no Infernale was nearby, that husk would be absorbed by me.
The sun rose from behind the smoke could, shining from straight above. The lasers cleared the Infernali closer to the FOB and swept further away. At the speed of light, the only concern regarding distance was atmospheric dissipation. Further out from my Domain, their efficiency dropped. Now they needed to be optically guided and that took more time.
As a test, I took direct control of the two lasers closest to the front wall of the FOB and pointed them straight at where Jabberwock should've been. Then I had them fire into the dark clouds. At first, the smoke shone blue. Superheated air and soot caused a pressure wave that punched two holes into the clouds, causing the black smoke to shine blue from the inside. The wind picked up and spread the smoke thin as the lasers kept delivering heat into the black cloud. That increased their penetration but we had miles of smoke between here and Jabberwock.
Thunder rang in the sky. It was different from the rumble of my artillery, which was firing even to this moment. I had no idea if I was just digging new vitrified canyons into the ground or actually killing some Infernali or not. But I had the Dungeon Mana and the will to keep shooting. But all the heat and water vapor this war was generating needed to go somewhere. Not to mention the Mana. The dark clouds were brewing a magical storm.
A quarter of a day had passed since I started this operation. Jabberwock must've moved a quarter mile.
Five cannons failed and jammed. I had these absorbed and new ones Replicated. Fearing more weapons would fail due to structural stress, I set a rule to absorb and Replicate all cannons after their next shot. Hell, freshen up all weapons. I had more than double the Materialization Speed I had yesterday. Leveling up was awesome.
I could also fire the lasers until they reached critical heat, and then do the same to them. That was the ultimate heat sink.
I checked my level notifications.
[...] 367,925 Kill messages suppressed.
Mass Murderer! 367,925 Extra Experience points awarded.
> You gained 40 levels! You gained +480 Intelligence, +480 Wisdom, +480 Willpower, +440 Clarity, and +360 Hardness. You have 400 Attribute Points.
[...] 8 Electronic Apple Orchard Perk were messages suppressed.
[...] 2 Architect of Destruction Perk messages were suppressed.
[...] 2 Computer Engineer Perk messages suppressed.
[...] 2 Plains Master Perk messages suppressed.
[...] 2 Mecha Pilot Perk messages suppressed.
[...] 2 Arcane Librarian Perk messages suppressed.
[...] 2 Wayfaring Dungeon Perk messages suppressed.
> You reached the fourth Threshold. You gained 20% Attribute Efficiency to allocate.
> YOU HAVE TWO FREE SUB-CLASS SLOTS. PLEASE DO NOT IGNORE THIS MESSAGE.
Damn. Mass Murderer was doing a lot of the heavy lifting carrying my level. Thirty out of these forty levels were just from that Perk. I quickly opened my Sub-Class menu and picked the next two. I went just with the name.
> You became a Dimensional Porter (Very Rare, worker).
> A crossbreed between a bag of holding and a person (Dungeon in your case), the Dimensional porter is a highly specialized Class that gravitates around a single concept. Keeping things stored in a pocket dimension that only you can retrieve things from. Though you should be wary of Dimensional Pickpockets.
> You gain +1 Willpower, +2 Clarity, +2 Hardness, and 1 base MP per level.
> You gained the Dimensional Storage Trait: You have a pocket space only you can access. This pocket space has a volume equal to a cube with sides equal to sqrt (Willpower)/2 inches in length. Each sqrt(Wisdom) cubic inches of volume used (all objects require a volume equal to their height, width, and depth multiplied, regardless of shape) costs 1 MP per day to maintain. Placing and storing objects in the storage cost 1 MP for every sqrt(Intelligence) cubic inches of volume. Objects in storage have no weight or inertia.
> You gained the Dimensional Quartermaster Skill. The ability to improve one's Dimensional Storage. This Skill levels slowly according to the amount of MP spent to put, take, and keep things in storage.
> Rank I benefits: Time passes 5% per rank slower in the storage.
> You became an Artillery General (Epic, ruler).
> A military commander who oversees extremely ranged weapons of destruction. The Artillery General has the abilities and powers to improve the efficiency of the siege weapons under his control.
> You gain +1 Intelligence, +1 Wisdom, +1 Willpower, and +2 Hardness per level.
> You gained the Command and Conquer Skill.
> Rank I benefits: If you are actively issuing commands to your army, it operates with a 2% per rank bonus to combat efficiency. Artillery units increase this bonus to 5% per rank.
I was sure my Classes were adapted by the System to better fit my nature. No military commander Class would give strictly mental Attributes, though two out of the five points went into Hardness. Interesting.
I had nothing better to do with my MP so I started a process of putting and removing ingots of steel from my storage, burning a lot of MP as sacrifices to level up the Dimensional Quartermaster Skill.
The artillery kept firing. With two new Sub-Classes to level up from zero, my effective level dropped from 160 to 124. One would think this wasn't such a huge benefit but it meant that I still earned one out of every four Exp from actual kills and not just Mass Murderer. I needed 320,000 Exp to bring those two new Classes up to speed.
The sun had long set in the direction of Pitsmouth. The darkness was only broken by the light from the explosions and the lasers shining as they vitrified the land.
[...] 269,364 Kill messages suppressed.
Mass Murderer! 269,364 Extra Experience points awarded.
> You gained 160 levels of Dimensional Porter! +160 Willpower, +320 Clarity, +320 Hardness.
> You gained 160 levels of Artillery General! +160 Intelligence, +160 Wisdom, +160 Willpower, and +320 Hardness.
[...] 14 Dimensional Porter Perk messages were suppressed.
[...] 14 Artillery General Perk messages were suppressed.
The horde had thinned. Most of the kills to level up the new sub-Classes came from the lasers vaporizing the monsters in the flanks. I had killed what? A million monsters? The number sounded too low. Was the System giving me full credit for all the kills, as it did with the level 300 man, or has it learned its lesson, adapted, and now counted the degrees of causal separation between attack and death, to avoid giving too much Exp out?
I didn't know. Perhaps that's how many monsters there were out there to kill. Perhaps the Infernali was being controlled by a higher intelligence and had avoided the furrows dug by the artillery cannons.
Damn. I had jinxed it, hadn't I? Now I wished the low kill count was just the System screwing up with me.
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.