The 12 Trees of Azurvale were a species of magical plant known as Hylt, said to have been planted by the Goddess Nyrie herself. This was not actually the case, as they had been on this world since long before the deity in question came into existence - a living testament to nature’s perseverance and endurance. So while the tree-hugging Goddess did not create them, she most certainly blessed them. And it was the combination of her divine power and this sparse forest’s ancient, venerable magic that caused a truly unprecedented reaction.
A new type of existence had been born within each and every one of those colossal trees. The Goddess’s blessing had drawn out and given form to their primordial will, while the Hylt’s unique nature had bestowed it with life and meaning. It was thus that the beings known as dryads came to be. Although little was known about them, they were largely believed to be spirits charged with the never-ending duty of protecting and nourishing the tree they had been born from.
Truthfully, it was folly to think of a dryad and her Hylt as separate entities. They were two parts of the same whole, and one could not survive without the other. The sacrilegious act chopping or burning down a Hylt tree would cause the death of the dryad, while separating the tree’s spirit from its home by force would cause both of them to gradually wither and die. Which is why these plant-like women very rarely showed themselves to outsiders, and knowledge of their existence was limited to legends and myths, even to the elves that lived within their branches and around their roots. There were, of course, a select few individuals that these reclusive beings showed themselves to, but they would need to have performed a considerable service to the tree in question for that to happen.
Which was probably why one of them had shown herself to the strange winged woman that had helped rid her of that persistent termite problem. Although she was starting to regret that decision.
“Come on out!”
A loud shout echoed within the former termites’ nest. Its source was a bizarre creature unlike anything else the dryad had seen before. Granted, she hadn’t seen much since her kind typically remained blissfully unaware of the world at large, but she was still able to classify that thing as clearly abnormal.
“I said get out here! I have to talk with you!”
It wasn’t because the magic user from earlier disappeared in a puff a smoke and was replaced by this thing. Teleportation magic was something the elves used quite a bit, so she already knew of its existence. It also wasn’t because of this creature’s strange appearance of a wooden treasure chest walking on eight spider-like legs. Even if she was mostly clueless, the dryad still knew about mimics and what they were capable of.
What she took issue with was the fact that this creature was mimicking the appearance of a mimic, despite not being one itself. She had clearly seen its original humanoid form following its appearance, so she was completely baffled as to why it would take on such an odd shape. If it was just a simple box with legs, then she might humor it with an appearance. If it was a mindless beast, then she wouldn’t particularly mind playing with it for a while, maybe even taken it in as a pet. Wouldn’t be the first nor the last time she had done something like that, but that thought was far from her mind right now.
“I know you’re around here!”
Because, whatever this thing was, it was clearly intelligent. Beings that showed intent in their actions were inherently suspicious, as they almost always had ulterior motives. Which is why even if she were to show herself in the past, she did so very briefly. The ones who had seen her were usually left awestruck, considered themselves lucky and moved on with their lives. Many of them were even inspired to continue protecting her beloved tree or spreading her precious seeds. The rest of them - the individuals that stuck around and wanted to ‘talk’ with her - always had selfish goals in mind, and this one would surely be no different.
“If you don’t show yourself, then I will assume you have no problem with me living here!”
Wait, what? It wanted to live here? Inside of her?! Was this thing nuts?
“Okay! Since you have no complaints, then I will just do as I please!”
She had plenty of complaints, actually. Branches and roots were one thing, but dryads absolutely despised having other creatures inside themselves. After all, what living being would willingly welcome parasites? On the other hand, a single monster like this was nothing compared to the thousands of termites that were here beforehand, so she could probably put up with it. Besides, she doubted this thing was actually serious and was merely bluffing. It would probably get bored and leave soon enough anyway.
That’s when it opened a swirling black portal, and a clear crystal ball that was 50 centimeters in diameter fell out of the abyss. The dryad had no idea what that thing was, but she had a bad feeling about it. One that was proven to be justified when it started sucking up all of the mana in the air like some sort of sponge. She needed that mana! Especially since she just spent so much energy in order to douse that fire and heal her burns!
Realizing that continuing to ignore this creature was probably a bad idea, the dryad decided she would need to make an appearance after all.
Boxxy had just taken out the dormant dungeon core out of its Storage and was looking for a good place to serve as the dungeon’s heart when the wooden outcropping it was standing on started rippling like the surface of a puddle in the wind. A green, plant-like woman rose out of it as if something was pushing her out from beneath the surface. Her skin glowed with an eerie green light, chasing away much of the surrounding darkness. Her proportions were outrageously voluptuous and her figure could easily rival that succubus’s. She was mostly naked, except for a series of leaves that covered the underside of her breasts as well as her pelvic area. This was obviously the ‘resident’ that Snack reported about earlier, and her emerald eyes showed that she was clearly not amused.
“Alright, let us speaketh,” she said in a deep, mature voice while crossing her arms under her outrageous cleavage.
“You talk funny,” commented the Mimic.
“Thy speech is the comical one from mine perspective,” she retorted.
“I pray thee, put away thy profane object so that we may converse.”
She pointed at the dungeon core that was already gathering up the ambient mana. It was something it started doing all on its own in order to test the environment and determine whether it would serve as its home or not. The mana density in this area wasn’t as quite as high as the core’s former home, but it seems to have determined that it would be sufficient. However, it was obvious that the Mimic’s intention to claim this cavern as its dungeon would have to wait, so it obediently put it back inside its Storage.
“Very good,” commented the green woman. “Now then, what doth thee need of me?”
“I want to live here,” repeated Boxxy.
“It’s safe, hidden and is right in the middle of the city. I can hide my shiny things here while I’m out getting more shiny things, and I can work on my Jobs and Skills in peace.”
“What doth thou mean by shiny things?”
Boxxy momentarily opened its Storage and took out several gold coins, then presented them to the dryad, using its tongue-tentacle in lieu of a hand.
“Ah, I see. Gold, is it?”
“Not only gold,” pointed out the Mimic.
It then took out several other things from its collection. It showed off some sparkling gemstones, a few glowing rocks, several pieces of gilded silverware, a small silver statue of a knight and even its prized mithril daggers, but the plant lady seemed thoroughly unimpressed. She briefly raised an eyebrow when Boxxy took out a jar of Shiny Juice, formally known as Honeydew, but didn’t seem to care enough to comment about it.
“So thou shall not attempt to consume mine bark and branches?”
“No. Wood isn’t very tasty. Fruits are okay, though.”
“Then tell me, creature-”
“My name. Boxxy T. Morningwood.”
“Oh? Thou hast a splendid name,” she said with a hint of admiration.
“Thanks,” replied the Mimic in good humor.
“Mine is Ambrosia, the dryad of this tree. ‘Tis a pleasure to make thy acquaintance.”
The green woman seemed to relax a bit now that the formal introductions were out of the way. She behaved strangely like a person, even though she should technically be a monster, which meant that Boxxy’s recently acquired social skills were being put to surprisingly good use.
“So Boxxy, what be thy relation to the… chill-challenged woman that cleansed mine insides from those hateful vermin?”
“That’s Snack, one of my minions. Ah, she went overboard with the fire, so sorry about that.”
It wasn’t a sincere apology of course, more of a formality.
“‘Tis of no consequence, young one. Extreme measures were necessary to purge that infestation. It would have surely devoured mine whole being if left unattended. Therefore, I owe thee and thy servant thanks.”
“Then I will gladly accept them. But how come you couldn’t chase them out on your own? You should be able to do at least that much, right?”
The dryad’s stoic expression gradually became one of sadness and shame.
“I am no longer able to defend myself from those creatures. I hath tried poisoning them, flooding them out and trapping them in brambles. It worked the first few times, but those tenacious heathens always overcame mine attempts and returned stronger and more numerous. The power of fire remains their constant weakness, but I find myself unable to conjure flames by my own power. Eventually I ran out of ways to fend them off, and found myself at their mercy.”
“Such is the natural order of things,” commented the Mimic.
Those who did not adapt were devoured. It was the cruel truth of nature, something both parties understood firsthand.
“What of those Waters of Life you used earlier?”
“Ah. That substance is a mixture of the dew gathered from mine leaves and the sap from mine body.”
“Don’t suppose you can let me have some?”
“‘Tis a simple matter, but would be of little use to thee as medicine,” she cautioned. “Thou art not the first to express interest in it mine fluids, but one must fully submerge themselves in the Waters of Life in order to be healed. Simply drinking some will not accomplish much more than satiate one’s thirst.”
Boxxy had more or less expected this response. Of course a literal waterfall of high-grade, toxicity-free healing potion would be too good to be true. Not to mention that it did already sample some of the stuff from the puddles that were strewn around the place. Although it was tasty, it showed absolutely no magical effects, just as she claimed. And since it was highly unlikely that it would be able to take a bath in the middle of a fight, then this substance’s practical usefulness to it was rapidly approaching zero. There ought to be some way to use this for profit, but such thoughts would have to wait until later.
It still wanted to establish a dungeon within this tree, and judging from the way this dryad spoke she was more than just a resident here - she was the owner. Perhaps even a manifestation of the tree itself, seeing as how she referred to it as if it were her own body. And although it was unaware as to the true capabilities of her species, the avatar of a millennia-old magical plant was clearly not one to be trifled with.
However, Boxxy had seen a way to obtain not only her permission in establishing a dungeon, but also her cooperation. Perhaps her servitude as well.
“So about these termites, they’ll come back, right?”
“‘Tis so, young Morningwood. The biggest nest was cleared out due to thy servant’s efforts, but ‘tis hardly the only one. Could be in a month, a year, or a decade, but they shall return to full strength without fail.”
“What if I told you I have a way for you to control those bugs?”
“Control, not exterminate?”
“That’s right. Tell me, do you know what a dungeon is?”
“Does thou mean the underground prisons those elves have built beneath mine roots?”
“No. Wrong type of dungeon. The one I’m talking about involves the, um, ‘profane object’ you saw earlier.”
The Mimic then spoke at length about what it had learned about dungeon cores over the past month or so. First, they had absorb a certain amount of magical energy and attune themselves to their magically enriched environment. After that, they had to be anchored in a magically affixed position, at which point the dungeon would be officially established, and its territory could be expanded so long as the surrounding mana density permitted it. All of that was controlled by the core’s first basic function - Dungeon Expansion.
The second one - Item Allocation - had to do with distributing rewards to any and all adventurers that managed to fulfil certain conditions. For example, reaching a specific point in the dungeon in a set amount of time, defeating a tough enemy or simply coming across a treasure chest. The items in question had to be supplied through external means and stored inside the dungeon core’s Vault - a pocket dimension similar to the Mimic’s Storage. It was possible to forge items out of pure mana, but such things would disappear the instant someone tried to take them out of the dungeon.
Well, the Mimic didn’t particularly plan to use this function, nor did it have any idea why the hell someone would willingly give out treasures. It was like breaking into someone’s house, killing their dog, and having the residents happily cook and serve the poor animal to the intruder. However, it took this opportunity to point out that it was possible to create temporary or single-use magic items with which one could fend off intruders. And that one of said items was a Rod of Fire, which produced a Flamethrower-like effect at will.
The third basic function was Mana Collection. This allowed the dungeon core’s master to regulate the rate at which the surrounding mana was absorbed. Maintaining the dungeon’s various functions required MP as fuel and not all of it could be recycled. Even if it would eventually come back on its own, it was important to properly manage this resource in order to keep all of the dungeon’s facilities running. This was also of importance to the dryad, the magical energy in question was something she needed in order to sustain herself and her Hylt tree.
However, the basic function that really caught her attention was the fourth one. The Monster Spawner menu could be used to determine the type of monsters that appeared inside the dungeon and could exert a certain amount of control over them. Meaning it was entirely possible to gain dominion over those simple-minded termites and order them to kill themselves en-masse. If not, there was also the option of spawning some of their natural predators in order to control and contain their spread, perhaps wipe them out completely.
The fifth function - the Surveillance Net - was the one Boxxy wanted to take advantage of the most. It collected information regarding everything that happened within the dungeon core’s sphere of influence. It was possible to Appraise any and all intruders and their gear, not to mention it would automatically log their progress through the dungeon. The Mimic, as the owner, would be immediately notified if any suspicious individuals tried to encroach on its stash of shinies. Well, that wasn’t to say that the individual directly in front of it wasn’t suspicious, but she seemed genuinely disinterested in its collection.
There were also five advanced features to a dungeon core, although those demanded a much larger amount of MP to operate compared to the basic ones. Guardian Assignment allowed the appointment of extra-powerful monsters to guard key junctions. Again, something Boxxy had no interest in actually putting to use.
Nexus Access, on the other hand, was a curious one that allowed both the core’s owner to instantly teleport to anywhere within the dungeon, as well as transport them to any other dungeons that might be under their rule.
Prison Management was there in case Boxxy wanted to keep certain individuals alive for extended periods of time. It would provide them with a living space and cater to their basic needs using magic. There was also the matter of the ominously-named Interrogation Room that could be built and maintained through the Prison Management menu.
Next up was Terrain Sculpting, a feature that would allow the dungeon’s owner to change the layout of their dungeon at will. Well, it was unclear as to whether a living mass of timber would count as ‘terrain,’ but there was a good possibility that it would. After all, that hedge maze in the Spire of the Jade King was clearly plant-like in origin, and could still benefit from the dungeon’s auto-repair feature, courtesy of Terrain Sculpting. This was also the thing that maintained the warped space inside the Spire itself, which opened up a lot of interesting possibilities.
Finally came Trap Construction, the one Boxxy was looking forward to the most. Teleportation circles, spiked floors, poisonous gas, trap doors, swinging guillotines, crushing ceilings, anti-air countermeasures - all manner of deliciously devious devices could be built in an instant. The former Mimic was particularly eager to see what those booby-trapped chests were like.
“How wondrous!” exclaimed the dryad once Boxxy finished its presentation. Her face was practically lit up with joy. “If this dungeon core is truly as powerful as thou claims, then I would no longer have to worry about any pests nibbling at mine bark or sensitive heartwood!”
“It’s only as powerful as the mana in the environment,” reiterated Boxxy, “but inside here should prove to be more than enough to handle some pesky bugs. So how about it, Ambrosia? I will establish a dungeon inside this chamber, and you can be my- the dungeon master.”
“A dungeon master, hm? What does that entail?”
“You get to control all of the basic functions I told you about, but only I get to play around with the advanced ones.”
“So like a steward?”
“That’s one way to put it.”
“Are there any other limitations?”
“I will have supreme authority within the dungeon since I’m the core’s owner, but I’ll mostly leave you to do your thing.”
That first bit seemed to make her eyelids twitch slightly. Well, saying someone else would be the ‘supreme authority’ of part of her body was understandably not to her liking. However, she didn’t deny the offer outright.
“What if thou were to perish?”
“Then I suppose you would become the owner.”
“Oh? Thou art rather forthcoming with such sensitive information.”
“I’m not even 6 months old. Assuming I would outlive someone as… experienced as you is a stupid notion.”
“Hmm, I suppose so.”
“So, what do you say? If we team up, then you can manage your pest problems under your own power, and I have a hideout to use as I see fit.”
“I must say, ‘tis a very tempting proposition.”
Ambrosia closed her eyes in thought. She didn’t particularly mind having this creature called Boxxy take up residence inside her tree, not when it was offering this much rent in return. Of course, she would have to give up a certain amount of her ‘food’ in order to maintain this dungeon it wanted to make, but it wasn’t that big a deal. The mana coursing through this cavern only accounted for about a quarter of the total she pulled up from the ground, so parting with a portion of it was no problem. Heck, she’d survive even if that strange crystal ball sucked up every last drop of it, although she wouldn’t be able to produce fruits and spread her seeds if that happened.
“I just have one more inquiry.”
Countless numbers of vines sprouted from the ground beneath Boxxy and wrapped around it in an instant. They completely bound the creature and tightened their grip on its faux-wood shell as if threatening to squeeze the life right out of it. Numerous sharp brambles also dug furiously into its ‘skin,’ causing its dark red Doppelganger blood to ooze out of the wounds.
“What’s to stop me from crushing thee right here and now, and claiming this dungeon core for mine own?” asked the dryad with a clearly hostile attitude.
“Right back at you.”
Dozens of short, steel blades suddenly sprouted from the fake Mimic’s surface, cutting apart the plants that had entwined themselves around it. After breaking free, the creature rapidly grew in size many times until it became a 3 meter tall imitation of Punchy, complete with Metal Mimicry-created armor and glaive.
“What’s to stop me from ripping this tree apart and having my minion burn it to the ground?”
It even spoke with the same deep, booming voice, although the non-flaming skull meant it didn’t have nearly the same impact as the original.
“Do not presume to treat me like one of those idiotic bugs!” it roared.
The dryad did not even flinch at the obvious threat and normally terrifying demonic appearance. Rather than being intimidated, she actually broke into a large smile and stared ferociously at it.
“Heh. Hehehehe! Huhuhuhuhuhuhu!”
“Hah hah hah hah hah hah!”
Each of them gave off a malicious, dry laugh while staring the other down and baring their fangs, literal or otherwise. In the end, both of them were monsters. So what if they were intelligent or appeared amicable? Ultimately, the only thing that mattered to to either of them was themselves, and they would not hesitate to kill in order to fulfil their selfish desires.
“Very well, Boxxy T. Morningwood! This one shall agree to thine bargain!”
“Looking forward to working with you, Ambrosia!”
But that didn’t mean they couldn’t compromise. The Mimic would have to share its living space with this plant woman, but it didn’t particularly mind since it would mean added security. The dryad, on the other hand, would receive the means by which to exterminate everything and anything she deemed as pests, but had to agree to serve as this creature’s house. Both of them stood to profit immensely if they worked together, and would gain very little from each other’s destruction, other than massive injuries.
“Well then!” declared Boxxy while reverting to its prefered chesty form. “I shall find a good spot to form the dungeon’s heart!”
Having obtained the dryad’s consent, the Mimic once again took out the dungeon core from Storage. Much like before, the crystal orb immediately began sucking in the ambient magical energy at a staggering rate. After about 5 minutes of this, it had grown back to its initial size of about 1 meter in diameter and was now tinged a bright yellow, almost like a miniature sun. The monster had spent that time climbing the walls of this cavernous nest and scouting out a prime location. Ultimately, it decided to use a fairly flat and considerably wide wooden plateau as the dungeon’s innermost sanctum. It stood in the middle of it, and held the now-charged dungeon core above its head.
“Dungeon Expansion: Create Dungeon!” it shouted
The core shone with a bright yellow light and rose steadily into the air, climbing to an altitude of 4 or 5 meters above its owner. It then sprouted 8 thick chains made of solid white light, which stretched out and waved around like living things. Two of them latched onto the floor, three onto the surrounding walls and three more onto the air itself. Once all 8 were in place, they gradually faded from view as the core became firmly affixed to that one spot. The crystal orb then let out a massive wave of mana that washed over its surroundings. It was a burst of magic thick enough to make both Boxxy and Ambrosia wobble a bit on their feet.
Congratulations, your dungeon has been established!
Please state the name this dungeon.
“Dryad’s Domain,” it spoke aloud, and the core flashed two times in response.
The dryad wondered what that was about, but got her answer in the next instant.
You have now entered Dryad’s Domain.
“Appoint Dungeon Master: Ambrosia.”
Dryad’s Domain has recognized you as its rightful ruler.
Do you wish to claim ownership of this dungeon?
“Oh. How flattering,” she said dryly while selecting the ‘Yes’ option in her head.
Ambrosia has been appointed as the dungeon master of Dryad’s Domain.
“What is?” asked the Mimic, curiously.
“Thou named it after myself.”
“It’s not flattery. It’s misdirection.”
“Misdirection? How so?”
“If someone comes here, I want them to think you’re in charge.”
“I am in charge.”
“Of course you are. I merely meant that I don’t want my presence to be known.”
“I see. So how do I actually control this thing?”
“Just say ‘Dungeon Management.’ You can figure it out from there.”
|General Information||Basic Functions||Advanced Features|
|Owner||Boxxy T. Morningwood||Name||Status||Name||Status|
|Core ID||PT-5484-BM||Dungeon Expansion||Active||Guardian Assignment||Access Denied|
|Core Status||Active (Dryad’s Domain)||Item Allocation||Disabled||Nexus Access||Access Denied|
|Dungeon Master||Ambrosia||Mana Collection||Active||Prison Management||Access Denied|
|Integrity||92%||Monster Spawner||Disabled||Terrain Sculpting||Access Denied|
|MP||4,532/20,000 (+15.6/sec)||Surveillance Net||Disabled||Trap Construction||Access Denied|
“Oh, how curious!” exclaimed the dryad. “Hmm? The Integrity is… this thing is damaged?!”
“It’ll fix itself with time. Part of the Mana Collection function,” explained the owner. “Anyway, I’m sorry to run, but it’s nearly dawn and I have other matters to attend to. I’ll leave you to get better acquainted with the dungeon’s functions.”
“Very well, lord Morningwood. I look forward to thine return.”
Boxxy disappeared several seconds later by activating the Transfamiliar Spell and changing places with Xera in a puff of smoke. The succubus shook her head a few times as she got her bearings. She looked at the glowing dungeon core and then at the plant lady from before, who was currently investigating the various menus and features she was given control over.
“Ah, forgive me milady,” she said politely. “This one is called Ambrosia. Thou art milord Morningwood’s servant called ‘Snack,’ correct?”
“Hmm, that’s more or less right. Good to meet you, Ambrosia.”
“The pleasure is all mine. Milady Snack is quite the capable magic user, so I expect to learn a lot from thou.”
“So it managed to catch another one, huh?” mumbled the demoness.
“No, nothing dearie,” replied the succubus with a small smile. “Don’t mind me.”
“Understood. Now, if thou will excuse me, milord has given this one much to learn, so I must take mine leave and focus on the task at hand.”
The dryad submerged into the wooden ground with a polite bow while Xera’s smile spread wider until it became a wide, shit-eating grin. She wondered how long it would take for that dryad to realize what was happening to her. No, thinking about it more logically, the question wasn’t ‘when,’ but ‘if.’
After all, a dungeon core’s ability to reprogram a monster’s way of thinking was scarily effective.