Chapter 167: The Quiet Village

 

Spring has come into full swing in the city of Tobes, and it is lined with people. What was not even a decade ago a tiny hunter’s village has blossomed into a city rivaling the Gowen kingdom’s capital itself, and the newest addition to the city, a lavish university has opened its doors for the first time.

The first classes being held are nothing new to Tobes, more of a relocation of training courses that were already provided, but with new teachers arriving daily the new courses will begin to start taking place within the week.

A young attractive town girl and a work hardened farm boy walk arm in arm peering through a gate which houses the Gowen kingdom’s princess and her family. They see the beautiful red-headed princess tending to some flowers in the garden with a young squirrel beastkin girl, that is just getting the hang of walking, plays nearby.

Sitting on a stone bench a few feet away is the house’s maid who is holding a bright-eyed and red-headed infant who is babbling to her mother that is tending to the garden. Seeing a kingdom’s princess acting in such a way without a wall of guards around might be strange to some, but the couple peering through the gate just looks at each other and they nod before continuing on their way down the road.

New people arrive in Tobes daily, so this young inconspicuous couple making their way through Tobes without turning a single head as they have a look around. They start off with the Adventurer’s Guild inside of city hall.

Next they hit some of the more prominent places in the city, checking out the stores that have items entirely unique to Tobes. They buy a few of the runic magic stones sold in the stores spending quite a bit more gold then you would expect from a simple town girl or farm boy.

After the shops they continue to work their way through town until they reach the Mage’s guild, before heading on the pathway out of the city passing the local garrison until they reach the lavish new university, and in doing so they arrive just in time for a class to be breaking up.

The students pay no mind to the couple, but when the farmer boy sees the class’s teacher his facial expression changes.

Sofia: “I haven’t seen you two before, are you looking to join in on one of my classes? You look pretty green, but I teach a beginner course as well, so if you are interested they handle all that stuff at the administration building.”

Town Girl: “We are new to town, and were just having a look around, but we might go check it out. Thank you.”

The teacher nods, but gives the young farm boy a second look before shaking her head and excusing herself. The farm boy lets out a sigh of relief. “I thought she noticed something for a second there.”

Town girl: “Would it have really mattered if she did?”

Farm boy: “I guess not, but would you like to explain why we are here looking like this?”

The town girl just shrugs her shoulders and they continue on their way. Most of the college is pretty empty, but when they approach the administration building it is packed with people from all ages. The staff seems to be frantically trying to help all the people while a young woman with pink hair approaches the young couple from behind and taps them on the shoulder.

Ceres: “Can I help you two?”

Town Girl: “We were just having a look around.”

Ceres: “Curious, I see, so what are your thoughts?”

Farm boy: “It is definitely… Different.”

Ceres laughs and says. “I could see why you would say that, but when I was presented the opportunity I just felt this was the kind of place I wanted to build.”

Town Girl: “That you built?”

Ceres: “Well I am the proprietor of this university, and I guess the headmaster, at least until I can find someone for that role. My name is Ceres” –She says shaking hands with the couple.-

Farm Boy: “You are Ceres…?”

Ceres: “That’s right.”

Town Girl: “Forgive us, we didn’t realize. My name is Letty, and this is Clifton.”

Ceres: “Really…? Alright then Letty and Clifton, I will let you return to your “sightseeing”, and if you need anything do let me know. Our courses are limited right now, but I am sure pretty soon we will have some that even you two might find interesting.”

Ceres then departs from the pair disappearing back into the crowd of people.

Letty: “I can’t say I am surprised, she seems just like his type.”

Clifton: “He really does have good tastes, it’s just a shame he does nothing but collect them.”

Letty: “What should we do now?”

Clifton: “You heard her. She gave us permission, so let’s take a look around.”

Ceres then ducks out from the crowd and arrives in front of Two-Twelve’s house within minutes. Belinda, Listel, Vetala, and Rory are all still outside enjoying the spring weather. When Belinda sees Ceres she gives her a wave.

Belinda: “I thought you were going to be busy with your admissions today?”

Ceres: “You haven’t noticed anyone strange poking around have you? Particularly a young couple.”

Belinda: “Well, no… Why?”

Ceres: “And you haven’t heard from the Elders?”

Belinda: “Only to answer their messages when they started asking where Two-Twelve was at, but that has been quite a while ago, and I just told them what you and Two-Twelve told me to say. Why are you asking…?”

Ceres: “Madam Erin and Dyson are both wearing one of those rings of Two-Twelve’s and poking around my dungeon while pretending to be someone else.”

Belinda: “Are you sure?”

Ceres: “Without a doubt, so just keep your eyes open, and you might want to tell your girls to be careful.”

Belinda: “What do you think they want?”

Ceres: “Two-Twelve has been gone for a while now, and after what Two-Twelve had told them about me before, I am sure there is a lot they are curious about.”

Belinda: “You don’t think they would do anything, do you?”

Ceres: “It depends if they are satisfied after poking around. I don’t think they would try attacking us or anything if that is what you mean, but if they don’t like what they see I am sure there is quite a bit they could do to cause us problems even without attacking.”

Belinda: “Ok, I will make sure everyone keeps an eye out… You haven’t heard from Two-Twelve, have you?”

Ceres: “I am sure you will hear from him long before I do. He said they would probably be out of communication until they get the situation taken care of, and his dungeon is still thriving, so I doubt you have anything to worry about.”

Belinda: “I know, but it seems like it has been forever since I last talked to him…”

Ceres: “I am sure he is doing his best to get back to the two of you, now I better get back, so I can keep an eye on the Elders to make sure they aren’t going to try something.”

Belinda: “I know, I just miss him… You be careful, ok?”

Ceres: “You keep an eye out as well.” –She says then departs heading back to her dungeon.-

 

○○○○○○

After passing though the marble coffin we were sure that we were nearing the end of this corrupt dungeon, but it has been a week since then and we have seen no end in sight. It wasn’t long after passing into the forest area that we were attacked by monsters.

They are all monsters you would naturally think to see in forest like setting. Even though some of the monsters are ones I am able to summon already their power is on a whole different level. That means when I take control over one with my special skill they grow weak enough that they don’t do us any good.

Is this the dungeon’s way to counter my special skill? Either way we have not been having too much difficulty because the wooded area meant Azami was able to create more of her spriggans. These “Friends” of hers are much different than the last though, because she has reached level 50 and her special skill revolves around them.

The spriggans have always been a type of forest elemental, but with Azami’s special skill you would be hard pressed to call some of them spriggans anymore as they are more like golems then elementals. She is no longer required to use mud and wood to make them, but any material she likes making some of them from even the flesh and bone of the fallen monsters we have dealt with.

Her skill has several passive bonuses that increase the abilities of her spriggians regardless of their material, but to get the full effect she has to use the skill itself when she makes them, and at a cost of 50% of her magic that is twice what my magic is even at max, so I can’t say if the cost is really worth it or not.

Even if the amount of magic it takes her to use it is so high, it doesn’t take any more of a toll on her then when I use mine, because in the end it is just 50% of her magic. Being able to use any material to make her spriggans also comes in handy after we pass through a few of these large forest-like rooms and reach a room filled with shifting sand dunes.

Pine forests, dry desserts, Icy mountaintops, and even bogs we find while traveling from room after massive room we pass through areas mimicking the outside world.

Each one holding monsters you would think relevant to that biome, and the only types of monsters we haven’t encountered are light based monsters. A shadow crystal would explain all the undead we encountered before, but I have no access to light based monsters either, so we can’t rule out the possibility this corrupt dungeon doesn’t have a favored element either.

Being that this is a corrupt dungeon I don’t know if I will be able to learn to summon the types of monsters we have defeated here once I return home, but if I am, it will take me days to go through the lists of all the different types of monsters we have encountered. There is even a few of the monsters that I have used my special skill to take possession of just to increase the chance of being able to summon that particular monster after returning home.

After dealing with a group of lizardmen and snake like demi-humans in a bog like room we pass into a cavern that is similar to the others we have used to pass between the biomes. Inari casts [Clean] on herself cleaning the mud and muck off of her outfit as she says. “This all just seems like a massive waste of time now. The xp we are gathering has practically dropped to nothing, and it is taking us days to pass through these rooms without anything to show for it.”

“This dungeon can’t go on forever… We have to be making progress.” –I say trying to convince myself just as much as I am her.-

Inari: “These corrupt dungeons seem to have no limits, and if it made even just one of these rooms a day, it is possible it could take us over three decades to get though them all, and that is only if it stopped growing the minute we entered. If it continued to grow after that, then we may never reach the end.”

“It isn’t like we have another option. It won’t be long before Rory says her first words, and it won’t be long after that she takes her first steps. Things like that are the things I do not want to miss out on, and I promised Belinda we would return, so I don’t care if I have to carry you out of here. We are going to continue to push forward as quickly, but safely as possible.”

Inari: “I’m sorry Daddy, you’re right.”

“But you are right as well. Maybe I am just trying to convince myself that we are getting close, so I am sorry for taking it out on you…”

Inari: “I’ll make a deal with you. You did all this for me when you didn’t have to, so I promise I will get you out of here before Rory says her first words!”

“Well then we better get a move on.”

It has now been months since we first stepped foot in this dungeon, and I am starting to wonder if there really is an end to it. We passed though the caverns and thought we were nearing the end when we encountered the mausoleum, but then we found the forest.

We thought the forest then might be the end then we found the desert. We didn’t get our hopes up after that passing through all the different types of climates, but then we encountered a large castle like building that Inari said was similar to the one at the end of the last corrupt dungeon.

We were sure that had to be the end, as well, but after spending several weeks to reach the deepest part of the castle all we found was another tunnel leading us deeper and deeper underground. I can’t use [Communication] but I still can see my own location in the [Archjusticar Menu].

I haven’t bothered with it up to now, because it doesn’t do us much good from inside the dungeon, but I am curious just how far we have gone so I open it up. I see we have covered an enormous amount of ground, and I would not be surprised to find out this dungeon spans the entire Shima Island.

We are not as deep as I thought we were either, it feels like the entire time we have been here we are going deeper and deeper underground, but according to my [Archjusticar Menu] we are only a few hundred feet below the surface.

That only makes us feel that much worse though, because we know safety is only a couple hundred feet away, just impossible to get to from here. We had lost hope of finding and exit, thinking we would have to just destroy the crystal to get out of here, but if the surface really is that close then maybe there is some hope in finding an exit.

After the castle we enter a series of caverns that we spend a week in fighting off undead monsters yet again. There are still no more signs of the monstrosities though and we have gained a few levels, so with the addition of Azami’s “friends”, we manage to deal with the undead pretty easily up until we find a large underground village.

The village isn’t exactly ruined, but it isn’t pristine either. It looks like a village that has been here a long time, but it looks like it could have been full of residents even up to just a few hours ago… Has someone been living down here, or is the dungeon just messing with us?

“What do you make of this?”

Inari: “I don’t know…The way this place is set up, I mean it is no different than the way I have my village set up, but for some reason this place unnerves me.”

“You don’t think the dungeon had humans down here do you?”

Inari: “I don’t know what else the village would be for, but this village isn’t large enough to give any notable amount of xp. Besides I don’t think the corrupt dungeons have to worry about stuff like that, so I don’t see why it would keep humans around at all, and if for some reason it was keeping humans here… Where are they now?”

Zoey: “They can’t have been gone long. The food is still fresh.” –She says while walking up and chewing on something.-

“What are you doing?! You don’t even know what that is!”

Zoey: “It smelled good enough.”

“It could be poison.”

Zoey: “I said I gave it a good sniff!”

Inari: “This could be some kind of monster or even Oni village and that could be human meat.”

Zoey: “If it is, you need to learn how they cook it, and we can start putting the humans that fall in boss’s dungeon to good use!”

“That is disgusting Zoey…”

Zoey: “I’m kidding boss… Mostly.”

“Regardless of Zoey’s questionable habits, she may have a point. If the food is fresh that proves two things. One whoever was living here had to eat meaning they were not part of the dungeon, and two they were here not that long ago.”

Inari: “Maybe we should try to find them. They could know a way out of here.”

“Or they could attack us on sight. I don’t think it is a coincidence that they just happened to disappear as we arrived here.”

Inari: “If they are humans what will happen to them when we destroy the crystal? These corrupt dungeons collapse differently than a normal dungeon, but who is to say the village would survive?”

“It may be a bit of a risk, but I think we should try to find them. Like you said they may be able to show us a way out of here, or they could be prisoners that need help.”

We spend some time searching the village to make sure nobody is still around while trying to prove that whatever was living here was in fact human or but, and if so where they went.  We don’t find any humans, but we do find the source of Zoey’s mystery meat, when we find a small livestock paddock.

Inside the paddock there are quite a few giant beetle looking creatures, and by the tools in the nearby barn it is clear that one of these creatures was the source of Zoey’s snack…

Chika: “I bet you are regretting eating that now?”

Zoey: “Why? Meat is meat, but I am actually quite surprised, I thought eating a bug would be a bit more chewy.”

Inari: “You never cease to surprise me aunt Zoey…”

“We have covered the entire village now, and I have seen no signs to show which way the villagers went.”

Inari: “And there isn’t any lack of options either, I counted no less than twenty tunnels leading out of the village, and they all look to have been frequently used by the residents.”

“Zoey, you can use that nose of yours to sniff out food, what about sniffing out which one of these trails is the most recent?”

Zoey: “What are you talking about boss, you have the same tracking skills that I do?”

“All of them except that nose of yours.”

Zoey: “Roxy is the one with that skill.”

“Skill or not, you are the one that finds food where ever you go.”

Zoey: “That’s different!”

Inari: “You know, if they left the village to go into hiding, I am sure they took food with them, maybe you could find them by finding it?” –She says jokingly.-

Zoey: “Now you guys are just picking on me…”

I let out a sigh and say. “In all seriousness though, I don’t know which direction they went. Either some went down every path, or the dungeon is just making it seem like they split up. I think our best bet is to just choose a path and go down it. If we find the villagers, we find them, if not, there isn’t much we can do about it.”

Everyone else then agrees and we choose a tunnel and head out. For the next few days no matter what winding tunnel we pass through we always seem to wind up back at the village. The monsters we encounter in the tunnels are very weak, some try to avoid us all together, and among them are more of those beetle like creatures the villagers were raising as livestock.

Each pass on the village we make seems like the time in which since the villagers have been here is getting longer and longer, so it appears they haven’t returned since our arrival the first time.

We don’t know if that means they abandoned the village completely, or even worse if the dungeon did away with them because we were getting close. There doesn’t look to have been any kind of struggle though, so hopefully they are just hiding somewhere.

We still have plenty more tunnels to check however so we keep going. This time after a short distance from the village the tunnel makes a sharp turn straight down. It is by far no short distance, but the base of the tunnel is still within view.

The villagers seemed to frequent this tunnel as well, as there is a ladder fastened at the top leading all the way to the base of the hole. The latter is not the best of quality, but it looks sturdy enough to hold us just fine so we start making our way down the hole.

Once we all reach the bottom of the hole we then set out along another tunnel stretching out before us. After an hour or so along this path we start to see signs that the villagers might have come this way, because there are some discarded items along the side of the tunnel.

“It seems after leaving the village and making their way down the ladder a few items the villagers brought along with them just became to troublesome and were then discarded.”

Inari: “If you are leaving your home you are going to take as much as you can with you, but you are going to start discarding personal items until only the items required for your survival remain. At least that was how it worked for the humans that lost their village and took up residence in my dungeon.”

Takeshi: “Personal items might give us a better understanding of who or what these villagers are, so maybe we should go through it, to see if we can figure anything out.”

Chika: “There are a lot of tools left behind here. You can always make more especially when most of them are made from parts from those beetle like creatures we seen back at the village. That is unless you are starting over, and then you would want to take at least one set of good tools until you can make more, so seeing all these here, I would say they don’t plan on returning to the village at all.”

“But why was our arrival enough to completely abandon their village? I guess it could have been something else that drove them from the village, but I find it hard to believe it was just a coincidence whatever it was that drove them out, showed up only hours before our own arrival.”

Akihiro: “One type of tool I don’t see here is any kind of weapon, and I didn’t see any weapons back in the village either.”

“They are traveling in a dungeon, so it stands to reason they would load up with weapons and armor before setting off into it.”

Akihiro: “Here in lies the problem. In most villages not everyone has a weapon, even in Shima where the Oni threat is constant there are still villagers that don’t have their own weapon, but in a situation like traveling through a dungeon with the village as a whole you would want everyone to be at least to somewhat defend themselves. Many of these tools could have been used as makeshift weapons and yet they still left them behind.”

Chika: “It could be like the people from Exeter, who are practically born with a weapon in their hand, where combat training is more common than reading or writing.”

Akihiro: “Exactly, but if that was the case we would have found at least old weapons or training implements back in the village, and yet there were none. If I had to guess I would say these villagers don’t have any weapons at all… They set off into the dungeon completely unarmed, and even with tools that could be turned into makeshift weapons they discarded them, so that makes me think they set off into the dungeon without a doubt in their minds that they were safe.”

Inari: “That would mean the dungeon has been taking care of them this entire time. I could see it, it if was a normal dungeon, I mean look at my dungeon, but one of these corrupt ones? They have done nothing in the last 30 years except try to wipe out the humans of Shima.”

Saki: “Well that is not entirely true… They have tried to destroy dungeon cores, but humans? Until we came along and where causing massive drops in the Oni population throughout Shima, they only attacked humans that were in their way. Some of the villages had simple bramble barriers and it was enough to keep the Oni out of the village.”

“Well it does us no good to try to guess about what is going on. If this is the path they took, then they may have a few days on us, but we might be able to catch up to them, and then we can find out for sure what is going on.”

Finding nothing else out from the discarded items we then continue along the tunnel. We travel along the tunnel for two days, finding small remains of proof the villagers went this way with makeshift campsites or discarded items. An entire village moving as one must be slower then what we can do, so we must be gaining on them.

Then again, they are probably not being slowed down by monsters that seemingly attack us from nowhere. They are not exactly tough monsters, but it may be enough for the villagers to get further ahead us.

All the items the villagers have left behind still give us no indication if they really are humans or not, that is until we come across a makeshift campsite that has something that was left behind that we didn’t expect.

A circle is drawn on the ground with several strange symbols around it made by the cinders of the nearby campfire, but at the center of the circle is a humanoid figure wrapped tightly in the skin of one of the types of monsters we have had to deal with.

The wrapped body appears to be female, and as we unwrap the head we are met with quite a shock…

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