Operation Dungeon Conquest Begins! — Part 1
Editor(s): Speedphoenix, Joker
“It was late, late into the darkest hours of the night. There weren’t no souls in sight, let alone any he knew.” Reyus, the bow-wielding adventurer that had joined us on our mission, spoke in a whisper. The low, eerie tone was only emphasized by the dark clouds overhead and occasional creak the ship made as it sailed along. “His friends had all returned to their ships after a couple rounds o’ drinking. But for some odd reason, someone, something, had started calling the captain’s name…”
There was an audible gulp as one of the many people listening in tried to fight off their anxiety.
“As he turned around, he saw himself a skeleton. The vile, fleshless creature repeated his name ‘gain and again, its bones rattling as it cackled at him.”
Reyus paused for dramatic effect. But though some of the paladins were quite literally shaking in their boots, he remained uninterrupted. All that had gathered around awaited the story’s conclusion with bated breath.
“He was a man known for his courage and unwavering will. But even the captain turned tail and screamed as he made a mad dash for his ship.” The adventurer put his narrator voice away and began to speak in a more casual, laid back manner. “He made it out, but that don’t mean we shouldn’t be careful. The place we’re about to go is about as unholy as it gets. Hell, word is it’s been cursed by God himself. All the souls stranded in there are destined to forever wander the seas and never set foot on solid ground ever again. It’s why they hate and attack us.”
“Where did you hear the bit about God?” asked one of the paladins.
“It’s just what all the sailors around here say about ghost ships. They’ve been telling us that winding up like that is the fate of any sailor that defies the divine.”
Getting cursed into randomly sailing around forever just ‘cause you didn’t do what some god said? You know what this reminds me of? That one old folktale, the one about the Flying Dutchman. Honestly I’m not surprised this world has something similar. It’s pretty tropey and basic as far as plots go. The biggest difference between the two tales seemed to be that, back on Earth, the Flying Dutchman was seen as nothing more than a legend, a children’s tale, but here, it couldn’t be so easily dismissed. In fact, the dungeon we were set to tackle almost seemed to perfectly embody the concept.
Spooky stories were a lot more terrifying in the context of this world. Because undead creatures weren’t just fabrications of the mind. They were every bit as real as those that had yet to rise from their graves. The skeleton, for example, could very easily be explained as skeletons were in fact archetypal undead monsters. You know… all this undead and horror stuff used to be cool back before I died because it felt so… supernatural. But now that it actually all exists, I’m kind of starting to feel like it’s too normal and grounded in reality for me to really care about it.
“I wouldn’t take him seriously,” said Lurolle, the mage. “He’s just repeating one of the stories he heard at the bar, with a few minor embellishments here and there.” She made sure to give her party member the type of condemning stare that only a slightly older, well-endowed woman could.
“Oh come on. Stories like these are most interesting when you ain’t got a clue if they really happened or not. It’s just some harmless fun, you didn’t have to go and spoil it.”
“Harmless? Didn’t you run yourself into a corner because you decided to believe in some drunkard’s horror story just the other day?”
Reyus winced as he recoiled in reluctance. It was as if her words had physically hit him in the gut.
“I’m glad this social gathering is working out about as well as I expected,” said Carlotta, who walked up onto deck alongside the adventurer party’s leader.
“Seems like y’all are havin’ some real good fun,” he said.
The two had just wrapped up a meeting with all the higher ups aboard the ship, and happened to enter right as we were in the middle of a round of laughter.
“Hey boss. ‘N you too, Knight Lady,” said Reyus.
Looks like I’m not the only one that thinks Carlotta should be referred to that way.
“Three… four… five…” The Faldein Order’s commander spent a few moments counting the number of people present. “It looks like most of you are already here.” Once she confirmed the headcount, she turned back towards the ship’s interior and shouted at the few who didn’t happen to be present. “Get up onto the deck! We’re having a meeting!”
The few paladins missing responded to her orders immediately and joined the already near complete group.
“And that’s everyone,” she said, with a satisfied nod. “Let’s get right to business. Griffa, as someone who has already spent a fair amount of time exploring the dungeon, is there anything in particular that we should know?”
It seemed that the adventurer was not only unaccustomed to public speaking, but also not expecting the knight to suddenly call on him. He spent a few moments scratching his head and umming before finally figuring it out.
“I can think of a couple. First thing y’all should know is to keep an eye out for what’s below you before we board.”
“Are you talking about the water?” asked one of the female paladins.
“Right. Y’all’ll be able to see that most of the monsters outside the ship’ve got wings. They be flyin’ at y’all right as y’all begin gettin’ close. But you can’t just give them all your attention, y’see, ‘cause some of this dungeon’s monsters lurk ‘round the depths. We wasn’t all that prepared for them the first time, and lost a ship to a sea serpent fixin’ for a bite. He popped out right underneath one of our boats ‘n tore the poor lil’ thing to pieces.”
I could more or less see how the incident the swordsman described had played out. Seeing into the depths was extremely difficult to say the least. Fortunately, I wasn’t going to be caught unawares. My enemy detection skill was sure to pick up on any incoming threats before they made contact. Probably a good idea to stay on my guard anyway though, just in case.
“Y’all’ll probably realize this ‘soon as we step inside, but the dungeon’s all twisted and messy. You have to stay on guard ‘round the shadows, and make sure not to turn corners without checking ‘em first. Them monsters lurv waitin’ ‘round for us. Worst part is, the place is alive. Damned maze was changin’ every time we came back.”
“Wait, the layout changes?” I asked.
“Almost erry damn time,” said Griffa with a nod. “Our first few raids, we was making maps, but they was just a waste of time. After a few visits, they was startin’ to git as inaccurate as inaccurate gits. We woulda made much more progress if this darn dungeon wasn’t always fixin’ for somethin’ new.”
He pulled several different maps out of his bag to push his point. At first, I suspected that the demon lord had taken a page out of my book and used his wraiths to trick the invaders into thinking that something had changed, when it really hadn’t, but the maps were too dissimilar for that to be the case. It looked like the layout was, in fact, physically changing. Huh… I didn’t actually know that was a thing. Definitely going to keep it in mind.
“Last thing I’ve got for y’all is a bit on the types of monsters we’ll be tusslin’ with. As I’m sure y’all have heard, we’re basically just purgin’ the undead. There’ll be plenty of wraiths, skeletons, and zombies. Even the demon lord’s undead,” he explained. “But that’s all I’ve got. I’m sure y’all paladins know much more about gettin’ rid of the undead than us adventurers. We’ll be tryin’ to learn what we can from you.”
“You hear that, men?” Carlotta picked up where Griffa left off. “We’re faced with the easiest enemies a group of holy knights could possibly ask for. If we fail this mission, HQ is sure to put a prompt end to our careers, or at least most of our careers.”
The commander’s gaze fell upon a very specific member of the unit.
“W-why are you singling me out…?”
Nell’s awkward, embarrassed reply led everybody else to break into laughter.
Our discussions, the topic of which had turned to the dungeon, continued as the ship bobbed along, stopping only when the man at the crow’s nest shouted to disseminate a particular piece of news.
I turned my eyes in the direction that he was using his telescope to look in. Surely enough, there was something far off in the distance. But that something was so far away that it looked to me like a mere speck on the horizon. As we got closer and closer, the speck grew into an obvious, visible fleet – one containing the demon lord we had been set to sink.
When I first heard that we would be dealing with a group of ghost ships, I had, for no reason other than a preconceived bias, imagined there to be a few. Even my largest estimate failed to exceed that of a small fleet. Needless to say, I was completely and totally wrong.
“Woah…” I gasped as I tried to wrap my head around the sheer scale of the decrepit armada before us. It was if a ship graveyard had forced its members to come back to life and resurface. The vast majority of the vessels that the phantom navy consisted of were complete wrecks. Their masts were broken and their hulls riddled with holes. But despite looking like they were bound for the ocean floor, every one of the dungeon’s structures was somehow managing to stay afloat. I bet they’re only floating ‘cause of some dungeon bullshit.
Only now did I come to understand that the guides we’d sought weren’t just present for political purposes. We needed them. Finding the throne room in a dungeon this big was a task so tedious it was bound to take literally forever without someone to at least point us in the right direction.
My Enemy Detection skill began lighting up the map with a whole series of reactions as the ships entered my range, and in doing so, allowed me to identify any visible monsters. Skeletons crowded the ships’ decks and filled their interiors, while wraiths and wisps floated around and on top of them. Man… those wraiths are just… so not cute. I’d always thought that wraiths and cuteness kinda just went hand in hand because of the girls back home but uh… evidently, they’re not exactly normal. I’m honestly not all that sure how they ended up like that. I didn’t even do anything special when I summoned them.
A bit of a pathetic whimper led me to tear my gaze away from the ships and instead direct it towards the trembling girl by my side.
“Nell, please… we haven’t even gotten off the ship yet.”
“I-I’m okay. I’m not scared,” she said. “I’m definitely not scared! Not at all!”
“I mean, you can say that all you want, but it’s not actually going to chang—”
“I’m! Not! Scared!” She pushed her face towards mine as she pressed her point.
“I-if you say so…”
I didn’t have much of a chance to do anything but relent. Evidently, she was acting stubborn because she wanted to convince herself that she was okay even in spite of the clear fact that she wasn’t.
“I’m sorry ma’am, but this is as close as we can get without getting attacked.” The ship’s captain, who joined us after bringing the galleon to a halt, spoke to the knight commander. “You’ll have to go the rest of the way by boat.”
“Understood. Please stand by until we return, as originally planned,” said Carlotta. “Alright men, vacation’s over! Check your equipment and get ready to sortie!”
As the paladins began doing as instructed, I figured I might as well do the same. I popped open my inventory, reached inside, and grabbed my weapon.
“Is that a mace?” asked Nell. “I thought you liked greatswords better.”
“I do, but I didn’t think it was a good idea given all the narrow corridors you were telling me about,” I said. “So I whipped up a little something special just for the occasion.”
The armament that would temporarily be taking Enne’s place was more or less a cudgel. Analyzing it produced the following results.
Echo of Destruction
Description: A blunt weapon crafted by a demon lord named Yuki. Its sole purpose is to secure victory through obliteration.
Echo of Destruction was made entirely of adamantite and featured a medium-length shaft with a massive, weighted head. Its total length sat a fair bit under Enne’s, and was about that of a two handed sword, but like a bladed weapon, EoD could be used in much closer proximity given the length of its grip.
Enne was a fairly heavy weapon. But EoD had her totally outclassed in terms of overall mass. It was so weighty that it was more or less sure to leave a permanent dent on the floor if I decided to put it down—not that that was really an issue within the dungeon’s confines.
As it happened to have two enchant slots, I gave EoD one magic circuit to boost its weight, and a second to cause an explosion on impact, both of which were chosen for their contribution to the brute force theme that I’d kept in mind whilst designing the weapon. Combining them transformed the mace into a superweapon capable of delivering one hit kills.
As Nell had mentioned, I would have preferred the use of a large sword, but I wasn’t allowed to. Enne was sure to sulk if I were to use any bladed weapon larger than a dagger. And even then, there was a chance she would anyway. That was why I’d no choice but to go with something that didn’t resemble a sword in any which way. There are three things in this world demon lords can never defeat, wives, sisters, and daughters. Such a sad, pitiful existence this is…
“It looks like we’re all done,” said Carlotta, after scanning the crowd. “Move out!”
We followed her down several ladders made out of rope and boarded a trio of small boats, all of which had already been lowered into the sea beside the ship. Each happened to possess an enchanted rudder that was capable of functioning as would a modern engine, which meant they were motorboats despite looking like rowboats. Apparently, while engine-like technologies certainly did exist, they were extremely expensive and rare. The only reason we had three available was because Poezahr’s governor had splurged and purchased these as soon as the expedition began in order to have the demon lord exterminated as soon as possible. Looks like having this demon lord removed is pretty high up his list of priorities, huh?
“Good luck out there,” shouted the captain. “Men, a salute for our brave warriors!”
“Aye aye, captain!”
All the sailors on deck gathered where we could see them and placed their hands to their foreheads in classic military fashion as they sent us off.
Slowly but steadily, the magical motors began propelling us towards our destination. The closer we got, the more spooky the fleet started to seem. I wasn’t anywhere near as cowardly as Nell, but even I felt a shiver run down my spine as I looked upon the haunting guise projected by the decrepit wooden vessels. Wait… wooden…? Doesn’t that mean they’re flammable…?