The air is damp here, heavy with humidity. As I turn around, I can see how the man in front of me used this saferoom as his home, here in the deepest level of the Dungeon.
A messy bedroll is laying on the corner, beside a pile of clothes that look ragged, and dirty. A small table is on the opposite side, with some scattered object on it. A plate, still holding some food scraps.
A sack of coin, slightly open, revealing the glimmer of gold that it contains. Books, scattered all around, some new, some with dust covering them, their pages turned yellow from the course of time.
No trace of weapons, or other personal things that might give me some insight about this man’s character.
And, beside everything else, there’s the silence that has fallen into the room.
Thick, almost palpable.
The man named John is sitting on a small stool, roughly ten meters away from me. He avoids my eyes, the curiosity in them.
Still, I cannot believe what I just heard from his lips. The implications of his words made me shake, locking my mind in a swirl of emotions.
There’s anxiety in there, uncertainty.
Sounds are ringing in my head, from that accursed Navigator, her messages popping up in my mind like some obnoxious ringtone. Yet, I ignore them. I am sure, they will all be lies after all.
<<So, that’s how it is>>
I take the courage to break this silence, looking down on the floor, at my hands that are still trembling.
<<Sorry. But you needed to know>>
John’s voice echoes mine, with a short sentence, an apology.
He says I needed to know, but…can I trust his words? The implications, the weight behind what he revealed to me.
<<What…what should I do now?>>
Stuttering, I ask him for guidance. After all, that’s the reason that brought me here. Well, technically I was dragged here by that old lady, but…
Well, it does not matter right now. And perhaps, it was for the best.
<<That’s something for you to find. I cannot give you such answer, Roshal>>
He tries to smile, but I can see what’s really driving his expression. Behind his eyes, I can see pity, for me. Maybe, some of that pity is also for himself.
<<I suppose I should go now>>
Getting up on my feet, I announce my intentions to John. He simply nods, handing me a small, black orb. It’ a transfer stone, different from the ones I saw before. Smaller, the size of a marble, with a rough texture on its surface.
<<That will only work two times. One, for when you leave this place after our conversation. The other, for when you feel like coming back here. Not that I would like you to come back, but I made a promise to Telesia, to train you as best as I can. But, I will understand if you choose to not come back here. So, Roshal, see you. Or not>>
After handing me the small transfer stone, he gets up from his seat, heading out of the saferoom.
As he opens the door, a small air current from the Dungeon’s last floor flows in. The smell it carries, and the density of mana contained in that simple whiff of wind are enough to make me feel sick.
To think that John has been living here, secluding himself from the world above…
I grasp the transfer stone, activating it with a bit of my mana.
As it happened with Telesia, I am instantly moved from the saferoom to the Archives.
The air in here feels so light, so easy to breathe. The transfer stone in my hand has lost some of its brilliance, and I feel like it is a bit smaller right now. Well, it could just be my impression.
I head back from the Archives, without contacting the others. Walking out of the building, I realize that the Sun has already gone down, and only small torches are now lighting the way in front of me.
I’ve never seen Sendria during the night. Especially in this portion of the town, far away from the center and residential area, it looks like a completely different place than during the day.
Dimly lit roads, where prostitutes and drunkards can be seen roaming around. The number of homeless people I meet on the way back home is high.
Passing by them, I see the mutilations that their bodies carry. One man, begging for money under a porch, had his right eye and left leg missing, supporting himself on a crude wooden crutch.
Not so far away from him, a legless woman was begging for food, keeping her head low under her cowl, perhaps for shame.
More and more of them can be seen. The dark side of Sendria, the adventurers who failed.
They failed to win, and failed to die. Unable to sustain themselves with activities in the Dungeon, too injured to even try a normal job, these men and women are driven to extreme poverty, in a town that only cares for those who win.
In a spur of generosity, I let some coins fall into the plate that a young boy is holding out with his emaciated right hand.
He mutters, lowering his head. I do not want to see his face, nor do I want to glance for more than one second at the sorry state that his body is in.
The thought that I could end up in this same situation, or that it could happen to some of my friends, is even more scary than death to me.
I chuckle, still thinking about fear and some other emotions. Like a proper human being, something I should not be allowed to do.
John’s face pops up in my mind, and with it the words he spoke to me. I clench my fists, accelerating my steps in the night of Sendria.
To no avail.
I punch the wall, in a secluded alley, alone, I let out the emotions that were boiling inside me, the frustration, the anger. Those that are easy to get rid of. But the others, stay deep, gnawing at me and the doubt of my very existence.
I lie my back on the wall, and let myself slide down, until I sit on the floor. My head hanging between my arms, while John’s words play out again in my memory.
At first, I was overjoyed when he told me that he too was an otherworlder. I immediately asked him some questions, aiming to find if John came from my world, or some other parallel world or something like that. It was a possibility to consider, and since my first time coming here, my mind has already been opened up to new possibilities. Where magic and skills exist, why shouldn’t there be parallel worlds?
John answered correctly to all my questions, proving that he indeed came from my old world. Although, our timeline was surely different. From what he said, it looked like he came to this world roughly ten years before the same thing happened to him.
Initially, we had a very nice conversation, about the state of the world, the advancements in it. Hell, he was overjoyed when I told him about the sequel to his favorite movie saga. I felt like we spoke for hours in there, just talking about movies and books.
But, as we talked, he had this expression in his eyes, a mix of sadness and pity.
<<Before we start with this, I need you to know some things. After all, I have the slight suspicion that Telesia just dragged your ass down here, without even giving you a proper explanation. First, I am doing this because I owe Telesia. She’s a good person,and all she desires is the well being of both Sendria and her Guild. But her methods are rude, and ruthless. Right now, she does not see you as a person, but as the Candidate Demon Lord, a weapon in her disposal. And she’ll do anything to use you for her means. Keep this in mind.>>
He paused for a bit, before asking me some questions. He wanted to know in detail how I came to this world, and what goal I decided to follow in here.
As I gave him my answers, he sighed, deeply.
<<So, it was that dick Azathot, huh? Well, it could have been worse>>
He muttered to himself.
<<Say, do you remember more details of your old life? Not the general things…what I am asking you is if you remember specific details. Like the name of your pet, if you had one. How your mother looked like. Something like that>>
I felt like his question was a bit weird. Of course, I was about to answer, of course I remember my mother’s face.
But then, I realized that I didn’t. When I recalled her, the image that formed in my mind was vague. The same happened when I tried to recall my old dog. I knew I had one, and yet, I could not recall its appearance, the color of its fur.
<<So, it’s as I thought. To me, is the same. I recall my general past, what happened during my time. Even things that I studied at school. But, the important things, those memories that define you as a person. Well, those are confused, and sometimes, they’re not even there. Even my name…this one, John Howards, it’s not my real name, only a cool sounding one I choose to call myself, when I first came into this world and I was nothing more than a young, foolish boy. My real name is lost to me>>
He was staring at the rocky wall of the safezone, but his gaze was fixed on something far away, locked in remembrance.
And he spoke about something that was bugging me since I came to this world. Because, even I did not remember my true name, the one that my parents gave me.
I thought it some kind of after effect of whatever the hell brought me to this world, some sort of post-summoning trauma. But, John’s words make it sound like it’s something far more concerning.
I told to him what I felt about that matter, that I believed it was some sort of after-effect from when I, we, were summoned here.
<<I thought the same. Initially, that is. But, I was not summoned here. I was reincarnated. In my old world, I died of sickness. A brain tumor. It’s strange…I remember the pain it caused me, the burning sensation of the chemotherapy running through my veins. And yet, I do not remember the face of my wife, that was there, holding my hand as I passed away. Not even her smile>>
He clenched his fist, like he was grasping something.
<<Say, Roshal. Do you know about summoning magic?>>
I nodded, unable to see the connection between what he said and this new question.
<<Well, that makes things easier to explain. If this could even be called easy. In summoning magic, the magician uses his mana to summon a creature. Now, the summoned creature is not something that exists, and is brought here in this world. It’s something created, patched up from memories and the caster’s imagination. That creature, does not exist. It never had>>
John turned around, staring at me. And I begin to understand his point.
<<Now, does this ring a bell, Roshal? To me, it was studying summoning magic that sparkled the question, and that question was the reason that brought me here in the end>>
John took a deep breath, closing his eyes for a moment before he resumed talking.
<<I started my life in this world by reincarnation. The usual thing that you would find in some crappy novels, one lame guy dies and the God offers him to reincarnate as a Hero of Justice.
It was almost comical, the haughty sounding voice, coming from a ball of light. And the first years of my new life, they were wonderful. I really, really believed the God’s words, you know? As soon as I came of age, I fought for the Kingdom, for Aldora, as a Hero. But then, I started to notice some discrepancies, some things that were not quite right. Both in the world, and in me>>
I tried to interrupt him, but he silenced me, lifting his finger in an imperious gesture.
<<Please, let me finish before asking your questions. I’m sure there will be plenty of them, so, be patient for a bit and listen to what I have to say>>
John cleared his throat, and continued his story.
<<When I asked the God, when I prayed, I never received a clear answer from him. It was all vague, telling me to not worry about things, that the God had a plan. I committed atrocities in that thing’s name, withholding my doubts, letting them rot inside me as I followed orders. But, as I went on, it gnawed me from the inside. I did my own research, about the Heroes first, then it came summoning magic. You know, I was the one to first formulate the new paradigm about that, to find out that summoning magic does not “summon”, it “constructs”something. I left Aldora, wandering from place to place, until I ended up in this Dungeon. In here, I was fascinated by how the monster revive with a set time. Do you know how it happens?>>
His words were difficult to follow, jumping from one topic to another, almost like he was trying to form a coherent story but failing at it.
<<No, but it’s something similar to RPG games that I played. I thought it could be based on that>>
John scratched his beard, looking thoughtful.
<<Well, that’s what happens, more or less. But how? That’s what I wanted to know. So, I delved into this Dungeon, hiding my identity from the Guild. It would have caused quite the uproar if they found out that a man from Aldora strolled right in the middle of town and entered their precious Dungeon, after all. Nonetheless, I came here, and studied the monsters and the Dungeon itself.
It’ all related. In some ways, it’s summoning magic. Only, the scale of it is vastly bigger. Instead of “constructing” a single creature, this Dungeon “builds” entire floors, limited, but complete biomes with their ecosystems. The creatures that you find here, are similar in nature as the summoned creatures. They do not exist, and are “built” from scratch from something, or someone’s memories>>
I shook my head in denial. What John said, it was fascinating, but it had something wrong to me.
<<Well, summoned creatures do not give experience when killed, while monsters in this Dungeon do. So, they’re definitely proper living creatures>>
My question made John smile.
<<Or, they could just be elaborated fakes>>
Up until then, he only limited his lesson to words. But then, he started showing me what he meant.
We went out of the saferoom. Inside the lowest floor of the Dungeon, he shielded me with some spells, basically erasing my presence.
As we advanced, the monsters in there made me question my sanity. It was like seeing pages of Lovecraftian fiction come to life, with wriggling masses of darkness, tentacles and powers beyond comprehension.
And yet, John cut straight into them, ensuring mine and his safety in less than a split second. The difference in power between me and him was something incredible to think at.
But that was not what he wanted to show me. He brought me to the central room of the floor. A chamber so wide and big that I failed to see the ceiling above, and the end of it was lost to my sight, shrouded in a distant mist. In there, instead of an insanely strong monster, there was something unbelievable.
Looking like an enormous trees of twisted, pulsing meat, it emerged from the ground. Rooted with vein-looking roots that emerged from the ground, the tree stood tall, gigantic in the otherwise empty room.
At the center of it, surrounded by a semi-transparent spherical mana barrier, there was a pulsing white brain of enormous size. Perhaps, it was even bigger than a whale.
<<Relax, there are no monsters here. This, is the final room of the Dungeon. It hosts the thing called Core. Not quite living, not quite dead, this thing supervises and implements all that happens in the Dungeon. Now, let’s go closer>>
As easy as breathing, he cast a spell on me. We took off in the air, levitating towards the pulsing white mass.
I was too overwhelmed to enjoy the sensation of flying up in the air. We rose and rose, for several hundred meters.
The air around us became cold as we ascended, and a loud humming noise was reverberating, growing in intensity as we neared the gigantic Core.
Its size was even greater than I imagined. I gawked as we came close to the barrier, its light slowly pulsing with the same frequency as the thing it protected.
<<Ok. Now, brace yourself>>
John made a gesture with his arms. Following it, his spell’s intensity grew, increasing the speed at which we were moving.
We closed the distance between us and the Core in an instant, traversing the barrier as if nothing was there.
Inside of it, the air had a metallic smell, and static electricity made my hair stand up.
<<Why are we here?>>
I asked to John, looking around while feeling both perplexed and concerned. This place was not somewhere suited to humans. That’s the impression I had.
Yet, John ignored my question. He distended his arm in front of him, pointing his palm towards the brain-like gigantic structure.
He was muttering words that I could not understand, mana flowing back and forth from him to the Core and vice-versa.
<<Don’t fight it>>
He said, his voice still being clear even over the noise from the Core. He pointed his finger at me. As he did, a dense string of mana sprouted from the Core, enveloping me.
Navi’s messages went critical, buzzing with static noise as my mind went blank.
Connected to the Core, I saw what it was doing. What it was. A recollection of memories, fabricated, patched up from whoever knows how many different creatures. It did not have a mind, working instead like a program, repeating its task over and over again. It absorbed and refined mana, working by absorbing the natural mana from the environment and converting it in a refined form, more dense, more suited to transport energy and information. Some, it would release into the Dungeon, the rest it would hold inside massive storing chambers, located in the tree-like structures below and above the Core itself.
It monitored, analyzing the flow of mana to know whatever happened inside the Dungeon. Each person that stepped inside of it, every monster that lived in the various floors. Each death that happened in there.
The Core registered it all.
And it intervened, according to the data it registered. To each monster’s death, it would respond by waiting for a set amount of time, forty- eight hours.
In that time, the Core would collect and refine mana, in a quantity decided by the type and level of the creature killed. It would use that mana to fabricate an identical copy of the creature, a “summoned creature” like those produced with summoning magic. But the process differed from the magic summoning.
The Core, using complex calculations, would also produce an array of behavior patterns, instincts and experiences. All of them synthetic, the products of innumerable calculations and simulations that happened instantaneously inside the Core.
In short, it crafted a personality, a “soul” to bestow on the newly created monster. What resulted, was a fake creature with a fake soul, but manufactured perfectly, making it almost indistinguishable from a proper, living creature. Then, the connection was broken, leaving me with a huge headache and a bleeding nose.
<<The copy is so perfect that it can trick this world’s system. It’s truly a messed up work…when you kill something, it condenses its feeling, instincts and experience, the whole mind or “soul” of the creature. All of it, it becomes energy, fed to you in the form of “Experience Points”. A cruel system, made by an even crueler God. But, this Core here, it can trick the system, giving you EXP without having to kill a real creature. Am I right?>>
Still shaken by the vision from the Core, I could not even respond to him.
Yet, John continued.
<<Now, I want you to think thoroughly about everything I said. The summoning magic, our circumstances, what you saw here, in the Core. And I want you to tell me your conclusions>>
One more time, he looked at me with those eyes, that look of pity he held.
And I did understand the reason behind that feeling he had, both for me and for himself.
Summoning magic, the “creation” of monsters by the Core. The latter could be called the perfected, evolved form of the other.
A summoner, with his limited, human mind, could construct a creature from his memory and imagination, bringing forth something that mimicked life, but was an imperfect copy of it. Useful for limited purposes.
A Dungeon Core, with its unimaginable processing power and mana flow, could do the same, while also constructing a mind, complete with behavior, instinct. Even a personality for the more advanced monsters, and to some, memory.
What John wanted to show me, was the process of mind creation from a Dungeon. And the implications of it, were terrible for someone like us.
Comprehension sparked inside my mind, as I linked what I learned here to my memories.
A mind can be created. Memories, can be created. And if something like a Dungeon Core could do it, it would be a menial task for something even more powerful. Like a God, for example.
What John wanted me to know, was the possibility that all I had, all I was, could be fake, constructed. Mere forgeries, built for whatever reason by a God.
All of my being refuted this notion, but, at the same time, I could not deny it.
It could be a possibility.
I shouted, protesting, throwing my anger at John for telling me something like this.
<<I too reacted that way, when I first came to that conclusion>>
He diverted his eyes from me, pointing them at the Core beside him.
<<And I searched for truth, for a definite proof of who I was. Of who I am. Want to know what I found? Nothing. Nothing at all. There was never a human being with the memories I hold, that lived the life I remember>>
John’s voice turned sour, angry, to the point that he lost control of his own mana flow, releasing all the power and fury he held in his body.
In that instant, I saw him for what he really was. If he really was a human, it was a long time ago.
The information that Navi displayed about him made me shudder.
[Navi: Detected- John Howards lvl 999- Race: Demon- Title: Broken Hero (Aldora), Dungeon Master (Mahal Dungeon)]
His form did not change, his aspect still that of a human. It was his nature that was different now, without the spells he used to hide it.
His voice now sounded more powerful, as if the Dungeon itself resonated with it.
<<With all the power I accumulated in my life, I found a way to peek at that world, the place where my soul should have been born. There was no trace of me, or of the Heroes that once were my companions. Not even that Broken Demon Lord, who laughs in his madness. And I have looked for you, Roshal. Thinking, hoping that you might be different, that your past would be really there. Let me show you what I found>>
Again, mana burst out of the Core, linking to me as it did before.
It showed me my own memories.
Shards of them, at least.
The pain I remember suffering while on my deathbed, it was from an old man from France.
The cherished memory of my first day of school, from a kid that grew up in North America.
All of the experiences I had in my…in what I believed to be me previous life, all of them were nothing more of a patchwork of different memories, taken from several people and patched together to mold a personality, to craft a mind. My own mind, nothing more than a construct, a fake.
<<I’m sorry but, it’s best for you to know. When Telesia told me about you, your situation, I felt like I needed to let you know about this. I could just go on without telling you, but…I prefer being honest to people. Of course, you could still think it a lie, and act otherwise. You could oppose what I just showed you, and retort that a God’s power should be able to bring a dead soul back to life, even transfer it into another world. But that reasoning contains one big mistake. The assumption that those who call themselves God are the real thing>>
I blacked out, and when I returned to my senses, John had brought me to the saferoom.
Those memories play again and again in my mind, as I sit there in the dark, thinking about the implications of them.
I feel the discrepancies that John mentioned, both in my memory and in my actions. If my mind, my soul was something created by the God, my desires, my feelings, are they really mine, or just a bunch of pre-programmed thoughts, nothing more than a code to make this body work as the God intended?
That would explain why I am following this path, trying to become stronger instead of doing the thing that a sane human being would do, avoiding danger altogether and living a quiet and tranquil life.
It makes me so fucking angry, and yet, this feeling does not seem artificial to me at all. Of course, that John could be just lying.
Voices are calling me, as I wallow in my thoughts, still lying on the floor with my head cradled between my hands.
As I lift my eyes, Marica and Levia are in front of me, with Retel and Heod following behind.
They seem concerned, perhaps they went out, looking for me in the night.
How much time did I spend here, just brooding about what happened in there? And…should I tell them?
I feel like talking to them would help me process things, but at the same time, I am not quite sure they will understand.
Deep down, I am clinging to the idea that John could be lying to me, that his was all an elaborate prank he played on me, only to laugh his ass off in that saferoom where he lives.
And yet, what he revealed to me has shaken me deeply. Hell, it’s like everything I believed has turned out wrong, one way or the other.
I go back with the others, keeping silent on the way. I do not want to concern them too much, so I repeat that I am fine, that I only needed some time to think about things.
Of course, they are not convinced by my poor acting. Hell, it must be showing on my face.
As we come back home, I wait for the others to go to their rooms, and I ask Heod to talk a bit with me.
Since I met him, the old man has always proved to be a good listener, and someone with enough insight to give me good advice.
He offers me one cup of his homebrew beer, while he sips from another cup.
Holding the cup in hand, I share with him what happened during the day.
For the first time since I met him, Heod does not have an answer to give me. Instead, he looks at me, with sadness in his eyes.
When he finally speaks, it’s something about me being me, regardless if I come from another world, or even if my mind was something artificial.
More than his words, it was talking to him that let me calm down a bit.
After I finish the beer, I say goodnight to the old man, and head to my room.
I hoped to sleep, but my mind was restless until dawn.
Getting up from my bed, I feel tired, but…
The sleepless night made me come to a conclusion. It’s rather simple, and it comes from an old school of thought that brought immense serenity all over the world. It can be summarized into two simple words.
That’s it. Just fuck it. Even if my mind is a fake, that does not mean it does not exist. I exist, here, now. What I feel, is real. My anger burns, my tears are as wet as those of anyone else. My blood is as red, and my laughter sounds the same.
No matter if some God built me from scraps, or if it just pulled my soul from whatever Hell I was destined to fall into.
During breakfast, I apologize to the others and reassure them about my well being, this time without acting like last night.
It’s like I lifted a weight from my mind, having reached this resolution.
Heod seems pleased to see me laugh and joke with the others, and when we’re left alone in the room, he asks me how I feel.
I tell him that I’ve come to an understanding with myself, and I do not really care about that matter at all.
The only thing that’s still bugging me is what John said about the Gods.
<<Those calling themselves God might not be the real thing>>
That’s what he said. There is no denying that my being has been influenced, perhaps even created, by one of those things, but if whatever brought me here is not a God, then what is it? And why are they here, playing with lives as if they were mere toys, making their followers wage war one onto the other.
To answer these questions, I decided to head back to John’s side.
This time, I used the transfer stone from my home. It shattered after it transported me in the saferoom, breaking into pieces that vanished in thin air.
<<Back here so soon? I thought that you would at least take one day to process things, to find your answer to what I showed you>>
John’s voice came from the bedroll. It looks like I’ve surprised him in his sleep. He rises from his bed, still drowsy from sleep.
<<So, why are you here, fellow fake soul?>>
His voice sounds like he’s mocking me a bit. But, I give him my honest answer, one that I spend the whole night thinking about.
The simple conclusion that I came to, is that I do not care what my origins are. Sure, it pisses me off that my head is basically full of fake memories, most of them painful ones. But, that does not deny my existence here, in this world.
<<Hm. I see, that’s the conclusion you reached. Well, a normal person wound be devastated by this, knowing that all they are, memories, personality and desires, are just fabricated, fake. Your reaction right now, the will to live on, it only means that you’re a fool. And that makes two of us>>
John smiles, perhaps pleased by my answer, by the fact that I am standing here, instead of cowering from what he revealed.
<<I too came to the same conclusion, a long time ago. Well, my motives were a bit different from yours. During my life in this world, I always longed to go back, to that world I thought to be my home. And, when I achieved the means to do it, I was shocked to know the truth. That I did not belong in that place. Like I said before, a normal person would be devastated by something like this. Instead, to me, it did not matter. It almost felt like a liberation of some sort, like lifting a weight from my chest. I bet you felt the same way too. No longer tied up to that place, to those memories, I was able to forget the pain they brought, those shackles made by bad memories and unpleasant feelings. I do not why the God of Aldora uses those kind of memories when he “makes” personalities for his Heroes. Perhaps, he wants to fuel some sort of uneasiness, to make them try to “balance” their painful memories with gaining power in this world. Who knows what that thing is really thinking, what plan he has. I can only make guesses about it, after all, we’re talking about something “alien”, so different from us that trying to understand it will be impossible>>
John continued his monologue, introducing me on his theories about how and why our minds were fabricated like this.
We feel like we hold memories of another life, and the knowledge that has been embedded in our minds is the real thing, no doubt about it. But, as he says, none of us actually holds the knowledge or concepts to actually change this world with notions from that other.
<<For example, even if we know about nuclear power, we do not have the knowledge to actually build a reactor. The knowledge we have, is limited, useful only to do some tricks with magic. For example, you could think of a spell that separates protons and neutrons, giving rise to a catastrophic explosion. But, no matter what, you, and I, we will never be able to piece together this notion in order to build something, to harness this “otherwordly” concept to change the world. The same goes for electricity, or computers. I’ve met “reincarnated” people that were electricians, or engineers, or even computer programmers. They made incredible spells and abilities, using their “knowledge”, but no one among them was even capable to build an instrument like a cellphone, or a computer. Even when during their “previous lives” they did that as a job>>
According to John’s words, the memories that are chosen to “build” an otherworlder’s mind are those that will give him an edge in battle. Nothing that could really impact the world outside of a battlefield.
<<It’s strange. I mean, if the God really wanted to win his war, he could use the technology to his advantage, make people build our world’s weaponry and such>>
In response to my words, John chuckles and shakes his head.
<<Sorry, it’s just…you’re still saying “our world” like it’s a fact. Well, I guess it will take some time for you to adjust to the concept. Still, you’re right. Partially. Yes, it could be easier to do as you said, but, I have the strong feeling that the Gods need this world to be right as it is. Think about it. What happened when science became the answer to all humanity’s questions? What was the most thing that was hurt by this?>>
John claps his hands, smiling.
<<Exactly. If science explains why it rains, and it becomes advanced enough to predict when precipitation would happen, why should people pray for rain? If science has an explanation for sickness, and a cure for it, why should people pray God for forgiveness, and raise sacrifice to have his favor? Now, in this world, prayers are not just chants and words. When someone prays, their mana is put into it. And guess where all that mana goes?>>
What he’s saying has some pretty heavy connotations. I am left speechless, unable to even answer.
<<It goes to the Gods. Well, we still call them with that name for the lack of a better name. They’re definitely not Gods in the proper term. First, they’re incredibly powerful, but not omnipotent. Me and you, we’re proof that their will is not absolute. It is possible to interfere with their plans, although it requires a lot of power to do it. Well, in your case it was another God that meddled in, but…you get what I’m saying right? Second, they need people to pray them. Perhaps they feed on mana, or their power is proportional to the people that pray them. That’s the reason why this world’s original God is weaker than that of Aldora, for example. Third, and most important, they are not eternal, or immortal. They are physical beings, hidden, extremely powerful, but they can be wounded and killed>>
He waits a bit after the last sentence, letting silence settle between us, as his word sink in. He then shows me the reason of his claim.
The Dungeon Core register everything, not only what happens in the Dungeon itself, but in the world as well. And it is ancient, even more than the structure where it is, even more than Aldora, or Sendria.
In an ancient time, when it was buried underground, when this world’s original God was still strong and powerful. Before the Aldora God came, there were others who attempted to conquer this world, and the Core registered the battle between two Gods, this world’s and a rogue usurper.
The rogue was defeated, killed. But, it wasn’t another God who did the killing. It was a man, holding incredible, unfathomable power.
<<As you saw, a mortal, a human, killed that thing. Before, the Gods would challenge themselves into battle. But, as time went by, they changed their strategy, raising minions, humans, giving them fancy titles like Hero or Demon Lord and sending them into battle. Building them with false, painful memories, in order to drive them to strife for becoming better than their “old self”. Making them thirsty for strength, to overwrite the memories of their pathetic “previous life”. That’s why Heroes, Demon Lords, me and you, all of us strive for power. It’s ingrained in us, we’re made to become more powerful, with the ultimate goal of slaying the enemy God. For me, Azathot and the God that ruled this world were the target. For you, it’s the God of Aldora. All that happens in the middle, it’s there to take you to that final moment. If either of us fails, the Gods would simply build another one, and another after that. Until one succeeds>>
<<So, you’re basically saying that these Gods are the bad guys and we need to get rid of them?>>
John makes a displeased face, shaking his head in denial.
<<Not really. Some of them are good. Take this world’s “original” God, for example. She, I think her name was Skelj, she harbors good feelings towards her creatures, she grants prayers and all that stuff. Your friend, Azathot, he’s a bit weird, definitely mad, but what he tries to do, chase out the rogue Gods and helping the ones that actually care for their worlds, it’s a good thing. Maybe his methods are a bit strange, but he tries to balance things out. The God of Aldora, well he’s a ruthless bastard, aiming to erase magic and enslave worlds to his will. He did that with our “old world”, too, but it backfired, since there science grew to suppress faith and he basically lost that world. Well, enough with this topic, it’s already making my head hurt. Now, let’s start with your training, and we will talk some more in a later time>>
I am a bit thankful when I hear his words. I really was on the verge of a severe headache wit all the notions and talks about Gods and stuff. It’s something I will need to elaborate slowly, without burning out my mind in order to sort things out.
John snaps his fingers, and a door appears on the saferoom ‘s wall. We head in, finding ourselves into a large, empty room. It appears that John, being the Dungeon Master, can create and alter the Dungeon at will thanks to his connection to the Core. Sadly, according to him, the same connection prevents him for ever leaving the Dungeon.
That should be one hell of a story, how and why someone like him ended up trapping himself forever in this place.
Still, I do not have the time to ponder about things, for his training starts immediately.
He used the same spell as the first time I met him, when he forced me on the ground with some kind of increased gravity, or air pressure.
The room where we are becomes imbued with it, making my movements almost impossible. Breathing in here is hard, and I am struggling just to keep myself standing upright. What the hell is this, a training room for Saiyan?
In there, he makes me start with basic movements and exercise. To his words, he will not help me raise my level during this training. What we will do together, is increase my stats by physical training, then work on my skills and finally, he will teach me how to use magic.
It seems something simple while said like this, but the smile John’s making, makes me feel like what he’s preparing is truly a hellish training.
After five hours spent in that room, I return to the surface, exhausted. My muscles ache all over, and even taking a single step is excruciating.
But, the sense of fatigue, it has given me time to clear my head a bit. As I focused on the exercises John made me do, I didn’t let my mind dwell on the notions I learned during these two days.
Which is fine, I think.
Having used the Transfer Orb that John has given me, I returned into our house, surprising the others with my sudden appearance. Well, I suppose it would have been better to warn them first, but oh well.
Much to my surprise, Dahl is here with the others. His wounds healed, he’s sitting at the table trying to stop Heod from putting more cake in his plate.
<<It’s a battle you will not win, Dahl>>
I say, smiling at that scene. Yes, all that exercise definitely improved my mood, although it drained my energies.
Even if I feel exhausted, I decide to go out with the others. Right now, I want to enjoy a bit of time with them, without monsters trying to kill us or Dungeon floors to explore. Just a bunch of people hanging out, speaking about what they did during the day.
Before we go, Heod stops me, checking out how I feel. Our talk yesterday night must have been concerning to him.
I reassure him of my well being. The old man smiles, patting my shoulder, telling me that whenever I want to talk, about anything, he’s there.
It’s refreshing to see that there are people here who are ready to support me, listening to my insecurities and complaints with patience. Seriously, I don’t know how things would have been without Heod’s support.
Thanking the old man, and promising him a treat of good liquor when I come back, I part from him, heading out to join the others on our night out in Sendria.
Unlike the alleys I saw yesterday, the Central plaza is something beautiful to see at night. No trace of poverty or desperation here, only people doing their business and others willing to spend their coins in exchange for good food, alcohol and a bit of fun.
We decide to grab a bite at the foodstalls, and we walk around seeing what Sendria has to offer at night.
Several stalls and taverns are willingly serving alcohol to us, since here there is basically no concept of minor or adolescents. After you get older than thirteen, you stop being a child and are treated like an adult, with all the good and bad sides that come from it.
Surprisingly, Dahl seems to be rather weak to alcohol. We’ve taken a few rounds of beer, and he’s already red in the face and talking funny.
And he’s talking too much, it’s like seeing another person from the usual, calm and collected Dahl.
Well, the first impression he made might have been a strange one, but he’s gradually growing on me. He’s a nice guy, and reliable, most of all.
Each of us is talking about what happened with their respective trainers. Retel is really pleased with
Rupert. Although they haven’t yet started a proper physical training course, the retired adventurer has begun to give him some theory notions about proper martial forms, and the use of weapon and shield.
<<Things like how to properly hold out your shield, how to maximize impact deflection and so on. Lots of complicated, but interesting stuff>>
When it comes to Marica’s turn, her face turns pale while she recalls the huge amount of books that she has been forced to study. Apparently, her tutor is somewhat of a strict one.
<<Well, after all magic is about knowledge, and you can only acquire that with hard study>>
She empties her cup, cleaning her mouth from the beer foam with her sleeve in an unfeminine gesture.
Levia too has begun to study some basic magic tomes. Her tutor is someone that specialized in both archery and magic, combining the two in battle.
Judging from the way she speaks of her, she holds her new master in great consideration already.
When it comes to my turn, I omit the ridiculous part of what happened, like the level of my new master and his circumstances.
They try to pry about what happened yesterday, what could have possibly saddened me so much. But, I divert the topic, saying that I just felt a bit homesick. Nostalgia for my old world. Well, that’s one hell of an excuse, coming from my own mouth.
But, I do not want to ruin the atmosphere right now. We’re having fun, no point in bringing some depressing topic out.
When the right time comes, I will talk to them properly. But for now, we’re having fun, and I do not want to ruin that.
I am taking this occasion to push Retel to make his move with Marica. It’s almost painful to look at them, as they steal glances one from the other, embarrassed, unable to properly stand up and tell each other what they feel.
Every time Retel looks at her, Marica’s face becomes red, and she diverts her eyes. Mostly, she looks down and fidgets with her hands, or she turns to Levia to talk.
Not that Retel is doing something different. He’s being his usual self, joking out loudly, but since we’ve been here, he never directly spoke to Marica.
We spent another hour in that tavern, before heading back home. Sadly, me and Retel had to carry back Dahl. He’s really too much weak to alcohol, and he fell asleep on the table.
<<Well, I guess it’s enough for this night. Tomorrow, you all have stuff to do after all>>
I smile to them, reminding them of the upcoming Rank-Up ceremony. Since Dahl was discharged earlier from the Hospital, Telesia decided to hasten things and do the Rank Up tomorrow morning.
Since I have different circumstances, I cannot participate to the ceremony, but I will attend it together with the old man.
After all, it should be an important day for adventurers, worthy of celebration.
With Retel, we lift up Dahl from his seat, and we start heading home.
<<Wow, he’s still asleep even now. Are you sure he’s not dead?>>
Retel asks, a bit concerned. Of course Dahl is still alive, he’s just passed out. Perhaps, this was his first time drinking alcohol?
<<I guess he’ll wake up tomorrow with a nice headache>>.
Since there’s a spare room in hour house, we brought him back with us. It’s a bit strange, if I think about it, but none of us actually know where he lives. The only personal thing we know about him is that Telesia is his grandmother, and that’s it. Nothing about the rest of his family.
Well, I figured out he might just be a shy person after all, reserved about his whereabouts.
Taking him up the stairs was a bit of a chore to do, since, even if passed out, he was still moving in his sleep, making it difficult for us to carry him.
I’ll take my revenge on him tomorrow, that’s for sure.
Thankfully, he didn’t puke, or this situation could have become seriously worse than it is.
After laying him on the bed, we left the room. Marica and Levia are already in their rooms, while Heod is downstairs in his improvised laboratory. He’s probably making his inventory, since he will need to move to the new lab that the Guild has provided him.
We decided to pay him a visit. After all, I promised some good liquor to the old man.
He’s glad to see the bottle. Personally, I never tasted the liquor inside of it, and I bought it by Levia’s suggestion.
She said that it was a long time favorite of Heod, and often, back when they lived in Nudria, he would buy the liquor and sip it after each meal.
Although he enjoys liquor, he is not a drunkard at all. More like a connoisseur, enjoying the thing without letting it become a vice.
We stay some time with the old man, helping him to move and pack things.
<<Hm, I guess it’s enough for today. Go to bed, lads. Tomorrow will be a great day, you need to rest a bit>>
He sends us off with a smile.
Once in my room, I take off my clothes and collapse on the bed. Hell, I feel tired. That bastard John really worked me to the bone.
Still, I’ve been trying to avoid the topic with myself, in order to not crack the resolve I found yesterday. But, it returns, always, coming back from the corners of my consciousness, no matter in how many menial tasks or conversations I try to bury myself.
It’s not something a normal person should be able to process in only one day. Well, John’s words were right about that.
Hell, I do not know if it will take me a lifetime to come to terms with this. I tried to ask Navi about how things really are for me.
After staying silent for a while, her voice rings in my head. Her usual mocking tone is not there, instead, the voice she makes sounds apologetic.
[Navi: Yes, it’s all true. Sorry, if we kept it hidden from you, but something like this could cause severe psychological instability, even crush your mind. We could not risk something like this happening]
Well, she admits things are as John told me. And what’s this “we” she’s talking about?
[Navi: This conversation was authorized by Azathot. Since he does not want to lose another subject, this time it was allowed to share the details, in order to avoid the same accident that happened with the Laughing One]
So, the God is listening, huh? Well, that makes two of them out to spy me, Alvares and my old friend.
I feel like those VIPs from old movies, paranoid about microphones and spy-cams being set in their office.
Well, I hope they enjoy the show, seeing a man facing doubts about his very existence. Although, since Navi confirmed it, I guess they’re not doubts anymore.
All the memories I have, the life I thought to be my own. Nothing more than forgeries, things put together to build my personality.
All the decisions I took in this world, they all stem from the way I was constructed. Even me being here, it’s nothing more than a desire already “programmed” into me when I was created.
All that talk about becoming stronger, it was not really my decision, but something ingrained in me, pre-set, a path I was supposed to chose for myself and follow, thinking it like a decision I took. While it was not.
And all the times I considered to turn back, abandon whatever I was attempting to do and live a quiet life here, those were empty consideration, only possible to make this whole thing more plausible, like I had a proper inner dialogue with myself.
It makes me laugh, thinking about how really messed up this situation is.
I roll over in my bed, trying to let myself fall asleep. After all, I already took a decision about how I would deal with all this. Yes, this whole situation is so messed up, but, I cannot change. No matter what I do, it will not change the fact that my head is full of memories that are not mine, and that whatever I am, I am tied to whatever game these Gods are playing.
So, what should I do? The answer is simple. Continue what I am already doing. I will continue training with John, and after that, I will resume the exploration of the Dungeon and the trials hidden within. Somehow, I will deal with things, like I’ve always had up to this point. Perhaps, if I really become strong, I will have the occasion to look one of these supposed Gods in the face, and let him taste a bit of pain.
Hell, I really sound like a proper, stereotypical Demon Lord right now! Well, it’s the Gods’ fault, since they made me this way.
Finally, sleep comes to silence my thoughts. After all, tomorrow will be a great day. No point in spending another sleepless night, brooding over things that I cannot possibly change.