Chapter 316: Marik’s Dungeon
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 Author's Corner: Thank you to Jared McClure, Robert, and Daniel Jones for joining the Patreon!


While Ryone and Aurivy were preoccupied with testing out the ‘Twilight’s Hold’ game world, I decided to have Sarah let me take a look at one of the higher tier worlds. I figured that would give the two of them a bit more time to mess around and try out new things.

In the back of my head, I could already imagine both of them wanting to save up points to buy one of these worlds to connect to their own. Hell, whenever I give Ryone the option to make her own world, I wouldn’t doubt if she pools her funds with Aurivy, and even  Udona to get the amount needed for one of these.

“This is Marik’s Dungeon.” Sarah said with a small smile, motioning towards the monitor. “It’s actually one of our newest products that we just released in Lyra. You might even find it more interesting than Twilight.”

“Oh?” I took a look at the screen. Rather than showing the game world, it showed a ‘cover art’. In the center of the screen was a faintly glowing, blue crystal pillar that reached from the ground all the way into the sky. “Wait… don’t tell me.”

“That’s right.” Sarah chuckled lightly. “We used the dungeon world that you put on the market recently as the base for this game. Though, I must say that it has given us no shortage of extra work since we launched it.”

Sammy smirked bitterly at that. “That’s an understatement. We’ve got to do all the real exploring for new floors ourselves.”

“What do you mean?” I asked in confusion, looking between the two of them. I knew for a fact that the world inhabitants could just discover the gates between floors themselves.

A fact that Sarah was no doubt aware of, especially judging by her answer. “Remember how we said that we move any sapient races away from the game worlds, to preserve their ‘living rights’? Well… when we were designing this game, we did a lot of the exploring ourselves. Set up starter zones and all that, make sure we had the basic systems ‘installed’ for launch.”

“You can imagine our surprise when we found a sentient race that we never purchased, long before the game came out. Since then, we’ve put in special procedures. Whenever a new floor is released as an ‘update’, the gate to the next level is locked off. We go in, move whatever sapient races there are to safety, and then repopulate the floor with NPCs and content.”

“That must take… years between updates, then?” My eyes opened wide as I tried to imagine the process that they would have to take in order to fully populate a server with what could be essentially classified as living golems.

“Couple months in world time, usually.” Sammy waved it off with a small shrug. “If you use the time zones cleverly, you can create a workroom. She sends me down into the designated workroom, then freezes everything else in Lyra. Fast forward just the workroom, teleport the NPCs out once they’re completed, and that’s that. The only thing that really takes any amount of time on Sarah’s end is helping to come up with storylines for each floor. But she loves stuff like that.”

I gave a small nod, starting to understand. “Out of curiosity… how far in has your world grown? Which floor?”

“Hmm?” Sarah glanced upwards in thought. “Forty-seventh, last I checked. Right, Sammy?”

“We just started exploring the forty-eighth floor, boss. But yeah, the game’s expanded up to the forty-seventh. Man, at this rate, I’m expecting there to be at least five hundred floors per world.”

Something about how he said that grabbed my attention. “Per world? I always just expected a single world to basically go on forever.” Or until the end of a ‘galaxy’ size, at which point things would simply be too terrifying to explore further anyways.

He chuckled, shaking his head. “Nah, that’s not how it works. A limitless world size is way more expensive. You have to buy it as a special option. With what you have here… Keep in mind, I’ve never met one myself. But I’d say that the final floor should be filled with creatures that have the strength of a sixth ranked Keeper.”

“That is to say, any random creature from the last floor could potentially wipe out a Keeper of that rank or lower in the games, even with their world advantage. But out beyond that? In the vastness of space? There could be creatures that could challenge seventh ranked Keepers.”

“Of course, there would be other worlds, as well. The big difference, though, is that these worlds can’t be conquered normally.” Seeing the confusion on my face, he raised a finger. “In order to pass through the gates, you have to take the orb for your race in that world to the centermost layer.”

I understood what he was talking about now, giving a slight nod. “And naturally, you can’t do that without going through the gates… so you’d be forced to use teleportation magic to cross the barriers.”

“Exactly! Now, I don’t know what kind of power a seventh ranked Keeper would have, but the barrier between layers becomes thicker the higher up you go. Even for them, they probably couldn’t break through more than one at a time at first. Then them or their deities would have to search through the floors to find the racial spheres, and so on.”

This conversation gradually made me begin to think about the situation that Fyor was facing. Seeing that they had started to use this kind of world as well, it seemed like a good idea to ask them about it. “And, what do you do if someone breaks one of the mana pillars in this game?”

Sarah, surprisingly, gave a sullen groan at that. “Ugh, don’t remind me. The bug hunters were all over that on opening day. One of them actually managed to deal enough damage to the second floor crystal to cause a system shutdown. For us, the system shutting down means that all the ‘players’ had their connections cut.”

“No real danger for anyone involved, but there was a huge backlash on the forums. The guy even leaked that attacking the crystal crashed the servers. Since then, more and more people have been grouping up, finding it fun to try and break the game for everyone else. Any system that could reliably stop them would be deemed too powerful, and placed on an unexplored floor, so we’ve resorted to more basic practices.”

“What she means.” Another voice spoke up, causing me to glance back. A short, childlike boy sat in another nearby chair at his own terminal. “Is that we set up barriers around every pillar, fueled by the mana of the pillars themselves. It causes the day-night cycle to tilt a bit, with about twice as much night as day… but it keeps the barriers charged.”

Sarah nodded her head at that. “When they saw our countermeasures, the griefers naturally protested, saying that it was all part of the game. We really don’t like banning people from one of our servers, but that was a time I ended up making an exception.”

I couldn’t really say that I’d do any better there. I’d have probably banned them the moment they started teaming up to try to destroy the mana spires. It only made sense to get rid of players that were actively seeking to destroy the game for everyone else. That’s the kind of thing that you put in the terms of service! ...Which nobody ever really reads.

“Alright. Now that that’s out of the way… mind giving me a rundown of this game?” When I asked that, Sarah visibly perked up. It seemed that there was something about this one that she really enjoyed.

“Sure! First of all, Marik’s Dungeon is unlike any of our other products. That’s because, unlike our other games, there is a single sapient race that inhabit this world. Their numbers are small, in order to keep the game as easy to play as possible, but they do exist. They even know fully well that they are inside of a game.”

“They are the Avariel, deific beings both almighty and powerless. All of them that remain in the game do so of their own free will, having been given the option to leave whenever they wished.”

Seeing that she was starting to lose focus on the key points, Sammy turned to face me, continuing the explanation. “It’s like this. Avariel are really hard to kill, but they can’t cultivate much personal power at all. Instead, they have the ability to bestow power onto others in the form of special skills and techniques.”

“Several key figures within this game belong the the Avariel race, and some are even secretly disguised as normal NPCs. It’s up to the players to become friendly with an Avariel, and gain those abilities. These abilities are often crucial for surviving on the later floors, or in big boss fights.”

“It’s more than just that, Sammy!” Sarah spoke with a wistful sigh. “The depth of the bond between a player and an Avariel can greatly change the level of power bestowed on them. You could have one Avariel that sponsors an entire guild, granting each member a small boost… or you can have a couple that truly falls in love. The Avariel joins them in life and death struggles, pouring everything they have into strengthening their chosen champion!”

Sammy grinned, glancing towards Sarah out of the corner of his eyes before looking back at me. “Don’t mind her. She loves romance stories like that the most. The first time she actually saw an Avariel and player falling for one another, I swear she actually went down in person to congratulate the two of them, and eventually hosted their wedding. Not many couples can say that they were married by the Keeper herself.”

“It was so beautiful!” Sarah’s eyes seemed to shine as she thought back. “They were torn between their two worlds, each asking me for the right to let them live truly in the other world with their love. When I saw that, how could I say no? We had been letting the Avariel out whenever they grew tired of living in a game, so why would this be any different.”

Sammy rolled his eyes, giving me a small wink. “She’s leaving out the fact that we had to stop her from hand-crafting an entire world to give the two of them. Their own little paradise. When the couple heard about that, they actually became worried. Who wouldn’t, though? It’d be a world where the only other intelligent being was your lover. Even the happiest of couples want friends or family that they can connect to.”

“I was really excited to make that world, though…” Sarah muttered under her breath, before quickly shaking her head. “I got sidetracked! Anyways, like I was saying, there are certain things that you can only get by forming a bond with an Avariel. Sometimes, you can get the ability to change your class into something fitting the Avariel, or things of that nature.”

I had to admit, the idea for the game did sound interesting to me. However, I couldn’t really see it as something I’d really buy. Just the price tag on the world alone would be obscene. Then there were the difficulties when it came to expanding it. Perhaps Tubrock might be willing to create NPCs for me like that, but I really couldn’t see him wanting to put in the same amount of work on that that Sammy clearly does.

No, I was unlikely to ever get Marik’s Dungeon, even if they did end up putting it on the market some day. Though now I did want to take a look through the rest of the games that they had listed when we got back, just to see what all there was. Out of curiosity, I had them flip back to Twilight’s Hold, where I saw Ryone and Aurivy walking out of the elven city with Jelial, heading towards a field of monsters. It looked like they were about to finally start some combat.