Chapter 33: A cold reception for those who lack the warmth of faith
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When I was lowered into the water by my father’s hands, I was just a boy.

The water was so calm and so serene. I wasn’t expecting it to happen. We were just walking like we would have on any other day. He grabbed me by the collar and just pushed me down beneath the surface of the lake.

I wasn’t really afraid. I was just… I was just calm. I was like the water.

I laid down there, beneath the surface, staring up towards what lied on the other side of it.

Past the sight of my father’s arms, pressed against my chest and shoulder, I saw the shimmering of the emerald-green trees become distorted by the ripples that I had made. I saw blobby silhouettes of birds flying by in the distant sky. I saw rays of the sun, hanging above us, shining down through the clear lake with a kind glow that reached all the way down towards me, to the cold silt that I lay against.

I was drowning. My lungs burnt and my body ached from the pain of my father’s hands crushing me.

— But I felt calm.

I have never been that calm in my life, not before, not after. I was calm as I stared at all of life, passing us by. I was calm, as I stared into the possessed eyes of my father, distorted by the water. I was calm, as the world began to grow dark.

And the reason I was calm was because I knew that I was safe.

I closed my eyes.

When I reopened them the next time, returning to wakefulness, I was on the shore, by myself.

— My father was found floating in the water, having drowned himself next to me.

It wasn’t that I was saved by a god or by divinity or by some hero, coming to me at the right place and the right time to stop the thing that had taken over my father.

Rather, I was saved by the light in my father’s eyes that had overpowered the demon who took possession of his body.

And in this moment, after realizing what darkness my father must have overcome to free himself from the binds on his soul, I saw that the gods too, must be real. If the demon-king and his devilry, here upon our world, are tangible, present things. Then so must be the opposite, the good, the light of the sun reaching me below the water, the last shine in my father’s eyes.

These are the places where the gods hide. They are not hiding up in the heavens. They’re down here, with us. They’re hidden in plain sight.

 

~ Anecdote from father Hildrian Red, high priest, on the topic of his childhood during the terrible era of the demon-king.

 


 

~ [The Humming Man] ~
???, Male, Chronomancer

 

The humming man wanders through the tower at a calm, leisurely pace. He spares plenty of time to wander the hallways and to walk around and look at everything.

 

He spares seconds to examine the intricate methods of construction used here and there. He spares minutes to look at the monsters, the denizens of the tower, at work and at play. He spares a moment, to stand on floor six of the tower, with his hands on his hips and his head tilted, as he watches a homunculus priestess and an ornately hewn stone-golem praying together. She’s kneeling in the channels of water, her hands folded, sparing a half-eyed glance towards the golem, who is trying to copy her movements. But it isn’t quite as graceful as she is.

 

Interesting.

 

The humming man walks on, moving on to a series of floors full of a very surprising amount of goblins.

 

There are a lot of goblins.

 

He spares an instant, to bend down and to look at a goblin in particular, who stops his work and wipes his forehead as soon as all of the other goblins are out of sight.

 

The creature, who had been pretending to work like all of the others, isn’t actually a fake. This isn’t a homunculus goblin. This is a real goblin.

 

Curious.

 

Some patrolling goblins come around the bend and the lone straggler returns to its ‘work’, hammering uselessly against a pipe, while carefully watching the patrolling monsters walk past itself to see that they aren't catching on to its charade.

 

How interesting.

 

The humming man continues on.

 

On floor nine, he stops to admire the choir, singing a very nice hymn. He’s never heard anything like this in a dungeon before. Interestingly, there’s a real human in the choir, singing with the rest of them. A man.

 

The humming man finds his way to an empty pew and sits down in the front row, stopping his humming to listen to the music being played here.

 

There’s no rush, after all.

 

He has all the time in the world. Seconds and minutes and hours and moments and so many other things.

 

He casually leans back, resting his elbows on the backrest of the pew and begins to hum along with the melody, now that he has figured it out.

 


 

~ [Officer Walundra] ~
Human, Male, Knight Officer

 

With white knuckles, Walundra leans in forward, staring into the crystals.

 

The room has become completely silent. Nobody has dared to say anything since the last man got thrown out of the room.

 

— He can’t let this situation get out of control. He’s spent his whole life on this job. He’s not going to have all of this thrown away because the first team couldn’t handle a baby dungeon. That’s not his fault. They should have trained better. They should have been more careful. He’s not taking the blame for this. The dungeon has to go. This mess is going to be cleaned up and if the church or anyone else makes any fuss about it, he’ll just say the dungeon was exceptionally dangerous.

 

It had to be done.

 

As long as the team gets the job done now, which they should be able to do just fine, now that they’re being careful, he’ll be in the clear.

 


 

~ [Irascaris] ~
Human, Male, Lancer

 

“This is kinda fucked,” says Irascaris. “Do you really think they’re gonna blow it up?” he asks.

 

Caeli, the battle-alchemist, nods to him. Her arms are crossed. “Those were serious customers,” she says, looking towards the tower. “Did you see the scrying crystals on their heads?” she asks. “I bet by tomorrow, this whole place will be gone.”

 

The man looks down at the maps that he’s been selling. This crazy tower dungeon was supposed to be their lucky break. They’ve made enough money to survive off of for a whole month already and that’s with meat, not the days’ old bread they’ve been living on for weeks now.

 

He sighs. “This is the only dungeon for our level in the area,” says Irascaris.

 

Domi plants a hand on his shoulder. “Let’s just say it was a lucky month for us. We’ll make it work somehow. We can go back to grinding slimes and rats again. That wasn't so bad, right?”

 

“The month isn’t over,” says Caeli.

 

The two of them look up her way. She’s standing there, her arms covering her belts of potions, as she looks towards the tower. The dungeon-gate is unguarded. “Do you guys think that those max-level rich kids are going to bother looting anything they kill?” she asks quietly, looking at the two of them.

 

They look at each other and then shake their heads. “I doubt it. No. They don’t need the money.”

 

“Exactly,” says Caeli. She nods her head subtly to the door of the tower. “Why don’t we just run in now that they’re upstairs and pack our bags full?” she asks. “It’s a waste if it just lays there and rots beneath the rubble.”

 

“Scavenging someone else's kills?” asks Domi. “Isn’t that a little… seedy?”

 

Caeli tsks. “It isn’t scavenging. It’s salvaging,” she says, picking up her bag. “Come on!” she hisses. “I’m not eating that shitty bread again for another month. My jaw still hurts.”

 

Domi and Irascaris look at each other and nod, before running after her.

 

But they have to hurry. The other adventurers outside quickly see what their plan is and soon, just about everyone who was outside of the tower, is inside of it.

 

All except for one elf, who remains there on her knees with folded hands, fervently whispering her prayers to the tower.

 


 

~ [Isaiah] ~

 

“Wow, full house today,” says Red, looking down at the tower several kilometers below them all.

 

Isaiah nods, flying up high in the sky. “This is the day we have been preparing for all of this time,” says Isaiah. “The intruders are almost at floor six,” says Isaiah. “Is everything ready? Did you get it from the cellar?”

 

“Yeah,” replies Black. “Sure did. But we gotta be careful. I feel like this counts as a trap,” says the uthra. “We’re still not allowed to use traps.”

 

Isaiah shakes its head. “It’s not a trap,” explains the creature. “It’s simply…” The entity lifts its gaze, staring towards the sky as it thinks of the words.

 

“- Active, defense oriented, architectural design features,” says Crystal from the side.

 

Isaiah nods, pleased. It turns to look at the uthra. “Go. Take your roles,” it commands. “Most importantly, you are to stay safe,” it orders. “Work and then return to me.”

 

The uthra look at each other, some in more confusion than others, but then nod and all fly off.

 

Isaiah hovers there, watching them go.

 

In its first days as a dungeon-core, it had made the same mistake that it had made in its old human life.

 

- To be careless with life, to be careless with the lives of others, whether in the name of faith or in the pursuit of an individual goal — Neither are acceptable.

 

It holds its hands behind its back and looks out over the verdant, blossoming landscape of the wide, endless world and then says a silent apology for the first uthra that it had failed in its childish naivety. Blue. Pink. Yellow. Purple.

 

It is a shame that they can never return to see anything like this ever again.

 


 

~ [{OBSCURED}] ~
Human, Female, Monk

 

The heavy, wooden beads on her arms rattle loudly as they walk up the staircase to floor six.

 

“The map says there’s a stone golem and a fake priestess on this floor,” says the geomancer, holding up a piece of paper.

 

She nods. “Watch out for magical walls. Spread out as soon as we get up the staircase. You two go left. You’re with me. Right.” She points at the geomancer. “Immobilize the golem as soon as you can see it. I’ll break any barriers.”

 

He nods.

 

She holds her hand against the crystal. “Proceed?” she asks.

 

It vibrates twice.

 

They move up the staircase to floor six.

 


 

~ [{OBSCURED}] ~
Human, Male, Geomancer

 

The geomancer shakes himself out, getting ready. A stone golem is easy enough. They’re strong and sturdy as all hell, even at lower levels, but they’re very susceptible to stone altering magic. Just crumbling their legs is enough to immobilize them. This should be easy.

 

The four of them reach the top of the staircase, but don’t step on to the next floor just yet. The necromancer and the priest step back and to the left. He and the monk go towards the right.

 

This arena is an open-faced area. The sky is clearly visible behind a few large, ornate pillars that hold the next floor above them aloft. In the stone flooring, channels of water run through the whole place. They’re not very deep or wide, but they do seem to be everywhere, like veins in a body.

 

The water is mildly warm, heated by the spring air and very clean and pure.

 

“Ready?” asks the monk. They nod. “- Go!”

 

She shoots to the right and he runs after her. The fight initiates, the golem roaring, a priestess sitting on its massive shoulder glaring towards them.

 

In an instant, the giant thunders their way from across the arena. The fake-priestess lifts a hand, creating a magical barrier to block them off from another. As soon as she starts casting, the monk is already in position to smash her spell into pieces the moment it appears. She keeps running straight towards the golem without stopping.

 

The geomancer lifts his hands, getting the spell ready to break the stones of its lower body.

 

— As soon as he lifts his hands, he notices that something changes in the room, but it isn’t obvious enough to make him stop mid-way through. It’s only a tiny voice in his head, perhaps some part of his lizard brain had seen the foggy inkling of breath, leaving his mouth, as if it were icy cold here.

 

What an odd thing for a warm, spring day.

 

({OBSCURED}) Geomancer has used: [Stonebreaker]

 

Colors of many hues fly by them in a flash. His spell hits the golem, its massive legs crumbling apart into large chunks as it remains mid-sprint, thundering towards them.

 

And then, in that same second, the room changes.

 

Of the many colors that had flown in, one remains most present in the very center of the arena.

 

— An ice spirit.

 

All of the water in all of the channels along the floor of the arena freezes over from the center of the room, crackling in a series of loud snaps and pops, as if a thunderstorm were crashing around just down beneath their feet.

 

In an instant, the floor becomes a slippery mess.

 

The golem, breaking apart from his spell, crashes to the ground but continues to slide forward from its momentum.

 

He can’t tell what the others are doing, being too busy trying to keep his own footing on the slick floors.

 

A massive chunk of living stone smashes into him, carrying him with it as it careens straight off of the side of the tower. His instincts and his years of training take over. The geomancer keeps calm in that single, adrenaline fueled moment and presses himself up onto whatever piece of moving rock he can reach.

 

They slide off of the tower, he feels the world hanging beneath himself as his boot presses off of the falling golem’s back. He jumps back towards the tower, just in time before the momentum of the fall could take him down off of the side with the monster.

 

The monk has scrambled towards him in an agile maneuver to pull him back inside, mid leap, her hand outstretched his way.

 

(Shadowy Priestess) has used: [Holy Barrier]

 

The geomancer collides against the glassy wall, looking at the face of the monk on the other side of it, an inch away from his and then he falls, together with the golem and the priestess.

 

He dies.

 

 


I wonder how OSHA would feel about the tower as a workplace

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