Chapter 41: Graceful divinity
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Dungeons often differ in their approaches to dungeon-design.

Some suffer from the classic problem of choosing form over function. Others suffer the opposite weakness; the focus on pure, cold-blooded efficiency over a little sense of artistry.

Form-focused dungeons tend to be lower-leveled than their pragmatic counterparts, the function-focused dungeons. Yet there are more of them alive in our world.

This might appear counter-intuitive at first, but the reasoning is simple.

A form-focused dungeon spends time developing the character of its body. Metaphorically, it washes itself. It wears clean, fitting clothes. It trims its hair and watches after its health. It trains good presentation and posture and gesturing.

A functionality-focused dungeon is the archetype of a grubby, dungeon-dwelling adventurer. Unwashed, dirty, grimy with no manners at all — But a highly productive individual.

Of the forty-nine existing dungeons of the world, just less than forty of those can be classified as ‘long term’ dungeons, which have existed for at least ten years each. Nine of those are ‘extremely long term’ (At least thirty years). The other remaining slots for dungeon respawns are constantly cycled through by destruction teams until we finally achieve the perfect roll of the dice for the growth of our people.

Of all of the longest surviving dungeons, a strong eighty percent of those that we have chosen to keep in our world are form-focused dungeons. The beautiful. The kind. The joyful. Those are who we prefer to choose, over the industrious and diligent.

Not only are these easier for us to harvest, given their less serious nature, but the unspoken interactions with the cores there tend to be kinder in our favor as well.

 

~ Excerpt from Barnatus Barnacious’ Big Book of Dungeons

 


 

~ [Witch Perchta] ~
???, Female, Witch

 

Witch Perchta sits outside of her house, leaning back on a chair as she stares up towards the night, towards the stars that seem to hide something behind their mischievous twinkling.

 

She’s wary of the stars. They’re up to something. They have been for weeks now. Something is at play in the world.

 

She tilts her head, taking a sip from the cracked, porcelain cup in her hands, watching the steam rise past her eyes and drift towards the somber sky, as if it had ambitions to join together with the heavy clouds up above herself.

 

Moving out here, away from the city, away from people was the right idea.

 

She takes another sip of her tea.

 

– Something rustles in the nearby forest.

 

The witch turns her head, looking at the wild, emerald slime that is crawling through the underbrush. It's a runt, particularly small for its species. She assumes it has been an unsuccessful hunter. Given the late hour and that slimes are usually awake during the daytime, the little thing is presumably on a desperate hunt. Given its very small size, it will likely be chasing after rodents and frogs and such things at the moment. Whatever it can hope to catch.

 

She takes a calm sip of her tea, watching it as it feels around the base of a tree that a large lizard is clinging to.

 

Nature is a very interesting thing.

 

(Perchta) has used: [Petrify] on (Lizard)
Applied Status: [Petrification]

 

The paralyzed lizard loses its grip and falls from the tree. The instant it thuds against the ground and a vibration moves through the forest floor, the slime pounces onto it, devouring it whole.

 

Perchta sips her tea and watches the hungry monster eat.

 


 

~ [Bishop Zacaries Montero] ~
Human, Male, Bishop

 

Several carriages roll down the way with his in the front at the lead. The cardinals' carriages are in the back. Among them are many doubters, who had wanted to see for themselves.

 

The old man looks out of the clean windows of the carriage as they enter into the dungeon’s territorial radius.

 

Immediately, he can see a shift in the world around themselves. It is presented not only in his vision of the landscape, but in the expressions and the movements of the soldiers and priests around the carriage. Their posture changes, loosening, as they look around the area to absorb its more vivid colors. They lift the slits of their helmets and lower their hoods to breathe in deep breaths of the forest air that, somehow, seems impossibly purer than it was just a few steps ago.

 

The hues of the grasses change from the crisp, spring greens to softer, more bluish tones. The rustling of the leaves is duller and brings with it a tranquil serenity.

 

Everything is the same as it was before, but it is now simply different.

 

It is… peaceful.

 

Even his bodyguard, a stout, stoic, quiet man seems somewhat surprised as he looks out of the window from the opposite seat.

 

— So it is true.

 

The carriage rides on forward, following a very well made road, until they reach the most obvious landmark that might have ever existed.

 

Bishop Zacaries Montero opens the door to his carriage himself, before the man can grab it to do so for him and he steps outside, down onto the ground. The priests who were standing there scatter, giving him ample space.

 

His eyes wander up the length of the construction, made out of marble-white stones, each the size of a giant’s tooth.

 

Nightbird song fills the air, the sound of young chicks noisily chirping comes to his ears; a promise of new life. His eyes wander the tower’s grounds, over the statues that present images and contexts of purest divinity. The goddess of the waters finds herself depicted in a statue near the river. To his side is a statue of an obscure, old god of horses that nobody of this era, who is not a perplexingly well-studied person, could ever know of, given its secrecy. Statues of every god and goddess that he has ever studied fill the grounds and among them are many of the same; an entity.

 

It resembles the divine messenger of the gods, the ones they would send in the era after they left the mortal coil to return to the heavens.

 

— However, one day, those messengers also stopped arriving.

 

He looks at it, studying the exquisite, perfect craftsmanship as he walks towards the tower. The soldiers walk at his side, a pair of heavy boots thudding behind him, as his bodyguard tramples down the road.

 

Bishop Zacaries Montero’s eyes land on the graveyard, large and well kept. It is not only of the highest craftsmanship and care, but it is also full to the brim.

 

“What have we done?” asks the bishop, looking back towards his priests. None have an answer to give him. His eyes wander back up towards the heavens. The moonlight, shining down past the tower and carrying with itself the glowing rays of midnight floats down towards him with a spring grace that he has seldom felt in his many years.

 

The fog of the dungeon’s gate, glowing with an ethereal blue mist, quivers as something disturbs it. His bodyguard steps up before himself, placing a hand on his sword’s hilt.

 

“No,” warns the bishop, grabbing the man’s massive wrist that his fingers come nowhere close to grasping around.

 

The fog breaks and out of it walks a single, human entity.

 

A monk.

 

The massive wooden beads on her arms rattle noisily as she walks towards them, her short hair blowing in the soft wind. He recognizes her. She’s the leader of the inspection team that was here, when Walundra tried to erase his mistakes.

 

But didn’t she die? He saw it happen himself on the crystal. The arrow…

 

She kneels down, lowering her head in silence. He looks, but he sees no scars, no marks on her crown, nothing to reveal what he himself had seen with his own eyes. Murmurs move around the group of his followers, who are aware of the situation as well.

 

“You are alive?” asks the bishop, surprised.

 

The woman nods, but says nothing.

 

Bishop Zacaries Montero looks around the area and then turns around. This is definitely something. A dungeon that might have just somehow ‘slipped’ into the holy element is one thing and a theory that was certainly circulated amongst the priesthood by some. Especially by many of the cardinals, who are here with him today. But bringing back the dead into something that isn’t a drooling, flesh-hungry mess?

 

This is far beyond the scope of any dungeon. Not even the great demon-king had this form of power, despite his greatest efforts.

 

— A convincing argument for the doubters of the faith.

 

He holds his hand up into the air, gesturing to the group of soldiers and priests to silence them. The other cardinals, who stand with their own escorts look around in wary uncertainty of what they see.

 

“What can you tell me of this place?” he asks, walking past his bodyguard. “You may rise.”

 

The monk stays down on her knee. She also does not speak. He stares at her for a moment, watching the world move her hairs, moonlight glistening in her eyes. She’s alive. She’s choosing to be silent. Seeing that she won’t budge. He lowers himself down to kneel before her, so that they’re at the same height.

 

“Please,” asks the bishop. “What have you seen?”

 

The monk lifts her head and looks into his eyes. “- God,” replies the monk. The hairs on his neck stand on end. “I saw… god.”

 

Ridiculous!” yells a voice from the side. The cardinal from the northern city. He turns to look at him. “Arrest this woman for heresy!” he barks at his personal guards. They begin to move up the steps. The monk doesn’t move, the sure, calm expression not leaving her face.

 

Bishop Zacaries Montero rises back up to his feet. “You will do no such thing,” he warns. The guards stop in their tracks. “- This is holy ground. Are you all blind?” he asks, gesturing to the area around themselves that is indeed simply separate from the rest of the world in its own way. This place is like a sanctuary, free from the world’s ails; save for those that they bring into it themselves.

 

“Your grace!” argues the same cardinal. “Surely you don’t believe this farce!” says the man. He turns to the side, picking at a statue’s face. A piece of stone crumbles off and he throws it to the ground. “This is all just paint and decor!” he argues. “It’s a facade of a cathedral built to sell empty promises by an unusually clever dungeon-core.”

 

The bishop scratches his beard, looking around the area.

 

“You,” he says, pointing at a random adventurer to the side, who stiffens up like a board. “What can you tell us of this place? Have you experienced anything unusual here?”

 

“I… uh -” The woman starts stuttering. She lowers her head and drops to her knees, clearly on the very lowest end of the power-dynamic in this situation. “I died, your grace,” she says. “Inside of the dungeon. We all did. It spared us,” she says, opening the window to show the debuff’s status screen, as she feels the cardinal’s eyes pressing into her like daggers from the side.

 

Bishop Zacaries Montero looks back towards the cardinal from the northern city, who stands amongst some others of his rank. They are all of the same status, but amongst their social circle, he is the highest positioned and so he takes the lead.

 

“This proves nothing,” says the cardinal. “A trick like this?” he says. “It’s just another layer of paint on a fake wall.” He shrugs. “Dungeons have employed position-warping traps and status changes for years now.”

 

The bishop considers his options.

 

The cardinal from the north is unlikely to be easily convinced. He himself feels that there might be something here. But, even at his position, without the full approval of the cardinals, things will get messy eventually. It’s only a matter of time until one of these snakes starts some power-struggle, like they all inevitably do and the dungeon will be a lever manipulated in this event.

 

The man sighs, rubbing his tired eyes. “I wish there was something… more,” he says, shaking his head. That would make it easier. Statues and a kind atmosphere and some testimonies are all well and good. The status window of the adventurer is hard to deny, but she's just a lowborn. The cardinal can and very much will simply look the other way as if this display of evidence had never happened.

 

But, for old men like these who have grown wrinkled in the cloth of their ornate robes, more substantial things are needed to sway their orthodox, stubborn ways.

 

Murmurs begin to grow anew. The bishop looks around in confusion. His bodyguard grabs him, tearing him to the side. His eyes go wide as he sees the thing above them, lowering itself down slowly from the heavens.

 

It stares at them with wide, sun-hued eyes the color of resplendent gold. Its skin is as unnaturally white as the stones of the monumental tower behind itself. Its tone is smooth and featureless, barring its massive wings of an incredible span. The entity, awash in the light of glowing orbs of many colors, lifts a hand. “— Then you shall have it,” it says and magic radiates around its hands.

 

(Isaiah) has activated: [Ascension]

 

The world rumbles, the forest itself begins to shake. The trees all around them rustle and shiver as a great quake makes itself felt beneath their feet. The soldiers and priests lose their balance, tumbling over each other. The anqas, pulling the carriages, squawk and shriek in surprise. Bishop Zacaries Montero barely has time to take in the sight of the being that looks like a statue come to life, as he feels something change, very deeply beneath his feet.

 

A thudding rumble pushes through the soil, like the rip of sinew, as the ground, as the tower and its domain, pulls free from the rest of the world and begins to rise up into the air, climbing higher and higher towards the moon. Flocks of birds crest out of the forest, filling the sky with numbers that resemble the formation of clouds.

 

When all is said and done and every man and woman there lays down on their sides or their backs from having fallen, when the forest is coated in millions of fallen leaves and when the ground finally stops shaking, only for the sensation to continue in their bones, none of these things find the power to rise back up to where they were a moment ago.

 

The cardinals, not far from him, the priests, the soldiers, himself, his bodyguard, everyone is silent. Even the nightbirds have turned quiet, as there is only one voice to be heard.

 

Its voice.

 

“I am Isaiah,” proclaims the divine being. “- It is time that we spoke,” it says, lowering itself down to the stones before the monk, helping her up to her feet, its golden eyes staring towards the bishop with a hawkish intensity.

 

 


Note: In real abrahamic religious tradition, Cardinal is a higher title than Bishop. But I have flipped the two around in this world because I think 'Bishop' is just a cooler word. It has more meat to it.

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