Who were 'they', the mysterious masons? Alice didn't know. She doubted it was a work of medieval humans, anyway.
The spiral staircase leading down was at the end of the corridor. It had very wide and high steps, the girl suspected for the same reason her bed was large and the ceiling was hanging so far above.
After climbing down Alice saw one room, one hall, both similar in their empty design to the ones on her floor, and a door. The latter had a sign '7' on the left.
There were eight of us in the chat, although I missed one to talk with... enhancer, eh?
Alice kicked the motionless door and went down the stairs. Familiar hall and room, another door, '6'.
A floor lower, besides the anticipated sign '5', the girl found a bit trickier design and vast rooms with stone furniture: tables and a few shelves. Further down, the owner of '4' also had a pretty big space for themselves.
The next floor was strangely occupied by number '3' and, besides several rooms along the same outer wall Alice's room was adjoined to, the whole much bigger space was allotted to a big hall, forty by thirty meters, with round columns every five meters or so.
There were separate straight stairs in the hall. Alice soon learned they were leading to barracks, an annex to the castle with a few hundreds of beds and several levels of its own.
Everything that is not made of stone has long decayed... or creators never used any other materials.
Wind singed through cracks and fissures in the walls, moss was covering every place rains and storms would poor their waters onto. Alice sighed and returned to the spiral staircase, walked, or more likely skipped down, to the last (or first) floor.
The throneroom appeared before the girl.
Massive columns, shapeless statues and mostly destroyed carvings on walls finally proved the builders had any sense of art.
The simple-looking throne itself was in the best shape, of course. Solitary, it was rising on a podium proudly, looking down on a dozen armchairs forming two lines before it.
Alice hopped on the throne cheerfully and her legs hung in the air.
The girl was about four times smaller than the ruler of the past so she climbed up and nested inside with her legs crossed. The seat surface was surprisingly smooth.
"What do I do, wait? For how long?" she asked the system and got no answer.
I don't want to explore the freaking castle, Alice thought sullenly. She didn't feel a touch of history starting from the floor '5' anymore and now the girl even found herself staring at the main exit, a narrowing passage with majestic (past sense) gates and not-so-steep stairs.
Bump! Alice leaned the staff to a side of the throne and placed the blade on her knees, full of determination to do nothing at all until anything happens.
Foot sounds awoke her and the girl hurriedly wiped off her drooling mouth.
One person, if it's a person. From the stairs, the most conscious part of Alice's mind analyzed and prudently pushed her to hide between the throne's arms, which honestly wasn't a difficult task.
Sounds grew closer. Indiscernible grumbles sometimes broke the footsteps.
From the throne, Alice saw a white guy. He had short black hair and was wearing jeans, a t-shirt, and sneakers. Also a long sword on a belt and a triangle-shaped metal shield on his back. The guy was studying the wall carvings with great interest. Seeing only his profile, she couldn't remember him amongst the students from that lecture, yet...
Alice opened her mouth to call out and suddenly stopped.
Here lied a little problem. The guy was a real living person, right? Not a nickname in a chat. Speaking with him involved, well, speaking, and Alice wasn't good at starting conversations with strangers in surreal circumstances. Hello? What a crazy day, right? Look here, dude. Hi-hi! Your money or your life!
Picking among so many options was quite a work!
At some point in time, the guy turned his head just enough to notice with a corner of an eye a rather peculiar sight: a small girl sitting inside an oversized throne and silently musing about something, staring at a distance.
A few seconds passed for his brain to process the fact and then he jerked his head for a straight look and jumped in place:
Alice noticed his arm darting to the sword, but not pulling it out and innocently blinked.
"You could have warned! Jesus!" his other hand theatrically covered the heart.
What a sensitive fella.
"Hello," since the ice was broken the girl finally chose a line.
"Yes, yes, hello. Wait, I remember you. From the lecture... yeah, you lifted your hand, didn't you?"
The guy with a rather simple face said confidently with a nod and she sighed. Alice was well aware of how noticeable she had been in the student body. Everyone must have wondered what a middle-schooler was doing there or whose adorable little sister she was.
"I don't remember you," she shrugged and told him honestly.
"Oh," he looked strangely disappointed. "Forline University, professor Lauster's lecture ‘Beginning of quantum physics’. Name's Robert, or Rob. Nice to meet you."
"That's right. And you are Scarlet. I remember miss Lauster and Jean is not a fighter."
Robert pointed at her blade.
"Well, yeah," the girl shugged again.
An awkward silence lingered.
"You know, reading your dungeon exploits I imagined..."
Feeling the girl's scorching gaze, Rob wisely dropped the topic. This is how you stare people into silence? Alice wondered. She had always lacked a certain metaphorical weight. Maybe a sharp sword on her knees gave her some.
The atmosphere meanwhile became even more awkward. So when the two heard footsteps both might or might not think God, finally.
"Hey, Rob! Someone from the upper floor woke up first! And left shop items behind!"
Another white guy with long dark hair and a very pale face contradicting his powerful voice entered the hall with a red vial in his hand. He was wearing a similar outfit, only his T-shirt was black with a skull on it and he also was armless. His eyes lay on the girl on the throne then and his smile froze.
"Oh. It must be yours."
His laugh died out when Alice tried her stare on him.
"Why would you take it?" The girl's sharp ears heard Rob's whisper. The newcomer scratched his head with a helpless expression.
"You are the one who read poems!" Suddenly, the girl shouted, making him back away and avert his eyes.
It was a system's poem. I didn't embarrass him on purpose, she made an excuse to her consciousness. She really didn't!
If Alice was an expressive girl, she would have shown an apologetic face at the least, but instead, she was playing with her life potion vial and looking over from the throne with a poker face as the men were buzzing in the hall's corner.
They weren't made of alpha-male materials. Whatever training teens received in their dreams, it hardly touched their social skills and lasted much longer than Alice's training in the dungeon... so they saw a living human girl for the first time in probably months.
Alice predicted she would act the same when miss Lauster or Jean made an appearance. Or not for she always acted the same.
The guys walked over and she activated her talking skill to the limit.
"Cough, cough... Okay, I think we started from the wrong foot."
"It's fine," the girl nodded to Rob.
"You know me as Noman13 from the chat or just Nomad. Real name is Abraham and, well, I would prefer you to just call me Nomad."
Alice nodded to him, too. A few seconds later she grasped they were waiting for a certain something:
"Alice. Yes, the one from the Wonderland."
The girl was well aware she had been named after Lewis Carroll's famous character1And she really was!.
"Or you can call me Scarlet, I don't mind."
"I think we should wait for others and some clarification from the system before making decisions," with relief, Rob said.
After dry praise, Alice nested deeper on the throne while Rob and Nomad chose armchairs. Their legs weren't long enough to reach the ground either, but the girl still noted the throne platform wasn't high enough for her to tower above the men. She instantly got vexed and closed her eyes.
Sage came in next. He was another white teenager. He had dark brown hair, a big nose, glasses and wore hunter's outfit, male's and bigger version of the one Alice had received from the system, with a stylish jacket and all. The man introduced himself as Dunkan, nodded reservedly and sat away from everyone without talking much.
A minute after followed John, simply John from the chat, a very tall black guy in a plaid red-blue shirt with short sleeves. He had a mature face and inch-long hair. When the system had first activated, it sent him some game-like menu to play with, the girl remembered.
John looked a bit flustered and for a good reason: with him in the throne room stepped Jean. She came in a modest white blouse, wide grey pants and when the girl met four gazes, two of them – from Sage and Alice – reasonably well-hidden, she smiled softly and said,
"Hello everyone," in an angelic voice... no, her voice had nice rings at best. By flicking away a lock of hair Jean calmly opened a pretty face for all gazes. She had average sizes in all aspects, including height. Accurately shaped, cute white girl. The striking part was the combination of large green eyes and fire-like, waist-deep lush hair with curves on its ends.
Jean stated with a weak smile and the guys hurriedly introduced themselves, including gloomy Sage. The girl looked around and when her eyes met with Alice's they seemed to glisten for a split moment.
The latter raised her hand.
No one seems to doubt that only the chat's members are present.
"Can I?" Jean pointed at the throne. Alice nodded, moved deeper and the redhead settled down on the edge of a giant armchair, naming things what they are.
"How are you? Your last chat entrance felt... you know, frantic."
John's head tilted to their side and he added,
"Crazy, she means. You announced that you died once and will stay in the dungeon full of giant ants, snakes and mutant wolves."
Alice felt agitated right now. Possibly because her knee was touching Jean's leg.
Calm down. And indeed, the girl composed herself by order. Not just any drug could slow the heart rate down nearly as fast as her ability.
"I was somewhat mad," she admitted frankly. "How to explain..."
Phase #2 of Apocalypsis Training Grounds begins! All system functions are back online.
Mission: defend your current position and activate all system facilities.
Time limit: none.
Reward: access to Earth Node #116.