Doyle falls and falls and falls. Above, he can hear the passage grinding shut behind him. After what feels like hours but was probably minutes, a light becomes visible beneath him. This dot grows larger and within moments he is through. It is now visible to him that what he was on before was another much larger floating island. Off in the misty distance there are other massive islands floating. Though at this point he is tempted to call them continents. Below him is a void he can not see even a glimmer of an end to.
At first this view frightens Doyle. To fall forever was not high on his list of things to do and as luck would have it this wasn’t on the dungeons to-do list either. For that was clearly who directed his travel plan at this point. The surrounding gravity shifted and shunted him towards another island. As he got closer, though, the actual destination became clear.
In between the two continents sized islands there is a much smaller one, only about the size of a mountain. Before it was hidden against the backdrop of the island behind it but there is one enormous difference. While all the other islands appeared to contain some stone. The dungeon had constructed those islands of dirt. This mountain of an island however bucked the trend by being made of stone and ore. The brown splotches that helped it blend in were actually iron deposits that had rusted to a dirty brown.
Closer still Doyle flies, and now he can see there is one obvious feature on the mountain. A gloomy cave shaped like a mouth leads inward. Beyond fear at this point, Doyle flies right in without a sign of worry. After he enters the mouth, though, he soon finds himself at what must be his destination. There is a stairwell that goes down a short distance to an open field. This field from what he can see stretches on well beyond what the island could encompass. It would be so easy to walk down into this unknown area. That is if it wasn’t for the slight shimmer in the air which is most likely a barrier. Oh, and the giant golem standing in front of the stairs.
It hovers there inert, but Doyle can feel if he took a single step towards the stairs that would change. It floats there, made of segments shaped like stalactites. The ends of its legs and arms positioned with the spike facing outward. Instead of a head there is a ring of smaller spikes in the shape of a crown. Doyle and the golem stand there motionless, in wait of some active party to break them out of their deadlock.
This third party comes in the form of a small fae creature which flies out of a hidden alcove up in the ceiling. It flits down through the golems spike crown and lands on the flat top of the main body. The fae sits there cross-legged and giggles. It stretches a little and questions the two of them, “Hey there boys, just going to keep standing there like two lumps on the log? You”, and she points at the golem, “extended a helping hand to our little friend there.” She points at Doyle, “you on the other hand accept his offered help, though I can forgive you for not realizing it. Let me introduce the two of us!”
The fae flies up in a spiral, “I am the amazing Zela! A fairy and dungeon companion. This lunk here is the 1250th floor guardian, what you would term a dungeon boss. It is currently being controlled by my friend, my boss, the person who offered to be your tutorial guide, and most importantly the consciousness behind this entire place. The dungeon core, Realm of the Floating Isles, or as I call him Flisle!”
A sigh that sounds reminiscent of tumbling rocks comes from the golem, “why do you insist on that nickname? I control a mighty dungeon with over 2000 floors. That name was cute when we were starting out but it got old eons ago.” Zela shakes her finger at him, “as if after millennia of calling you that I would change. Let the outsiders call you all those pompous titles.” Then she turns to Doyle, “you are no longer an outsider, so call him Flisle. We see tutorial guides who personally take an interest in someone as being connected to that person. It goes off that whole one day as a teacher, like a father for life thing. So whatever the two of you might want to believe, those on the outside will see us as a family.”
The golem’s arms float downward in a clear slump. In defeat he waves Zela off, “fine he can call me Flisle. I guess I knew what I was getting into when I made the offer. But he has a starting stat of zero karma! Do you know how rare that is? Not only that, but most people know not to talk about that kind of thing while in a dungeon since we can hear everything in our domain. Oh right”, he turns back to Doyle, “note that bit of info. It will be both more and less important for you in the future.”
Doyle takes his glasses off and massages the bridge of his nose. “I can accept this. Not like anyone else wanted me, but what does having no karma actually mean. Sure, I have troubles connecting to people. I never had many friends, but that doesn’t mean I had no friends. You probably already know, but the System has restricted the description of the stat down to basically one line. This represents the power of your connections to others, both good and bad.”
Both Zela and Flisle laugh at this description. Zela wipes a tear from her eye while Flisle starts to explain. “It doesn’t say your ability to make connections though having low karma does make it harder. What it said is the power of your connections. I bet you had no bosom friends and that you haven’t once worried if those few you still had were all right after the System came. You don’t have to answer, I can see it in your eyes. Now that I brought it up, you worry about one or two of them.”
“This is what karma is about. Not the breadth of your connections, but the depth. However there is more to it than that. What the System currently measures is your connections to those outside of yourself. The minimum to this is a one. This is because at the most basic level a human will have at least that humanness to connect them to another of their kind. Even psychopaths have this connection if perverted at some level.”
“You, however, do not. This isn’t a terrible thing, and it doesn’t stop you from making deep connections. It just ramps up the difficulty of it and the time it takes. What it means though is you fit a very narrow condition that will let me make you an offer. This however gets into what I am, a dungeon. An awakened dungeon. Everywhere with mystical powers of some sort will have dungeons develop. These natural dungeons are very limited. It can take longer than the lifespan of a universe for those dungeons to develop their own mind.”
“The fae at some point took notice of this. Thus was born the dungeon companion. Not every dungeon has a companion, but those who do have a greater chance of developing beyond their simple beginnings. I was not so lucky and it took me a long time for Zela to find me. In fact, the only reason I survived to meet her was my dungeon type. Most dungeons start with a deep connection to the place they form at and so die with their universe. I however started out disconnected from my original universe with only a simple portal to my floating islands. It took at least three universes before I met Zela. Not sure of the exact number as I wasn’t aware yet so my memories are dim from that time. I was only about six floors at that point despite my age, so when Zela found me she thought I was a newly formed dungeon.”
Zela interrupts him at this point, “Well, what do you expect me to think when most dungeons develop their first ten floors within the first year of life? Just because you were a special floor type dungeon that took way more energy to develop isn’t exactly obvious. Even with me interacting with you, it still took most of the rest of that universe’s life for you to wake up. I was in despair at that point because you had only grown to have nine levels. I remember my shock when your first words where, oh, the lights are about to go out again in reference to the universe’s death. A death that was still millennia away.”
Flisle shrugs, “Eh, I wasn’t aware of what people would refer to as a normal day-night cycle. Anyway, that brings me to the second type of dungeon, the ones that have a mind. They form in two ways. The evolution of a natural dungeon or a person in some manner turns into a dungeon without losing their minds. You can probably guess at this point what I offer you. But there is more to it than just the offer to turn you into a dungeon. You do not need a lack of karma for this. Why not having karma is important to me is because I don’t want to put the effort in only to have you die with this universe.”
“As that orc said, you have no connections. That is possible at one karma but with no karma it means something else. You are disconnected from the universe as a whole. While most people fail at turning into an awakened dungeon, there have been enough to notice a trend.” Zela smacks him then interjects, “don’t forget all your horrific experiments. You know the reason we are stuck playing host to tutorials for newly introduced worlds.”
He doesn’t have eyes, but somehow Flisle rolls them and then continues. “Yes, and my horrific experiments on people enlightened me to this subject. Though I will say we are not here because I did that, but rather because I used the wrong person in my last test. He was just too perfect a fit not to use. Anyway, what I was trying to explain is that each element of a person affects the kind of dungeon you turn into. It is still very random and you can change most things if you haven’t created your first floor, but there is one condition that is set.”
“How connected a person is to their universe determines what sort of dungeon entrance you have. This doesn’t sound that important. After all, what difference does it make between stone pillars or a tree as your entrance? A lot. Even those two examples have a big effect on a dungeon’s lifespan. The dungeon that forms in a tree will die if the tree dies. You would think this means it has a shorter lifespan, but you would be wrong. Dungeon entrances are absurdly hard and only get sturdier the more levels it has. That tree can survive the local star going supernova if they reach 1000 levels. Not that most can, but there it is.”
“Why the tree has a longer expected life is because the entrance can still be broken with the right conditions. This is where the difference is. If the entrance made of a tree gets broken, the tree will grow a new entrance. Even to where a stump can grow back into a tree and then grow another entrance. That stone pillar entrance? Even a bad enough crack can destroy the whole dungeon.”
“But that all gets away from the important part. Most dungeon entrances can not survive the end of a universe. There are a few random ones out there that can do it, and a portal entrance is one of them. Naturally formed dungeons are completely random and I got lucky with having one. A person turned into a dungeon however has everything already decided by their stats. Specifically, what you call karma decides the entrance type. I bet you see where this is going right? Portal entrances are so rare because it requires a stat value which is mostly impossible. You, however, fit this very rare requirement for a portal entrance.”