Chapter 12: Touring the gardens of bliss

Originally released 10-07-2016

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Cecilia


My life had always been decided for me, I was too precious to be treated in any other way. Born in the sacred grove inside a vast thousand year old forest, I never really got to know my birth parents since the spirits of the sacred tree blessed me. Because I was born with such strong mana and blessed with a gift for healing magic by the spirits my fate was determined before I could even understand anything, I would become an acolyte of the gods of healing. For thirty years I lived in a mass temple of the goddess Virtia, I learned the ways of magic and healing, and I didn’t ever even question that this would be my entire life. Then things changed…

A revolution occurred that resulted in the death of the king consort, the prince heir, and permanently crippled the first princess. It also took away everything I had ever known. The rebel elven warriors saw to it that the temple of Virtia was burned down to nothing and all inside it were killed, I only escaped due to a spell one of the matrons cast that sent me and some of the other attendant acolytes out of the Sealiven kingdom and into a human village that traded with our temple periodically every fall.

In that village we were tentatively accepted, which was the best we could really hope for given our different race I guess, we stayed there for an entire season using our talents to act as healers for the village. When the village put together the trading caravan to go to Sealiven we went with them, when we were back in my birth kingdom we found out all that happened and how the revolution had failed but had cost the kingdom so much. We learned that we had no home to go back to then, and we all went to personally see the place where the temple used to stand just to confirm that for ourselves.

When I looked at that empty space I felt lost for the first time in my life, instead of staying in Sealiven and going to a different temple like the others I decided to return to the village and live with the humans. I served as that village’s healer for many years and made many friends before I found out about the existence of the explorer’s guild. I met an explorer and he unknowingly convinced me to be one too when he told stories about his adventures. I wanted that for myself, a life where I could share stories of my many adventures and bring smiles and joy to the people that heard them like that man could.

Once I knew that’s what I wanted I packed up the few things I owned myself, used all my money to buy a new staff meant for combat from the village craftsman, and set out for the kingdom of Metia. I was going to be an explorer and since I only knew of the explorer’s guild branch in Metia, that’s where I went.

I had heard that there was an exam I would need to pass to become an explorer, but the man who interviewed me named Benj said that he would let me become an explorer without taking it. He also said that there was a mission that would be perfect for me, who was just starting out, and that this mission was starting that very day, he also said that it would be in my best interest to join the party that was taking that mission on. I was so excited to go on my first mission, Benj even said he would look after my access luggage and belongings for me while I was gone, I had really lucked out with meeting such a nice guild staff member on my first visit.

When I went to the place Benj told me was the meeting place for the explorers who accepted the mission I first meet the party. Erica was really elegant and impressive, Feris was funny and free spirited, Darek was strong and kind, and Johana was really nice and taught me lots of things about being an explorer. She even said that I could call her big sister, but Johana could also be really scary and mean when she was mad. Over the time we traveled together they all became close friends to me, and even though there were some scary parts when monsters attacked they always made sure to keep me safe and dealt with the monsters so fast I couldn’t really even tell how they did it.

It was really fun, but everything got even better when we finally reached the dungeon we were traveling to. I had never thought that dungeon expeditions could be so amazing, the way they were always described to me made them seem so dangerous and scary before. There was a person and a floating orb I think was the dungeon somehow waiting for us inside, and the dungeon itself was amazing. Everything was so pretty I couldn’t even describe it, even the girl, Hanna, was like that, it almost made me feel jealous before I remembered that as an explorer I shouldn’t worry so much about my appearance.

They offered us refreshments and we all sat down to have the absolute best meal I had ever eaten in my life, it was then I really started to figure out why people sometimes didn’t come back from dungeon exploration. Sure some might have succumbed to some of the more dangerous ones that Johana told me about before, but I think most just decided to stay for the food…….

When we had finished the food Hanna explained some of the rules to the dungeon, there weren’t that many but she said those that were there were really important and we couldn’t break them. Then Hanna took us all on a tour and I learned that dungeons are even more lavish and nice than even my old temple and what I saw of the Sealiven palace.

Hanna eventually took us to the first real floor of the dungeon, and when I saw it I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was utterly perfect, beautiful in ways I couldn’t ever put into words. The floor looked like a vast open aired meadow on a bright and sunny day with countless flowers, it held this sort of sweet and light scent to it too. The only thing I could think off to compare it to was the one time I was allowed to reenter the sacred grove of my birth forest as an inducted member of the temple of Virtia when I turned 20, and even then the scared grove’s splendor and beauty were less than nothing before this place. I just wanted to wonder and explore this entire place, but when I asked Johana if I could do just that she stopped me and gave me a long lecture instead…

Big sis Johana lectured me for about an hour, Erica had tied up and hung Feris from a tree again, and Darek was talking with Hanna about something. It wasn’t exactly what I had imagined my first dungeon expedition and mission as an explorer would be like, but it was fun in its own way. When a voice called out from a nearby hill, everyone seemed to tense up. I looked at where the voice had come from and saw insect monsters heading towards were Darek and Hanna were. Then suddenly Erica was there with them as well, big sis Johana was telling me to move towards there too, and Feris was out his binds and was almost down out of the tree.

Before I could even get up everyone had already gathered around Hanna and had their weapons out. I hurried to get to where they were too, but I wasn’t nearly as fast at things as they all were. When I had reached them Hanna was already talking with one of the monsters, and she began to introduce us to them. I wasn’t really sure if that was normal in dungeon explorations or not, but I gave the bug monsters a small wave and smile just to be safe. It was always good to be polite after all, at least that’s what the head matron of the temple used to say.

After everyone calmed down and big sis Johana said that the bug monsters probably wouldn’t try to hurt us, we began to follow them and Hanna as she resumed our tour of this wonderful place…..


“Oh! That’s bitter root! And oh that over there looks like Virtia’s weed…….. There are so many herbs here, and so many with medicinal properties…… Big sis, are you SURE I can’t go pick any of them?” (Cecilia)

We were walking along a stone laid path that was away from where most of the walking flower monsters were and Hanna said was the only path that actually lead anywhere close to the way to the next floor. She had shown us through what she said was three floors now, but it had taken well over four hours to even get to this point. I had never thought that dungeon expeditions would take so long, but just by looking around this place I felt myself be restored and all of my fatigue just seemed to melt away. I couldn’t sense things from this place as clearly as I could from nature normally, the plants didn’t even seem interested in whispering to me in the wind here after all, but I did sense that the nature in this place was much different from anything I had sensed outside of this dungeon. It was almost like everything was connected more closely and tightly here than in even the scared grove of my birth forest, and everything seemed to be happy as well as have defined purpose. It was nice, like this place had found a way to only have all the best positive and beautiful qualities of nature while not having them be tainted by confusion, disorder, and some more of the more negative aspects of nature. As an elf and as one touched and blessed by spirits of nature this place appealed to me in ways I couldn’t even describe, there was just one problem….

“What did I tell you the last hundred times you asked? No, stay with the group. Besides Hanna said that there are traps, corrupted plants, AND plant monsters pretending to be normal flowers and herbs in this place. It isn’t safe for you to go off on your own, ESPECIALLY not if you’re going off to pick herbs. You don’t even know any purification magic or how to dispel corruption, do you Cecilia?” (Big sis Johana)

I let out a little sigh as I kicked a pebble on the path towards a nearby tree. She was right of course, big sis Johana always was, but walking through this wondrous place and doing nothing besides looking was like torture. I wanted to explore, to pick all the rare herbs I could find, to try fighting one of those flower soldier thingies. I wanted to do all the fun stuff that was in the stories that the explorer who inspired me to become an explorer myself used to tell.

…..But I guess I really should listen to Big sis Johana…… I think they all might still be mad about when I fell for that illusion in the second room….. But how was I supposed to know that lady Virtia wasn’t ACTUALLY here in person to commend me for following the explorer path? I’m sure that trap would’ve fooled a lot of the acolytes from the temple…….

There was a strange sort of rustling sound coming from somewhere, and the meadow seemed to get happier for whatever reason. I was happy that I got to share in some of the happiness I sensed from this place, usually nature only rejoiced like this when something big happened like the birth of some great creature or when a new forest is born. I had only felt this sort of sensation once before I came to this place, and at that time it was a far more subdued feeling. Now I had felt sensations like this countless times, it was even beginning to make me feel all giddy and a little strange like I was dizzy, light, worry free, and happy all at once. I liked it, it was fun feeling like that.

“By the gods! Did Cecilia just set off ANOTHER trap?!?! What’s that make this now, the seventh one of this kind? I mean I’m into clumsy chicks and all, but this is just too much even for me…..” (Feris)

“This is the eighth time actually…..” (Erica)

What are they talking about? What trap? Eighth time?

I looked up at everyone to see them staring at me. Well at least they seemed like they were staring at me, they might’ve actually been looking at something else behind me though. That idea grew stronger in my mind as I felt something wrap around my legs and begin to tug me into the air. As I was pulled upside down, shaken, and pulled back towards the tree I kicked that pebble at by strong vines I began to panic as my giddy feeling was pushed to the back of my mind once again.

“No!!! Not again!!! HEEEEEEEEEEEEEEELLLLLLLLLLLLPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPP!!!!!!!! BIIIIGGGGG SIIIIIIISSSSSSSSS!!!!!!!” (Cecilia)

“…..Um, guild master? Do you want to take a break for a while, I could rescue Cecilia this time around if you wanted…..” (Darek)

“No, it’s fine I’ll do it. It is partially my fault too, I assumed she would be fine for at least five seconds without my super vision and took my eyes off her……” (Big sis Johana)

“I shall send two of my battle-kin to aid you as well, perhaps it would be best that they stay with the girl from now on too. These delays are beginning to become a habit with that one after all…..” (Ralt)

“Um, well once again those are an example of one of the many moving vine traps on this level…… I didn’t think someone would be able to fall for them so many times without figuring out the trick about avoiding them, but I’ll just say it so we don’t have this problem again: trees or bushes without fruit and that have drooping leaves are probably trapped…..” (Hanna)

As I felt myself begin to faint as all the blood rushed to my head and the vines began to wrap me up tighter and cover more of my body, I tried to focus on the figure of Big sis Johana coming to rescue me and remembering not to touch the trees with drooping leaves for when I go exploring in dungeons on my own later on as an explorer.

…………I wonder if big sis Johana will use some of that pantra herb over there to help me recover from abnormal blood flow……. Hmm maybe this place even has cymposia flowers and quinfolt grass like there was in the sacred grove too….. Then it would have almost every minor herb I know of that could be found in this region……… maybe I should ask Hanna or Ralt after this…….. They………would……….know………………………………….



 


Ralt


Over the last month things had changed drastically for us mites. Master Waynor had altered us, allowed us to increase our numbers, provided a new source of food in the flower soldiers, relocated our hives to be in one of the mazes, and re-tasked us in our duties. Mites had been evolving fairly frequently and Warrior mites had been given the ability to speak like one of the seven races with new additional vocal chords, though it still takes my kin a long time to learn the language of the humans. I doubt that any besides my battle-kin knew anything significant, and even they only knew those few phrases I was able to teach them myself.

Master Waynor was improving all the mites with the new samples my battle kin and I were able to bring back, giving my kin the abilities to produce silk as well as more varieties of webbing, create stronger acid, and in some variant cases have wings. The warrior mites were made to be stronger than they were before, and gained all the new abilities given to the mites as well as even stronger carapaces and the new vocal chords. Master Waynor was also constantly increasing my kind and kin’s intelligence, something that was showing immediate results amongst my kind.

The mites were tasked with the new duties of expanding and creating vast mazes that adhered to Master Waynor’s sense of beauty and tastes, guarding the maze floors and allowing none to pass them to the core floor, and our old duty of maintaining the dungeon and keeping it in the pristine condition master Waynor desired. We mites were of course beyond honored to take up these duties, and each hive swore to see them done to perfection.

My kind’s new duties, new abilities and intelligence, and new abundance of food besides other mites caused a shift in what my kind thought of as the best way to interact with each other. The hives came to council many times and after much deliberation finally came to an agreement about what should be done. It was decided that each hive would operate under a tentative truce so as to fulfil Waynor’s wishes and that disagreements between hives would be conducted and settled as battles to the death between a team of battle-kin from each side. It was also decided that my hive, the thirteenth hive would be solely concerned with following Waynor’s will and would be a neutral force that could provide council and judgement to the other twelve hives, a position that my hive mother fought long and hard for in a debate that took many days. I myself and by extension my battle-kin were in a different position from the rest of the hive however, we served only as guards and warriors for our Master Waynor, and were politically neutral even to our own hive. I myself was in a position not all that unlike the hive mother’s as my battle-kin and I were answerable to no one but Waynor himself and his aid Instinct. My battle-kin were further tasked with overseeing a largely neutral policing force made up of mites from every hive excluding the thirteenth that would aid us and enforce the new laws governing mites in the dungeon, an honor that was given to my battle-kin and I solely due to our new position and the fact that I was trusted by Master Waynor enough to be bestowed a name.

Under these new laws and conditions mites from different hives were able to work together to better carry out Master Waynor’s will, and the new hive battles offered a way to both settle disputes of all kinds between hives and also for a mite to gain honor for one’s battle-kin and hive. It was a system that while simple and flawed, allowed us mites to unify somewhat and become more effective servants to Master Waynor.

I myself spent much of the month after the new laws were set training the 10,000 new mites now under my command and getting them soul stones so that we could run training sessions and hunts outside of the dungeon, something Waynor was willing to allow as long as we brought back more samples. Within a week my battle-kin and I had gained these new mites’ trust and loyalty, and had more than half of them evolve with fewer than 50 deaths. I had decided that I would mold these mites into perfect, honorable, and totally loyal warriors. They would eventually renounce their ties to their hives and become a truly political neutral force like my battle-kin and I were.

The training my battle kin and I put these mites through was hard, meant to break them down and build them back up into stronger, closer, and more loyal warriors. We had them navigate the mazes without the use of guiding pheromones and with only limited food in groups made up of mites from different hives, we had them venture out into the outside world lead by one of my battle-kin, we had them conduct mock battles amongst each other, and I personally instructed the evolved warrior mites on the human language.

These mites were far from the level I’d like them to be at, but after a few weeks had passed the explorers that Master Waynor had been waiting for arrived. I was informed that Lady Hanna would be giving them a tour of the dungeon’s first level and that Waynor and Instinct wanted me with her to guard her. I learned that as Waynor’s honor guard it was my battle-kin and I’s duty to protect Lady Hanna as well since she was held dear by Master Waynor.

When I picked up the scent that said the explorers had begun their tour I left with some of my battle kin leaving the rest to continue overseeing the training of the thousands of new mites conducting mock battles in the eleventh floor maze. We traveled the most direct route to reach the point Hanna had specified as our meeting point on the first floor, but it still took quite some time to reach. What I saw when I reached there was not what I had expected, the humans and what I assumed were elves from what Master Waynor’s aid Instinct told me about their race were all prepared for battle with weapons drawn.

From what I heard from the elf woman who seemed to be the leader of the explorer group, she seemed to be a capable leader and had dependable subordinates who were quick to take action. I myself told my battle-kin not to speak in human at all during this tour as a precaution, from what I understood of things the seven races perceived creatures who could speak their languages as fluently as they do as being intelligent and dangerous threats. As I already spoke in human and they knew I was named by Lady Hanna saying my name in greeting, there was no real way or need for me to hide my ability to speak in human.

I decided that I would have to be careful around these explorers, they seemed to be far more dangerous than the first human invaders to the dungeon. After Lady Hanna made the introductions and began the tour my battle-kin and I began to escort her and observe the explorers, I would use what we observed from them to further train ourselves and the new mite force under my command……


As I looked back and saw two of my battle-kin slay yet another group of flower soldiers that the elf called Cecilia managed to attract, I wondered how one so unskilled could survive until now.

……It is remarkable how weak this one is compared to the skill of the other explorers…… The others appear to be far stronger than even the invader leader I fought the last time, I might not be able to best any of them in single combat besides the elf Cecilia….. Although if a few of my battle kin and I were to separate and ambush them, I was confident that we would be able to deal with them…. But if we are guarding Lady Hanna….

I looked over at the Lady Hanna as she talked with the explorer leader Johana and the man Darek, if she were to be attacked we would only be able to help her escape these people as we did not have the ability or numbers needed to truly protect her from them.

I looked at my brothers and sisters around me that were helping to guard Lady Hanna as well, I let out the pheromone for cation and dangerous threat once more to remind them that we were not yet ready or able to take on people such as these. They nodded and released scents of understanding and conviction to die if needed.

“Leader Ralt, if it comes down to it allow us to hold them off while you escape with Lady Hanna. You are too important to be used as a sacrifice with all your duties….” (Female Warrior mite)

As I heard my sister say that in our own language I looked back to see her and my other battle kin nodding and releasing scents of agreement. They didn’t want me to risk myself because of my status as leader and a named creature, they were reader and willing to honorably sacrifice themselves to ensure that Lady Hanna and I survived. I was proud of my battle-kin for that, and I decided that I would honor their wishes as they had merit.

“Very well sister, if things come to that I wish you all an honorable battle…” (Ralt)

My battle-kin all nodded to me and responded as I expected they would.

“And should we fall in battle let our deaths bring honor and glory to the dungeon and our master, Lord Waynor!” (Mites around Ralt)

I left my battle-kin to inform the two guarding Cecilia and moved to walk closer to the explorers. I wanted to be ready to react immediately bringing Lady Hanna and myself to safety if they should begin to act overly hostile or violent. As I carefully observed them, and was stealthily observed in turn by the elf woman called Johana, I let myself ponder over a subject that had been bothering me ever since my battle-kin and I had begun to train the 10,000 mites now under my command.

……Though I truly hope things need not come to the point where honorable sacrifices must be made…… I must improve… No, we ALL must improve, every mite from every hive must grow stronger. The mites must grow so strong that we need not have to commit honorable sacrifices just to fulfil simple missions……. And my battle kin and I must grow even stronger than that…. My siblings and I must grow and attain such power and skill that we are unmatched by any who would invade the Master’s dungeon…… perhaps if we mites were to further evolve-….

My thoughts were interrupted when one of the explorers called out to me, the heavily armored one called Darek.

“Your name was Ralt, right?” (Darek)

I looked at the man as we walked, he did not seem to be listening to Lady Hanna’s explanations or warnings about the floor anymore as his focus was solely on me. I could feel a strange sort of pressure from his gaze, as if he were death itself and that any who opposed him would simply fall before his battle prowess. With a twitch of my antennae I cast off the hold that gaze had over me, if he wished to battle me then I would meet him in honorable combat and if I should die at the end of our battle than I would die an honorable death fighting for my Master, Lord Waynor.

“That is correct human. You were the one named Darek, yes?” (Ralt)

The man laughed at that, but the pressure from his gaze did not wane at all in fact it seemed to increase.

“Yes that’s me, I must say it’s rather surprising to find a monster who can speak the human tongue so well here….. The guild master and I were quite shocked by you Ralt. Tell me, how is it that you know Miss Hanna again?” (Darek)

His tone took on a slightly hostile tone I didn’t like at the end of his question. I was beginning to understand this man as he spoke to me, he was a protector just as I was and the man had his own honor much like we mites did. I was sure that he would not hesitate to act if what I said next was not to his liking, and if Master Waynor did not wish to further interact with these explorers I would’ve seized this moment to strike first. Unfortunately I was not to cause these explorers harm unless they meant harm to us first, and since he seemed to hold no hostility to Lady Hanna and had not harmed my battle-kin or I in any way yet I could not attack him without violating the will and orders of my master.

“She is a Lady of the Master Waynor’s dungeon, the first and only Lady of the dungeon there is currently.” (Ralt)

“And she is also a human girl who appears to be only five or so years older than my own daughter. If she is being held here against her will, or I find out that this dungeon has done something to-……” (Darek)

I cut the human off before he said something that could cause one of my battle-kin to attack him, we mites did not respond well to threats to our master and creator, and the mites under my command responded to such threats even worse than the average mite would. It was entirely likely that if this human continued to speak one or more of my battle-kin would attempt to kill him for his implied threat.

“It seems you are confused human, the duty of protecting Lady Hanna belongs SOLELY to my battle kin and I. You, Darek, are nothing more than a guest here, not Lady Hanna’s protector…” (Ralt)

The man was silent for quite some time as we walked.

“……After this mission is over and I return here with my family only to find out that girl wants to leave this place, I’ll make sure that she does no matter what that might take……” (Darek)

I looked at the man and had to give him credit for his conviction, the sheer pressure behind his words and gaze assured me that he meant what he said. I was beginning to respect this human, he was honorable in his own way, but if he thought that he would ever be able to take something from my master Lord Waynor than he was sorely mistaken.

“And should that mean that you ever become a danger to Master Waynor or attempt to take away his joy, then I will see to it that you and all your kin die in a way that he finds amusing while you are in his dungeon……” (Ralt)

The human paused his steps for a moment before he returned to his normal pace and continued walking ahead with the group. I could also see that the elf had a reaction when I spoke leading me to believe her to be eavesdropping on the conversation. That was fine, these people should understand where they stood after all……

Lady Hanna may enjoy your company and be friendly towards you, but to me you people are nothing more than my master’s guests…… If need be than I shall be more than happy to orchestrate all of your deaths in this dungeon, or if need be than I would also be content to see you all off peacefully as you leave the dungeon….

“So we both know where we stand now, huh?” (Darek)

“It seems we do, human…” (Ralt)

Just before we came to the entrance of the third floor and I was to become Lady Hanna’s and by extension these people’s guide, the human Darek made one last statement.

“I have the power and skills of an A rank explorer, and have slain countless monsters stronger than you are Ralt. You should keep that in mind if we end up becoming enemies in the future……” (Darek)

I looked at the human, as he was honorable enough to give me fair warning of his own capabilities it would only be right to do the same myself. After all one must always uphold the honor of a dual between two warriors fighting to protect something.

“And I am constantly growing more powerful due to my master’s grace as well as the loyalty of thousands of mites under my command. You should keep that in mind if you ever decide to become an enemy to my Master Waynor, or to me……” (Ralt)

As we came to the entrance to the fourth floor I took my new place directly at Lady Hanna’s side once more alongside my battle-kin. As I arrived my battle-kin informed me through pheromone scents that they had told the two battle-kin currently guarding Cecilia about what would happen if things took a turn for the worse during this tour. As I walked into position I began to release strong pheromones that should be picked up by any mites on this floor requesting for more of my battle-kin to gather at the entrance floor. There would be no way for the number of battle-kin with me now and myself to keep these explorers from leaving on our own, but if ALL my battle-kin were there…

Just a simple precaution…… Hopefully it will prove to be unnecessary, but if it doesn’t and these explorers really turn out to be hostile then they shall not leave Master Waynor’s dungeon alive……

As I walked next to Lady Hanna crossing the misty bridge onto the fourth floor, I felt her hand brush against my back. As I looked up at her she quietly asked me a question with a concerned expression.

“What did you and Darek talk about Ralt? He seems like he’s in a different mood now than he was before, and Johana seems to have heard it and had a change of mood as well……” (Hanna)

Lady Hanna had tapped my carapace lightly when she spoke about the Johana woman overhearing my conversation with Darek, a subtle way to tell me she was probably listing to our exchange right now if I had not already known so. Lady Hanna was indeed a rather clever human, something that Loria the muse had been telling me was true regardless of what the aid Instinct would say at times.

“I merely explained to the man the differences in our duties, and what it was my duty and position in Master Waynor’s dungeon actually were……” (Ralt)

“I see……. Do try and keep things civil Ralt, Waynor would want it that way.” (Hanna)

“I know, and I shall. I was not being uncivil during that conversation anyway…..”(Ralt)

As we walked off the bridge and onto the fourth floor of the dungeon, I began to walk slightly ahead of Lady Hanna to guide her in the direction we should go.

I’ll leave interacting with these explorers to Lady Hanna, she seems more than capable of handling that on her own…… Though it is surprising, I wonder what it is about her that would cause that man to wish to protect her so strongly….. Perhaps strongly wishing to protect strangers is merely a common human desire, that would explain things at least……………………………….



 


Erica


I was born in a land where one was either a slave, a member of nobility, or a soldier. This land was called Tristma and it was an empire that conquered other kingdoms in an endless desire to expand its territory. My father was a member of the emperors honor guard, and my mother was a pleasure slave he received as one of his rewards for his loyal service to the prior emperor. My status as the bastard daughter of a man of such high standing, a man who had decided to raise me himself no less, allowed me to follow a rather special path in life. I was allowed and expected to replace my father as a member of the new honor guard for the emperor.

All my life I was groomed to be a tool, a weapon that could slay any foe that stood in my way, a servant whose talent and grace while working would astonish even the most wealthy and influential of guests, and a toy beautiful, untouched, and submissive enough to be worthy of being played with by the emperor himself. I was glad for the life that I was allowed to achieve because of who my father was, and I worked hard not to lose it. I worked to earn the love and trust my father gave me since the day he decided to raise his own bastard regardless of how it might mar his reputation, and I worked even harder to be taken seriously amongst the other honor guard candidates.

By the age of ten I had mastered my father’s sword style, and by twelve I had learned how to best him in matches even when using real steal. By fourteen I had developed my own original style based loosely of my father’s and took my place among the emperor’s honor guard by besting four of my peers and a member of the honor guard themselves in duels to the death. I took my place in the honor guard alongside my father, and was heralded as a prodigy and sword saint for my skills. I was the youngest to do so in a century, and my father was immensely proud of me.

For three years I further honed my skills with a blade and had become one of the emperor’s most trusted guards. Because of my position I was given many rewards with the one I cherished the most being the right to not have to serve any man at night if I did not wish to do so, thus allowing me to remain pure and take a husband in a marriage that would be blessed by Yealona goddess of virtue and purity. Marriage had not been a priority for me, but I was glad I would not have to perform night services on anyone and especially the emperor who was three times my own age.

By the time I turned seventeen and became recognized as a woman, the name Erica was known to all inside the palace as belonging to the greatest known swordswoman in the empire. I was even being considered to have a last name and have my status as an illegitimate bastard be cast aside.

That all changed though with the fall of the Tristma Empire. In an extremely violent revolt the people of many conquered kingdoms that had been absorbed into the Tristma Empire as slaves and workers banded together to bring down the empire that conquered their homes and oppressed them. It took only a mere two seasons for the masses to overthrow the emperor’s rule and to break the empire up into the separate kingdoms it once was. Most of the Tristma military forces either fled the empire when it was clear that it would not survive the revolt, or were killed by the revolutionary forces. Near the end of the revolution the emperor was poisoned by one of the cooks, and on his deathbed he called his honor guard to give us one last order. Most of the emperor’s honor guard left Tristma that night with the emperor’s many children, it was our final task to guard the hiers of the emperor after his death and the fall of the empire itself.

We decided amongst ourselves that it was best to split up and have only one or two of us guard each of the emperor’s children, we would all each go in different directions and would protect the children as they lived out the rest of their lives wherever it was safe for them with their identities kept secret.

I was tasked with protecting the fifteenth princess along with my father, and together we took a ship to the continent of Kalet and went about explaining to the young princess what her new life would be like.

For the years after our arrival in Kalet, we lived a simpler but happy lives. Father and I registered as explorers and one of us would take missions while the other stayed behind to guard the princess, we both soon gained high ranks with myself becoming an A rank and father becoming a B rank. The Princess, Isabella Tristma, grew and began to blossom into a beautiful woman, one who had did not suffer from the egocentrism and snobbish sense of entitlement that so many noble-born members of nobility seemed to have.

We moved constantly from region to region during that time until we finally settled in the capital city of the kingdom of Metia, Vel’Aria. There we spent many years together, and planned to spend the rest of our lives there far away from where our pasts would matter or the revolutionaries would think or bother to send assassins. We didn’t know whether or not the others had even survived, but that didn’t really matter to me. All that mattered was that my father, Isabella who I was beginning to think of as a little sister, and I were all safe here.

When I turned twenty four my father decided to retire and just live in the mid-sized home we had purchased with Isabella while I became a full time explorer. It was only a few months after that moment when I was offered a job that seemed very important and payed fairly well by Benj a staff member of the guild who was known to be lazy but competent.

Accepting that job was perhaps the best decision of my life up to that point. The party was fairly impressive except for two members, a pervert and a clueless novice healer. I was impressed with the leadership and patience that guild master Johana displayed, and Darek I knew by reputation alone and whose skills I had observed were easily comparable to the A ranks of this region. Feris was skilled as well, just not to the level of the rest of us though it was clear the boy could reach our level with time, the problem was he was an irredeemable lecher and pervert. Then there was Cecilia the elven girl who could cast beginner healing magic, had an impressive knowledge of herbs and their uses, and had little to no survival instincts or combat ability whatsoever. It was a wonder the girl ever managed to pass the requirements exam to become even an F rank explorer, and I was half sure she would die before we returned from the dungeon expedition.

I got to know the party over the journey to reach the dungeon it was our mission to investigate, and I was actually fond of the patient Johana and the quiet and respectful Darek. I also learned that Feris had impressive skills escaping bonds placed on him, and also didn’t learn from his actions. Then there was Cecilia who I decided I would keep alive simply for her ability to make decent snacks from almost anything inside a forest.

When we arrived at the dungeon however, I was met with a situation I never expected and didn’t know how to deal with. There was a girl, Hanna, and a dungeon will, Waynor, waiting for our arrival who greeted us like we were expected guests at the dungeon’s entrance floor. They even offered us refreshments, something that I was at first skeptical of but ended up changing my entire view on this dungeon.

The desserts that were served were simply divine, they were better than even the rewards that I once received as a favored honor guard to the emperor of a vast and powerful empire. They were the best thing I had ever tasted in my life, and since I was already rather particular about what I considered good food that was the highest praise I could give. I was always fond of desserts, but after tasting the desserts that the dungeon will Waynor created for us I knew that all other desserts were all but ruined for me now.

When the dungeon will Waynor asked me to live in his dungeon forever, I actually considered the offer seriously. I was more than willing myself and was only deciding if father and Isabella would go for it, when Johana’s reprimand brought me back and reminded me that I had a job to do here and many other responsibilities in my life I could not abandon. I instead decided that I would visit this place often and agreed to the dungeon’s strange clothing request as long as he would make more of his divine food for me. After that the dungeon will seemed to leave, though I knew he was likely just watching us from some other part of the dungeon.

After the meal was over Hanna explained a set of rules that the dungeon apparently made for us to follow, had us touch an orb that stung like taking a novice mages lightning bolt spell right to the palm, and began to take us on a tour of the dungeon. I was impressed by the décor of the dungeon as it seemed to surpass even the Tristma grand palace in luxury and beauty, but considering that the dungeon will was capable of creating such amazing food I decided that it was only natural it was capable of creating something this grand and beautiful as well.

The tour continued and I went about it in a mixed state of awe and respect, when we reached the first real floor of the dungeon and I first saw the vast meadow my breath was taken away. It was a place that could be only described as the gardens of some god or a similar higher being, and after we met with Ralt the talking insect monster that seemed to be associates with Hanna we traveled further into the dungeon and this incredible place. As we toured the floors I found a variety of minor tier herbs with properties ranging from medicinal to magical, showing this dungeon to be an amazing place full of valuable herbs and possibly even more resources.

The main point of our expedition into this dungeon was for guild master Johana to negotiate with it in the hopes of gaining a contract with it for the explorer’s guild. From all I had seen so far I wanted desperately for that to happen, and I had already decided that even if this dungeon didn’t agree and wasn’t protected by the guild I would help to protect it whenever I visited here simply to preserve Waynor and his ability to create those delicious desserts.


I looked at were Feris had once again been lured off by a pixie and was in the process of being robbed blind. I had thought that Cecilia would be the only one fooled by these creatures’ illusions and bewitchments, but after her third time encountering them she seemed to learn how to ignore or see through them. Feris on the other hand……

“Oh yeah, come on baby take it ALL off…….” (Feris)

……How driven by lust must someone be to fall for such obvious bewitchments EVERY TIME they are used? At this rate we will never get to the sixth floor……

Feris had no problem seeing through the pixies’ illusion magic, but he seemed to fall under every bewitchment that was cast at him. The boy had been lured off by pixies over ten times now, and that was something that was practically unthinkable for a C rank explorer who was WARNED about what these creatures could do in advance.

I just watched in disgust as a pixie tried to remove one of the boy’s throwing knife belts.

“I guess it’s my turn to go help the kid, huh? I’ll be back in a minute….” (Darek)

“Can we just leave the pervert behind? He’s slowing us down…..” (Erica)

I heard guild master Johana sigh and Darek chuckle as he walked to where our party member was blissfully groping air with a blissful expression and having his belongings slowly striped from him. Darek would probably get there before the pixies managed to steal anything, but if Feris kept falling for traps like this he’d probably end up losing something eventually.

“I’m fine with that, the way he looks at me is pretty uncomfortable after all….” (Hanna)

“He is one of your group, whether you leave him behind or not does not matter to me….” (Ralt)

I heard guild master Johana let out another sigh behind me.

“Haaaaaahhhhh….. No, we can’t just leave Feris behind Erica, if we did he might just die here from starvation….” (Johana)

…….I wonder if he is actually so deeply bewitched that he actually would die like that? If his will power is so weak he can’t even break a minor bewitchment like that when he’s starving…. No, no one is that weak willed…… It would take a mid-tiered bewitchment at least for that to be an actual possibility….

As I watched Darek shoo away the three pixies around Feris and slap the boy’s face until he broke out of the enchantment, I felt ashamed to be in the same party as him.

…..How can someone like that be ready to advance into the same rank as father?

As Darek and Feris returned to our group and we began to walk again I stayed as far away from Feris as I reasonably could while still being in the group. As we walked I tried recalling the flavors of the desserts that Waynor made for us and enjoyed the beautiful scenery as best I could while listening to Hanna talk about this place. We managed to walk for about ten minutes before I saw Feris get pulled away by two pixies while he had clouded eyes and a big happy smile on his face. I just rolled my eyes at the stupidity of the boy and walked up behind him, knocked him out with a chop to the back of his head, and brought out more of the magically returning rope I had been using to tie up the boy since the first day I had met him.

I looked at one of the insect monsters that Hanna called mites.

“Do you mind if I tie this idiot to your back? If he’s there we won’t have to stop for him any more….” (Erica)

The mite looked to its leader Ralt, and after Ralt made a few clicking noises it lowered itself down so that I could easily move Feris’ unconscious body onto it’s back. As I tied the boy securely to the back of a potentially dangerous monster I had only one thought.

….Well at least this solves a few problems….. Now I won’t have to worry about being harassed by this pervert and we don’t have to stop and save him from bewitchment every few minutes……

“Thank you for carrying him. Problem solved….” (Erica)

Dusting off my hands after securing Feris to the mite I began walking back to my place as far away from him as possible while still being in the group and near the rest of my party. We began to move again with the only real change being Darek shaking his head and guild master Johana letting out a heavy and tired sigh.

This dungeon is so much more enjoyable now….. I really should have done this earlier……

As we walked I felt a small smile form on my face momentarily before it vanished into the emotionless mask that I had developed in my past as an honor guard that over the years had simply become my natural expression. This was going to be a wonderful tour now that the pervert was taken care of and the mites were keeping Cecilia from wondering off and getting herself killed……..


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