I would have thought I was in the middle of an ocean if it wasn’t for the fact that I had footing; as the pitch black water seemed to stretch forever and I couldn’t see where it ended.
All I could see was a gigantic double door covered with symbols very much similar to those that were on every door of the ruined city.
And in front of it was the armored knight that I had seen dead with a sword through his chest. Except he didn’t have a blade piercing him anymore, nor was he on his knees.
He was standing tall, apparently studying the strange monument.
Fucking hell, I spoke to myself through gritted teeth. I was once again in a completely unknown type of situation, with no information regarding how to navigate to safety.
However I knew being shy wasn’t going to help, so I started moving toward the door. Doing my best to not look in the water.
It was so dark I couldn’t see the submerged part of my body, but the few times I had looked down I had seen ghostly hands reaching up, desperately grasping for something.
Even though I knew they were there, I never came in contact with anything while I slowly walked in the water, and I was thankful for that.
Once they were only a few meters between me and the knight, he glanced back at me.
“Ah, there you are,” he said. His voice was calm, and not at all the kind I would associate with a knight. It was more of a monk’s voice. “The Djin sent word of your arrival, but I didn’t dare hope I would finally be relieved of my burden after so long.”
There was a thunderous clamor, an explosion on the other side of the door and cracks ran through it as pieces fell into the water.
“As you can see,” the knight continued unperturbed, “I was not going to last much longer.”
“Wait,” I said, raising both my hands in what I hoped was calming gesture. “I don’t know what’s going on, but it seems dangerous so please don’t be too rash. You said the Djin told you I was coming?”
“Indeed. He wished to gift you the blade, assuring me you would be able to handle her. Many fools have come here, thinking of seizing this power for themselves. I made them all face their arrogance. Are you not his champion? I have to admit that you do seem a little young, but I trust his judgment.”
There was another explosion, stronger than the first one and causing a shockwave strong enough to almost make me fall.
The cracks on the door became even more pronounced, and there were now streams of black water gushing through them. From the force of the streams, I finally understood that this wasn’t a door at all.
It was a dam holding massive amounts of water and we were right in front of it as it was breaking apart.
“The sword? Her?” Was this man insane? “Never mind that, you need to tell me what I can do so that we can both make it out of here!”
“No need to worry, you ought to be fine and I am already dead,” he said with a dismissive wave of the hand. “Have you seen the city? It used to be the heart of the Shuari kingdom, with people that were so full of life and happiness. Now it is nothing but a mirage that will soon fade. If I had not used my life as a seal, the rest of the world would have probably suffered the same fate… and maybe I shouldn’t have. The gods do not care after all.”
Tentacles as dark as the water slowly emerged from under him, some climbing up his legs like snakes and others wrapping themselves around them. Chills of disgust ran down my spine.
I took a step back.
The knight chuckled then look at me, as unperturbed as ever. I couldn’t see his face under his helm but I sensed that, despite the urgency of the situation, his expression was probably one of complete peace.
“Of course, even if you are somehow gifted enough to be able to contain the flood, you cannot be allowed to wave her around like a vulgar stick. My ancestors would roll in their graves. So I shall give you a nudge in the correct direction. I only ask one thing.”
Each of his limbs had at least one of the long tentacles firmly wrapped around it.
“If possible, do what I did not. Reach out to her and try to make her know peace.”
That’s when the door exploded in a thousand pieces, and as I braced myself to receive the torrent of water I saw him being yanked underneath.
I waited for the shock, expecting to be torn apart like a rag doll by the churning wave… but nothing happened.
Half-surprised, half-curious, I opened my eyes to find myself fully underwater but still able to breathe. The water surging out of the door had had no effects on me.
Strangely, I wasn’t worried anymore. Being underwater felt familiar though I couldn’t quite place the feeling. I could even see my surroundings, though they were empty. The knight was gone.
The door was gone, but its frame remained and gargantuan tentacles were coming out of the other side.
It’s that sight of horror that made me realize what was so familiar about this situation and why I wasn’t losing my mind over it.
It reminded me of what I had seen at the bottom of the abyss of souls, but it was nothing close, not even comparable.
A normal person would have lost their sanity inside these waters, but something in my soul was already fundamentally broken by something far worse. Which is why I was unaffected.
And the nameless djin knew, which is why he sent me here.
I walked toward the door armed with new confidence. Because on the other side was where she was, waiting for me. I was sure of it.
At first, nothing happened. But as I got closer the tentacles started going back inside, as if startled by my presence. By the time I reached the vestiges of the door and crossed the threshold, they were too far for me to see.
The other side was different from what I had expected. It was a wide grassland tinted in a spectral blue by the waters, with trees, herbs, and flowers undulating with the currents.
In the middle of it, there she was, dancing.
A chunk of starry night sky, stolen from the heavens then molded vaguely in a female form.
She stopped her gracious spinning when she noticed me. She paused for a moment, measuring me. Then she held out her hand and tilted her head. Inviting. I took it with both of mine.
In her emerald eyes was a question, and my answer was, with no hesitation, yes. Gods yes.
Because she offered what the monster I really was yearned for.
“…D? Can you hear me, Ed?”
I was snapped back to reality by Kirby’s calls and the warm afternoon sun inundating the ruined room I was in.
My fingers were wrapped around the wooden hilt of the sword, my face too close to the helm of the dead knight for comfort. Unlike what I remembered, his own hands were on both sides of his body.
I was drenched in sweat, and my eyes were sore. Had I been crying? My vision was blurry enough to make me wiped it with a shaking hand.
It felt like I just woken up from a particularly insidious nightmare.
Testing the resistance, I lightly pulled the sword toward me, and it followed the motion without making a sound. Taking my time, I slowly pulled it all out as to not desecrate the knights remains. Then I examined it.
The curved blade was now uniformly dark, which I didn’t even know was possible. But besides that fact, the sword didn’t look extraordinary. It had a wooden hilt with only one symbol I didn’t recognize engraved on it.
You have bound the living weapon “Ikun Omi”.
You have unlocked the class “Blade Priest of the Deep”.
Through history, only the most outstanding worshipers would receive the honor of becoming blade priests, to serve the Old gods and be able to wield their powers in their names.
It is truly a shame that the abomination that is the Deep could soil this holy title and bestow it to its pawns.
Blade Priest of the Deep claimed the following attributes: Intelligence, Wisdom, Dexterity, Agility.
+4 points to claimed attributes per level.
You have learned the skill “Sunken dance”.
You have received +250 glory.
Certain entities have taken interest in you.
Ikun Omi has been moved to your inventory.
The sword instantaneously disappeared from my hands with a deluge of notifications.
“Ed? Ed, can you-”
“Yes, Kirby,” I basically whispered. My mouth felt dry. “I can hear you. What is it?”
Learning that I apparently had an inventory the least of my concerns.
In the last moments of the dream, something had definitely happened, something that felt bad and beyond my control.
But I did not want to think about it, because if I did, it would mean having to confront things I had built my whole identity around.
So like any other nightmare, I decided to push it to the back of my mind in the hope that I would quickly forget about it.
I just wanted to get out of here.
“ I have only five minutes of presence left under current parameters before dismissal.”
“Alright then. Let’s go.”
I glanced outside with caution but there was fortunately no shadows.
My stamina bar was back to full so I broke into a sprint and followed my drone’s instruction.
The sun was much lower in the sky, which implied I had been out for several hours. I ran, wondering if there even was a reason for me to run anymore.
The streets and alleys I went by were spotless.
“Less than a minute before dismissal,” said Kirby’s bored voice.
“W-wait, what the-” I stuttered. “It hasn’t been five minutes yet!”
“I said five minutes under current parameters. I am no longer stationary and thus consume more mana,” he -I had decided this tin can was a ‘he’- said like it was the most obvious thing in the world.
Which it probably was.
“Then quickly tel-”
But before I could finish my request, the silver drone turned snow white and was blown into dust by the wind. I couldn’t help but let out a few curses.
Then again, I was aware of the general direction we were going in, so I figured I would be fine as long as I didn’t end up in dead ends.
And I was right.
There didn’t seem to be any more danger so I joined a particularly wide paved street and simply walked it down to the city’s exit.
The shadows- or should I call them tentacles?- were all back where they belonged. In the black blade of a banal-looking sword.
The inner city was in better shape than the piles of rubble of the outskirts. But I paid it little attention, amazed by the view.
I was on the edge of a plateau that was towering a desertic valley, and for the first time, even if it was from a distance, I could see signs of human activity.
The valley had several settlements sprinkled along the bed of a river that used to snake around until it reached far away mountains but had long since dried up. Vegetation was scarce, but I could see trails of smoke coming from the villages, and people traveling from one to the next.
I had made it out and would soon rejoin society. It couldn’t be that hard to find a way to make a living here, could it?
The region seems pretty dry, but maybe it can’t possibly be too hard to find someone willing to give me some water… I thought to myself as I went down a set of cracked and broken stone stairs leading to the valley that had surely been an impressive sight in the distant past.
I hardly kept myself from whistling with satisfaction with anticipation as to what the future held. Many dangers? Sure. But I was young and -almost- with no responsibilities.
But the most important thing right now-
You have cleared the instant dungeon The Sunken City.
For clearing a historical dungeon, you have earned the title “Dungeon delver”.
For clearing a dungeon by yourself, you have earned the title “Lone wolf”.
For clearing the first dungeon you have ever entered, by yourself, you have earned the title “Worthy delver”.
You have been awarded participation to the next Assembling of the young talents.
I blinked, frozen by the sudden wave of notifications. Then I nervously laughed as I dismissed them all.
As I was about to say, the most important thing right now is to find food and water.
Technically, I hadn’t eaten anything my whole life!