The energy in the village was electric.
The events of several nights ago, when Beyn had led the villagers to heroically defend themselves from the feared monstrous ant invasion had stoked the fires within the villagers hearts to unprecedented heights.
The story had grown and been embellished with every telling, from one ant, to five, to fifty! The villagers had weathered a storm of devious spells through the righteousness of their spirit! By the strength of their virtue and power of their arms they were victorious! Just like the legendary first Dungeon delvers in the time of Rending!
By the next day the word had spread to the nearby villages and farming communities of the goings on in the town of Malgate. The Dungeon had opened within the church of the Path! Monsters had emerged but not harmed the villagers! Surely this indicates that the town was chosen for great things!
The Dungeon occupies a special place in the hearts of these townspeople. Outside of the cities and far from the entrances, most people outside the cities have never set foot in that place. Asides from a few retired veterans and mercenaries, none had any firsthand experience at all. Dungeon monsters were things of myth and legend to them. More powerful than any creature on the surface, more ferocious, cunning and deadly! The riches that flowed out of the Dungeons were as rare to these farmers and shop owners as real gold and diamonds! Unheard of!
But now? To hear of an opening appearing within a small town on the outskirts of the capital? To hear of villagers battling and killing Dungeon creatures? Absorbing experience and gaining levels, changing their fate. It was surely a gift of God! The god of the System!
The morning after the victory over the ants the first pilgrims began to trickle into Malgate. By that night there was a steady stream of them, filling the town to bursting, packing the inn. When there were no more beds available they set up tents and slept under trees. Young, old, farmers and merchants, they arrived, dusty and tired, old weapons or farming tools over one shoulder and the light of belief shining in their eyes.
In the middle of it all was Beyn. The priest was indefatigable. Without sleep, without pause, he preached to the people. He never tired in his relentless energy. His gestures were fierce and his stride was long. His voice never faltered, strong and powerfully he spoke endlessly, invigorating the crowd or exhorting smaller groups with the righteousness of the cause. As time passed, the respect in the eyes of the people gradually changed to something deeper and more fervent.
Through it all the battle against the Dungeon monsters was never ending. In ones and twos they crawled out of the hole in the church like demons rising from hell. In battling the Dungeon monsters the villagers were able to reap a rich harvest of experience. To them, the monsters were not demons but oven fresh meals! Dungeon monsters gave far more experience than the surface variety, giving the villagers a chance to raise their combat skills and give them a chance to change their class, an opportunity that was as rare as hens teeth to people such as these.
“You don’t look that excited Mrs Ruther. Is something worrying you?” the maid asked.
Enid Ruther turned to look at the young servant with a frown on her face. The girl was pleasant enough but a little on the dim side. Finding anyone better was probably impossible in Malgate.
Suddenly Enid was struck by a thought. “That young chap you’ve been hanging around with lately, what was his name?” she asked.
Her young maid Lilly blushed and turned to the side. “Why Mrs Ruther, what are you implying? There isn’t anything official between me and Burton” she said.
Enid rolled her eyes. What did she care for their trysts? “Has Burton been mixing with that bunch in front of the church?”
Immediately Lilly’s eyes glowed with admiration. “You mean ‘The Dungeons Chosen?'” she gushed.
“The what?!” Enid burst out.
Lilly turned back to her mistress, face slack with shock. “You didn’t know? Father Beyn started preaching that name this morning and the villagers have all picked it up”.
Enid stared slack jawed at her ditzy maid before rolling her eyes. A few villagers were now legendary Dungeon warriors? What would Derrion say if he were still alive?
Thinking of her deceased husband filled Enid’s heart with sorrow, as it always did. Leaving her still gushing maid behind her she walked to the other end of the reading room where a suit of armour was mounted on a decorative frame, a worn training sword pinned to polished wood framed on the wall behind it.
Derrion had always valued that training sword more than the expensive enchanted weapon he used when delving. When he had retired from his career as a Dungeon Mercenary it was this training blade that he wanted placed in the most prominent position on the wall. He had sold his combat blade.
Enid sighed. Those days had been the happiest of their lives. She had sold off her business in the city and they had moved here to Derrion’s home town to open a market and live a quiet life. He had passed away just five years later.
“What would you say to these people to make them listen?” she whispered to his armour, “they sure as heck won’t listen to an old woman like me”.
Derrion had been a powerful figure in his prime. He had tirelessly practiced his blade techniques and raised his class to “Expert Swordsman” over the long years of delving. He commanded a premium price on expeditions!
When he spoke on matters concerning the Dungeon, nobody would dare say he was wrong!
Being married to a successful mercenary for so many years, how could Enid not have learned about the strength of Dungeon monsters? Her husband had never hidden anything from her, that was the mutual respect they had for each other. The danger he had experienced, the terrible beasts he had battled, she knew it all.
How could these villagers and farmers possibly have any idea of the horrors that dwelt in the world below? They may have heard the legends and stories from the old times, but that wasn’t worth a pinch of salt compared to hearing it from someone who had seen it with their own eyes.
When those ants had emerged from inside the church she had thought they were all dead for sure. Instead, she had watched them heal the injury to the priests’ hand and then march into the forest without even glancing at the terrified humans.
It defied belief. Even to Enid, who knew far more than most about the nature of the Dungeon, this behaviour had no explanation.
What she did know however, was that if these fools in the village tried to fight against those ants, or try to delve deeper into the Dungeon, they would all be killed so easily.
Enid wasn’t a bad person, she wanted to save her neighbours if she could, but the fervour in the eyes of the villagers disturbed her deeply. What would they do if she were to speak against their new belief?
She had no confidence they would listen to her. Married to a mercenary she might have been but Enid was a merchant. Even if she had risen in class to “Prosperous Merchant” what sway did that hold?
Enid let her hand trail over the cuts and grooves carved into the toughened beast hide chest plate in front of her, evidence of uncountable battles beneath the ground.
In order to save as many lives as she could, she would have to attempt the impossible.