Chapter Six: Dungeon Town
Gauwyn sighed and placed his communicator down on his makeshift desk. He was due to make an appearance at the construction site, but he was unable to muster up the energy to leave his seat. Summoning his will, he stood and walked out of the command tent to face the world outside. Tents littered the fields like fallen leaves in the autumn. Scattered among them were temporary structures built from wood or transmuted stone. The lands surrounding the elite dungeon had become the staging ground for adventurers. All grass had been trodden underfoot till there was nothing but hard-packed earth. Any shrubbery in the area had been cut down for firewood.
Thankfully, there was plenty of wild game in the form of mountain goats to the east. Only longstanding fear of the fae kept the adventurers from venturing into The Galronde for wood and game. However, he doubted that would hold them back for long. Something was off with those woods. Despite the words of the first explorers attesting to faerie in the area, neither he nor any other adventurer had seen a single trace of the fae in the time he had been stationed here. He itched to look into the matter, but he had other problems at hand.
More adventurers arrived every day drawn in by the tales of wealth and danger that already surrounded the dungeon. It seemed that half of Gauwyn’s day was spent keeping them in check. Case in point, the tents and structures around the dungeon. It was downright dangerous for them to be this close to the place.
It was easy to forget that dungeons would happily feed on anything with a mana signature or that its entrance was in fact, a mouth. Having this much prey right next to it was practically begging for something terrible to happen. It was the sort of thing that caused dungeon breaks. Gauwyn had had more than one nightmare where the monsters in the dungeon, not content with the prey that walked into their halls rushed out and devoured everyone in his care. He hoped to never have to deal with that in real life.
To this end, he had compiled a list of adventurers both strong and amenable and compelled them into working a guard shift or helping to enforce the peace. He was forced to hire them as a sort of temporary mission, offering them more to stand with him than they stood to gain by doing the opposite. Guaranteed dive slots for the day after their guard shift and a commendation from the guild were enough on that end.
The Warden also ensure that first permanent structures built in the area were a couple of guard towers overlooking the valley and the dungeon mouth. Once the towers were built, the problem of adventurers trying to sneak past the patrols became a thing of the past. Additionally, they could start charging tolls. Ideally, the adventurers would obey the guild’s rules; Register and obtain permission before going on a dungeon dive! Pay your tolls! Respect the daily dive limit so the dungeon could rest and replenish its stock! No more than x number of parties on the same floor! No infighting! No attacking other parties! Above all, no unauthorised dungeon dives!
However, even the guy who wrote the rules knew that was a pipedream. The rules were there to protect the adventurers and ensure the continuity of the dungeon, but you can never protect people from themselves. It was not a question of if but when. There was too much to gain. A new dungeon. Limited guild presence. No watchtower. Any one of these was enough for some idiot to try their luck and try they did. Just the idiots though. Nevertheless, Gauwyn was sure that without an actual deterrent he posed, the more capable ones would have gone after the dungeon heart.
The thought actually caused him to laugh to himself. They could try, but he knew that without a B-ranked party or better they would never get anywhere close. Still, they could probably, loot its upper floors until they were barren.
It only took a few minutes for Gauwyn to reach the construction site. Initially, he had worried that they were too close. He could see the dungeons hill from the borders of the town. However, he was sure that the fourteen-kilometre buffer zone was actually two more than most dungeon towns were given. Dungeon towns needed to be close to their targets. Close enough that they could both manage and defend the rest of the kingdom from it in the event of a dungeon break.
According to the plan, the one they were building would have two major entrances, one leading towards the dungeon and another leading towards Rosan, the next major town. The architects had busied themselves for nearly a full week before coming up with it. Gauwyn did not see what they had done differently. It was still going to be a citadel type town centred on an Adventurers’ Guild. One big building many small areas filled with dependent businesses. However, he was made to understand that it was the siting of the town that caused the delay. The debacle nearly put them behind schedule. Luckily, the builders helped them recover the timetable.
Thank Basileus for the dwarves and the council, of course. They were the ones footing the bill, after all. No one worked better or quicker than the dwarves when it came to construction. Already, the bare bones of the new dungeon town were taking shape. Except for a thin outline for the outer walls and town margins, they had elected to focus on the vital infrastructure like the guildhall and lodgings. The quicker they could get a proper system in place and move the adventurers away from the dungeon mouth, the better. That was why they hired dwarven stone shapers for the task.
They put up the buildings in record time. As a matter of fact, Gauwyn had noticed a couple of the smarter earth mages observing the craftsmen as they went about their duties. He commended them for taking the time and initiative to further their skills and expand their horizons. Dwarven artisans were undoubtedly the greatest in every crafting field; however few realised just how talented the stout folk were with magic. The magicks of the earth came naturally to dwarves. Even among the numbers, stone shapers were the best.
The stereotypical dwarven craftsman was a smith or artificer. A recluse who forged weapons of wonder from the purest of minerals and the most intricate of runework. A true as this image was, it was not their only accomplishment in the field. It was easy to overlook the fact that dwarves were a subterranean race. The underground world made for an interesting form of living. For the dwarves, it ensured that ‘the stone’ was something that pervaded their culture and even their very existence. Stone shapers, as a result, were highly exalted.
While dwarven stone shapers would never accept being referred to as sorcerers, their discipline was a treatise in earth magic. That is not to say that there were no dwarven sorcerers. Several famous ones came readily to mind. The truth was that the dwarves saw stone shaping as something closer to a sacred art or divine blessing, instead of a magical ability. Their citadels were built and protected by it. The caverns that housed them were reinforced with it. The stone shapers themselves were accorded with the same respect given to their clerics.
Gauwyn could not help but feel conflicted by this. Earth magic was earth magic, and there was indeed earth magic at play here. Not even the dwarves could deny that. He was forced to chalk it up to them being dwarves, but that was difficult. He could understand the importance of the shapers and the respect for the art, but despite his close relationship with dwarves, this was one of the things he simply could not comprehend. Dwarves were some of the most no-nonsense people he knew, and he found it hard to reconcile that image with their fawning over their stone shapers.
They were earth mages, in all but name, placed on the same pedestal as clerics, the actual mouthpieces of the gods. It was mad! That is not to say that Gauwyn thought clerics were better than mages. The two simply served different purposes by his reckoning. Neither was better, they were just different. Mages had power over the elements and clerics channelled the divine. That was it, plain and simple! Stone shapers served no gods and commanded the earth with their own magic. Even so, the dwarves praised them as if they were gifts from the gods. To him, that was mindboggling.
To be fair, the stone shapers had abilities beyond the reach of most mages. For example, stone ‘shaped’ by their skills was immune to all magic weaker than that which shaped it. It was also stronger, tougher and considered magical in that it could be enchanted, or ‘blessed’ as the dwarves put it, with all sorts of magic during the shaping phase — not afterwards though! According to a guild mage Gauwyn once worked with, this was because stone shaping was akin to a mystic ritual and nothing true sorcery. The latter was technically an effect wrought by power and force of will. Whatever the case, it worked, and it was beautiful to watch.
The ground came alive under their ministrations, spires of stone rising up to be shaped by the wills of the stone shaper team. The stone always came first. Then, it was sculpted by unseen hands. There was no flaking or chipping. Unneeded stone simple receded, shifted to wherever there was a dearth. When the bones of the structure were completed, delicate work, styling, murals and enchantments came next.
Gauwyn watched in silence, unwilling to be the one to break their concentration. They were putting the finishing touches on his new guildhall, finalising the enchantments before declaring it ready for use. His? The possessive pronoun gave the Warden pause. The guildhall was certainly not his. He needed to get back on the road. If not, he would start putting down roots. Taking another look at the spanking new, three-storey tall, warded, five hundred square metre building complex, he felt his resolve waver.
Thankfully, the Master Shaper as well as the different guild officials waiting on him to commission the building and approve the start of operations, set him straight. He was not cut out for middle management. The past month had confirmed that. Life behind the big desk would kill him.