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The moon rose high through the ornate stained glass windows, as six heroes and one golem slammed open the heavy wooden doors to the shrine.
 
Dark, haunting organ music skirled high to the rafters, sending swarms of bats screeching out into the night, flowing through and past the intrepid vampire hunters that had come to put paid to the darkest of vampires; the dread Count Joculah!
 
“And so you are here…” said the vampire, brown fingers lifting from white keys, as the organ fell silent. The vampire’s brown hands wormed his way over his brown suit, and smoothed brown hair, testing and touching as only those who never see themselves in mirrors do, making sure that he looked his best for his would-be slayers.
 
“Die Monster!” Melos bellowed, leveling a blade that glowed with the leering faces of the trapped daemons within, red and hellish and surging with raw power as he led the charge. “I’m your Challenge! Come face my Entropic Strike!
 
“You don’t belong in this world!” Rezzak yelled from behind the charging demon knight, raising his feathered staff high, and slamming it to the ground. “Angelic Pact! Summon Greater Cherub! Summon Greater Cherub! Summon Greater Cherub!”
 
“Fools! It was mortal men who- gah!” The vampire yelled, dodging as Melos’ red blade came way too close to splitting him right down his widow’s peak. “Can’t a man monologue first?”
 
“A man? Yes!” The woman in green stepped out from behind Rezzak, pointing at him with a wand in each hand. “A monster? No. Get him, Emmet!”
 
As glowing, silvery babies with bows and arrows faded in all around the group, a hulking suit of armor shambled through the doorway, and came in on Melos’ flank. He grinned to see it, grinned behind his helm as he fought the vampire, laying into him with strikes that left dust and scars with every slash. The wounds from Entropic Strike couldn’t be healed, not while the spell was active.
 
Then flames wisped around him, as Sabi went into business. The red-silk-garbed woman slid out from behind a tapestry, twisting her hands, as she directed the flames to sear the elder undead. Brown cheeks quirked in a smile under a red veil as the creature burned… burned until he folded his cloak around him, and his flesh started to ripple.
 
“You think you have a chance?” Count Joculah chuckled, then exploded into bats. Melos brought his shield up, and the daemon faces in it gobbled and chomped at the flying rodents as they swirled around him. So long as they stay our of my helmet, it’s good. It’s fine. Besides, the fool’s played right into our hands. Come on Sabi…
 
“Fire ball!”
 
Even with his flame resistant gear, he felt the blast wave, grunted as a red ‘146’ whipped out of him. But as bad as it was for Melos, it was leagues worse for the vampire. Bats shrieked and screamed, and swirled in all directions.
 
“This is the point I miss Grissle the most!” Graham shouted, as he put down a rain of crossbow-flung stakes. “Rapid Fire! Rapid Fire!” Vampire bats shrieked and fell, dead or paralyzed from their wood allergies. “Grissle would have been telling us how many hit points the thing had left by now!”
 
“Oh, I’ll just pick up Necromancer then!” Melos called over, jauntily. “Got to give you SOME reason to hate me, after all.”
 
“Don’t get me started,” Rezzak sighed, as his summoned cherubs went about their business, flapping after the farther-ranging bats and shooting at them with arrows of angelic light. “That’s like a drunkard switching over to chewing brainburn weed.”
 
“Leave the arguments for the tavern!” Amelia snapped, keeping her wands going and firing lightning bolts through the few bats that came her way, crisping them with scarcely a glance. In among them, Emmet swung his massive metal gauntlets, trying to catch and crush what bats he could.
 
And occasionally, from the shadows, a throwing star would spin out and catch a bat on the wing, turning it into a bat pinned to the wall. It was Jane, Just Jane, doing her thing.
 
Melos simply waited.
 
And when the Count reformed, the demon knight yelled “Ears!” Before dropping his weapon and shield and clapping both gauntlets to his own ears, then ordering the demons writhing within his armor to scream.
 
And scream they did, as the sound ripped through his skull at point blank range, scrambling his sanity, sending him to his knees…
 
…but safe, as he saw the count mouth words, words he couldn’t hear.
 
The Count’s Command had been the doom of many an adventuring party. Many had fought their way up through the secret entrance in Cylvania City’s catacombs, up to the impossible castle that loomed over a nightmare version of the city, up to the very topmost tower through hordes of vampires, bats, werewolves, lesser undead, and weird snake-tentacled heads that always seemed to try to attack you when you were climbing narrow and slippery stairs.
 
It was easy to die in the Count’s domain, to any number of horrible monsters.
 
But those who managed to survive until they’d found the count himself?
 
All too often, they died at the hands of their friends. The count’s charisma was undeniable, and his patterns well-mapped. After he went to bats, then would come the commands…
 
Once the count finished speaking, Melos popped a pill from his pouch, and swallowed it, scooping up his sword and shield, and his hearing returned…
 
…just in time to hear a man’s voice laughing maniacally.
 
“Oh for fuck’s sake Graham,” Melos said, taking a big risk and taking his eyes off Count Joculah. “This is what happens when you don’t wear earplugs!”
 
“Everyone dies! So commands the master!” Graham hissed, dropping his crossbow, and making a yanking motion with one arm.
 
No! “Slot machine!” Melos yelled, and he and the four remaining sane friends jumped clear, as a metal slot machine as tall and broad around as an elephant slammed through the roof, right onto the ground. The handle jerked, and symbols clicked by…
 
…8…
 
....9….
 
Melos held his breath. If it was a ten, they were all dead. It was that simple.
 
…8… DING!
 
“Heals! Get healing!” He called to Rezzak-
 
-and then the wave hit. He watched ‘160’ rise from everyone’s skull, then the pain struck him, and he gasped. Straight through armor, straight through everything. The cherubs poofed back to their home plane, and even Emmet groaned in pain.
 
“Muahhhahahhahha!” Wheezed the Count.
 
“I’ll get Graham! The rest of you on the old bastard! Watch it, he’ll go full daemon when he starts to lose,” Melos shouted over his shoulder.
 
Graham under the enemy’s control wasn’t a worst-case scenario. But it was close. The man had started his adventuring career as a conman, a Grifter, and a good one. They’d had a run in with him in Upper Derope, when he tried to talk Sabi out of her pants… in both ways, as after he’d enjoyed a night with her he’d tried to abscond with her enchanted trousers. Melos and the rest had woken to the smell of burning, an irate innkeeper, and a very chastened and nude Graham, quite sorry for the whole affair.
 
Sabi had dragged him along as a translator to help pay off his debt to the innkeeper, and the man had eventually matured, expanding his horizons. Like Melos had, he’d given up an empty and… unsavory… existence in order for a life of adventure and heroics.
 
And along the way he’d become an Archer. Then, when he got high enough level to accidentally unlock it, a Gambler.
Which, when combined with a Grifter’s trick of Silent Activation, made for some nasty times.
 
The trick with Gamblers, Melos had worked out, was to not give them time to fire off their big skills. Get them focusing less on the things that could wipe out your party, and more on defending themselves.
 
And also, since the bastards were so hard to hit, to target pools that weren’t so well-defended as their hit points and agility.
 
“I’m Challenge-ing you, Graham. Aura of Fear. Staredown.” He said, advancing as Graham backpedaled, and groaned as a green ‘67’ ripped loose from his skull. That was sixty-seven points of Moxie he WOULDN’T have for Silent Activations. Melos stomped after him, chasing him around the gothic cathedral that capped the tower, ignoring his friends fighting the vampire behind him. His wife had Emmet, and Emmet was enough. The fight would be there when Melos was done. He trusted everyone at his back… hell, he trusted Graham, too. At least when the man was in his right mind, anyway.
 
Normally Graham was unflappable. That was the name of the class feature that boosted his cool, anyway. But that aura ate into his defense, rendered his normally cocky self-assuredness much reduced.
 
But the Gambler hadn’t gotten this far by being a pushover.
 
“Good thing I’ve got an Ace in the Hole!” Graham said, snapping a handful of glowing cards out of nowhere. “Razor Cards! Crippling Shot! Rapid Fire!” The handful of cards blurred, as Graham edged away, backing around, throwing cards into Melos.
 
Cards that sliced into his shield and armor, making them bleed and scream. The daemons within the armor took the hits, took the pain, and Melos didn’t. “Mend,” Melos chanted, as he weathered the storm of cards, ignoring it as best he could, ignoring the one that split his helm and came half an inch to cleaving through his eyes. “Mend. Mend.” He said over and over again.
 
Graham was nimble. Graham was lightly armored.
 
And Graham didn’t look out behind him.
 
“Dispel Magic!” Rezzak shouted, as soon as Graham was within range. Graham froze, eyes open. “Got him!” Rezzak confirmed.
 
“Welcome back,” Melos said. “Next time put your damned earplugs in.”
 
“You’re the last person to advise anyone on damned anything,” Graham snarked, and ran back toward the Count, and the rest of the fight.
 
“I think he means thank you,” Rezzak said.
 
“You’re very welcome, Graham,” Melos smiled, then moved up to take some of the heat off Emmet. The Count had reached one of his final forms already, and was busy leaping out the room and breathing vaguely-daemonic fire at the Seven.
 
“Hey, snaggletooth!” Melos yelled, as the maws on his armor yawned open and glowed with their own flame, and he ran faster... “You’re doing it wrong!”
 
Finally, it was all over. The Count fell, as he had several times before, to the most skilled of adventuring groups, and collapsed into a heap of ashes with loot items sticking out.
 
“Appraise,” Amelia snapped. “No curses. Jane?”
 
Their ninja, Just Jane, materialized out of the darkness. After a few experiences squabbling over loot, and dealing with respawning bosses, they’d all agreed it was best to let the Ninja grab the loot. She would anyway.
 
“Snaggletooth?” Amelia said, moving over and giving him a look.
 
“Best I could do in the heat of the moment.”
 
“Come on, you’ve got more charisma than that.”
 
“Well, this is the third time I’ve dusted the Count. Motivation tends to fade once you’ve got it down to a science. Speaking of which…” Melos glanced around. “Spread out! Look for the glow! You know the drill, people.”
 
It was Graham who found it, ironically. The patch of green under a thoroughly desecrated altar. Emmet got to work shoving it aside, a task that took even the mighty golem’s full strength. One by one, the Seven stepped into the portal, emerging into the Dungeon Core Chamber.
 
Melos was the last, and as he took one last glance around the room, a flicker of movement caught his eye by the door. A small brown-haired girl, wearing a purple-and-green head scarf. Clearly one of the Bloodsuckah Urchins they’d cleared out in the orphanage level. She’d strayed far.
 
“Run, little girl,” he commanded, whispering “Staredown” behind his visor as he glared.
 
A green ‘207’ burst out from her, and she screamed, dropped the tea service she was carrying, spilled cups of blood over the floor, and fled for her life.
 
“Still got it,” Melos chuckled, as he stepped into the place where logic went to die. Not that he minded… his former life had been good training for places like these.
 
He joined the rest of the party, as they wove their way through the green pillars, past midbosses and mobs and piles of loot, so many piles of loot. Count Joculah’s Castle had been going for years, and so many adventurers had perished here.
 
And by the time he caught up with his wife, she was standing in front of the Dungeon Master’s column, wands ready, Emmet by her side, and the rest of the Seven around the rather disturbed-looking undead. His face was green in the light, and he was older, paunchier than his projection had been.
 
“You would have gotten away with it, you know,” Amelia spoke. The Count stared at her, through the column, saying nothing. He couldn’t, as far as Melos could tell. Nobody in the light could talk.
 
“You could have stayed hidden here, stayed safe. But you let your monsters out to play, and they came out of the catacombs, and murdered people above.” Amelia shook her head. “Was that vampiric hunger? Driving you and your spawn to seek out flesh blood? Or was it vampiric pride, the colossal arrogance that made you think we wouldn’t come for you, once we found your lair?”
 
Slowly, and with a shaking hand, the Count raised a fist and extended one brown middle finger.
 
“Oh. So you were just an asshole.” Amelia snorted. “Goodbye, Joculah.”
 
Emmet punched into the light, grabbed the Count, and hauled him out. The vampire fought the whole way, but he was weaker, so much weaker than his ideal form had been.
 
Reality rippled around them as they dusted the vampire.
 
“Get ready!” Amelia shouted, with ten seconds left on the clock. “Rezzak?”
 
“On it!” The Invoker slammed a hand to the floor, the second they came back into reality. “This Hallowed Ground! Circle of Protection!” Light flared around them, resolved into a six-pointed star in a circle, and Melos winced, as his daemon-infested armor and weapons screamed in unison. He hastily banished them before the metal ruptured entirely, leaving his armor black and dull again.
 
“Ward against Undead!” Amelia yelled, slamming a vial on the ground. Green dust puffed up and fell into patterns…
…and not a moment too soon, as shrieking vampires, skeletons, ghouls, and worse faded in to the large catacomb chamber that the dungeon had vacated.
 
There was a pause, as the dungeon creatures looked at each other.
 
Then at the Seven.
 
Then down to the floor, emblazoned and glowing with holy symbols.
 
And with a scream, they burst into flames as the heroes sat back and watched their spells do the work for a change.
 
At the end of it, Melos was the one to find it. A Purple crystal, the size of a small apple, flickering with green numbers. “Such a small thing, to cause so much trouble,” he sighed. Then Jane was glaring over his shoulder. “What? I was going to give it to you.” He handed it back to the ninja. “Good day, good work,” The demon knight said, straightening up. “Waffles?”
 
“Waffles!” Graham yelled.
 
And so the mightiest heroes of the realm went and had waffles. And Melos and Amelia went and paid their babysitter, rocked their girl to sleep, and made love sweetly once she was out.
 
“That’s another one down,” Amelia whispered, clutching him tight, resting in the afterglow.
 
“Mm.” Melos said, laying still as her fingers traced through his beard. “And how many more will we find next month? I swear, for every one we seal, three more spring up.”
 
Her arms tightened around him. “It’ll work out. We’ll find a solution.”
 
“Maybe.” Melos puffed, feeling his sweat dry on his bare skin. “We’ve lost so many people. So many promising young adventurers gone to these things. I don’t know if there’ll be much of a country left if we don’t.”
 
“We will,” Amelia promised, kissing him.
 
And a few days later, they did.
 
*****
 
“To sum it up, Cylvania will shatter in a matter of years if this keeps going,” King Garamundi said, leaning over the table, his gut spreading out around the edge. Eyes harder than flint flicked around the seven spaces of the table, and as they passed over Melos the King’s lips twisted in the way they always did.
 
The son of a bitch still doesn’t trust me. Never will, Melos smiled back, keeping cool, keeping cool. Unconsciously he reached out, rubbed Amelia between the shoulderblades. His wife leaned back into it, but flicked her eyes his way, with what he called her ‘srs bznss’ look.
 
And yes, it was, but whatever. The Seven gathered at this table had overcome every difficulty thrown their way. This one would be no different.
 
Garamundi pointed at the map, moving his finger from the foothills in the north, to the spine of the Wintersgate Mountains curving it to the south as he went. “We’re mostly stable along the axis, here. We’ve got Taylor’s Delve holding the Thundering Pass, against the worst of the orc incursions. And the more ambitious Canites, for that matter. Balmor’s anchored the north. We’ve got the center, but…” he gestured to the Raxin plains, and drew his finger east. Past Brokeshale Valley, past the steppes, and out all the way to Bharstool. “They’re coming west,” the king sighed. “They’ve cracked the riddle of guilds, they’re not sharing, and they’re coming west, armies spearheaded by loyal troops who no one else in Disland can match.”
 
“Even so, even with various movement buffs, they’re still decades off,” Graham said. “Why are you saying years?” Graham was handsome. Graham dressed immaculately. Graham’s silver tongue had talked the Seven out of many an unwinnable crisis over the course of their adventures. Graham’s charisma was very high…
 
…but Graham, sadly, had never bothered grinding his intelligence, much. Melos shot Amelia a glance, and she rolled her eyes in response, then glanced back to the King. “Sire? Care to explain it?”
 
Garamundi shook his head, and drew his finger west, naming each land his finger crossed. “Nevergreen. Lower Derope. Canticle. Kai-tan, the Wicked City. And that’s BEFORE you get into the Brokecrown Borderlands. None of them can stand against Bharstool without a miracle, they WON’T work together, and all the refugees and fleeing monsters from those nations are going to come west. We’re the gate between eastern and western Disland. Us. They’re going to flood through the passes, and we don’t have the numbers to stop them.”
 
“I’m not so sure I like this talk about stopping refugees,” Rezzak spoke up, the angelic-sealed rings on his hands glittering as he gestured. The man was partially deaf so whenever he spoke, his hands did too. Initially, it had annoyed the hell out of Melos, along with his sanctimonious attitude… but the man walked the walk, and held himself to the same standards as he did the rest of the world. Melos could respect that.
 
Hell, it’s not like he was a nurphite.
 
Garamundi leaned back, folded his hands across his ample belly. “The refugees, per se, aren’t the problem. Any ruler with brains enough to blow their nose sees the opportunity there. They come bearing wealth, looking for work, and desperate enough to settle in bad areas. Refugees are GOOD. But along with them, come the things that prey on them. Bandits. Warlords. Folks who survived the Bharstool battles and now might see our land as easy pickings… which it is.” He sighed and started pointing to the smaller settlements. “The harvestlands to the east and west of Cylvania City are easy pickings. We’re already having problems enough keeping goblins and roaming monsters out. And once they go, it doesn’t matter how high the walls along our larger settlements, because we won’t have the food to survive at a size large enough to stand against conquerors. And then there’s the monsters. Jane?”
 
The group looked to its most silent member. Hair jagged and black as her body suit, eyes narrowed, Just Jane stared back for a few seconds, before the assassin-turned-ninja found her voice.
 
Privately, Melos thought it was cute and squeaky. Not that he’d ever tell her that. She was moody and sensitive, and had this trick with pressure points that hurt quite a lot.
 
“The Agents of the Nevergreen told me that the Bharstoi are pillaging every dungeon in every conquered land… and sealing them. They often do not bother to slay the monsters they evict, instead driving them from their lands."
 
"And since all lands east of them are THEIR lands, that means the monsters go west. And they have a trail of refugees to follow and eat, right up until they’ll get to our doorstep. So yes. Years,” King Garamundi said, mopping his forehead with a royal handkerchief. “I’m hoping, I’m really hoping, that you can help me come up with a solution. Now, not years down the road, because when the first waves hit? They’ll only get bigger, and we’ll have less and less time to do anything but deal with them.”
 
The eight of them stared at the map.
 
“Do the dwarves know what is to come?” Sabi said, the silks of her headdress twisting as she looked from the map to their King. The ribbons woven through her hair gleamed bright red against her dusky skin. She’d come to Cylvania as a refugee herself, dragged along by parents fleeing the echoes of a nasty religious war. Melos had initially had a thing with her, but it hadn’t worked out. Date a fire elementalist, get burned, he thought to himself with a chuckle. Then Amelia rubbed his shoulder and he let the old mix of regret and shame go. If it hadn’t ended so badly then, he wouldn’t have it so good now.
 
“The dwarves do, actually,” came a calm voice from the end of the table. The entire group turned to stare as Grissle rose, his gaunt and withered frame creaking as he leaned on his cane. “I’ve been in touch with their Delvers society.”
 
“The Delvers. Those rabble rousers?” Garamundi frowned.
 
“An undeserved reputation. Some rail against the King, it’s true. But the wiser among them have been researching the… changeover, as have I.” Grissle’s white hair was plastered to his scalp with sweat. Some diseases, not even oracles can cure, Melos knew. It ate at his guts, caused Grissle pain every minute of the day. Which was why the man had stepped back from active duty with the Seven, and taken on the responsibility of supporting them. He’d made most of their magical gear, including the black iron armor Melos wore at this very minute. The wizard and enchanter pointed with a shaking hand. “They’ve closed Badgerdoom.”
 
“Really?” Amelia leaned forward. “They finally got around to doing something about the badger swarms?”
 
“Oh yes. And they have been experimenting with the dungeon core.” Grissle’s wet small, tongue licked out and moistened his lips. “Their findings match my own. The arrays, the sorting, we’re seeing the same patterns. The universe, laid out in a numerical code, the very secrets the gods once kept from us laid bare before-”
 
“Is this getting to a point?” Melos said. Grissle had a tendency to go on, until he reached jargon levels that could put the most patient of men to sleep. And Melos had never been very patient to start with.
 
Watery brown eyes found his own. For a second Melos toyed with turning on his fear aura, shot down the idea as soon as it crossed his mind. “Yes,” Grissle said. “I think I can use the dungeon cores to protect us from the incoming waves.”
 
“So the damn things would actually have a use?” Amelia said. “That’s good. I’d hate to think we’ve been collecting them just to take them out of circulation.”
 
Melos’ wife was an enchanter herself. She’d tried to teach him the art, but he found it boring.
 
“Oh, they’ve got a use, all right. Come and see!”
 
“What?”
 
“We’ve got one set up in the lab right now.”
 
“We?” Melos asked.
 
“Oh yes! Once we realized we were getting the same information, we decided to pool our resources. The three most promising apprentices from the Delver Society are my guests at the minute. And yesterday we made a huge breakthrough.”
 
“So that’s what those little bastards are about!” King Garamundi laughed. “I wondered why there were dwarves wandering around my castle and eating my food.”
 
“Gris?” Amelia asked, looking pensively at the old wizard, “exactly what is it you’ve got in the labs, right now?”
 
“If I’m right?” Grissle beamed a thin-lipped smile, “the key to protecting our homeland. Forever!”

*****

“I’m sorry, what’s that word you just said?” Melos asked, blinking down at the small, incredibly well-dressed dwarf.
 
“I’m a Pygmalion,” she said, tossing her elegantly-braided hair.
 
And beside her, five stone statues of her did the exact same thing. Which was disconcerting, because their hair was carved from something that really wasn’t supposed to be that flexible.
 
“It’s an animator, model blend,” Amelia said, smiling down at her. “I’m surprised. Most dwarves don’t go in for the model job.”
 
“Yeah, well, it’s that diet thing that does most of them in. And a lot of my kin think it’s foolish and wasteful.” She snorted, and leaned back in her chair, crossing one perfectly-shaven stumpy leg. “It’s their own fault if they don’t want in on these buffs.”
 
“No kidding,” Graham said, running an appreciative eye up and down her miniskirted figure.
 
“Reign it in. Remember, you’re no Bard,” Grissle joked. Then he pointed at the apparatus spread out around the room. “She’s the key to this whole affair.”
 
“What affair?” Melos asked.
 
“All my copies act and think as I do,” Brin the Pygmalion explained. “So if you stick one of them in a dungeon master’s slot, it will act like I would, and run a dungeon like I would.”
 
Grissle nodded. “There are flaws. The uplink-“
 
“The what now?” Rezzak asked.
 
“The green pillar prevents her from communicating with her copies like she normally could.”
 
“So they’re on their own initiative. But since I’m all for helping you guys, that’s all well and good.” Brin smiled up at the humans surrounding her.
 
“And your friends?” Melos glanced over at the other two dwarves. One younger male in a blue robe, who spent most of his time gawping at them, and blinking behind his beard. And an elderly one, wearing light plate mail, who glared at Melos with disgust.
 
There’s always one of those bastards.
 
“I’m er, I’m Ragnor.” Said the younger one. “I’m a wizard, here to study the, er, the artifacts—“
 
“The cores,” The older one said. “Which I’ve provided from my personal collection.”
 
His voice… “You’re Ambersand,” Melos realized.
 
“You are serious?” Sabi said, eyes widening over her veil. “The Ambersand? Savior of Gerdland? Ravager of the Gnolls and the Voids?”
 
The dwarf’s gaze softened as he looked upon her. “Aye. Though that was a bit ago.” He coughed. “Before the… changeover.”
 
“Old school. Whoa.” Graham said. “So what was that whole thaco thing about, anyway?”
 
Ambersand chuckled. “Well, y’see, it was this backwards scale, where plate was a three, and leather was a seven, and you had to-“
 
“Oh don’t get him started,” Brin said. “Or he’ll be going on about saving rods, staves, and wands.”
 
“Throws, ya wax-legged wastrel! Ye saved yer throws!” Ambersand yelled.
 
“Please…” Grissle said, lifting a finger.
 
“Sorry.” The elderly dwarf cleared his throat.
 
“Anyway… look. It’s easier if I show you,” Grissle said, moving to what looked all the world like a throne, emblazoned with arcane sigils, that matched the metal pillars around the laboratory. Copper tubes trailed from the throne, stretching out to wrap around the various pillars. “Brin? Column one, if you please.”
 
Smiling, the little Pygmalion went over to the metal column, and put her hand on the pillar. Purple and green light glittered as she cupped the hollow top of it.
 
“That’s the Dungeon Core,” Jane rasped. “From Joculah’s.”
 
“Yes. And with some alignment…” Grissle shifted levers, adjusted sliders, and stabbed a finger down onto the throne’s buttons. “There.”
 
The remaining six of the Seven tensed, as darkness surrounded them, with green numbers flashing above. Sound faded away, and once more they were in that darkling place between the worlds. The dwarves watched, the younger in awe, taking notes on a parchment, and the elder with wary caution.
 
Brin, for her part, was enclosed within seconds by a green column. The metal pillar vanished, and she stood there, a beatific look on her face.
 
All save for one patch of white light, that coalesced to reveal the laboratory. “The entire room is now enclosed, the space replaced by our dungeon,” Grissle happily pointed out. “It’s filling the entire lower level of the castle, all of my labs. Although… it needn’t.” He adjusted spinners and sliders, and as they watched, the perspective through the doorway out shrunk, until the space grew thinner, distorted. “A person could easily step outside, and get back to the real world. The dungeon’s a mere few inches thick right now. But we won’t send a person out, no.” He waved to one of Brin’s statues. “The number two, please.”
 
The statue roused itself, and walked out through the doorway, its own form distorting briefly, then it was through.
 
“Once she’s got her hands on the second core, and willing it to activation…” Grissle smiled. “Ah yes, there we go!” A rune on the throne lit up, and he threw a lever.
 
Abruptly, the light from the exit changed. He fiddled with the dials and sliders again, and space straightened out…
…revealing the laboratory beyond, and a door in the middle of it, showing a flickering green space.
 
Wonder stirred in Melos’ mind. “You’ve found a way to nest a dungeon within a dungeon.”
 
“Oh yes. And by itself that’d be a century or three of study,” Grissle’s voice was smug. “But it’s the ability to adjust and shape the amount of space that the dungeon occupies that makes it useful for the King’s purposes.”
 
“Explain.” Amelia said.
 
“Dungeons always have one entrance, don’t they?” Grissle’s tongue wet his lips. “And they block off all the space they occupy… absolutely no way to enter it, save through the entrance. So what if… what if we surrounded our land with a wall of dungeons?”
 
“You’d need a lot of dungeons,” Amelia shook her head. “And what’s to stop our enemies from entering them and closing them…” her eyes went wide. “…except that you can put the entrance to each dungeon inside another dungeon!”
 
“Inside the main one,” Grissle smiled. “And thanks to your retrieval of a Rank five dungeon core, it’s just big enough that I can stretch it out to cover the entire Kingdom.”
 
“Wait, whoa, you’d turn our land into a dungeon?” Graham said. “Not sure if that’s a good idea.”
 
“A dungeon with nothing in its own main pillars!” Grissle snapped. “No bosses, no mobs, nothing spawning.” He grimaced. “Which is good, because as diffused as it would be, it would be a dungeon in name only. The pillars would react… weirdly. No, the master dungeon would just be there to control the others, allow them to be nested. And once nested…” He grinned, and manipulated dials. And through the doorway into the lab that was now a dungeon, the space in the OTHER doorway distorted. “I can spread THEM out, too. Shape them into a barrier.”
 
Rezzak rubbed his chin. “How many? How many cores, all told?”
 
“It varies. Seventeen’s optimal. You could do it with one, but there would be… side effects.” Rezzak sighed.
 
“What are the downsides?” Melos asked.
 
“Mm. well… The problem arises that it’s a little hard on the slaved cores. They’re not meant to be used this way. So they’d need replacing on a regular basis. But since we’re not planning to keep the dungeon wall up permanently, this isn’t a real issue. Just shut down the cores in sequence, swap out any damaged ones, and off we go.” He chuckled, and pointed at the loot pillars spread throughout the room. “I’ve placed the core pylons in synched locations to the loot pillars. If one blew, in a pinch, it’d be the simplest of matters to go and swap one out. Even a monkey could do it. That’d be a little rough on the control throne, though, so you don’t want to do it too often.”
 
“This is good,” Amelia nodded. “The King needs to see this.”
 
“I’m glad we agree,” Grissle rasped, the smile stretching his face. “As legacies go, it’ll be a good one for me to leave to the kingdom…"
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Andrew Seiple

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Belgarion @Belgarion ago

Thanks for the chapter!

sincron
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sincron @sincron ago

not what i was expecting but i'm certainly not complaining

Moridain @Moridain ago

Wait, so it wasn't fantasy --> system, it was DnD --> System?! Very Happy

    sbag @sbag ago

    I thought that was pretty obvious from the way that Caradon talked about it with Cecelia when she was being schooled. Spell slots and that Animate Rope spell.

      Moridain @Moridain ago

      Yeah, but you can have a vancian spell system without a full on DnD rules world.

      A magic system where people prepare their spells in the morning is one thing, but a world where they have numerical armor ratings and need to calculate THACO is something else entirely. Very Happy

Sonati @Sonati ago

Well as the saying goes... The path to hell is made out of good intentions. It was made the be temporary soo what happened??? and using demons as armor and weapons?? the guy was a apocalypse waiting to happen and guess what... it happened.

BigBuckler @BigBuckler ago

This is one of those rare stories that does interludes well. Thanks for the update!

sbag @sbag ago

We've seen one of TB's future jobs now. Imagine a TB for every little girl. Each one adorable and tophatted. I'm squeeling... in a very mannish way.....totally! Ahem, now we just need to find out what went wrong to kill the heroes, get Melos to demonify their corpses, and turn the dungeon on permanently. My money is on learning that the mage trying to somehow use this arrangement to gain immortality or cure his illness like Joculah did with his "perfect body". 

Ironbeagle @Ironbeagle ago

Glad to hear a backstory about what happened. And thx for the chapter!

Vorchin @Vorchin ago

Thanks for another chapter!