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A note from argusthecat

Welp.  Guess I'll be making more of this.  I'm pretty sure that the actual dungeon delve bits will be kept narratively (and chapterly) separated from the rest of the story, so if you're here to watch a man mutilate office supplies with a crowbar as some kind of catharsis, it'll be easy for you to tell if a chapter is exactly what you want.  That said, hope you all enjoy this one as a bit of setup and character building.

 

Anesh walked into the kitchen at what was not, if James was going to be totally honest, his personal best moment.

“James.” He started, in a flat voice. “My friend. Esteemed roommate. Hypothetical godfather of my non-existent son.” He paused and looked around the room.

James gave him a flat look, trying his best not to display emotion. Emotion like shame, or explosive laughter. “Oh, go on. I'm enjoying the compliments.”

His favorite roommate looked back and made hard eye contact. “Why, James, why in the world does the kitchen look like it qualifies for FEMA aid?”

“Hey now, that's not entirely fair!” James threw back, voice pitched a bit awkwardly slightly higher than he'd intended, as he struggled to defend his position from a direct verbal assault.

It was entirely fair. The kitchen looked like it'd been hit by a minimum of two separate tornadoes. At least four or five mixing bowls and pans were scattered around the sink, with another one currently on the stove in use. James' noble attempt at making breakfast had left splotches of flour, half a stick of butter, and droplets of completed pancake batter splattered across the counters, floor, and in a small area, wall.

He took a moment to look around at his handiwork. “Okay, it's entirely fair. But in my defense, I was doing science.”

Anesh raised an eyebrow. “Breakfast science?”

“No, I was trying to figure out exactly what it meant to know a pancake recipe. Turns out, it doesn't do fuck-all for actually making pancakes.” James tried to flip the pancake currently burning on the pan, and ended up splattering more batter on the counter. “Okay, screw it. I give up. These would have been delicious, but I have no idea what I'm doing here.”

His roommate stared for a minute. “James, are you doing okay? This is abnormal.” Anesh got a surprised look, complete with raised eyebrows, in response. “Okay, yes, abnormal 'even for you'. But come on, you're actually awake in the morning, and trying to cook. I don't think I've ever seen you cook anything more complex than rice.”

“I actually don't do rice, since that one time I set it on fire.”

Anesh paused briefly. “Like, burned the rice?”

“No, actually set the whole thing on fire. Look, there's a reason I work a job that gives overtime, and that reason is so that I can eat out more.” He started piling mix-covered bowls and utensils into the sink. “I am terminally stupid when it comes to making food. I was sorta hoping to fix that. Hey, on that note, I have something to ask you!”

Anesh snorted briefly. “I am not teaching you how to cook. If you tried to make a curry, you'd probably kill yourself. Or everyone in a two block radius. I am unwilling to shoulder that burden of guilt.”

This earned him a nervous laugh from James, and a smile that got less nervous as he bantered with his friend. Here, James thought, is someone who gets me. Someone I can trust. After taking a minute, he asked. “Funny, but no. Okay, you remember last week when you ate my candy?”

“I will not....”

“It's fine, look, the point is, I told you where I got it.”

Anesh rolled his eyes. “You said some bullshit I wasn't really paying attention to, because it was stupid.”

“Right,” James said. “insanely stupid, and also true. I found... I mean, honestly, it's a fucking dungeon. It's just, like, a billion cubicles and a beige horizon, but it's got loot drops in it. Like candy. And rent.”

His roommate laughed. “Didn't we have this conversation, like, two years ago? 'What would you do if you found a real life dungeon'?, or something? Or was this a podcast I listen to?” James' smile turned into more of a smirk. “It doesn't matter. The correct answer was pillaging, I think. But it's kind of a moot point...”

“No, but, like, really. I found an actual for real dungeon.”

Anesh went to walk back down the hall to his room. “Okay, I'm not really buying it, and I'm not sure I have the energy for this right now. I'm gonna go play video games until my eyes hurt.” He got about halfway down when something bounced off the back of his head.

Spinning around, he got whumped on the forehead by another projectile James lobbed at him. A small yellow-gold ball, almost like a bath bead. “Dude, come on!” James pitched another one his way, grinning, and this time Anesh caught it, and squeezed it just a little too much. “Oh, shit!” He yelped as the thing popped. “I didn't mean to...” And he trailed off, as an intrusive thought burrowed its way through his mind. It was clearly alien, and yet, didn't feel hostile. It just rummaged around a bit, and made it perfectly clear to him that it was doing so, before blaring a phrase into his consciousness and fading out.

[+1 Skill Rank : Naval Warship Classifications - Norwegian]

“What.”

James leaned back against the couch, now certain he'd gotten his friend's attention.

“Yeah, that was about my reaction too.”

Anesh just stood there, staring at his hands. “What?”

James chucked again. “It's kinda weird, isn't it? Like, it takes you a while to remember what you remember now.”

His friend looked up and made eye contact, possibilities running through his mind. “You found a dungeon?”

“I found a dungeon.” James couldn't keep the wide grin off his face.

“Well, first of all, I'm taking these two that you hit me with, as is my right.” James nodded and made a magnanimous gesture with his hands. “And second of all, that's the most useless thing I've ever learned.”

“I know, right?!” James yelled.

Anesh popped the other two orbs as he asked, “is there anything, I dunno, better in there?”

[+1 Skill Rank : Tax Law - American - Retirement Funds]

[+1 Skill Rank : History - Pizza]

“Not that I'm against knowing about pizza, but, well...” He looked back at James to see him holding a much larger ball. Not huge, but closer to a human palm than the small fingernail-sized orbs that he'd given Anesh. “What's that one do?”

“I have no idea.” James told him. “I'm mostly flying blind here. I was sort of hoping this would interest you enough to get you to help me out.” He crushed the skill orb, taking a moment to breathe as his mind was mildly rewritten.

[+2 Skill Ranks : Origami]

“Hm. Origami. That's... actually probably the closest to something awesome that I've gotten so far. Not to discourage you or anything, just that it might take a little effort to get, like, good stuff.” Inside, James was doing a little dance. He was trying hard to not discourage Anesh at all, but this was seriously the coolest thing he'd gotten from an orb, and it made him feel vindicated in his desire to use the dungeon to improve himself.

Anesh thought for a second, and then nodded. “Okay.” He said. “I'm in.” He went over to their living room table and started clearing it off, while gathering some other stuff from around the apartment. As he did so, he kept talking to James. “But first, I'm gonna want you to tell me everything you can remember. A general map, if possible, too.” He thumped a sheaf of paper and notecards onto the coffee table. “Also, now that I've committed to this like a nutter, maybe I should ask you exactly how dangerous this place is?”

James shuffled his feet as he stood over the table, picking up a pen. “Ah... now, okay, remember that you already agreed...”

 

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A note from argusthecat

Like it?  Hate it?  Any kind of emotional reaction at all?  Total lack of emotional reaction?  Leave a comment.  I love comments.  They motivate me.


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About the author

argusthecat

Bio: I write stuff, and have a lot of thoughts about narrative structure and tropes. Some of the stuff I write is here, the rest can be found over on Reddit on my r/hfy author page. Feel free to message me if you want to talk about ideas, or just have questions about anything I made!

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