Delta watched as Cois narrowed his beady little eyes at the rough shape in the middle of the fort room. Mr Mushy watched from slightly down the hall, unwilling to get any closer to the heat. The fire died down and the scorched thing wobbled slightly. Delta had only come to check on things and to see if her gobs had returned. Instead, she had found most of the floor monsters gathered around Cois, his fire magic cooking something.
“What is that?” Delta asked faintly as the misshapen black thing smoked near the foot of the hill, away from any wooden structures.
Her Mushy came nearer. It seemed to be unable to look away from the black thing.
It sagged to one side and the odd ears or loopy things at the side made it look like a haunched man that Cois had just cooked. Cois sniffed as he admired his work.
“Done. Bring next one!” he commanded and Mr Mushy waddled out, both hands holding a brown muddy thing. He put it down and began to pat the sides as they became runny. It was round and Mr Mushy’s hands came away covered in mud.
Cois cackled and flash fried it as Mr Mushy ran away from the licks of fire past Bily and back into the tunnel for protection.
Numb cheered as Billy shot Cois a glare. The bow-using goblin murmured something to Mr Mushy and the giant being clapped his hands. The pot looked just as misshapen as the first and Delta watched as Numb dragged it off to one corner where five or six more black pots sat.
“What’s going on?” Delta asked casually and Cois yelped, hiding his staff behind his back. Numb panicked and just threw the pot up the hill where it hit the slope and rolled, bumped and tumbled its way back down with hollow clunking sounds. Billy just snorted and pushed his green cap down to watch the scene.
Nu appeared with a rather sour sounding ding.
The menu appeared to be frustrated and Delta hid a smile as she answered.
“Not everyone learns to understand something or replicate it after one attempt or sample. Some of us have to practise!” Delta hummed and Nu seemed to let out a low noise.
Delta watched as Mr Mushy was already patting a new pot. He seemed to be trying to give this pot a moustache and a monocle for some odd reason. Cois was still frozen to the spot, smoke still curling from his staff.
Numb tried to hide the pots behind himself and failed utterly. Billy was rather calm but he was also looking a little guilty at taking part.
“Hm, there is no reason. Doing something fun is... just fun. You should try it, make a pot or something,” Delta encouraged and then bent down to smile at Cois.
“Less heat, they might actually look good then, hm?” she giggled and got up to head to the grove. Cois nodded as if her words were a command.
“Less...less fire,” he repeated with a petulant tone. Delta complimented Mr Mushy as she went past and the giant fungus tried to do a bow but seemed to forget there was a wall and blinked in confusion as his cap hit something solid and the force from that, in turn, tipped him over so he landed in a sitting position.
Delta smiled as Billy moved over to help without a word. The little archer seemed like Mr Mushy and that made Delta pleased as a button. The sound of roaring fire rushed out and Numb’s voice called out.
“Master say less, less!” he said in a panic. Cois just cackled loudly again.
Delta slowed as she entered the Grove. The stalks on some natural shrooms were easily taller than some men.
“Oh, it’s fine! Just try!” Delta encouraged again and Nu made a frustrated sound.
Delta frowned and then shook her head.
“Sounds nice and easy out loud but you aren’t a menu, not anymore. Nu, besides being rude, cocky, a bit of a know-it-all, you’re my friend. Not a tool,” she reminded the box and it shimmered red and Delta took a step back as it rang furiously.
The box faded from the red to a sombre purple. Delta just waited, her mind going blank as this was not something she expected. So, she did the only thing she could.
“Make a pot,” she repeated and Nu seemed to grow in size as if trying to appear angrier but with another angry ring, the word appeared.
Delta watched as the spot in front of her shimmered as something began to form. Her mana dipped and the object appeared.
“Nu..” Delta trailed off and the text box had gone very still. Delta’s lips twitched and the box went a very bright pink.
Delta inhaled slowly and a noise escaped her mouth. It was a chortle, then a giggle, and then Delta just gave up and burst out laughing. She could only watch as Boary sniffed at the pot that was even uglier than Delta’s.
It was more like a pot that had been ugly and then flattened by a car, resurrected by some novice voodoo priest and then got dropped out of a plane. Delta slapped her knee as laughter began to cause her physical pain but she couldn’t stop. Nu was texting in a small font, his version of muttering.
Nu was demanding but Delta could only walk away to lean against a wall.
“The only thing broken...” Delta paused to catch her breath as she giggled again, “is your artistic talent!” Delta grinned and Nu shimmered red.
Abruptly Delta’s laughter ceased and she put her hands on her hips, her voice dropping low.
“Is that a challenge?” she demanded and Nu seemed to turn away as if dismissing her words.
Delta shrugged, walking to meet the returning gobs.
“That’s fine, we both know that means my pot was the better one,” she said pleasantly and Nu gave a mocking ding noise.
Delta hid another smile as Nu followed her, bombarding her with criticism and defences of his own pot.
Maybe he was broken, Delta didn’t know. But he was her friend and anyone that made such a big fuss over pots couldn’t be a wrong existence. Just funny and Delta hoped Nu would understand that one day.
It was bad enough that one of them had a breakdown every other day. No need to double up on that particular activity.
“Quiss, you can stop glaring at the forest. Dabberghast got the hint. She’s home already,” Ruli grumbled as Quiss paced in front of the Dungeon entrance. The Level Quake had stirred up some of the old hunters. Quiss knew any one of them could sneak past him if he moved too far from the entrance.
It had taken...some loss of temper that Quiss almost regretted to send people back home. Sure, most of them could break Quiss in some manner or at least, give him a run for his wizard hat but no one wanted to start anything.
Quiss wiped some sweat from his brow as he remembered how a fight nearly broke out between Himself and a rather stubborn Capramancer. Then Old Lady Jose arrived and everyone sulked and went back home.
“I don’t think it’s just her. Could be others. They all got the rush. We feel it as well, the mana around here skyrocketed. I won't be surprised if Von begins to walk about near dusk or half the teens become lust-struck idiots and try to conquer the dungeon as some made-up trial or worse, someone tries to influence Delta,” Quiss snapped as Ruli sipped down something he was sure was semi-illegal in some places.
He who controls the dungeon is both a fool and a genius. If one could give endless supplies to a dungeon but only one kind, then the dungeon would grow in that direction. The easiest path to follow and the dungeons follow it well.
Quiss hesitated after that thought. Delta was no mere Core-Infant. She had a rational mind and that only made it worse. Delta was so... nice that Quiss knew that one hint that a villager just needed something and Delta would leap to give it to them in a flash.
Hence why he and Ruli were outside, they weren’t going to influence Delta at such a critical stage until she filled the second floor of her own design. Durence had its share of characters and not all of them could pass a karma spell test. Not that anyone really could fail them anymore. Way too many ways to lie to magic and Gods around these days.
The races of this world really could do a lot of damage with but a few clinks of a coin.
“Monologuing is often a sign of being broody, about to hit chosen puberty, or someone ignoring their friend,” Ruli said lightly. Quiss turned with a narrowed expression.
“I am a broody bastard, what of it?” he said impatiently and Ruli rolled her eyes. She stood up from the ground and Quiss couldn't ignore how much her eyes glowed or how...additionally defined she was. Her arms looked thicker and Quiss tried not to make it obvious he was noticing the extra height on Ruli now. Not too much but enough that he had to adjust to meet her eyes.
Mana. Too many people, it was many things. It was also one thing and that was trouble. Most people got a high or a rush, feeling better than most of their life when they enter a mana-rich area or mana came to them. To the Orcs, they grew more bestial, more passionate at best, stubborn at the worst. The Drakes lost their snake-like features and began to walk around like rulers, like their ancient parents. Elves; red, wood, dark, and the old ones, became more ethereal.
Quiss knew a Wood-elf that was in the middle of building a joltan battle suit when the workshop got flooded with a rare-mana cloud.
The elf had walked out the workshop three days later and his suit was a cloak. The things that piece of fabric did made Quiss feel like a child with matches in his pocket.
Halfings, The Deeps, The Plain tribes, the monsters, the... Quiss rubbed his nose.
The list went on to nearly all living things and some even non-living depending on what it was.
Mana made them more and less. They became capable of great things but to those who were not ready, it was a drug.
Ruli.. she grew. Quiss knew that being a halfling was never exactly easy. One could get lucky and get some ugly mismatch features. Or really unlucky and get more. Quiss knew Ruli would punch him for even thinking the word. Halfblooded, the child of two different races. People, all people, shortened it to Halfling. It annoyed the shorter races and the Halfblooded.
In some places, people used it to reference the fact that most halfblooded were runts at best. Mismatch biology never worked... exactly for the best. For Ruli? It had worked like art. Ruli was, as far as Quiss had known her, never been someone you could point to and say, runt.
Not if one wanted teeth afterwards.
“Quiss, don’t give me that look. Your eyes are just... fire,” she said quietly and Quiss closed them as an unconscious reaction. He did not like people staring at his eyes when they went like that.
Mages were not exempt from mana empowerment. Really it could manifest in many ways. A woman he knew, Clara Cheese-Fortress, had visions of last Tuesday. Nothing interesting, she just couldn’t escape Tuesday.
Another mage, Omawn Sword-Beast, could paint art that even Quiss felt moved by but the man never remembered doing it.
Himself? He burned. He burned if he did not control himself and Quiss would never, never, let go of that control until that day came. Ruli patted him on the head like an affectionate pet. Quiss growled but Ruli just smirked.
“Come on, let’s grab a drink, I’m growing, you’re smoking. It’s the right kinda mood,” she scratched at her chin and Quiss just gave her a long look before he spoke.
“Worst come on, ever,” he muttered and Ruli snorted.
“Please, we tried and you ignored me for a week before I broke into your house,” she smiled at the memory. Quiss shook his head and then froze as someone emerged from the shadows, coming from the direction of the town.
Quiss stiffened and Ruli casually took a stance that would allow the woman to do many things at once.
“Good evening, or is it the night? It is dark... ah, the intricacies of light and the sun,” the man called, his long dark hair tied neatly back in a ponytail, his face cheerful. His clothes were tasteful, scholarly, crisp black trousers and a shirt that would not allow wrinkles.
The hands hidden by white gloves made the complete image. Quiss took a few steps forward as the man seemed utterly entranced by the night as if it was some new concept.
“Mr Japes, may I ask why you are here?” Quiss smiled as if a ghost were stretching his lips against his will. The man blinked and then smiled at Quiss.
“My... Peacekeeper Quiss Firesmasher. Are you also here for the temptations of the night?” he asked with a soft tone and Ruli saddled up next to Quiss in support.
“What can we do for you, Pothead?” she grinned and Quiss closed his eyes as an intense pain blossomed in his head.
Ruli-induced-migraines were the worst. Japes tilted his head.
“Why...I am here to go inside the dungeon,” he said, puzzled by the question. Quiss shook his head.
“No one is to go in. The elders all agree-” he was cut off as Japes took out a small jar. Fire was in Quiss’ hand before he could think and Ruli had a dark knife in her hand, ready to throw it. Japes ignored them both and brought the pot to his ear and opened the lid slightly, listening.
“Hm... yes. I do believe so. No, no need for such things. Shhh, no more talk,” Japes admonished the jar and put it back in a pocket. Quiss’ hands felt cold. It was odd, he was holding the primal fire and yet the man made Quiss sweat uncontrollably.
The tiny noise of Ruli grinding her teeth made Quiss know he wasn’t the only one who was nervous.
Japes tilted his head back and peered at both of them. The distance, the moonlight, the shadows.
It made Japes look less like a scholar and more like a curious surgeon who had just spotted something odd in his usual operation.
“Firesmasher...Darknessbane. I don’t have a special jar for you. Would you like one? I would make it...perfect just for you,” he offered in his polite and cheerful voice. Quiss ignored how his fire grew dark.
“I must decline. You aren’t here to break the laws, are you?” He called and Japes looked upset at the words. His pleasant smile fell into a sad expression.
“I would never. Rules are important. They contain society. I could never bring myself to shatter such... fragile things,” he said as if Quiss were to accuse him of doing such a thing, it would not be a good thing.
“Japes, the rule is that no one is to go inside. So, end of the discussion,” Ruli snapped. The well-dressed man looked up and smiled.
“Of course. I live to help the law. Like removing pests,” he found this amusing and had to cover his monstrous grin that stretched inhumanely across his face. It took a moment but Japes’ face returned back to normal.
Quiss had the next 31 spells ready in his head to chant but the words squirmed inside like invasive worms.
“Pests?” Quiss echoed and Japes pulled out another jar. This one looked odd like it was made more from animal hide than mud or ceramic.
Japes put the jar to his ear.
“Hmm... I see. Master ‘Delta’ needs you? Tsk, I am trying to take you home, but sadly my little green friends. I am not allowed. I shall try again tomorrow,” he promised with that monstrous grin. Quiss’ fire went out and he pulled on a weapon that was far worse.
Japes frowned at it, his playful look melting away like liquid clay.
“Release the goblins or I will arrest you,” he warned and Japes raised one brow in curiosity.
“On what charge?” he smiled and Quiss smiled back.
“Destruction of a dungeon” he stated and Ruli shot away from Quiss as if he just slapped her. Japes lost all facial expression, the blank canvas of his eyes and flat mouth were the scariest thing yet. Quiss forced his voice not to tremble as he carried on.
“By taking those contracted monsters, you are halting the progression of this here dungeon. Under my reasoning and the fact you are trying to gain access after weakening the dungeon leads me to think you are trying to shatter Delta,” he called presenting the little piece of metal that had a golden crown with a sword through it.
The crown rested on the hilt of the sword and the words ‘PeaceKeeper’ were stamped at the bottom.
It glowed with an eerie light as Quiss spoke.
The badge of a PeaceKeeper. It was the seal to act in the king’s place. No matter where or with who.
It allowed Quiss to do three things.
One, it let him sit in a pub all day and drink.
Two. It occasionally let him get a free pint at the pub.
And three, it allowed Quiss to summon a member of the royal guard with a one time use teleportation rune that would most likely take Quiss’ hand off as the cost.
A royal guard was not a toy soldier to annoy for a favour. To have one on beck and call was a responsibility and the fact that the badge would kill anyone who tried to use it without the proper authority was another little... fun thing about it.
Japes, without a word, smashed the jar and two cursing goblins fell out off a rapidly vanishing space. Japes bowed stiffly and turned without a word. His back bulging slightly as his body twitched.
The goblins fled into the dungeon, to home.
Ruli sighed and dropped back to the grass, finally breathing.
“Fucking demon spit, what the fuck?” Ruli demanded and the badge glowed with a warning. Quiss snorted and pocketed it.
“Calm down, I wasn’t actually going to use it. A royal guard is summoned but I don’t get to choose which one. Trust me, we don’t want to be bringing Zale here. It'd be better to cut off our own heads and save us the trouble,” he grumbled. Japes the potter... what had the man wanted?
He sat down, all thoughts of the pub gone.
“Here,” Ruli offered her flask and Quiss took a swig without asking what it was. It burned and then froze in his throat.
“Does your mother know you stole her Devil Tree Wine?” he asked casually and Ruli’s smirked was all the answer he needed.
Jolin Javen Japes inhaled and tidied himself up, He twitched again as the wrongness increased. He put a hand on the wall of the nearest building to ride out the agitation. It itched at him.
“Curve up...smooth down,” he repeated and walked ahead as the mana made his unique sense go haywire.
It had never acted up before in this town. A blessing. But now it itched, itched, itched, itched. He took another deep breath and rubbed his face. Annoyed at his lack of control. The goblins had simply startled him, he didn’t know why he just didn’t let them go.
Old habits. Why let good hostages go to waste?
Oh, those were the days. But now he just wanted to make simple pots and someone was making him itch.
Someone somewhere was making a mess of his art!
Mr Mushy hummed as he slapped two pots together and made a new handle on his new creation! It was a gentlemanly pot! An extra handle to be helpful for those to carry it! Mr Mushy was pleased as Cois got better at the fire, only slightly burning his pots now.
He couldn’t wait to try making a pot with no bottom!
It would be so...glorious!