Vas watched as Master Japes’ newest creation formed with a particular agitated feeling. Vas didn’t know what was causing the master to feel as he did. In Vas’ time, they had never known Master Japes’ to be anything other than slow and methodical. Sometimes a bit happy as he told stories of his old days.
The master had his odd smile when he spoke of those days.
Vas saw the master turn the pot over and then sigh, letting the new pot fall from his hands and to the floor. The smashing sound sent a jolt up Vas’ spine. The way it shattered into countless pieces, sending the once interesting features to the four corners of the room in a clattering of broken pieces. Vas was still as the noise faded from their ears.
“Clean that up, I am... tired. My head is-” Master Japes seemed to struggle with his own irritation. He straightened up and then smiled at Vas with a slow nod.
“Leave it. I know how it upsets you to clean such messes. I shall do it tomorrow. You are free for the night. Remember the rules,” Master Japes said, words like a breeze.
Gentle, but Vas could feel the potential storm that could brew in an instant.
“Yes. I will not leave the village. I will not break the laws of this town. I will not try to become a tree. I will not set fire to the back alley bards if they refuse to stop singing. I will never, ever, reveal your secrets,” Vas repeated confidently and Master Japes sighed.
“How does one child get into so much trouble?” he asked himself and smiled at the thoughts that followed. Vas didn’t even blink. They looked like a person of 20. No more, no less. Perhaps it was the way Vas’ sleeves were a tiny bit too big for their arms or the way their bed hair was eternal and made Vas look like, as Master Japes often joked, Vas had been dragged through a bush backwards and the bush turned into a druid who threw some good storm magic at Vas for good measure.
Master Japes bent down slightly and cupped one of Vas’ cheeks.
“I am harsh but you are a good child. Go, enjoy the night. I will see you soon,” he ushered with a waved of one hand. Vas didn’t really much prompting.
Vas enjoyed helping Master Japes. The work was soothing and Master Japes made very beautiful work. Vas made pitiful attempts, none that quite met the standards of Master Japes but the man encouraged Vas to keep working at it.
Vas liked pottery. Vas liked walking the night just a bit more.
The dark town was never truly quiet. Too many interesting people lived here to keep to a strict day and night schedule. The star seers set up shop and argued over the Two-headed Horse sign. Was it fading or rearing? Vas watched as a sharply dressed man ducked out of a marble building.
The glint of a fang made Vas tilt their head. Von the banker, a dangerous man. Master Japes had said so but told Vas he had nothing to fear if he remembered to be respectful.
“Out for your nightly stroll, are we Apprentice Vas?” the banker asked and Vas took a moment to appreciate how similar their names were. Like two pieces of pottery that had inspired one another.
Von wasn’t the man’s real, middle, fake, or even close to accurate name. Vas knew to call him Mr. Von because everyone did. Vas had asked why he was called that once and Master Japes just pursed his lips and said not to ask or Vas would be cleaning clay dust off the walls for the next three nights.
Vas never asked again.
“Yes, Mr. Von. I hope you have a good night,” Vas said, bowing their head and the man chuckled as he moved away. He seemed to aim directly for a small bar near the end of the street.
“I always do, young thing,” he promised and with a rather spectacular turn of his large coat, vanished into the building. Vas read the sign.
The Milk Glass
Vas nodded once, having read it every night. It seemed like a nice enough place but Vas had no such desire to drink milk like Mr. Von.
Instead, Vas continued down the road, stopping to pick up a few things people had dropped. A knobby potato, some used matches, a broken wheel off some cart. Vas picked them up and put them in a small bowl at their side. Vas plucked a dangling apple from Mrs. Dabberghast’s garden, the tree hissed but didn’t really do anything.
Vas sighed and longed to be a tree. They seemed to have such interesting lives. Using one hand, Vas swirled the knick-knacks together. The bowl was not theirs, but Master Japes’. It was a special bowl, if the Master was to be correct, which he usually was.
The wheel, the potato, the apple, and the matches began to blur together as the bowl glowed slightly. The magic began to change the objects into a singular object.
It was some reddish vegetable on a wooden stick. Vas use one finger to move it and the odd thing spun on the stick like a wheel or a windmill. The bowl let out a sigh and the magic faded for a night.
Vas liked making things, even the mixing bowl let Vas create things. Vas began to slow down as the house appeared. Vas clutched the bowl and the most likely flammable vegetable in both hands. There was no lights or any sign of life. Vas felt emotion stirring and they quickly rushed over and placed the vegetable near the door. The cleanest place was on the little mailbox, so Vas put it in there.
They turned and ran, ducking into the usual hiding spot. Feeling dizzy, Vas could only watch as the night went on.
Then Quiss appeared.
Vas felt their tongue go numb as Quiss picked up the odd vegetable. Quiss muttered something and peered around. Vas chest hammered and in a panic, they became unliving.
Vas ceased to thi-
Vas blinked and saw Quiss had gone inside. Sighing with relief, they moved away before Quiss reappeared. Twice in one night would be too much.
Master Japes had not... he hadn’t warned Vas of how their chest would hurt or how their head would go odd around the Peace Keeper.
Maybe it wasn’t supposed to happen? Vas thought about that and then shrugged. Supposed to or not, it happened and Vas relished in the feeling. If they could be a tree, they could watch Quiss all day. Trees had that sort of free time.
Vas neatly moved around a puddle in the road.
Old habits die hard.
“Hey, you!” a voice called, it came from the direction of the house, Quiss’ house.
Vas turned and saw the woman coming towards him. Ruli, a friend of Quiss. Quiss, she knew Quiss and she would tell Quiss that Vas had been near their house!
Vas panicked and cease to thi-
They blinked once and Vas saw that they were no longer in middle of the road but instead inside of a pub. Ruli drained her jug of drink and burped. Vas shrunk in on itself. Ruli eyed them then smiled.
“Oh, you’re alive. Was thinking I scared you to death,” she said by way of greeting. Vas looked around and saw other people were drinking but no one paid them any attention. Perhaps it was the man who was stacking glasses on top of an ominous cursed looking statue? Maybe it was the barmaid who split herself into three for a moment to serve drinks before becoming one again?
Whatever it was, Vas was not exactly eye-catching in this bar.
“Sorry, just didn’t want to leave you in the middle of the road. You're Japes’ pet, right?” Ruli asked with little tack. Vas nodded and made sure to hold the bowl tightly with both hands. The Master would angry if Vas lost it.
“So, what’s the deal, why is Japes being such an ass?” Ruli asked loudly and Vas had a flash of the ‘rules’ in their head.
“I cannot say,” Vas tried and Ruli popped some peanuts into her mouth.
“Right... serve until you die. Kinda you Golems' shtick right? I’m not asking if he wears thongs or battle-speedos. I just need to know why he was trying to get into the dungeon,” Ruli said, voice going a little soft. Vas blinked and shook their head.
“I cannot say,” Vas replied confidently and Ruli rolled her tongue around as if intrigued by Vas’ words. She nodded as if giving in. She took another deep drink of her mug.
“I mean, I can ask Quiss to come down. I’m sure you’d love to talk to him,” Ruli said, smiling cheerfully and made a motion to stand. Vas’ body jerked and they knew Ruli could see the panicked look on Vas’ face.
“Damn. Calm down, don’t you dare go comatose on me again,” she warned as Vas tried to sink down into the chair. Music played through a series of fairies. Each one looked like they were about 50, smoked once a minute and got drunk every night.
“N-not Quiss!” Vas stammered and Ruli raised one brow.
“Usually when people say that, I get where they’re coming from. You? I don’t think you’re afraid of him. Considering the tracks around his house and the smell of that weird thing you left lingering on your hand, you’re sweet on the old asshat,” Ruli accused as if Vas had been caught doing something unnatural.
Maybe Vas had been. Did empty containers for their master’s power develop feelings? What about ones that were filled to the brim of contained magic? Vas didn’t know.
Vas wondered what it'd be like if Quiss asked them to store some of Quiss’ magic?
The table jumped as Vas’ knee jerked in reaction to that thought. Vas put the mixing bowl over their head and tried to block out Ruli’s existence. Breath, Vas needed to breathe. Vas didn’t actually need to breathe but it felt appropriate for this moment. Ruli shook her head.
“Listen, just simple yes and no, yeah? Just... give me a general vibe and I’ll... dunno, get you a pair of his dirty socks? Steal his hair for you? Whatever mushy crap you want!” Ruli tempted, happily selling Quiss for information.
Vas tried to pull the mixing bowl harder over their head.
This was bad, bad, bad! The rules! Quiss! The choice.
Vas took the bowl off their head and stood.
“I must leave. Neither my master nor I have any nefarious business with the dungeon. I am not privy to my master’s secrets, goodbye!” Vas strode to the door but then it swung open and Quiss walked in, looking grumpy, tired, annoyed, wonderful.
“Ruli? Where are you? Swiped my coins, you little bush rat!” he called and then he looked down at Vas.
“Evening, Apprentice Vas, sorry, didn’t mean to shout in your face,” he said and began to peer about the room.
Vas’s existence became a series of tightly controlled thumps.
Music, glass clinking, voices... faded to Vas’ beating core. Quiss was saying something but it didn’t matter because Quiss was fire and Vas wanted to be a tree that would catch his light.
Vas ceased to think and the thumping took over.
Vas blinked once and turned to face Master Japes. The early light shining on his smooth face. Vas moved forward and barely caught mixing bowl that fell off their head. Master Japes was holding a note and was looking at Vas with a pointed look.
“PeaceKeeper Quiss brought you home from the local pub. According to him, you ‘froze and then occasionally swayed to an unseen breeze’.” Master Japes repeated the notes words. Vas couldn’t meet his master’s eyes.
“I warned you about being a tree.” The words came quick like a whip and Vas nodded mutely. Japes sighed and then motioned to the door.
“Come, we need to get ready. I have an interview with the elders. You can come as I don’t trust you to not stand there all day swaying,” Master Japes smiled slightly as Vas blushed. They returned the mixing bowl to the locked cabinet and helped the Master gather his belongings.
“Why are you seeing the elders?” Vas asked quietly and Master Japes put two fingers to his temple.
“To sort a growing problem. It is either that or I shall unleash Gerti,” he jested and Vas dropped a rather expensive pot at his words. He frowned at the mess and then rolled his eyes.
“I was jesting, Gerti is a last resort. We both know that,” he said over one shoulder as Vas began to lock the shop up and then Vas swallowed the keys like they were a light snack. He sorted the keys into one of his compartments.
The elders met together around town on a Tuesday. One could never know where exactly they met until someone spotted them. Master must have been prepared as he headed straight to the cafe.
Cafe ‘+one’ was what Master Japes called a ‘trendy’ place. Vas didn’t know what that was but he knew it was insulting. The pretty waitress smiled nervously as Master Japes asked to see the elders, his special smile appearing slightly to hurry the process along.
Vas saw that the wall was covered with some odd posters.
‘Don’t have death in motion, grab a health potion!”
‘Check twice or pay the price! Missing a teleporter orb, not even once.’
‘Be nice to the healer. Damage class bias is not cool.’
The tables where people sat to eat had little chose your own adventure menus and forks that looked like odd tridents while the knives like something a novice might think was good for rogues.
The server behind the bar flicked something on his glasses and they switched from clear glass to vivid purple. He inhaled some wooden pipe that no respecting mage would use and tried not to cough as a Master Japes glared.
The elders near the back nodded as Elder Pic rolled his edible dice.
“My Elven Protester uses ‘Mass Animal Outrage’, the dark lord loses 5 stats across the board due to sponsors pulling out of his campaign,” he grunted and Elder Jose nodded as she rolled.
“Not bad, I guess I’ll active my shapeshifting Rock’s passive. I become a tropical gnome minority with one arm missing, granting me a 30% increase to my next three actions-, oh hello, Jolin,” she called.
It took a moment for Vas to register the fact she was talking to the Master.
“My fair elders, I hate to break up your weekly session of P.DnD.L.G.B.Q.E.D, but I must really talk about access to the dungeon,” Master Japes smiled charmingly and Haldi mumbled something and his giant troll wearing a princess tiara moved forward on the little playmat.
“We heard. Challenging Quiss? I didn’t take you for a fool,” Elder Jose said calmly and Master Japes bowed his head in agreement. He put his hands behind his back and Vas saw how tightly he was holding each hand.
“Messily and...rude, I agree. It doesn’t change the fact I am being plagued from the mana. Dungeon mana is never easy to readjust to,” he reminded and all the elders gave him flat looks.
“We are quite aware. Do you see us rushing in to cause trouble for the dungeon? Pic nearly ate his wall in his sleep. Haldi is... well, he won’t say but he’s going from eccentric to plotting,” Elder Jose pointed out and she leaned forward, eyes a deep yellow.
“The first few levels are the worst. They are meant to drive people into the dungeons blood-soaked ground. This is basics 101, Japes. Level 3 will be less and 4 will be hard. 5-7 will be a breeze and then 8 may end up with me throttling the next person who annoys me,” she murmured.
Vas was trying to be a pebble. It felt like being stuck between clashing titans and Vas felt too scared to move.
“What if the Fairplay comes? You think all those fools hyped up on dungeon mana are going to behave? The Fairplay will halt the dungeon and force it to grow levels, this will attract the Juicers that follow their muck like flies to the dung. The Juicers will run out of their fix once the mana high does not come until every ten levels. Then it will turn bad. The Calculators will come and this dungeon will be dissected and harvested like a fresh corpse. Your King will allow it and your Queen will rebel and civil war will break out again!” Master Japes’ face distorted into the monstrous visage that Vas’ master kept hidden mostly.
All three elders had just listened.
“So concerned... I’m sure your heart is just bleeding for Delta,” Elder Jose said with a blank smile. Vas saw her eyes were glowing slightly brighter now.
“I just... want to solve my problem before it becomes an epidemic and I have to leave,” Master Japes reasoned. They all looked at each other for a moment.
“I don’t mind. Permission makes all the difference no? But... you fought with Quiss, so you’re getting punished,” Elder Pic grinned which made Haldi snuffle with chuckles.
“You, Jolin Japes, are not to go near the dungeon,” Elder Jose smiled, a real one this time. Master Japes looked a little frustrated but he hid it quickly.
“Then how am I to solve my problems?” he asked almost sweetly. All the three elders looked at Vas.
Master Japes also began to look at Vas. The sudden weight of the looks made Vas panic.
Vas wanted to be a tree very much at that moment.