“Yeah, I can see how you’re kinda fucking yourself over,” Ruli drank from her flask as she threw her caught fish back into the pond. The Yellowbelly Cod flopped a few times and vanished with a sad gurgle. Delta knew the fish, due to sometimes napping at the bottom of the pond, they liked to see who could remain uncaught the longest.
It wasn’t hard to see the Silvertail fish was still the reigning champion. It seemed to enjoy teasing Ruli. Delta wasn’t sure it was fair if the fish were semi-aware of how fishing actually worked but Ruli didn’t seem to mind as Deo and Numb cooked the other cod over the fire. Delta was pleased to see the upgraded logs looked almost picturesque in their shape and colour. Knowing they would respawn in 6 hours made Delta feel a little accomplished. There was only room for one fish on the fire so Ruli just tossed her catches back in the water.
Amanster was having a staring match with Waddles and Vas...
The golem hadn’t left the grove. Mr Mushy’s enthusiastic hands tried to squish the pot’s rapidly forming lip. Vas shrieked and flapped his hands much like Waddles did. Mr Mushy looked confused as Vas took the monster’s hands and spaced them out, moving them gently up the wet clay that rapidly became solid.
How Vas was doing it without any fire was beyond Delta’s knowledge, though probably some unfair magic. The clay just kept spinning on this little wheel Vas had and while there was no heat, the golem looked a little overheated.
“So, you don’t kill us and you basically don’t grow. I kinda get your problem. Wooden platforms, doors, some spiders, cute but when it comes to the real stuff, your goblins ain’t going to be able to collect enough sticks and stones to break anyone’s bones to get what you need,” Ruli sniffed as Billy leaned against a rock, translating Delta’s words.
Cois was not here as he would rather stay away from the ‘screeching Deo’, his words not Delta’s.
“I dunno what to do. I want to grow but I don’t want to kill anyone to do so. I dunno if I can lure monsters in fast enough either. You said you’ve seen others, is there any dungeons that grow without killing... uh... well besides just killing?” Delta asked and Ruli rolled her tongue as she thought about it.
“Hmm... well, I haven’t seen a lot of dungeons. I once saw a dungeon in a volcano, it ate a lot of rare gems formed there. Not sure the town would appreciate you opening a magma vein, so scratch that... Oh, there was a sort healing dungeon that would cure ailments or illness if you reached the end and killed the final boss... well, I think it just collected the illness, not heal it. We had to purge that one a while back...” Ruli grunted and Delta bit her lip,
“What happened to it?” she had to ask. Ruli took a moment to answer.
“It decided it would study enough sickness to remove the biggest one, people. Dunno how the conversation went with the core, I wasn’t involved. The people who didn’t really survive either. Listen, you really don’t need to follow those losers. Delta, you’re kinda cool. For a dungeon anyway. Is it so bad, not growing quickly?” Ruli wondered as she teased her bait a little.
Delta took a moment to think about that.
Was... it so important? When she had flesh and blood, digging into the ground held zero appeal but as a dungeon, it was all she really thought about in her spare time. If she went deep enough, she could have a voice, one that people could hear.
“Could you sit around all day in your house, sealed in with whoever just happens to visit? Knowing you could garden or paint or read or make friends? What if you were stuck knowing if you did enough, you could open a window and speak to your neighbours or even make a new part of your house?” Delta tried to explain and Ruli closed her eyes.
“Stuck at home, eh? Well, fuck me, forget what I said. I’d rather choke on my dagger than be stuck at home with my mother and the same walls. I’d burn it down in a week,” she grunted and pulled her hook back.
“If I have enough floors, I can speak to people,” Delta added quietly, folding her hands together or imagined doing it. Billy repeated it and Ruli held up both hands.
“I surrender, lower the guilt-tripping,” she joked as Numb snapped the cooked fish in half with his edged weapon and handed half to Deo who dug in with glee.
Ruli took a moment to think.
“Well, it’s not hard,” Ruli shrugged and stood. Delta gaped at her. Not hard? Not hard? Delta was doing her best to defy her nature as a person killing cave and Ruli was telling her it was easy?!
“Just don’t make a dungeon. The word already creates a bad vibe. Make... a fun place or a helpful place. People become doctors and open hospitals. People like plants and open greenhouses or making potions for people. Just don’t make a dungeon, it’s pretty easy,” Ruli scratched her nose.
“Hell, make a fishing place and I’ll never leave,” she grinned and Delta frowned. The idea sounded lovely, so perfect...
“What about people who come here to kill or monsters? I need defences or protection,” she pointed out and Ruli snorted and flipped a knife from her boot and spun it once in one hand.
“I didn’t say walk into a sword with a smile. You can have the nicest house but you should still have knives in the drawer, a gun under the mattress. Hell, I’ll lend you Quiss, he’s a grumpy old dog that lives outside in a small wooden hut anyway,” she offered with a smile and Delta couldn’t help giggle at the thought of Quiss with a bone in his mouth. Still, Ruli had an idea and Delta liked it.
Don’t make a dungeon.
It sounded simple on paper but it didn’t answer her actual problem. Delta tried to think about how to get valuable DP out of not killing or such. She asked Ruli as the Silverfish broke the surface of the water, teasing Ruli.
“Depends on what ya do. Charge people, make them pay in blood, have them pay in mana or whatever. If you got cash, just post bounties or have a job board, Delta, you can make money that is legal, why you aren’t abusing the hell out of that is beyond me,” Ruli gripped her rod with both hands, eyes locked on the shimmering form under the water.
“I mean the Mystery Dungeon over in Prepham makes a killing, figure of speech, when people just do its puzzles, sure more often than not, people die but not enough to explain its growth. So, maybe you can do the same, set up challenges and see what happens?” Ruli flicked her hook and the fish all went crazy for the challenge.
The marine life around here was crazy and Delta was fairly sure it wasn’t her fault.
If someone did challenges in a dungeon, using only items to kill or no healing, they got rewarded. But what did the dungeon get? Sure it made it harder for the invaders but it rewarded them as well.
Did the dungeon get something as well?
“What if someone really, really, wants to fight?” she wondered and Ruli grinned as the Silvertail dashed towards the hook.
“Delta, you give them the fight of their life,” she yanked and the water exploded.
Water rained down as the Silvertail fish flapping wildly with the hook stuck tightly. Ruli laughed maniacally, then the fish slapped the line with its metallic tail and the hook dislodged with a flash.
Ruli’s laughter died abruptly and the fish vanished back under the water, a small cloud of blood fading fast.
“You little...” Ruli bit her tongue as Deo blinked at her. Ruli cleared her throat.
“Now... let’s try again and this time...” Ruli said through gritted teeth. A single rune on the rod’s handle lit up.
The fish all paused in the water as Waddles sat a little straight in his nest.
“We play for keeps,” Ruli smiled and Delta nudged away from her as the woman’s long messy black hair began to move in some unseen wind.
Ruli whistled as she carried the Silvertail towards the entrance. Amanster was talking to Billy, the two actually seemed to click in some weird way.
“Need a hat, loud friends can’t see if you amused or annoyed,” Billy said and Amanster nodded and then touched his head.
“I don’t know what hat I need,” he grumbled and Delta wanted to say a hood would be better but didn’t want to help the kid reach some new level of quoting the raven.
“So, I forgot to ask but whos Nu?” Ruli asked as she flicked one of the signposts and Delta took a moment to process the question.
“Nu is...” she paused and then couldn’t think of a good explanation. A friend was easy but she had a feeling that wasn’t what Ruli wanted to know.
Companion? Helper? Menu? Assistant?
After hearing how dungeons got ‘removed’ due to doing bad or odd things, she wasn’t sure she wanted to just admit there was a part of her power she had no control over.
“A helper I created, he does small things for me when I need to focus on things. He handles the boring stuff like math and I guess he got bored as well, hence the signs,” Delta tried not to lie but she knew she was not admitting to the whole thing. Ruli smirked.
“Good for you, I would have done the same. I like him, he’s got a dry sense of humour I can appreciate,” she commented as she read the first sign post in the dungeon.
Ahead lies Delta’s dungeon, if you know none of those words, turn back because my hopes for you were already low but good grief - Nu
Delta laughed nervously, trying not to think about the sheer scope of what Nu actually did around in the dungeon.
“I’ll go talk to some people. I know Dabberghast is wanting to come back. See if I can’t get some people come in for a while or drop off some tributes. Anything you want me to advertise or should I just go with ‘Shrooms, fish, and done-with-your-shit signposts’?” she asked and Delta thought about it.
“Say that if anyone wants to study monsters or if they want to study a dungeon or offer me advice, I would be grateful!” Delta clapped her hands together, Billy translated as Delta checked on Mr Mushy, who was holding his first usable pot. Vas looked like they had been stuck on some amusement ride and had ridden it about ten times more than they wanted to.
Deo and Numb were doing some odd boy thing where they tried to crush each other's hands.
“YOU... ARE... AWESOME!” Deo grinned with determination. Numb just grinned.
Ruli rolled her eyes.
“I’ll take my brats home before I scream,” she said dryly and Vas turned abruptly.
“I wish to stay!” it said and pointed to Mr Mushy who had gotten his hand stuck in the pot.
“He needs more help, please let me stay,” Vas asked the air and Ruli hooked a finger in the golem’s collar.
“Sure, but then Delta can’t get anything done. Right?” Ruli asked this to Billy who waited for Delta. She hesitated.
“Come tomorrow. I need to do some things but you can hang out with Mr Mushy tomorrow!” Delta promised and Vas looked puzzled.
“I’m teaching him, not being his frie-” it tried to correct but Deo cheered and grabbed both Vas and Amanster by the arms.
“I’LL BE HERE AFTER SCHOOL! I CAN’T WAIT!” he laughed and easily dragged both boys towards the entrance. Ruli snorted and looked at the entrance.
“I’ll make sure someone with some responsibility comes with them. I’ll be busy, well, I’ll be drinking,” she looked pleased by the idea and walked out the dungeon with a single hand in the air.
“Don’t become a loser. I actually like you,” she said without looking back. Delta felt the heat in her cheeks as she felt a little shy. Ruli was so cool and she thought Delta was cool.
“Release me before I send dead spiders into your bed!” Amanster yelled and Vas looked oddly dazed and was swaying side to side as Deo took his hand to drag the stunned golem easier.
Odd bunch but Delta liked them.
Nu faded into existence and Delta grinned.
“Come on, we need a theme but first...” Delta turned and with some menu navigating two tables appeared at either side of the entrance. Wooden and rather plain but Delta formed two metal dishes on the top of each table.
“Nu, you do that side!” Delta smiled as she made a little signboard.
“Please leave a donation to help me! Thank you - Delta”
It was simple and Delta turned feeling so excited to whip her dungeon in shape and her face froze as Nu’s signboard appear.
“Leave tribute. You should be paying us for putting up with you, to be honest - Nu”
“That’s too rude!” Delta put her hands on her hips and Nu took a second to change the sign.
“Leave Tribute. You really should be paying us for helping you, just being honest, thanks <3 - Nu”
“How do you know emojis?” she asked blankly and Nu appeared with a smug orange colour.
“I sound nothing like that!” Delta puffed up her cheeks and Nu faded back to blue.
Nu was so... Delta rubbed her face as her goblins looked in the air as if watching their parents squabble.
“Now, I need to know the rules about chests or challenges,” Delta asked and Nu actually paused.
Nu fizzled a bit and Delta felt her left eye go hazy as the solid matter was replaced by floating numbers, everything connected by important numbers. She closed it as fast as she could, her head already thumping. A spot on Nu had turned bright orange.
Nu returned to full blue and Delta risked open her eye and saw everything as normal again.
“The hell was that?” Delta rubbed her sore head as Nu took a few seconds to open menus and check everything was in order.
Delta nodded and then bit her lip.
“What if you swapped everything you are with everything I am?” she asked quietly and Nu paused. Her eye still had twinges of pain and the spot on Nu still looked slightly purple.
A menu appeared.
Delta felt her face pull back in a large smile.
“Nu, we’re in business.”