Challenges were like a form of ritual.
An explorer or adventurer would willingly participate in the strange request and usually, they had to really believe that if they did the challenge, they would be rewarded for their efforts.
Belief was the key. Delta tapped her chin and moved down the hall, admiring her mossy ceiling as it twinkled. Faith and belief were a part of magic or religions. Nu wasn’t sure exactly due to not having any material to reference aside from Deo’s fairytale book.
Priests were a thing. Delta remembered Amanster’s small talk with Billy the previous visit on the subject. His father held power and was something called a ‘saint’. The words were familiar but Delta was sure she was missing some of the context of it in this world.
By actually making people believe in Delta, in her, believe that she would keep her promises and that they would be rewarded, it caused faith to appear as a sort of energy. Nu said the dungeon gobbled it up like anything else and made DP. The whole thing appealed to Delta very much.
All dungeons had to use these, it was just too good not to! Delta slowed and thought about it.
“If people died by the dozen every day from traps and monsters, would other dungeons even care? DP is DP... it doesn’t matter. I care and I think we can make this work,” Delta hummed to herself. Nu slid into view.
Delta actually smiled.
“Nu, is that consideration and appreciation I see in your words? Maybe we should send her a thank you Nu-te” she teased as Nu floated ahead.
Nu’s words seemed to almost bristle in defence and Delta kept smiling.
“Sure, sure...we had the basic challenges for everything but what about... uh... let’s say the Spider room?” she groped for a random room and Nu flashed, a new box opening beside him.
Delta blinked at the list.
“I was kinda expecting... uh, ya know? ‘Kill the spiders’ or ‘Burn all the web’. This is rather tame for the options,” Delta said confused and Nu made a small ding.
Delta nodded slowly. She really didn’t know how her own existence worked with any real confidence. Without Nu, all she have would be half-guesses at best.
“So, we have 51 mana, we can probably set a challenge in a few rooms! This is great, Nu, we’re finally going to be more than just a cave!” Delta clapped her hands and then got busy. Nu shimmered softly.
Cram eyed the hole and the sign.
He scratched his rather full beard and looked to his friend. Smalls was busy doing some light stretches.
“You almost done?” he asked with a light tone and Smalls’ held up one finger and did a few squats. Smalls was a rather fair man that had gone silver with age. Cram was your average wood lurker, hairy, dirt encrusted in his boots and trousers. He would find wood chips in odd places from his day job hours later, even after a long shower. The woods never really left Cram in one way or another. Smalls’ was the type of guy that could be dragged through a swamp backwards and come out looking like a soap advertisement model.
Men like them might not normally be friends but that was what the nature of adventuring. People became closer when their lives became a flip of a coin. He and Smalls’ had been through a lot in their younger days. Now, they usually just spent the days talking over the fence between their houses. Cram chopped wood and repelled spiders for a fee when asked and Smalls’ made clothes and gossiped with the locals.
They never forgot each other and Cram was glad his remaining friend decided to up and move with him. Durence was great but sometimes the people could be a bit more than his gruff voice and axe could handle. Smalls’ was a natural at the small talk, he let the man shop for him in return for fresh firewood.
Their normal routine had changed when the giant woman, Ruli, spotted them in the tavern. She marched over, a large grin on her face.
Cram respected Ruli with every bit of common sense he had left. The woman was also of the forest but her axe looked for flesh, not wood. She had grown some height. The mana was making her even more energetic than usual. Cram could relate. He had been ruining trees for the last few days as his strength rose back to its old levels, bit by bit. Small’s had been weaving all night, Cram could hear the humming from his bedroom.
“Go to the dungeon, walkabout, say it’s awesome or something and for the love of crap, try not to kill anything!” Ruli warned with a single finger and vanished to find more people.
The hole in the ground felt like a dungeon. It had a certain tension to the air as Cram moved closer. It also felt a little different. Cram had been to more than his share over the years but he hadn’t really felt a softness to the feeling of one before.
The two emotions conflicted with Cram a little and he rolled his shoulders to fend them off as Smalls finally seemed ready.
“Sorry for the wait, my back’s just never been the same after that trap in Shifting Sands. What was that dungeon again...” Smalls trailed off as he flicked a line of thread around three fingers. Cram felt better to have Smalls with him, the man had a certain talent of making normal thread and wool turn into... unsettling weapons.
“The Cavern of Darkness, local name. It hadn’t gotten an avatar when we were there,” Cram grunted as he untied his axe from his hip.
“Oh gosh, that’s right! So cliche that Marsha almost threw up! Remember how she ran to the fountain after the trip through the sands and-”
“And ended up with a mouthful of sand because it was a decoration,” Cram grinned at the memory. Smalls rolled his eyes as he took the steps into the dungeon.
“Seriously that woman never looked where she went or what she did,” he said fondly and then looked pulled out a golden locket and flipped it open.
“It would have been her birthday in a week, we need to get some pumpkin pie to celebrate,” he said lightly and Cram gripped his axe hard.
“Yeah, some of that nasty wine as well, she never stopped drinking that horse piss,” he agreed, feeling his own locket around his neck grow heavy.
He hated how he couldn’t remember his closest friends without it leading to this.
“Well, one more dungeon raid for the Weirwood Wolves, eh? Kon would be so angry to see how domestic we’ve become,” Smalls chuckled and they both entered the dungeon. Cram saw the entrance chamber round out with some soft torches and glowing mushrooms dotting the entrance.
“Simple but clean,” Smalls commented and read the signs. He snorted at the one sign with the rather nasty tribute comment. Cram wandered over to the other table.
“Delta...” he said, tracing the sign with his finger. He looked down at the dish and rummaged in his pockets. Manners were never wrong and he rather give to a good natured girl who apparently happened to be the core. Smalls got a kick out of the sarcasm, no doubt he’d tribute to the other table.
“Not much but here’s a wooden carving I did and some flowers I picked up on the way here,” he offered and placed them in the bowl where they would remain until he and Smalls left.
He read the sign about the door.
“Those who enter, please say ‘Forfeit’ to leave dungeon alive.” he read and cocked one eyebrow.
“Think the core is confident?” he wondered and Smalls brushed some hair behind an ear.
“Or is really that nice, can’t be jumping to assumptions before we even see for ourselves,” he chided and entered the dungeon, leaving Cram to stare at the sign a second lond.
People were hardly that nice. Let alone dungeons.
Durence had to get the freaky dungeon. To be honest, it suited the place really.
“Wow, these signposts are hilarious, Cram, come see!” Smalls called with a grin to his tone.
Delta watched the newcomers with an unblinking stare. New people, guests, intruders, maybe both?
She had expected Ruli, Quiss or even Deo to come back but these people had appeared instead and Delta felt nervous energy fill her. Did they know the rules? Would they respect her wishes? Delta hoped they did.
They chatted like old friends. It was clear in the way they anticipated each others words, finished their sentences... moved. She wished Nu was here, her friend would have some insight to help her.
She couldn’t put it into words really, but when Smalls took the lead, Cram moved slightly to the right and when Cram took lead in the short tunnel as Smalls stopped to look at a mushroom, the smaller man’s hands flexed as if ready to grab something.
“Hey, Smalls? What's this?” the large man with the large coat made from leathers and edged with fur. It was like Ruli’s but Ruli’s coat looked like it had been made more crudely. The man’s jacket had a touch of a professional about it.
“Webs, they come out from a spider’s thorax,” Smalls said dryly and the larger man narrowed his eyes. Smalls grinned before lightly moving closer.
As his foot edged into the room, Delta held her breath as words began to appear in front of Smalls. Ghostly blue words that looked like the very air was glowing.
Pass through the room without disturbing the web and be rewarded.
Delta cheered, despite the fact nothing had actually happened yet. Her challenges worked and people could see them! She danced on the spot and a few of the spiders waved their little legs in cheer as well.
“Challenges, the dungeon already has challenges. Well, isn’t this interesting?” Smalls commented and the large man shook his head.
“Don’t touch the web? Kind of a weak challenge for a dungeon, I can see a pretty clear path from here,” he pointed out and Delta shuffled and tried not to fidget at the man’s words.
“Cram, be respectful, you don’t-” Smalls was cut off as the words in front of them began to gain more words at the side.
Both men stared at the floating words. So did Delta. She knew that sour attitude.
“It... it responded!” Cram said, disbelief in his voice. Smalls only stared.
Nu was speaking through the challenge system. Delta called for him but Nu didn’t seem to respond to her shouts.
How could this be... did Nu hack the system or...
Wait, Delta picked at that thought harder.
Nu was the system but he vanished when people appeared. So, Delta had never really thought to ask but where did Nu go when he vanished?
Apparently, he existed in some place where if the dungeon menu appeared in any form elsewhere... he could appear.
Nu was the menu and the menu only became locked to Delta.
“Uh... yes, we can,” Smalls said carefully and Nu took a moment to respond.
Nu told the little white lie with aplomb and sarcasm and both men relaxed just a little.
“Saw your signposts, I am a huge fan!” Smalls and Cram narrowed his eyes.
“Expected us to be idiots eh?” he said and Nu took no time to respond.
Nu cut himself off before he went much further,. Delta was trying to shoo Nu away before he upset the new men but she could apply about as much force as a ghost’s fart.
“You speak for the core... I mean, Delta?” Cram wondered and Delta narrowed her eyes as Nu’s text box took some time to answer.
Delta felt nervousness give way to alarm.
“Oh, I hope she’s looking forward to us having a poke around, we were told it's more friendly than the usual dungeon affair?” Small said conversationally.
Delta was screaming and slapping at the text box as both men looked between them.
“Stop, stop, stop!” she ordered but it fell on deaf text boxes.
“Uh.. tell Supreme...Queen Delta that we will try. Her mushrooms are very nice, I like the glowing ones more than the Gutrot ones,” Cram stumbled and Nu let out several alarmed noises.
“Uh I mean, maybe Smalls likes them and that’s perfectly fine!” the large man backpedalled as Smalls covered his face with one hand.
“You’ve had your fun, my good friend. There’s yanking chains then there is pulling down roofs,” he chided and Nu made a chuckling noise, a series of bells
Smalls bowed a little.
“I shall change that opinion good sir Nu. My honor as a Weirdwood Wolf demands it,” he said and the side box began to fade.
Delta felt relief surge through her as Nu’s box faded. He was a tad bit annoying but in the end, he had been honest about Delta’s desires and really what close friends didn’t annoy each other?
“Ya hear that, Cram? I think we just got challenged on some whole new level,” Smalls nudged the larger man. Cram nodded and eyed the room.
“I accept the challenge,” he called and Smalls echoed him a second later.
Delta watched in fascination as an orange circle appeared on each man’s left hand. It pulsed like a heartbeat.
“There we go, nice and simple. I remember that one dungeon that made the mark appear on our rears. I didn’t know when I failed anything and I was not letting anyone check...” Smalls muttered and Cram laughed.
“I saw more of Marsha than I wanted to that day,” he slapped Small’ back hard but the man barely budged.
“Dainty flowers first,” he offered and Smalls sniffed.
“Oafs last,” he said, the words held warmth and Cram nodded as Smalls began to nimbly move around the webs and towards the midpoint. The berry bush. Delta knew that she only had enough mana for two rooms so far. She had chosen the spider room and the mud room.
Both held rather different possibilities and Delta took it as a learning example. It took grace and elegance to do the spider room. The mudroom?
It was a mad dash as each person had 10 seconds to clear the platforms and reach the end without falling in. The wording was interesting as well.
Use the wooden platforms to cross the room without falling into the mud.
The person had to use the platforms to complete the challenge. It meant no one couldn’t just fly or leap across. Challenges were the perfect thing for her dungeon. The only problem was that they all needed rewards. Delta felt a little unsure when the rooms required an appropriate reward.
Delta guessed slaying a dragon with one hand would need a reward suited towards it. Not just a nice apple...
So as Smalls reached the far end of the room and opened the door. The glowing circle on his hand flashed and lifted off his skin into the air where it began to reshape itself. Delta watched with a smile as her reward formed.
“Oh... this is cute!” Smalls said as he held a shirt made from the spider web. He ran a finger over the material.
“Soft, flexible... hm something about it.,” he said as Cram’s head brushed web near the ceiling and it broke free. Cram grimaced as the orange circle on his beeped red and peeled off, crumbling like ash.
“Cram! You missed your chance to get a web shirt!” Smalls tutted and Cram picked a few berries.
“I’ll live,” he said with a sigh. Delta saw a shimmering energy flaking off Smalls, the man didn't even look at it. If he could see or not, Delta wasn’t sure. The glowing energy soaked into the nearby wall and Delta shivered as she felt... something settle inside her.
Delta felt a sigh as the challenge went inert for a time. Delta guessed it would be a day or so before this challenge was operational again. Delta tried to guess there might be some way to speed that up...
She shivered. Delta closed her eyes to follow the feeling of that energy tickled as it flowed up her feet to her chest. It made her feel warm. She blinked as she missed Smalls and Cram entering the Pond room.
“Cram, you have your fishing hook?” Smalls mused as he smiled at the quaint little campfire and logs. Cram bent down to look into the water.
“That’s a metal fish,” he grunted and Smalls looked as well.
“Is that a duck?” he said instead and Delta swallowed she remembered one of the possible challenge options for this room.
Anger Waddles the duck and complete the dungeon with the Dark Drake Curse in effect. Reward not set. High quality item needed to be set as a reward.
It was a tad bit extreme and Delta had backed out the room when Waddles had begun to tap his webbed feet excited in some tippytappy dance when she read it aloud.
Delta wanted to challenge her visitors. Not break them.