Delta couldn’t really set foot in the room. Her body just stopped at a certain point. She pushed and shoved but the firm barrier prevented her entry into the odd space.
“Giving me the heebie-jeebies... urgh, we need to send someone inside,” Delta said with hesitation and Devina cleared her throat.
Delta let out a screech and Nu flew so high he vanished near the ceiling.
“Mother. Nu,” Devina nodded seriously. Delta, clutching at her heart, scowled but quickly felt better having more company near the cave.
Delta was about to nod then something crossed her mind.
“She can’t! She... she doesn’t have a respawn point!” Delta protested and Nu didn’t say anything.
“If she dies, I can’t bring her back!” Delta went on but Devina moved ahead without a sound.
“Devina, stop!” Delta cried and the tall frog did so.
“You heard me, you won’t come back if you die in there. Just- just let me figure something out. Maybe Hob and Gob can come down or I can block it up again and we can plan something. Ruli is upstairs!” Delta said quickly and Devina tilted her head. Her large black eyes seemed to see more than Delta could.
“Mother... I am your child. Your Devina. I am not a simpering bee nor a dancing crab. I am the warrior of the jungle,” Devina said and resumed walking.
“Devina” Stop! S-stop! Devina, I am ordering you to stop!” Delta shouted and there was a moment where Devina froze before she looked back.
“I am too like you, Mother. I must help, it is in my nature, in my soul. Your gift unto me and I will not shy away from it,” Devina smiled, her spear which Devina had never carried after summoning, was now held tightly.
“Please, please. I can’t lose anyone,” Delta tried to plead but Nu appeared in front of her.
Devina smiled and touched her chest where a heart would roughly be on a human.
“Mother’s kindness and your shrewdness, what a lovely creature I am,” she laughed and darted forward like a shadow. Delta felt her heart lurch as Devina ignored her orders. Nu only hummed softly.
Delta only stared as Devina moved to crouch low near the tent flap, still moving as if a window was open on the inside causing a draft.
Then the frog slipped inside and Delta prayed. She prayed for the woman’s safety. The unknown was already making her nerves flush with panic.
What was Devina seeing? What was ahead of her? Delta needed to know, she needed it.
Delta- was inside the tent, the black space loomed ahead. Delta tried to move her head but it didn’t budge. A hand reached out, webbed and holding a spear.
Delta watched the dark tent through amphibious eyes, the circus tent was large enough to host a fair crowd on the stands that encircled the ring. It reminded her of Fran’s room.
“The jungle beats within... my spear be fast... my task be done,” Devina almost said silently, barely whispering it to herself as some odd chant.
The empty stands, the highwires, the net that only caught shadows now... The tent was as dead as it promised but there was one thing that remained out of place.
In the middle of the ring, where the master would direct lions, acrobats, clowns, strong men... was a single chair facing the entrance. It was a simple wooden chair that offered no comfort. There was someone sitting in it.
Devina’s eyes saw white gloves grasped in a lap. The striped black and white shirt that looked like time had let the lines run slightly. The skin, arms, neck, face were all pale white, unnatural, too smooth and almost paintlike. The thing wore a black and white jester cap with two pointy ends.
It seemed to have no mouth, nose or facial features in general but where its eyes should be, there were two black painted diamonds with each point of the diamonds trailing off into thin lines.
Devina was about to move when it twitched. It lifted its head and seemed to inhale, dust and other unknown substances flaked off its body as if the creature had not moved in very long time.
Delta felt cold, waiting for some shriek or scream but it simply stood up and sniffed again. It looked thin and it’s clothes simply hung off its frame. Delta felt a new sense of fear and a pitying sort of awareness.
How long had this thing been trapped here? Years? Delta couldn’t imagine being trapped under so much rock and dirt. She would go mad. A sense of sorrow rose for the black and white creature as it hesitantly shuffled forward towards Devina, who despite being in perfect shadow was spotted.
Maybe this thing just... needed a way out or a friend? Delta felt a spark of hope rise up in. The mime’s face split open from ear to ear and a row of white teeth stuck out from a black mouth.
Delta screeched and Devina yelled, throwing her spear at the thing as it moved forward.
The mime put its hand flat against the air and the spear simply crashed against an invisible barrier.
“Get out, get out, get out!” Delta screamed and Devina jolted into a run out the tent. The spear flew over her head propelled with great force. Devina rushed down the tunnel and back into the jungle. Nu vanished and Delta was left alone with a startled Devina.
“Nu, where are you going?!” Delta called but Nu didn’t appear. There was movement and Devina’s foot suddenly lifted up by some invisible rope. The demonic mime was at the tunnel’s entrance, yanking on the other end of the unseen rope.
“No, stay away from her!” Delta stood between the Mime and Devina who was reaching up to scratch at some solid thing around her ankle. Delta’s legs were shaking and she whimpered as the thing came closer, mouth leaking black saliva as it drooled at the struggling Devina.
“Stop! G-go away! Leave her alone!” Delta screamed and the mime froze. It sniffed again and something else seemed to catch its attention. It turned and looked directly at the exposed dungeon core in the distance, pulsing in distress. It immediately ignored Devina and began to shamble towards the core.
Devina dropped and Delta was about to tell her to run but with some mad screeching, Devina launched herself in a powerful jump towards the Mime.
“You will not touch Mother!” Devina shouted and the powerful kick sent the Mime crashing down. It still made no noise. Absolutely none. It was just as unnerving as the black drool or the sharp teeth.
Devina raised her leg to stomp hard but the Mime made a motion of pulling something on the ground and Devina was sent tumbling to the ground. It got up and Devina was about to swipe when the Mime place both hands over her and Devina was suddenly squished inside a box. The Mime eyed the box and put something else on top of the box, its knees shaking from the object.
Devina jerked and Delta tried to kick at the Mime’s power but nothing worked. Devina was trapped and Delta saw the Mime begin to walk towards her core again.
“Please, stop! Stop... Just go away you freaky rip off clown freak!” Delta shouted and the core crackled with warning energy. This only made the Mime more eager.
Delta didn’t want to leave Devina and she couldn’t do anything to stop the Mime. There was a wave of helpless and Delta felt frustrated tears rise up.
The Mime moved closed and then it stopped as a large stone bar with a stone disk snapped its head back.
“Only the strong and worthy may approach Mother. You reek of foul weakness,” Rale said, large green arms bulging with force as he yanked the weight out of the Mime’s face. The things visage looked crumpled and caved but then there was a sickening popping noise and the head snapped back into shape.
Nu sounded dry and bored. It made Delta feel better, her emotions now blurring with fear and relief.
“I thought you left me...” she whispered and Nu dinged softly.
“Nu...” Delta said, wiping furiously at her face.
The Mime made a motion of picking something up and swinging. Rale held up his weights defensively and slid back a little with a grunt.
“Weak foe! Do you even lift the weights of Mother Delta!” he roared and lifted the improvised weapon and the Mime was sent flying up and over into a tree. The tree made a crunching noise but the Mime was still silent.
It stood up and rolled its neck in an unnatural jerky way. The Mime then looked less drooly and a little bit more annoyed.
“Is that all you possess? Colourless fly?” Rale boasted and the Mime made a motion as if it stuck something against its heel and put its other hand flat in the air, as if resting it on something big.
It reminded Delta of old movies... when someone was about to fire a...
Rale, mov-” Delta tried but the Mime put the invisible match to the equally unseen cannon.
Rale was sent flying back, his powerful stomach being imprinted with a round object. He was sent hurtling into the river, skipping once on the surface and landing on the other side. He rolled and then slowed to a halt.
“RALE!” Delta yelled and the large frog moved, rolling over to vomit.
Nu suggested but the Mime turned back to the Core, grinning. Delta was about to start spending DP and Mana to slow the Mime down but Nu suddenly vanished as Deo appeared far across the level, staring at awe at the large jungle room as Vas was escorted down by a worried Mr Mushy.
Delta felt stunned. Her powers became locked and her two guests were too far to properly see what was going on. The Mime was too close to her core.
It was too late, there was nothing stopping the white teeth from reaching the core, from reaching Delta.
It was over and Delta felt numb. Over? It had barely begun...
“Nu... I’m sorry,” she whispered as the Mime reached the tunnel.
There was silence and something thumped to the ground heavily beside her.
Delta opened her eyes to see someone walking back from the near tunnel, a series of broken bushes and branches showing a path carved by the newcomer starting at the riverbank.
“Woo wee. There's an ugly mother fucker if I ever did see one,” Ruli said, her face devoid of her usual jovial expression. She looked dripping wet and her duck hat looked burned, the brown feathers turned jet black.
“Quack,” Waddles grumbled on top of Ruli’s head. Delta gaped as Ruli looked like she had swum through the secret passage. The Mime looked up at the ceiling, it’s mouth still open. It slowly raised itself to a sitting position as if still confused.
“Duck, guess you were right,” Ruli tilted her head and some water leaked from the woman’s hair. Waddles shuffled but still didn’t jump down from Ruli’s head.
“Ruli!” Delta yelled with such powerful happiness. Ruli nodded once.
“Your duck went little nuts and showed me the secret way down. Nice touch. The pool felt weird, something touched my ass and I didn’t look back to check.” She sounded so casual.
“Your core is so close that I can almost... hear you. But ya know? Creepy Mime? Not funny,” Ruli said to the now standing Mime.
It shrugged and made the cannon motion again. Waddles quacked, sounding so deep that it rumbled.
Delta shivered and the Mime glowed black. It struck its heel and... paused, it struck its heel again.
It looked at his fingers where the unseen match apparently refused to light. It scratched it’s head in puzzlement and looked up to see Ruli putting the exhausted bird down, Waddles’ chest heaving from the effort.
“What’s wrong? Didn’t you know that Dark Drakes affect all luck? Things that can’t go wrong, will?” Ruli called, her walk steadily increasing in pace. The Mime made a climbing motion and scaled a ladder up. Ruli leapt and easily caught the thing as it tried to go over Ruli.
They fell and fought for the upper hand. The ghoulish Mime bit into Ruli’s shoulder, making the woman snarl as she punched it hard enough that its head snapped back again.
“Fucker,” Ruli said and flexed her wounded shoulder which expelled the dark fluids as it began to knit back together. She watched as the Mime also started to fix itself.
“Well, isn’t this a pointless fight already?” Ruli said sarcastically and the Mime made a ‘one-moment’ gesture as its neck squished its spine back under its skin.
“Ignoring physical damage, teeth like a rat mutant, fucking creepy... a ghoul,” Ruli spat and eyed the pulsing Core behind her then at her own hands.
“Another floor and I’d be good for this but...” Ruli muttered. Delta watched with horror at the scene of the undying Mime. She rushed over and made sure Waddles was going to be okay.
“Delta. I need your permission,” Ruli began, watching as the Mime seemed to pull something out its pocket and shook it, before throwing away is it appeared to be broken. The black aura around it became a little thinner.
“What? What for?” Delta said and Ruli closed her eyes as if to listen.
“I need your mana, pure dungeon mana. I need to drain some to give me the edge here,” She explained as the Mime flicked a match and seemed delighted at its apparent flame.
“Yes! All of my yes, just do what you need!” Delta agreed and Ruli looked pained.
“Delta... you’re too nice, you know that?” she said and jumped back and flew down Delta’s tunnel. The Mime looked confused and then danced on the spot as it saw what Ruli was doing.
Delta peered down and saw Ruli put her mouth to Delta’s core and inhaled, orange mana beginning to flake off.
It looked like Ruli was drinking orange stars and-
It Hurt! IT HURT!
Delta felt her awareness snap into numbers. The world around her became her, them, and numbers. 1’s and precious 0’s flowed into the numberless Ruli. There were no numbers in Ruli, just being and it was wrong and beautiful. She was a mix of charming blue, scarred and tough, and unbridled red rage that swam together in some dance that worked together to exist.
Delta was inside Ruli’s ocean and the numberless existence burned before her numbers became Ruli’s ocean water.
She forced her eyes on the Mime and saw old things.
Shapes that were and were not right. The Mime had touches of burns on itself, Numbers that had left scars. A deep dry wasteland where tiny droplets of orange numbers breathed grey grass back into life and from that grass came a whisper.
I... am not me...please...please...hear...me.
It was quickly swallowed by the dry wasteland as the numbers... the mana was not enough to sustain the growth. Not enough mana.
So hungry. It just was so hungry and Delta wept for it.
Then the pain stopped.
It was a relief to Delta once more.
The Mime shuddered silently and walked backwards away from the tunnel where Delta’s core was.
Smoke billowed out and blanketed the darkness where the dimming star of her core barely blinked.
A shadow moved and a monster held the Mime by the throat. Delta felt utter fear rise up as Ruli’s form appeared.
She easily broached 8 feet now. Her clothes were torn, unable to keep up with the growth entirely. The black skin drank any light that touched it, the curling horns of white bone jutted out like a crown. Her face was beautiful and mind-numbingly terrifying. The tail of wicked spines flowed and moved like a bored cat.
Fire and shadows danced around Ruli now like eager children and Delta felt something alien about her where it had never been before.
“Mana from the core. Drain it dry and it’s like five levels worth of mana hitting you at once, was that what you smelled?” Ruli asked with inquiring tone, calm like the Mime was just an oddity.
“It's painful. If it cannot spare the mana. Like taking too much blood, it begins to cause damage. Delta, sweet, lovely, Delta, she had none and yet I took it because you made me,” Ruli chided playfully and there was a cracking noise as she began to crush the Mime’s neck.
Devina had gone very still as if Ruli inspired some primordial fear in the frog. Waddles was tiredly moving to protect Delta’s core from any more harm but the bird was still exhausted.
Deo and Vas were coming closer, Mr Mushy trying to pull them back in fear.
“I hurt Delta. Do you hear me? I hurt my friend to hurt you in return. Does that make sense? Does that penetrate your silent fucking head?” Ruli snarled, black fire leaking on each breath and her hand began to burn the Mime from its touch alone. The creature let out a quiet screech.
Delta tried to move. She flopped and tried to speak, her tongue like a dead fish, flopping with no life.
This...this was not what she wanted.
Delta had seen something, she had seen consciousness in the deep pits of the Mime’s being. Ruli’s tail whipped and cracked the air as she held the Mime higher.
She was going to burn the Mime and kill him. Delta could see it... no, feel it.
Her mana was in Ruli and Delta felt the heat and hatred, of the Mime, of herself, flow back into Delta. There was a small bond now, limited and fading, but just enough for this to alert Delta.
She managed to stand.
“Stop,” she said and no one paid her attention. Not Waddles, not Ruli, not Devina, not Nu who was gone... no one listened.
Delta tugged on the painful words of numbers, fueled by desperation, fear, anger, and hope.
Her voice sounded from the heavens, shook in the ground, vibrated out every plant, rock, flowing water, the very air.
Ruli dropped the Mime as if burned herself. She spun and stared at Delta.
“You...” she began and Delta strode forward and put both hands on Ruli’s large form.
“Stop! Stop! Just stop! No more! This... there are other ways we can solve this. I refused to let fear and anger drive me to just kill! Ruli... thank you, thank you for being my friend,” Delta hiccuped and Ruli winced as if Delta had slapped her.
“Delta, you... you have a body!” she tried to say, her wonderful and terrifying features mixed with lovely human confusion. Delta looked down to see an orange body of an avatar, already fading away. She turned to the Mime, on the ground, curled up and burned.
“Violence. It will happen. But I will not tolerate murder, I just have to think,” Delta said without hesitation and continued to speak.
“Why does a Mime want to eat a dungeon core?” she asked as if setting up a bad joke.
There was no answer so Delta bent down and gave a weak smile.
“Because everyone gets a little grumpy if they get hungry,” she spoke and willed her desire to the Mime.
The Mime lowered the arm shielding its face and eyed the displayed box.
“My name is Delta... This visible state of mine won't last long, but I would like it very much if you’d become my friend. I can take care of your hunger. Just... please stop eating people! Please be a good Mime instead!” she begged, her orange avatar flaking off onto the Mime, soaking into his skin, and the Mime tilted his head... then the thing fell off.
Delta went numb and all thought logic thought became a silent scream and the Mime looked to keel over in death but suddenly shook with silent laughter. It put its head back on its neck and tapped the accept button, still shaking with unheard laughter.
It began to glow.
“WHAT IS HAPPENING! I FELL INTO THE RIVER AND MISSED EVERYTHING!” a soaking wet Deo asked.
Delta had no answer for him.
She really, really, didn’t have an answer for him.