Delta felt like she was falling into a very warm ocean.
Like an orange comet, she crashed into the depths of this pulsating ocean. The water rose as she fell. Dusty spires of rock flourished with sudden lush greenery and corals. The waters flowed with creatures that were not quite ocean appropriate nor quite understandable. Delta fell deeper and the darkness shifted.
A light at the bottom of his void pulsed as Delta drew near.
“Hello?” she called, her fingers splayed out, creating streams of disturbance as she moved closer.
The glowing pearl simply gleamed in the dark sand, the light coming from within. It felt warm, even from a distance. Delta tried to remember how an ocean was now around her.
The Mime... the hunger... the contract. It felt like a simple jigsaw puzzle where she could align the pieces and make the picture form a sensible reason for it all.
The Mime had hit the accept button and now Delta was in an alien ocean.
It made no sense yet Delta felt calm. Nervous sure but not panicky. The fear simply washed away in the gentle currents here. The Pearl pulsed and more life escaped its surface. A crab, some eel, a bird, a horse.
Orange dust fell like snow from the surface above and the pearl drew them in with a pulse and an inhalation. Delta drew closer and a flash of white and black marked eyes reflected in the surface of the pearl before the image was gone as quickly as it came.
Delta inhaled the ocean and it tasted old and yet... not treacherous..
She put a hand on the pearl the calm absence of fear persisted. It was then she noticed she had skin. Pink, somewhat pale, skin and fingers with nails.
Delta looked down and saw a real hand on her other arm. She could she her shirt...
The Pearl glowed again and then the ocean was gone. A familiar scene appeared and Delta stood in front of a far less faded purple and orange circus tent. She looked around and saw it wasn’t in the cave where she had found it but on some rocky hill. Light’s danced from inside the tent and the night sky above danced with an ocean of stars in shapes and clouds that made Delta fell so small but she inhaled and wanted to just hold the image tight. She had not seen the sky in what felt like such a long time...
Noise distracted her and people appeared from the line of trees near the bottom of the hill. Delta felt the first stab of startlement as the burly men’s faces looked blurred, like a badly developed picture. One of them cursed and it sounded like he was underwater. Delta looked around and saw that some of the trees didn’t look quite right, unfinished in some manner.
The stars above them seemed to rearrange themselves as if not quite happy with where they were.
The two men called out, a few words making it to Delta.
“Rin-... got us a li-...-ite me, the cheeky bugger,” one of the men guffawed and they carried a cage between them.
Delta moved back as if the men would stop to stare at her or demand to know who she was.
But they moved past, flickering in and out of reality, clothes not quite solid as if the style changed slightly every second.
Delta felt confused by the scene until she saw the thing in the cage.
A near naked creature with barely enough skin or muscle to form anything human. It snapped and snarled with an exposed mouth, tiny pointy teeth and black gums. It looked around and Delta, in her head, applied white paint to the creature and a hat.
It was the Mime but... it wasn’t a mime in this scene.
Someone poked her and Delta screeched, flying forward as if the touch had burned her. She spun and saw the Mime standing there behind her, fully grown and...mime-y. It put a finger to thin lips and pointed.
Delta slowly followed it’s finger to see a much more defined man leaning over the cage.
A rather slender figure, the man twirled a very elegant moustache and smiled. His black trousers and bright cheery red suit top made him a striking figure.
“A interesting fellow, caught it snacking on our... ex-sword swallower?” he finished with a wince as if not wanting to dwell on the idea. One of the men said something and pulled out his sword, the young Mime screeched and rattled the cage with feeble strength. It looked so thin, just like how Delta had found him.
The red man frowned and slapped the sword out of the blurry man’s hands, scoffing.
“Clearly, someone needs to spend some time cleaning the Tyrant Ape’s bedding. Get to it, he’ll return after hunting soon and he does not like to be disturbed when eating,” the man sniffed and the scolded man ducked his head, moving into the unfinished part of the world.
The Mime moved forward to examine his younger self in the cage, still shrieking. Delta could definitely see much more masculine features now that his body had filled out and lost the sickeningly gaunt appearance it had when she had found him.
His strange pale and smooth face had not changed but his throat and arms seemed to fill out and thicken. Not exactly muscular but he had a wiry feel to him and actually fit his suit now.
The Mime moved on and stood next to the red man and bowed his head.
The red man’s hands moved through the Mime as he talked, like a ghost.
“Now, I know what you need, my young friend,” the man chuckled and pulled out a wrapped package from his pocket.
“Now, I was going to give this to my other beasties but I think you could use some cheering up, my little ghoul friend” he smiled and opened the package.
A purple steak rested on the crinkled paper and the smell made the young Mime paused in his fearful screaming. It sniffed and, without eyes, locked on to the meat easily.
“Go on, the circus has had worse things than you, my young friend, do not be shy,” he encouraged and put the meat near the cage and withdrew his hand.
The young Mime pounced on it, snarling and chomping like an animal.
The real Mime put a hand to the red man’s cheek and it passed through but the Mime just held it there as if to try and feel something.
“He... was your friend?” Delta said, breaking the scene like a dozen butterflies, the colours and sounds all fading away as if some spell had been broken. The darkness was brief but the Mime looked... terribly sad as the vanishing of the red man pained him.
He only nodded and another scene appeared.
Delta saw the young Mime again and gasped as the red man, still as wonderfully elegant as ever, lead him around by the hand. The young Mime had his black and white makeup but still dressed like a human boy of his age, if boys dressed in brown suspenders and white shirts and red ties.
Delta followed the scene with delight and the Mime sat on the grass next to her, utterly happy as he saw the scene unfold. He tapped Delta and directed her gaze to something.
It was a small sign next to the circuses main sign. A list of attractions was listed, a twin-headed ogre strong man and sketch performer... at the same time. A half siren, half magical banker. She sang about really good taxes, according to the sign and near the bottom was a quickly drawn sign tacked on.
“Renny’s Silent Show! Come see the Ghoul perform with just his smile!”
“Renny... your name is Renny?” Delta turned back and the Mime did a little half-bow from where he sat.
“Nice name, how did you get it?” Delta asked, wondering how the Mime would explain it without words.
The Mime simply pointed to the biggest sign of them all.
Delta looked up and up until she was craning her neck.
“Renaird’s Fantastical and Fabulous Circus!”
The Mime then pointed to the man in the red and back to the sign and smiled a smile that showed his many teeth. Delta smiled weakly back at the sight but nodded slowly.
“He gave you his name? He-” she paused then saw Renaird lift Renny onto a small box and sat down in a prepared single chair.
“Now, give me your best! I paid good money for this show!” the owner of the circus winked and young Renny saluted and began to push against an invisible wall. Delta grinned as the young ghoul clearly was moving his hands slightly. Renaird’s smile was patient and he applauded as the young ghoul did a slight rope pull with a nice yank.
“Wow.. you really needed to practise,” Delta teased and turned to see the Mime sitting on an invisible couch, legs curled and back relaxed. He tilted his head as if asking her to repeat herself.
Delta smiled and the Mime patted the space next him and Delta stood and with excitement sat down, crashing to the flickering grass on her ass.
The Mime stood and bent over slapping his knee.
“Hey! That was mean!” she called and the scene began to fade again.
She stood but the Mime’s silent laugh was somehow infectious and she ended up chuckling.
She stopped when the next scene appeared.
“Delta! Delta! Where Did she go!?” Ruli demanded, the orange glowing cocoon surrounding the Mime preventing anyone from looking in.
It was this scene that Nu had returned to.
He groaned and flexed stiff aching extensions of himself, not using to feeling so out of shape. He looked around, confused as he wasn’t quite sure why he was here. There were people, there were no challenges... and yet, here he was.
The loud child, Deo was fishing out the golem and Nu felt still odd so he stretched again. He scratched his nose.
He sighed and then stopped scratching.
Itching needed a nose... in which he needed fingers to scratch it with.
He moved the hand away from his face and stared at the clumsy looking digits. He wriggled them and they indeed... wriggled.
“My ones and zeros have become... tentacles, tiny meaty looking tentacles,” he said aghast and looked down to see two stubby things.
Feet, he had flipping feet!
Nu spun and fell over.
There was silence and Nu looked up to see everyone looking at him. He stared back for a long moment and then saw that his new shell was a deep blue, it was akin to what Delta looked to him but lacking the annoying bouncy hair, and the flowy skirt.
“HELLO!” Deo waved and Nu spun and spluttered.
He gathered himself and spoke.
“Uuhuhh,” he managed, the thing in his mouth flapping. He calmed himself and tried again.
“Heeelllo,” he said and nodded. Talking was not so hard and he rolled over to try to stand. It semi-worked.
“Master Nu!” Devina called, the box holding her breaking as she pushed. Rale, his stomach covered in a large growing bruise, kneeled next to him.
“Master Nu, how is this possible?” he asked and Nu could only ask the same question.
“Dell...Delta, wheer is Delta?” he demanded and all his boxes felt like lost sheep, scattered to the four corners of his awareness. He scowled and pulsed his power. Things snapped into view, his usual list of gains, loses, potentials.
He managed to stand and a long tie flopped against his shirt.
“The intruder! Mother...” Rale waved his hands and Deo looked at them as the golem tilted its head and a stream of water began to pour out its ear.
“YOU’RE NU? I LIKE YOUR SIGNPOSTS! THEY GIVE GOOD ADVICE!” Deo nodded, Nu felt his annoyance at the child fade as he spoke the honest truth but then Ruli’s shadow fell over him.
He looked up and up into the glowing eyes of the woman, her horns making her already intimidating features more so.
“Where is Delta?” she asked quietly and Nu felt her words settle around him like iron weights. He scowled and crossed his arms.
“Give me a second to get used to whatever stupid stunt Delta had done now and then I will get right to serving you, I forget my place as your butler,” he said and Ruli raised one brow.
“Sassy little dungeon thing, aren’t you?” she asked, tail whipping dangerously. Nu adjusted his tie and noticed his feet were flaking away rather fast. He felt relief flooding him, soon he would be back in his normal form.
He moved and felt odd having his sight at the top of this form and not in the centre... how annoying, how was he supposed to be aware of all his spots if he could not see both around and inside out?
No wonder Delta walked around like a blind duck that had its brain removed. This state was just... just... ugh.
Nu scowled and looked at the glowing orange cocoon. He could felt Delta, her entire being focused on that single spot.
“Of course, she just jumped into something unknown and I, of course, have to fill in whatever mundane tasks she usually performs, like being a mouth breather and pretending I like any of you. I want a contract, I want terms!” he snapped and Ruli picked him up, his avatar flaking badly as she held him to eye level.
“Can you fix this? She contracted the bloody Mime!” she snapped and Nu narrowed his eyes.
“Lady, I am in no mood to put up with you, put me down or I will do something unpleasant,” he warned and Ruli looked unimpressed.
“I will put a damn timer on that pond and you will have to wait between fish,” he threatened and he was promptly dropped on his ass again.
He had a buttocks, ugh... if other dungeon menus saw him now... Nu wanted to bang the ground or screech at someone.
Instead, he focused on the contract dome.
“The Mime tried to eat her and she employed it. I rather like her work ethic but there is such a thing as planning or thinking or maybe ‘we can always get another Mime that won’t eat us’. Fine, fine... let’s see,” he mumbled and tapped the dome. It didn’t yield and Nu gathered his will and focused.
“I am the...substitute Dungeon Core! I demand my annoying core back!” he ordered. The dome ignored him and a box appeared to him.
So... that was how it looked with human eyes. Nifty.
“You...Excuse me?!” Nu squawked in distress and he stabbed the box with a finger and smiled.
“That felt good, I like jabbing things,” he said aloud, narrowing his glare with a look usually only reserved for a Delta stunt and the box shifted.
Nu narrowed his eyes and did what Delta always did with him.
He pinched the sides of the box and dinged in alarm as the dungeon system registers the contact and screeched in distress.
“Jeez, even I can hear that,” Ruli muttered and the box squirmed under Nu’s tender touch.
The box vanished and Nu growled.
He spun and crossed his arms again.
“I can’t do anything, we just have to wait,” he admitted and Ruli ran a hand through her long hair.
“Dungeon’s making contracts... yesh, most people choose this time to utterly wreck a core or drain it since it does this,” she jerked a thumb at the contract dome. Deo tapped it and Vas inhaled some of the flaking mana.
Nu didn’t like the golem. It wasn’t anything personal but the thing just didn’t give off mana upon its visit. If anything, it took tiny amounts.
“Loud one, take the freeloader and go back to the first floor. Ruli, you are hovering and I need you to stop breathing in my general direction before I pass out,” Nu commanded and they all just looked at him.
“Master Nu... manners are key to any sort of diplomacy,” she offered and Nu’s nostrils flared. He flared them again with curiosity and then focused.
“I do not need diplomacy. I need utter obedience!” Nu growled, feeling his emotions flare out. This body was so unwieldy.
Ruli snorted and looked around.
“Now that I’m not fighting a killer Mime... this is the second floor, eh?” she eyed the growing trees and spreading flowers.The distant walls looking like endless jungle and roots.
“I like it, I can hunt some real beasties in a place like this,” she rubbed her hands and Nu watched as his legs vanished next.
“This form won’t last long but I may have more options for helping Delta if there are no people here. I would very much like to have her deal with you all while I plot on how to drain you all of the excess mana and sweat out precious resources,” he dismissed and Ruli scowled but then gave a sharp nod.
“You’re an ass but sure. I want Delta back as well,” she admitted and gave the glowing dome one last look, she strode forward. Her slightly clawed feet, bursting from her tough boots, tearing the soil up as she walked.
“MR NU! PLEASE MAKE MORE SIGNS!” Deo waved and Vas looked at the dome with a long look.
“My Master has jars to contain things, Delta is nice and I still need to teach Mr Mushy more art. I will ask for some pots for the dungeon to use if she will not destroy her foes,” it offered and Nu didn’t say anything.
He just watched as Vas passed under the Wylin tree, his skin absorbing the green flaking mana. The golem stopped to smile at the tree dreamily and then hugged it before Vas climbed the stairs.
Once they left, menus appeared and Nu looked at the options before him.
Complete and utter control of how to arrange, change, form the dungeon as he would like. He could see exactly where to put covered pits with spikes at the bottom. Fill the river with them...
Grow mushrooms that would cause deep fevers and vines that would strangle foes. Make the river utterly boil anyone falling in. Add fish that would prune the skin off the bone like clippers to a bush. He could see exactly how to turn this paradise into a deep green hell and there was a part deep inside of him, that longed to do so.
But as his fingers hovered over the trap menu, he felt an emotion rise up.
“I’m going to make this place wonderful! Everyone is going to love it!”
He closed the menu and felt these new fingers shake as the body vanished next, blue mana flaking off to join the orange.
“This won’t work,” he said quietly and his voice, slightly lilting but firm. He looked around and saw Delta in every grass, a patch of mushrooms and droplet of water.
It all gave off a feeling of serenity and Nu felt guilt curling up inside him again.
He turned and made a flower appear.
“There! Are you happy!” he shouted to the ceiling. Devina and Rale just watched him. Waddles floated restfully nearby in the river. Nu just waited but the pang in his lower gut just throbbed more. He was so painfully aware of how near Delta had been to death.
“I need to protect her. She’s too stupid to do it herself, nothing lethal but I can do so much without killing someone,” he told himself and this seemed to spark, finally, a positive emotion.
“I mean... Delta won’t be back... for who knows how long? I’m sure she won’t mind me... being worried for her and going a little crazy and set up some...harmless and interesting things. Just because obviously, I was worried!” Nu said brightly, the last part of his face that faded from the physical world was his wide grin. He stood there, only visible to himself now.
Devina and Rale shared a worried look as Waddles opened one eye.
The words were not kind nor were the threat that followed, unsaid but not unheard.
Delta watched as the circus carriages and beasts were lead down a long road that went underground. On either side were people. Delta could only call them that because they had two legs and two arms but their faces and bodies were covered by robes and dark hoods. Any time a carriage moved too far away or someone looked nervously towards the cave mouth, one of them seemed to inhale and the people on their horses winced.
Renny pointed to the front where Renaird, looking much older, lead the way with a grim expression. Behind to him, a much older looking Renny, almost identical to the one next to her, shared the saddle.
The line was lead to a large man in gleaming armour. He looked like a knight or some form of a nobleman. If men had such things as pupiless eyes and a hole in their forehead where something moved inside.
Delta could see that the circus had not entered such a place willingly.
“We take payments and manners when performing shows,” Renaird called coldly and the knight put a hand to his chest as if hurt.
“My dear ringmaster! How very rude of me! Let me formally welcome you to the Tunnel of the World. Grand title but this homely little home is mine so I dare say I do own some proper manners fitting the Lord of the path of Ending Light,” he bowed his head, tight black hair looking slick with grime or sweat.
He flicked his hand and Delta stumbled back, gasping as Renaird toppled from his horse, a knife buried in his throat. Renny shook next to her and the younger Renny dropped down and picked up the gasping man into his arms.
“No! What is wrong with him!” Delta shouted and Renny only moved to sit next to the memory of himself.
“Re...ny, my...boy,” Renaird gasped and then went still.
Renny and his younger self both pulled their heads back and opened their black jaws wide in pain and anguish.
“A ghoul... so well behaved. Well, as they do say in the business, on with the show!” The knight smiled cheerfully and the young Renny turned, teeth bared and black liquid pouring from the tiny dots on his face.
He slashed and the knight stopped, hand to his throat as it was neatly sliced open by an invisible knife.
The scene fluttered and Delta fell to her knees.
“I...Renny- I am so...” she stuttered and the Mime just looked up at her, wiping a single trail away from his eyes, his white paint neither marred nor smeared.
He walked over and helped her stand. He looked down at his hand and shook his head. He made the motion of gripping a knife then dropped it, something unseen clattering to the floor. He looked so ashamed of the noise that he turned away.
The next scene appearing. The last scene, something deep in Delta knew.
The orange and purple tent was in the cave, flat on the ground and not yet pitched.
Renny looked around the room as a collapsed cave trapped the circus in it. The young Renny looked around at the few people alive, faces almost blurred beyond recognition as Renny himself had a large wound through his head. It didn’t seem to be healing. Delta listened as screaming made its way through the cave walls and all the circus people went quiet.
The scene flickered and time had clearly passed. The tent looked older and the young Renny held a weak woman in his arms, she said something but it was too faded and distorted. She closed her eyes and Renny shook her and shook her but she didn’t open her eyes.
Renny howled silently again but he picked her up and took her to near the back of the tent. Delta saw the people had all gone. Renny shakily began to mime a shovel and dug.
It was then that Delta saw little wooden sticks planted in a neat row, markers with names on them.
The scene flickered again and the tent had sagged a lot more and all the lights had burned out. Renny sat on the wooden chair, facing the tent opening. He sat there, guarding the now crumbling grave markers. Untouched by the Ghoul. The younger Renny looked so... thin, he looked over his shoulder and black drool leaked out his mouth at the grave markers but he did not move from his station.
He waited and guarded.
He waited and guarded.
Delta rubbed her eyes and shook her head as Renny put a hand on her shoulder. He was glowing and he shrugged as if to say ‘that’s all folks’.
“Renny... you won’t ever be hungry again,” she promised and the Mime smiled, wiping tears away with a hankey that he mimed.
Delta saw the scene fade and the menu appeared again.
Renny eyed it and kicked the dirt with his hands in his pockets, looking boyish as he grinned. Delta tapped it and Renny’s face glowed slightly. A red line formed some painted-on human shaped lips that could fool someone that Renny’ real mouth was there.
Other than, he did not change.
Delta was almost hoping for a beret...
The light swallowed her and Renny and when she blinked, she was back in the dungeon.
Devina was yelling about the bees and Rale was hacking at her wooden log bridge.
“What... is going on here?” she asked and everyone froze, including the other human boy, a person made of blue light.
He opened his mouth and his hair looked mad as if he ran a hand through it far too much.
“Oh, you’re back. Listen, I might have... done some things,” the boy explained blithely and Delta stared blankly at him.
He... felt familiar but the boy faded away and Delta moved forward but a box replaced the human shape and text scrolled across it.
Nu demanded with his usual words and Delta sat down heavily but she felt a cushy chair being pushed under her and looked up to see Renny grinning, bowing like a gentleman.
“I have a mime, my jungle is in chaos, and Nu had boy parts,” Delta mumbled.
Devina walked closer.“Mother... the Queen is very displeased,” she muttered and then a box opened up.
Delta inhaled and exhaled very, very, slowly.