If a jungle had a heart, what would it sound like?
There were many possibilities and Devina could only ever imagine how one jungle might be more other-worldly than whatever vision she dreamt up. As a base frogman, Devina admired the greenery, the growing trees, and the budding life that came from Mother’s whims and plans.
As her current self... Devina was the very nature that grew around her as she walked. She inhaled and tiny secrets appeared at the tip of her tongue. She gently brushed a tree and it gave her enduring strength, she kissed the flowers and she knew of beauty that appeared after long trials and much effort, she stepped into the river and learned about change.
The heart of this jungle sounded like bad jokes and humming. Devina hummed along as if to create some echo of greatness. But Devina’s voice created no life or any wonderful gifts for the dungeon.
Mother Delta fussed over something on the first floor with the Guidance of Nu.
She let a bee gently tend to the pollen she had gathered on her long skirt. It buzzed with some gratitude and floated away. So small yet so wonderfully part of something bigger.
As a worker tended to the hive, the frog worked for the dungeon.
Devina hummed as she navigated the rapidly growing jungle, learning which parts were true dead ends and which merely appeared to be so. Which trees held warmth and ample space and which held poor footing and gruff attitudes towards fleshy creatures stepping all over their branches.
Devina gave a bow to the red rabbit that followed her.
“Greetings, Sir rabbit,” she said and the rabbit sniffed her leg and scratched its now pollen covered nose. It blinked its pink eyes at her and then hopped away casually, almost sleepily as it knew there was no danger. Devina saw it nibble at the plants, after which the plants grew back, slightly bigger and harder which made the bees spread their pollen with joy, which they then returned to the hive to produce honey and serve the Queen.
Did the circle end there? Devina shook her head as she appeared under the great spire of the bees. The honey was secure but a faint amount trickled down the rock, creating a glistening glow to the surface. From there, moss grew around it and a wonderful scent wafted out into the jungle.
The final piece in this dungeon circle would be the humans.
They would take the honey and give back to Mother Delta with their essence.
Then it would flow back into the rabbits and bees.
It would flow endlessly into a wonderful circle of growth.
Devina inhaled and shuddered as the bees buzzed in unison. Singing as they collected, singing as they returned, singing as the Queen praised them. Devina knew that bees did not use such open emotions. It was like how she knew of frogs and their difference from the frog people.
Did Mother Delta give them these fragile things, emotions, as a test? Her heart in such a short time had learned pain, love, determination, ambition, amusement... sadness. Rale, her counterpart, seemed to have no trouble with his emotions. He strode forward with his every action filled with utter loyalty and certainly.
The way he was sure of his purpose made his skin glow and his eyes pierce through her silent judgement.
Now, she felt so much more than she allowed it to utterly overwhelm her senses. The jungle was but a fraction of Mother’s world. How could she experience such connections, such understanding of this level and not feel awed at everything?
It was Devina’s entire world and it felt so big but Devina knew of an entire world outside the dungeon and her knees went weak at the thought of such an expansive space. She could barely handle the sight before her.
“Master Nu, I welcome your company,” she smiled and pushed back her new mask. The design on it still made her pause but she pushed it aside as the blue box moved closer.
Devina chewed over that thought for a long time, giving it the proper focus as it deserved.
“I am myself but I am more myself than I ever was. Some secret parts of me have bloomed and I wonder how I could have been so arrogant or blind about who I was...” she trailed off and Nu was quiet.
“I... do not know how to act. Everything is too much but I do not want to fail Mother...” she whispered as the trees around her seemed to close in, trapping her.
Devina blinked as someone cursed the foliage and stumbled through the leafy undergrowth towards her.
Short, green, one fang too long, a staff in one hand and a mushroom in the other.
“This her?” he asked gruffly and Nu paused.
Devina watched as the goblin flicked his fingers and some sparks appeared. The sight of the fire evoked a primal fear inside of Devina and she took a step back.
“Weak, stupid like Numb. I want to go back to the first level, this place is worse than the grove...” Cois grumbled and Devina felt a spark of protectiveness rising up at the goblin's words.
“Your tunnel is welcome to you, the grand jungle has no time for buffoons,” she said waspishly and this made Cois grin. Devina narrowed her eyes.
“She’s got some sparks! Yeah, I can see it...” Cois mumbled as he peered at Devina.
“Evolved, did ya? Not exactly a unique but ya know, it’s all the same,” he said and poked her with his staff. Devina narrowed her eyes and all around them, whispering began. Cois didn’t look impressed.
“Yous think because you new and shiny that you scare me? You feel like top of the world and not real at the same time? You think you can act brave when you clearly can’t handle the evolution all that great?” Cois sneered which made Devina pause.
“You evolved as well? You’re one of the goblins from above...” she pondered aloud, trying to think of the first level. Cois grinned and looked like he was trying not to laugh.
“The first Unique... the very first. I am Cois the Pyromancer. You need not bow, as a fellow monster,” Cois seemed to lean on his staff as if to wait for Devina’s awe. She merely used the tree behind her for support.
“Devina, second evolution of the second floor. Beaten by the Queen in a manner. I am a Witch Doctor,” she added and Cois frowned.
“Odd name... what exactly do you witch or doctor? Plants?” he asked, looking almost fondly at the surrounding mushrooms.
Devina hesitated. A series of emotions bubbled up and she picked the most reasonable one.
“I... do not know yet. Everything is too new,” she tried to explain softly but Cois merely snorted.
“New is only one part. You are afraid of this power. How silly,” he scoffed which made Devina’s back stiffen.
“Watch your tongue, goblin,” she hissed at Cois which only made the goblin grin.
“Little big missy gets new power and is too scared to try it out! Numb is gonna laugh about this. Knowing Mother, I bet she asked... so really... you said yes, so why so afraid?” he tilted his ugly head with amusement as smoke curled its way out his nose.
It was then she had noticed Nu had been silent the entire time.
“You don’t just throw power out and expect the balance to be the same. I must test everything with respect and do things properly!” Devina said with a glare and Cois rubbed a leaf between his fingers, black smoke appearing.
“So what you’re saying... is you need a problem to solve!” Cois beamed with cherubic innocence. Devina felt her skin grow cold.
“No, that is not what I sai-” she was cut off as Cois’ hands lit up with smouldering flames.
“I can make problems, I am very good at making problems!” he promised and laughed with a high pitched cackle.
“Master Nu!” she turned and Nu seemed to think on it.
Cois laughed again and a bush caught fire on one side.
Devina shrieked and Nu dinged with amusement.
She kicked up dirt and smothered the injured plant as best she could with soil. She turned with a snarl on her lips towards Cois who was frowning.
“Still thinking like a frog... need to start thinking like Doctor Witch!” he said simply and threw some fire out at isolated plants. Devina could logically see that the flames wouldn’t do much in the wet air and wetter plants but it still triggered some deep fear inside that made her react.
She reached over and slammed her fist into the little goblin’s face.
“This is how I think with Rale on my mind!” she screeched and Cois stumbled back, swatting at his dented nose.
“That’s not magic!” he protested and Devina reached for him again.
“I cast fist, in your face!” she shouted and leapt at him. Cois made a screaming noise and bolted for the underbrush. The trees whispered in protest and Devina followed the sounds to easily keep up with Cois. Problem was that a panicked Cois tended to … catch fire.
He was beginning set more fires than he would be able to control and Devina’s heart went bleak at the sight. She needed to stop this, she needed to stop this!
Devina thought of Mother. How she set her mind to anything and it happened due to sheer wonderful wishful thinking and hard work. Devina closed her eyes and wished so hard that her heart hurt.
She wished she could control this new power, she wished she could be great for her Mother, she wished Rale would finally speak to her, she wished... there was no more fire.
It didn’t work so she did what Mother did best next. She screamed at the dungeon until something happened. She bellowed and grasped at air, no longer keeping a peaceful appearance to the world.
Something glowed around her hands and she thrust it out. A wispy orange form flew near the river and began to swirl. From the clearwater much tinier blue spheres appeared and then the river rose and crashed over the burning foliage and goblin alike.
There was a beat of silence as the orange wisp floated closer. Devina held out her hands and cupped it gently. It looked up at Devina and she swear she almost saw a tiny face before it faded.
Devina clutched the now empty space between her hands close to her chest.
“The spirits guide me. They... I am no druid. I hear no jungle heart. I hear it’s soul,” she called and her vision blurred for a moment as she saw a sea of orange sprites and floating mana wisps.
Devina felt her own soul curl up and wince but she put on a polite smile as Cois was washed downstream, screeching his little voice out. Devina was about to reluctantly help him when her heart froze.
It stuttered and her mind went from the wonders of the jungle, it’s mysterious soul beings to...
“Ah.. It’s Rale,” she pointed out stupidly as a large figure thundered down the river.
“HALT AND BE RESCUED!” Rale yelled to the screeching Cois.
Devina just stared at his screen.
Devina curled her hands and wisps appeared again. They felt warm and curious.
“I use to respect you more before you went mad with power,” she admitted and Nu’s box deflated.
“Tea? Coffee? I have some juice boxes around here,” Mr Jones offered politely as Ruli and Quiss took seats opposite his desk.
“I’ll take dragon on the rocks, don’t skimp on the rocks,” Ruli grinned and Mr Jones raised one eyebrow, it arched just enough to looked intriguing and enticing.
“Are you suggesting I have alcohol on the premises?” his tongue clicked inside his mouth and Quiss quickly spoke before Ruli could bury herself deeper.
“Of course not. Thank you for seeing us, I know being the sole teacher means you have a lot of work to grade and lessons to plan,” Quiss began, politely and calmly. Mr Jones’ merely smiled.
“One could say I am already doing them as we speak, have done them... will do them. It’s hard to tell on Tuesdays,” he said with a serious tone. Quiss hesitated and looked at the man before him.
As someone who came to Durence after already finishing his education and having no kids of his own, he and Jones never really had any reason to speak to each other.
The man never had any problems that he needed a peacekeeper for. In fact, Quiss was sure the man never did anything that required other people. Shopping, haircuts, small talk, drinking, clubs, hunting, painting, dating... Mr Jones seemed to be an example of time immortalized rather than an example of its effects on people.
“Time travel is impossible,” Quiss nodded and Mr Jones looked intrigued, his simple but charming smile curving slightly.
“Oh? Travelling of the Time Spiral is indeed beyond anyone but more than physical shells can pass through its tender grasps and remain intact. Information has a tendency to linger in the very air despite all evidence being removed of its presence. A blot on the very existence of time’s neat book. A single moment of time that is forever crystalised for all to see,” Jones clapped his hands together.
“Urgh... I hated Metaphysics on Tuesdays,” Ruli muttered which made the teacher smile.
“You did often like to get upset and promptly suggest that time ‘sort itself out and move on like the rest of us’,” he quoted with amusement and Ruli scratched at her nose.
“I sucked at school, let’s not beat the bush over the head,” she said gruffly which made Jones smile turn very large.
“It is never too late to learn something new,” he reminded and Quiss felt uneasy as the view outside the windows seemed to be slightly further away than he remembered.
“We’re here about whatever the elders are hiding. Being the fact you’re one of the six or so people who doesn’t answer to them or is afraid of them. We thought we could get some good info from you,” Ruli explained, ignoring Jones’ comment.
“They have many secrets and you are vastly wrong. Only a fool does not fear those three working in synergy. I see that even now they are returning to themselves... interesting. Tell me Quiss, how was your education? I heard you studied at Hovantown. An esteemed magical school. I knew a few people there,” he said and Ruli looked at him with confusion but Quiss decided to let the Knowledge Demon play his games for now.
“I did, I knew no one from there bar Seth and my teacher. Why did you become a teacher?” he fired back, playing into Jones’ hands. Quiss was no fool, he had been instructed on how most demons work with reason.
Mr Jones was a Knowledge Demon. They appreciated wits, a thirst of curiosity, and were one of the few demons that didn’t often make one sell their magic or soul for information.
They preferred their own cocktail of temptations. Rare secrets and a softly simmered confessions of the heart.
“It suited my needs best. Now, I heard you and Sethamus had a very interesting teacher, is this true?” he smiled as he leaned back in his comfortable chair.
“Allani Serenegore.” Even saying the name made Quiss’ palms turn sweaty, unbidden images of a small woman with a large smile flashed across his mind. Jones’ smile faded to a thin line.
“My condolences. Even in the Abyss, she was a name to be respected. Your tea,” he encouraged and Quiss looked down at a cup he was sure... he hadn’t accepted. Ruli looked at them and tried to look casual.
“Sounds... important. She some bigwig at the magical nerd school?” she asked bluntly. Jones closed his eyes with some unseen emotion but Quiss shrugged.
“She was a witch. A proper one but she dabbled with mages and ended up liking the title. She was the last fighter of the battle of the roots,” Quiss explained, voice hollow. Ruli’s eyes bulged out and she almost knocked her chair over as she stood up.
“You were taught by the hero of the World Tree?” she demanded and Quiss just gave her a very cold look. She hesitated and sat back down.
“Be glad you flunked, Miss Ruli. I hate to have you sent to detention for insensitivity,” Jones sighed and then clapped his hands.
“But let us gossip and barter like frail old ladies that hide cursed death charms in their purses, shall we?” he asked, changing the subject completely. The classroom's air turned from business like professional to something more... relaxed and loose. It made Quiss’ teeth stand on edge.
“Milla, Pic, Haldi and Durence. Four youths who came to this land. How do their stories line up with yours?” Jones inquired, his desk... longer than Quiss remembered it. Jones opened a drawer and retrieved a book.
It was Abyssian and Quiss had no idea on how to read it.
“‘Teasing plot twists and annoying your fellows’, are you serious?” Ruli grumbled. Jones laughed.
“I took it off my student, Grimnoire. He does enjoy having an edge over his fellows. Please, continue,” he nodded to them both pleasantly.
Ruli looked insured but Quiss’ mood was at a low point and he had no real motivation to parly with a demon.
“Durence, what happened to him? Who is the Lord of the path of Ending Light?” Quiss asked bluntly and Jones turned a page as he read with no reaction to the names.
“One is a town, the other has a too long of a title, would be my guess,” he responded dryly and Ruli sighed.
“Quiss, come on, don’t be all agitated, you’re just gonna agree with something or say something and that’s that,” she reminded him. Jones hummed.
“You could always put gum and glue on my chair, that worked well for a certain brat,” he offered. Ruli stubbornly met his eyes.
“I was 11, you talked too much!” she defended herself and Jones closed the book.
“And now you’re 32 and I’m not saying a word, it is interesting on how times change, yes?” he beamed. His black hair so perfectly cut.
“Delta, the dungeon, is digging deep, she’s finding pieces of this history. You have a duty as a Knowledge Demon to retain and pass on this information,” Quiss placed the cup of tea back onto the coffee table.
He paused and saw the room was a teacher’s lounge. It looked okay but something nagged at Quiss that made him aware something wasn’t right.
Wasn’t there a desk befo-
“My duty is whatever I make it. My obligations as a keeper of knowledge is now a task of imparting knowledge to children. You are not my student, nor will you ever will be, what obligation do I owe you?” Jones’ asked, voice flat.
“Mr J... come on, remember how I passed that one test and how I almost passed all the others and that one time I accidentally did my homework because I thought it was a quiz on what my favourite weapon was?” Ruli tried and Jones’ eyed her before sighing.
“You and those pigtails, you came into class with monster fluids all over you or with some packed lunch that still twitched. It was honestly a trial of my career until the last few tears. Deo Brawndo has really pushed my patience but... I cannot say I dislike the boy,” he smiled. Quiss could agree on that at least.
Jones was quiet for a moment then clicked his fingers. The building around them quivered and a series of clanging noises echoed out before Jones spoke.
“There is a reason you do not and will not know. Knowledge is a river. It flows in and sometimes it can dry up. This particular knowledge is like a parasite that lives in the water, it burrows deep and infects your waking thoughts to the point that you change. It is not about treating you like children nor about not trusting you. This information is literally dangerous and inside your unprepared minds, you will simply crumble like worms under a crow’s foot,” Jones said and his perfect appearance seemed to lose some parts and a being with many eyes sat before them.
The eyes were all different shapes and colours. In the middle of it all, a round black orb beating like a heart before Jones returned to human form, clearing his throat.
“Did you not find it bizarre that your mother began to forget things? Haldi? Pic? This very town became a routine of dolls and repeated play scenes. This land is very hungry and they have poured the very essences of themselves into the land to forget... now this dungeon has made such a thing impossible. It seems almost like a perfect counter. The Elders must see this Delta as a form of interference by the gods or devils. Who knows? Maybe an old foe trying to gain an upper hand?” he spread his arms and Quiss moved on the lunch hall bench as he glared at the menus.
He was sure something was going on here in this school. He had...was somewhere with coffee but hadn’t they always been talking in the lunch hall?
“What is it? What old foe?” Ruli pushed and Jones put his chin in his hand. Smile almost crooked.
“The three lords. One of the Ending Light, One of the Settled Darkness and the One of the Broken Silence. Each guarded by their knight. What lies below them? I have no clue but that isn’t the dangerous part. Knowing numbers and titles is fine, you will be fine. It’s when you know of their nature, hear the name... you are at war,” Jones whispered and Quiss stumbled.
He turned to say something but Jones shut the school door in his face. It left him standing there on the stone steps without Ruli as the school building before him seemed to lock all the windows and doors.
Doing exactly what Quiss feared he would do. Re-enroll Ruli back into his class...
Quiss walked towards a window and tried to smash it after knocking on the door did nothing.
The rock he threw stretched the glass and simply flung it back at Quiss.
Quiss itched to click his fingers but he turned on the spot, remembering his promise and the only known weakness of Knowledge Demons.
A gifted genius and an idiot.
Thankfully, he knew just the water mage who could fulfil both ends of that clause just fine.
Lords... and their knights. Below and unknown. Delta and Durence.
Questions... Questions... Questions.
“I missed the days I could just set things on fire and go home to sleep,” he admitted and mumbled an apology as the new baker girl knocked into him.
She looked at him and Quiss didn’t say anything as he rushed on.
The girl bit her lip as her bloodshot eyes looked around at the lively people with some sorrow. She watched as people laughed, as grass and flowers bloomed, as mana flowed through the air bringing life.
She turned and ran back to her shop to curl up on her bed. Her ovens cold and her bread hard as a rock.
She just laid there, hoping Durence’s curse would just take her.