There was a sense of satisfaction Delta felt when she had seen Grim had frozen in shocked awe at the sight of her jungle. From the entrance, it was now impossible to see beyond the trees now.
It was so different from how it started. An empty box to a thriving land of green.
Grim neck craned as the trees, that now formed solid looking walls of nature, towered far above. He inhaled as the Wyin tree above softly sprinkled the green mana on him with a swish of its almost willowy branches.
“Minty...” he mumbled as he took a few hesitant steps forward before stopping.
“I’m going to have to get past that pig guy on the way out... Ugh, I should have bought a Geon-away or maybe actually asked Dad for an escape scroll... But then he would ask why and I can’t exactly say I was going into the dungeon,” Grim sighed aloud.
“Maybe you should just not come to a dungeon and cause trouble? Well, other ones might try to kill you, to be fair but I really, really, tried to make your life easy and let you walk away,” Delta huffed which make the boy pause as if hearing something just out of hearing range.
“Creepy jungle,” he said finally and Delta raised one brow at his back.
“Oh do explain how my cool jungle is creepy? It’s pretty and green, has frog people and bees!” she listed with her fingers but stopped as Grim frowned at the trees.
“There are no birds... I never knew trees could be so bad without things living in them,” he shivered and began to move down the thin path that cut through the blooming wild bushes and patches of grass that grew slightly on the path.
Delta stared at Grim then at her trees.
She listened but sure enough... silence greeted her other than the distant roaring of the water falling.
“Frig... I forgot to add ambience to my jungle,” she cursed to herself as she stomped after Grim with a hint of shame hovering over her head. The damn kid had done nothing but point out weak spots and insult her dungeon and he had the gall to complain to her?
Until Grim lost that backpack, Delta would tolerate him.
Not that the kid had really anything else to offer than more stress at this point.
Great Mushy slithered his thorny tentacles around his enclosed space as a box flashed repeated in his face. The issue was twofold to the fungi-monster.
One, the box was ever so bright and to the creature that had lived naught but in the darkest parts of Mother’s dungeon, this was beginning to hurt it’s eyes. However, as the light blinked on and off, as if revealing Great to some unseen audience, the mushroom monster found himself sort of enjoying the light.
The second problem was the issue of the fact Great didn’t know how to read.
He had pondered this for a moment before he closed his eyes. That was not strictly true...
Great could listen to music that flowed from Mother, note after note. What were these squiggles of words but notes of the voice? Great blinked his eyes opened and hissed with a cackle. He pulled on Mother’s glowing being of sound and pulsating joy.
Music was the key. Letter by letter, he began to softly hiss out the message on the box.
Great flicked a vine with idle thought.
With so little guests... Great had nothing to do but listen to Mother’s music to pass the time and try to imitate the sounds on his own.
Who knew it would pay off?
Evolution... yes... he had experienced that before. From the runt of a tiny spitter to his current self. Such growth...such potential. Mother had given him the tools to achieve this. Her open heart, filled to the brim with this joyous music, was something he carefully pulled at.
He was... scared that if he became greedy, he would damage her. The thought was unbearable, he clenched his vine and pierced his own flesh in agitation of the thought.
Great was one of her first. Something he had great pride in and while he may not... be as loved as his brother, Mr, he tried to impress Mother in his own way. She liked his music and that made Great love it more in return.
He had never loved before and the feeling itched at him like insects in his cap. Itchy but... not unwanted.
This was his chance to make Mother even happier and for Great to see how far music could take him.
If any fool got between him and the music he sent to Mother... he would show them why he was the more dangerous brother by far.
“....Y...es,” he hissed with effort, drooling acid at the effort.
The words, after he sang them out, made Great pause with a little worry.
It didn’t do much to assure him but he no way to back out now.
His body tensed as energy rushed through every pore of his spongy skin. Great hissed with surprised as his insides began to twist. It wasn’t just himself that was twisting but the very hallway as well.
Great hissed with discomfort as he began to grow, stretching and stretching higher and higher. The tunnel that had been his sanctuary bulged around him as if made of water, pushing space in odd ways that made music Great had never heard of before.
His body was moving as the tunnel stretched wider and wider, something solid looking rising out of the ground as his body was pulled gently on to it.
Gre... No, he was no longer merely Great.
He breathed with a loud rattling hiss as his once thorny tentacles buried deep.
Deeper and deeper, then he spread.
The-Mushroom-formerly-known-as-Great began to shriek with sounds that made everyone on the floor pause with startled surprise.
Melodical maniacal laughter filled the peaceful dungeon.
It poured out of every wall and floor to fill every room on the first floor.
“Ohhh yesssss!” came a rich and powerful purr.
That was when the mushroom noticed something else. Something wonderful.
“My, my! I didn’t see the fuss about all this hubba-baloo speaking nonsense before but now that I tried it for myself...well... what can a shroom say? Hello ladies and Goblins, this is your new and improved star of the first floor. Maestro! Let me play you an introduction...” he said, knowing, just knowing that he could be heard all across the first floor.
His hands began to tap and the natural drums surrounding his body thrummed.
“I call this little number... welcome to the jungle,” Maestro laughed with a smirk.
He plucked gently at the many cords attached to his cap that connected the ceiling like life-lines making string-like sounds.
“You don’t have to tell me, I already know it’s absolutely wonderful!” he laughed as let his tongue, a thorny vine, lick his lips.
He had been worried that would lose his threatening appearance but if anything...it only became more beautiful!
Beauty. Such a concept that had never occurred to Maestro! Music, beauty, lights, action!
Maestro just had to have it all!
He spun and the beat he was pumping out travelled down the second floor, where his roots finally reached.
“I hope you’re listening Mother! You superstar son is here to blow your dungeon’s popularity sky high! With your love, Mr’s cuteness, and my voice, no one can stop us!” he called with a powerful laugh.
Maestro fed the spiders a little bit more music with one of his handy new mouthpieces as they seemed to respawn with a heavy need to dance.
Maestro was only too happy to supply.
Mother’s delighted shout came from just below, Maestro looked down, surprised to see how big he had become.
The ziggurat he was now resting on in this giant room might have added a few inches to this fact but Maestro brushed that thought off.
“Ah mother, do contain your excitement! My new body is still cooling!” he flexed his new hands and adjusted his new shelf around his neck. A fleshy accessory piece!
It was so charming and fitting to his beautiful form.
Mother was still screaming with delight and she was now rushing out the room. Maestro covered a shy smile at her reaction.
Mother was going to tell everyone about his new form.
He hummed and then burst into song with a deep vibrato.
Delta was still shrieking in horror as she fled back to the second floor.
The singing followed her as it seemed to pulse out of the ground.
She had just been following Grim as he was getting lost on the jungle path where he had stopped to take a food break when he spotted one of the few benches Delta had made. Pulling sandwiches and a drink after scouring the bench for traps and tricks, Grim had frozen along with Delta when the music, the voice, had appeared.
Delta found Grim exactly where she had left him.
“Why are the bunnies and bees the only cute things I make right off the bat?” she whimpered as the sight of Great Mushy’s evolved form haunted her. The demonic mushroom sitting on top of a stone-pyramid thing. Long thick vines spreading everywhere like some grotesque alien hive and were infecting her walls with odd moulds and singing while doing it!
He had looked at her and seemed to smile. The maw of death and the eyes of the devil greeted her. Fangs... hands like spears and tumour-like growths that acted as a choir surrounded its body. Tons of tiny... little...screaming mushrooms, all turning to her in unison.
She trembled as the hearty sounds of beating drums with pulsating thumps filled the jungle, giving it a heavy feel of energy.
“Okay, this is getting weird and all I got so far is a ghost cat thing,” Grim said to himself as he packed his stuff, readying himself to set off again.
“How do you think I feel? This is my dungeon...” Delta complained pointlessly to him. Grim focused and snapped off a nearby branch to start marking the path as best as he could. Delta couldn’t be mad at the idea because she was too busy being scarred for life.
It wasn’t long before Grim found the river.
“Ugh...” Grim shuffled back at the sight of the soft current. Delta blinked when Grim didn’t instantly pull out some magical river-dryer or magical bridge.
“Dammit... there has to be a bridge or something... a vine swing maybe?” he asked aloud and tread carefully at a fair distance away from the river’s edge. The way he moved reminded Delta of herself near her... well, everything.
Moving slowly enough as not to burst into a panicked run.
“He can’t swim...” Delta muttered with a sigh. That was a real shame, she was kind of hoping to have him lose a few more things to the river’s waters. Something big moved near the surface of the water and Delta spotted Rale briefly before he sank to the bottom of the river where he blended in with the murk at the bottom surprisingly well.
Delta nodded with approval at Rale’s diligence. If Grim did fall, he would be safe at least. If the frog kept this up, he might unlock some special evolution that could save people better...
Delta paused at the image of Rale evolving into some three-headed frog sea-serpent to do his job better and she repressed a wail.
“Please just grow some… water wings or a whistle...” she prayed at the moving shadow.
There was no bridge or safe brick crossing or even a shallow space to cross. Grim gnashed his teeth with a furious scream barely escaping.
Grim could not stand water in greater amounts than what was needed for hygienic purposes. He glared at the sarcastic signposts declaring a river and warnings of being wet.
Rainy days, water fights, swimming days in summer, floods of any water-related magical incident like the great cheese flood of the winter 4 years past.
The sheer presence of water made his already weak power non-existent. Grim’s power didn’t work with damaged paper! Torn was fine if it wasn’t too ragged or rough but wet paper was just as useful to him as it was for anyone else...
This river posed a problem and Grim thought over his arsenal of items. He had a common rope he could try latching on to the tree across the river but he would have no idea what he might also draw the attention of or hit accidentally.
Plus this new thumping drum that echoed out like music was throwing his mind into an easily distracted state.
He saw a few vines that looked like they had once been tied into odd knots but swung easily in the trees but they weren’t something Grim was willing to trust just now.
So he had two options. The log or... follow the river to the source and hope for a way around the problem.
Grim turned and marched, ignoring the log entirely.
He spotted a few red bees floating around some flowering plants and felt a bit better. Signs of life was better than the silence of the jungle and the beating of drums. He carefully moved around the bee, least he angered it and its hidden hive somewhere. After all, the only safe place from a swarm of bees was... under water.
Grim picked up the pace as the land climbed slightly in height as a roaring noise became louder and louder. He perked up when he saw a blood coloured rabbit rush past out the corner of his eyes.
“A blood Hare! Mum makes the best stew with those when she can get the meat!” he said with a large smile, the memory of his mother cheering him up immensely in this lonely place. He stopped then scowled at his antics.
“You’re an adventurer… get a grip and focus. One second of not paying attention and you’re dead” he reminded himself harshly.
“Excellent advice. While not currently a problem, awareness of the world is key,” came a soft voice from the shadow of a large tree.
Grim spun, hand reaching for the knife he had already lost to that mushroom at the entrance.
“Who’s there!?” he demanded, peering into the shadows to see a figure sitting on a giant exposed root of a tree.
The figure looked relaxed as they stared down at Grim. A wooden mask of some staring beast covered the face. The body was mostly covered in simplistic dark tunic and pants. The exposed skin that Grim could see revealed he was dealing with no fellow adventurer.
“A watcher. You traverse this jungle and the jungle traverses you in return. Timid... but not unafraid. A brave rabbit,” the figure mused and Grim felt the heavy weight of his backpack. He had to reach for something to defend himself.
“I’m not a rabbit. I’m a person, an adventurer!” he denied and the figure merely tilted its head.
“Oh? What does an adventurer seek here that a rabbit does not?” the soft voice... a female voice continued to ask. Grim gave her a flat look.
“Riches. Magical items, books, rewards, you know? Things dungeons are supposed to have?” he stressed his last few words with pointed criticism. The woman... thing stood and easily hopped down to stand before Grim.
He backed up but the river bubbled with a warning behind him. The woman merely turned and walked towards the sound of the waterfall.
“Riches... have you not gained any of those?” she pondered politely and Grim scowled.
“I got disarmed by a mushroom, tied up by spiders, chased a mouse around a room, discovered a secret passage filled with some acid spitting thing, got chased by a boar, shot at with arrows, had to trick a boss, lost in this jungle, I can’t progress because of this river, and now, I got some mask-wearing wise woman trying to waste my time!” he waved his arms furiously before he stopped dead.
A woman here... would mean she was a part of the dungeon... that meant she was a monster...
He had just mouthed off to a second-floor monster.
Grim went still as the woman turned back to him.
“Did these not teach you valuable things?” she prodded gently, the wooden mask hiding what sounded like a smile.
Grim opened his mouth to argue and then paused.
The bowl slammed down and Grimnoire roared with triumphant as Merry became trapped.
“Do not dismiss me...as if you are stronger,”
“Don’t turn your back on me! I am Grimnoire Pictus and I challenge you! You arrogant son of a bitch!”
“I...” he trailed off and then looked at the woman.
“Who are you?” he asked again and the woman clasped her hands together in front of her.
“I am Devina. A resident of the forest. A watcher and a guide beyond all else,” she introduced. Grim hesitated before he spoke.
“Grimnoire Pictus... kind of lost, if nothing else,” he admitted and the words felt like tar, not wanting to leave his mouth until he forced them out. Devina turned the corner of a thicket of trees and Grim followed to see the waterfall in all its loud fury.
“What is lost can be found but you do ever so find such interesting things off the path you expected.” Devina again sounded amused. Grim spotted something odd to one side of the large pool of water at the base of the waterfall.
“Is that a... goblin?” he pointed and Devina’s shoulders tensed slightly.
“A trouble-maker, ignore him,” she dismissed coldly. Grim winced as the goblin looked beaten, soaked, unconscious, and somehow, still cursing in his state. The goblin shivered and his magical staff spat some sparks out.
Another signpost was nearby.
Beware of falling water and Bob -Nu.
“As you can see, the water has risen and there is no dry way across the river, even here. To continue, you must face your fear,” Devina pointed to the big pond of water.
“I can’t swim, facing my fear means dying in this case. Besides, the river is narrower down there, why would I cross here?” Grim questioned with a narrow glare. Devine gently plucked a leaf from her tunic and dropped it on the water’s surface.
It almost didn’t move for a while before it eventually softly drifted to the opening of the river and as it neared the opening, it picked up speed and then was quickly lost downstream.
“The most obvious challenge is not always the most dangerous. I am willing to tie your rope to the rock across the pond so you may use it to swim across and hold on to but you must be willing to make the swim yourself if this is what you desire?” Devina asked gently. Grim grimaced at the idea but then pointed to the sign.
“Who’s Bob?” he asked suddenly which made Devina tilt her head.
“A resident but that is a risk you’re going to have to take unless you wish to take your own path back over the log?” she looked down back at the river as if seeing the log. Grim thought furiously.
“Can I ask this ‘Bob’ if he can help me? Maybe he knows of another way across?” Grim tried to bargain. Grim thought he saw a shadow moving from the river into the pond but Devina’s words distracted him.
“Bob may be able to help you, I cannot deny this. But to rouse Bob, I will first ask for a payment for the service,” Devina began smoothly and Grim winced.
“What kind?” he asked a little worried at the implication. Devina nodded to his backpack.
“Something you did not already receive in this dungeon, I am not asking for much, yes?” Devina sounded beyond pleased and amused. Grim felt like something was amiss but Devina could have ambushed him or worst, so he had to wonder what the deal was.
Grim pulled off his pack, and keeping an eye on the masked woman, began to search for something.
“Will this Bob also need a payment?” he asked a little sarcastically. There was a brief laugh, like a songbird or something just as melodic.
“Bob will not,” she promised and Grim pulled out a few items that he was pretty sure he could give away without too much hassle.
“I got a compass, some basic first-aid manuals and other books, a pot and some firestarter things, a hand-axe for cutting small things... uh... water crystal for canteen-” he was going to continue but Devina held up a hand.
She seemed to pause as if listening to something.
“The water crystal, explain its purpose, please.”
Grim looked at her, her form looking a little odd in the open exposed area as if the trees themselves lend a part of her costume.
“I can drop it into some basic dirty water to purify it for drinking quickly or I can channel some mana into it to make a source of water...it has some other uses but that’s depending on your skills and what you’re trying to use it for. My crystal isn’t high-grade or big so it doesn’t do much or last long,” he offered honestly.
Devina was... calming. It was oddly bizarre yet Grim was enjoying speaking to a friendly face that wasn’t going to stick an arrow in his face.
“I would take the crystal for payment,” she requested and Grim threw the clear blue stone that was shaped slightly like a piece of coral over to Devina.
It was a sturdy thing so it only rolled until Devina plucked it up between two large webbed fingers.
“Payment is accepted and I will now uphold my end of the promise,” she pocketed the crystal and turned to the pool, stroking the water.
“Bob... you can appear now,” she sang and Grim move slightly closer, curious about the unseen creature.
He spotted another goblin appearing from behind the waterfall, wearing some fur clothes and dragging a club sluggishly. Grim was about to ask who that goblin was before the pond bubbled furiously.
Grim backed away as the water rose up in a huge column before the water pulled back to reveal a hellish worm creature as it shrieked into the air, easily drowning out the waterfall.
Grim was rooted to the spot as some primal fear made him go very still at the sight of some superior predator.
He was a rabbit and he was about to become this worm’s stew, it was just how it was. A real shame.
“Bob, be a dear and carry the guest across the river,” Devina called and the worm shrieked and wriggled. Its body glimmering with a rainbow sheen. ‘Bob’ turned to face Grim and it had no eyes.
It reached down and Grim began to scream, a high-pitch noise and Bob screeched back.
The beast was upon him and two small red crabs rushed down from Bob’s head to grab Grim’s backpack loops and yanked them into Bob’s mouth. The pincers twitching like blades. Grim kept screaming and then he was lifted and the ground was quickly left behind.
His feet touched the solid ground a moment later but Grim just kept screaming, staring into nothing as the image of the maw repeated over and over.
Devina was beside him a moment later and another creature, a shorter but very muscular frogman.
“You speak Bobian very well. He compliments your grammar,” the man-frog said and Devina gently shook his shoulder but Grim just took off in a sprint, his voice becoming hoarse as he was still screaming as he rushed into the jungle.
Rale looked at Devina with a confused expression as Mother’s laughter filled the area with loud cackling.
“Why did he not just use the log?” he asked Devina, his nervousness around the other frog a little less extreme now after some time but he wasn’t sure how to really talk to her when she seemed to avoid his gaze.
Devina took off her mask and gently dabbed at her neck where water trailed. She slowly wiped the wetness down her shoulder with one finger.
“He wished to take the easier path it would seem. I think he will learn that some risk is worth it now,” she answered in an odd voice. A little heavy as if she was trying to clear her throat.
Rale patted her back easily.
“Your voice is croaky...more so than normal for our kind. You should rest and enjoy this new music! I wonder how Mother made it happen...” he asked and Devina slammed the mask back on to her face.
“Yes, well. I am glad that is what you focus on! Music and how terrible I sound!” Devina snapped and stormed off with a growl.
Rale blinked and watched as she vanished.
Bob trilled and Rale nodded.
“Female kind is odd. I do not understand what is wrong with them. I shall ask mother soon!” he beamed then sighed.
“I wanted to rescue the screaming one,” he muttered and Bob pulled a giant rock nearby with his mouth. Rale perked up.
“Yes! Let us train with the rock, it is good practice!” he agreed as Bob began to pull the rock underwater and Rale attempted to rescue it.
Nearby, Cois twitched and the two red crabs began to pinch his nose when he cursed so the goblin’s magical staff began to leak charred carrots. They faded after a moment but the crabs did it again and the staff made an odd noise as it flew off into the distance. They danced with laughter as they set off to find something else to do. They stopped and followed a noise.
The noise of grim still screaming.