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“Poor Wilhelm.”

Delta stared as the giant ape tried to stretch his fingers out the tunnel slightly farther, barely missing the fleeing Grim.

She frowned as the giant beast gave up and pulled his arm back into the tunnel, back into the tiny space.

“I didn’t even think... he can’t roam or get out that tunnel. I’m going to fix that. The first thing I do!” Delta promised Wilhelm. The ape’s serious face peeking from the entrance of the circus before he abruptly moved back as if jolted.

“Mana is thick... the core has to be in that tunnel,” Grim moaned as he walked another few steps away from the circus. Delta sniffed the air but didn’t really see any difference in mana here than anywhere else.

Delta tried very hard not to think of the fact she hadn’t showered in... a while. Did mana have a smell? Did Delta... smell?

“Apes, monsters in the water, and talking frog people. I... this place isn’t a dungeon. It’s some dangerous wild-life sanctuary,” Grim grumbled as he collected his nerves again, hugging his backpack tightly as if to shield it. Delta merely shrugged.

“Would you believe if I told you most of it was all an accident?” she offered but paused to really look at the boy.

His face...

“I...damn, I don’t feel great. Did I brush some dangerous plant? Was the worm thing poisonous?” Grim mumbled as his flushed face peered around the jungle as if trying to sense danger.

“Hey, kid, you look terrible, have you got any water?” Delta moved closer to get a better look at Grim’s complexion but as she did so, Grim suddenly recoiled and swatted in her direction, his eyes catching the movement at the last second.

“W-what was that? Orange...mist? Some toxic thing?” he hissed and covered his mouth, looking wildly around, not long able to see Delta.

Delta backed away slowly.

“The heck? He saw me?” Delta muttered while Grim pushed his back against a tree to protect his back. She moved closer again and Grim tried to fend off the ‘orange mist’.

Delta felt a little lost at what to do now. Grim was not faring well but if she got close, he began to panic. She needed someway to see the problem from the distance and doing that required...

“Dungeon sight...the numbers,” she finished aloud. Grim twitched and he seemed to slide down the tree slightly.

“Screw it, the kid is going to keel over at this rate,” Delta snapped at herself and pulled on the world around her. Like always it tried to overwhelm her every sense but Delta pushed back against the tide of information, pulling and pushing until the numbers didn’t so much overwhelm her but slightly overlay was she saw in real vision.

The number vision was interesting when it wasn’t trying to drive an ice-pick into Delta’s brain. So, with her head cracking open, or so how the pain felt, Delta stared at Grim.

Grim was turning orange.

His natural creamy yellow mana, like an old-loved book, was becoming tinge with orange. Splotches spread over parts of his mana and aura. Grim’s mana rebelled and the orange mana simply kept coming.

Delta could see with every inhale, more and more mana flowed into his body. It didn't make sense. None of the others had seemed to have this problem.

Delta suddenly hesitated.

None of the others, bar Ruli, had been in the dungeon as long as Grim.

The teenager had been slowed by every obstacle and every monster, along with his own caution. Even with all his visits together, not even Deo would have been here as long as Grim had been.

Natural infection?

“He needs to get out of here, now! Renny!” Delta snapped the vision closed, spinning with a desperate plea on her voice.

She hadn’t even finished spinning before the mime was before her. He tilted his head in a bow and then looked at Grim.

The boy had gone very still.

“Renny, I’m done being mad and I wouldn’t ask this if it wasn’t needed but please, you need to get Grim out of the dungeon!” she requested, waving her hands as panic set in. The mime nodded and turned to Grim.

“Stay back! I have an ancient curse memorised and I will reduce you to paste!” Grim threatened as he began to cough, ruining any chance of his threat working.

Delta stared at him.

Mana overdose? Was such thing possible?

It was then a thought occurred to Delta. If she made a goblin but overcharge and ignored the mana requirement cost... what would happen to the goblin?

Would it be a super goblin or... She stared as Grim’s shaky facade broke and he just began to throw nearby rocks at Renny. His throw was weak and he was growing paler.

What would happen if a mana cap was broken for a person or creature?

Growth or death?

Renny slowed and raised both hands in a peaceful gesture but Grim was in full-blown panic mode. Renny bent down and Delta froze as he seemed to finally catch Grim’s eye.

“W-who are you?” Grim demanded.

“...” Renny replied and then smiled. Showing his maw.

Delta watched as Grim took off without a word back towards the river. Renny turned and saluted.

“Renny! I meant carry him out! He’s going to hurt himself in that state!” Delta groaned and the mime paused then took off after the boy with a quick burst of speed.

Which, of course, meant Grim tried to run faster.

Delta could only watch as Renny was force wait for Rale to fish to the boy out of the river.

“I hope we can someone to pick him up... where is Quiss or Ruli? Usually, they be here for any drama,” Delta said suddenly, talking aloud to put her restless energy to use.

She had a bad feeling but tried to ignore it as she was distracted by bloodcurdling Mushroom and Starlight mushroom tried to grow in the same spot. Bashing their caps together gently by the breeze.

It almost looked like fungal combat but Delta was sure...sure it was just her imagination. Mushrooms couldn’t wage war… just outgrow one another.

Grim was plucked from the river and Delta couldn’t help but feel annoyed. His backpack was still tightly in his grasp.

“I can’t steal from a sick kid... Ruli is gonna own me so much new stuff,” Delta sighed.

---

“Delta is going to owe me such much for putting up with this crap,” Ruli crossed her arms as she sat in the decently comfortable chair. She tilted the chair back as Mr Jones gave her a polite smile.

“I’ve heard much about this Delta. However, we’re studying the mass downfall of the 22nd king of Verluan. Can anyone in class tell me what eventually caused his reign to end?” Jones asked the empty room. Only Ruli was sat in one of the student desks.

So, she stuck her hand up.

“Death, marriage, politics, religion, dragons, ego, true ruler came back from the dead, fell down the stairs, tried to use world ending artefact thinking he was so special and it couldn’t backfire? Oh, oh! Maybe he died because he was so boring that no one wants to hear about him?” Ruli offered.

“You have your textbooks right in front of you. The answer is on the page I opened the book to. All you have to do is look down,” Jones encouraged. Ruli gave him a flat look.

“I’m not feeding your addiction to passing tests,” she calmly announced and Jones sighed.

“I am trying to complete your special education. Many rulers and gods have asked me to teach their children. Yet, it seems like you don’t seem to understand why I am doing this,” Jones sat on his desk and rubbed at his eyes. The space in the classroom seemed to sag as if to mirror the owner of the building’s mood.

“Everyone I teach has needed it. At one point or another, knowing what I taught them has changed the world. I am one of the highest knowledge demons of existence. I do not spread the word of grammar like lower beings, nor do I praise the utter truth like the special ones. I am a guiding hand of knowledge. I go where I must and pass on the right education, at the right time so the individual is armed to tackle that responsibility,” Jones explained. Ruli felt a migraine coming on.

“Then just give me that one lesson and we’ll call it a day!” she growled. Ruli didn’t know two-hoots about knowledge of any of her limbs and appendages but it sounded a lot like being forced into something and doing what she was told to do.

Two things that Ruli vehemently detested.

“I do not know what it is people need to learn exactly. I can narrow it down to a few years worth of lessons but this process is by no means a hasty one. I do this because I must. Not because I enjoy forcing you here. I enjoy being a teacher... forcing a student to learn appals me. I’ve failed if has come to such a thing but if I do not, I become... disagreeable and I happen to respect your attitude,” Jones walked closer and picked up Ruli’s textbook.

“I wanted you, as a little girl all those years ago sitting here with those ribbons and excited face, to love my classes. You did for a while then... you came to class one day and your love for words and knowledge was gone. You declared it pointless and I could never get an answer from you again,” Jones said regretfully.

Ruli remembered that day.

“Sorry Mr J, it was nothing to do with you I... forget it. Quiss will be back soon and I’ll get out of here,” she said confidently.

Jones gently put the textbook back down.

“I hope so. It would be nice to be surprised. I... have something for you, while we wait. Let’s call it free study for the moment,” Jones winked and went to his desk to get something.

He returned and placed a single sheet of paper on the desk before Ruli.

She stared at it.

Her own name, written in awkward pen, was displayed.

“This was something you took a long time ago before you lost interest and before you moved away. It’s the-”

“‘The thing I love the most’ essay. Shit, I could barely spell. Why does it have... 97% It’s terrible!” Ruli said with incredulity.

“I do not expect you to fly before you even have walked. For your first attempt and serious effort, so much that I could feel it? As a teacher, I could be no prouder,” Jones gave her a small smile. Ruli stared at it then handed it back.

“It would have made my day to see that. Sorry I missed it,” Ruli replied quietly.

“I was tempted to throw it at your mother when you were sent away. I felt some spitefulness as a teacher and as a knowledge demon when you were sent away. But I refrained. Your mother had already given several people a thrashing they would not forget for even mentioning your name. I think I may have broken her with this,” Jones mused and Ruli could read the first line barely.

I lov my mum the most! She makes me feel sphecul! I lov beeng her kid. We hunt rabits togeether!”

“Now, I’m just depressed,” she announced and Mr Jones thought about it then pulled out a sheet of paper from his jacket.

“Here we go, enjoy,” he beamed and Ruli looked at the word search puzzle.

“Jones, I’m not 8, I don’t think this is going to really distrac-, oh, I see axe...oh there's spleen!” Ruli said and grabbed her pen.

Jones shook his head and let the Ruli to it.

---

“Pic, stop and think about this,” Mila warned. She stood under the arch that announced the end of the village space proper. She looked furious.

Pic itched at his nose with a single finger, he looked down at the ground for a few seconds.

“...okay. I just did that and nothing has changed. I’m still going, so move your butt,” Pic gestured with his hands for her to shoo. His bald head could feel the afternoon sun beating down. Mila’s eyes went dark.

Pic raised one eyebrow as he stroked his long silver beard.

“You gonna bite me, girlie?” he asked with little fear. Pic knew ever emotion and reaction of Mila. The fellow elder and ex-adventurer was someone he had come to rely on like an extra limb back in the day.

It was fair to say that as much as Mila could read him, Pic could see through her as well in return.

He was about... 70% sure that he was going to be unharmed if he walked past. Mila had a tendency to keep one guessing.

“You want to go back into that hole? Dungeon or not, it was still the pit,” Mila grounded out with her arms crossed. Pic merely smiled.

This was a delicate game, their back and forward. Too hard and one of them would snap, too soft and one of them would be left in some angsty state. Thankfully, Pic had started the fight with an ace up his sleeve.

“And the pit has my grandson. Mila... my blood,” Pic pressed. Mila’s lips turned thin.

“Rushing in blindly is not going to help. If you don’t stir something from the depths of memory, you’ll crush that poor dungeon girl, Delta. You can barely stop yourself from wrecking your own stuff,” she countered. Pic rolled his tongue in his mouth before he replied.

“If simply going into the pit causes a reaction, then something is already very wrong. Mila, lose the stick up your ass and move. I’m going to go get my grandson, you can come with me or you can stay here and glare at thin air, I know you enjoy it,” Pic informed her as he walked past her. His exposed arms barely brushed Mila’s skin but it was enough to feel the sheer heat coming from the woman. Pic took out a simple cap from his pocket and covered his warm head.

“You’re burning up, Mila. I know you’re not usually this cranky, when’s the last time you let go?” Pic asked gently. The woman stiffened as though Pic had slapped her with a class-9-restricted spell.

“...Not since Ruli left with her father. You know that.” Her reply was clipped, almost reserved.

“Need to unblock yourself. Wolf-Hunter Mila been napping too long. Haldi is looking great these days. We both know what’s he been up to. Let go and enjoy yourself. Go summon your man and have another kid or something,” Pic snorted. Mila turned with a furious look on her face.

“I don’t need to summon anyone to relax, you balding ass of a man,” Mila growled and next thing Pic knew, Mila’s foot planted itself on his ass and he was sent flying down the road.

“Go get that idiotic boy of yours, find some manners while you’re at it!” Mila yelled and stormed into the village. People jumped out of way and Von the banker turned a corner, umbrella in hand with some girl at his side.

He stopped to say something to Mila and even from this distance, Pic could see Mila suddenly smooth herself out as if she finally found what she was looking for.

Von seemed to pause before he took three steps back.

Pic grinned and left before the show could begin. He had seen that song and dance enough to know the routine off by heart.

Pic turned his full attention to the task before him. He sunk his teeth into the idea that he may have to carefully move around a baby dungeon looking for Noire.

Pic frowned.

The kid hadn’t been at school or in his room. His father had been at a loss after checking those two place. Pic felt shame bubbling up as he tried to think what may have caused his grandkid to go to a dungeon.

If Pic was standing next to himself, he would punch the fool. Pic knew almost nothing about his own family. His own son Pic was confident about and got on well with. His son’s wife... he had trouble with. Details just weren’t there, he clearly remembered her as a much younger woman than the beautiful lady she was now.

Grim...

Pic barely had flashes of a baby, some strong flashes of a demanding tyke wanting meteor summoning magic or a dragon for his birthday. A weaker memory of a quiet teen at the dinner table.

Pic was sure he asked how his day was going most of the time but Grim never gave more than a weak shrug. When his parents had discovered he was gone, with a lot of family items, they had come to him right away.

Pic rubbed his beard.

His mother had been quiet as Pic’s son promised that Grim was a good kid, just a little bit unsure of himself.

Pic could understand that. Everyone had doubt about themselves during their teenage years and often long after but Grim’s mother suddenly spoke up with only one thing to say.

I don’t think he has any friends. I ask him to bring some over and he deflects. I ask him if he wants to go some gatherings or clubs and he makes excuses. A boy came once, Deo, to ask him to play. Grim... he just said no. My boy won’t talk to us but he doesn’t have anyone else to talk to. What if he needed help and I just stood around waiting instead of acting?” she asked bleakly.

Pic rolled his tongue again as his stride picked up speed.

The cost of what Mila, Haldi, himself, and Durence had done was still taxing him but with the dungeon now in place, he had some breathing room.

Pic tried to look at things as a professional as well as a grandfather. One goes to a dungeon because they want to gain something or to die.

Grim didn’t seem to flicker and wane, the boy in all his memories burned with a fierce flame. So what did Grim want from this dungeon that he didn’t get at home?

Pic felt the guilt rise up harder as he neared where the dungeon was supposedly at.

The only problem was that Pic was keenly aware the fact that Grim had never been in any heavy mana areas, let alone a normal level. Durence had been so thin on mana that kids growing up in the place turned out a little... incomplete. Nothing wrong with their mental abilities nor their bodies but like a second set of veins that remained empty all their lives.

The kids were usually exposed to enough mana over time to do small things or if they had enough exposure to other sources like magical artefacts, or the vast abilities of some of their parents it would fill faster but natural mana in the air?

Grim had never been exposed to it and Pic knew if he didn’t get Grim out the dungeon fast, he would be absorbing more mana that his body could handle. It was one of the core studies of Weissing.

Mana Poisoning. It happened when inexperienced people went deep enough into a dungeon that it was beyond their strength to endure.

A fresh kid that had never been in a dungeon could do fine in a newborn dungeon or at least a fairly young one.In a dungeon with enough levels if he went in deep enough? He’d become ill and sick after an hour or so, then if he stayed, he would eventually die.

In most cases, the first few floors were fine for the average person in any given dungeon but the bigger the dungeon or the more powerful, the faster the mana poisoning kicked in.

For someone like Grim who had never been exposed to more than a thimble of mana compared to the norm? It wouldn’t take much.

Pic himself had to travel around to get to some dungeons to expose himself to the right level of mana to get his body to adjust when he was younger. It was all part of the journey really.

The only good thing about the case was that it left no after effects when survived. Pic had never heard of mutations nor truly permanent effects to a standard case of MP overdose.

He turned the last thicket of trees and saw the entrance to the dungeon

A large rising cave with two stone doors that looked to be vanishing into the cave sides. Pic slowed as a man with no visible eyes seemed to leave the dungeon... stumble for a moment as he shrank and became somewhat gaunt. Pic watched as he turned slightly and in his arms was a shivering Grim.

Pic moved forward, carefully and forcing himself to step on twigs and kick stones.

The silent being with the white face turned to him. Still cradling Grim, he seemed unsure of Pic.

“Hello. My name is Pic. I am here to fetch my grandson,” Pic began slowly as he nodded to the sleeping Grim, backpack held like some beloved stuffed animal. The pale man tilted his head.

Pic’s mind raced. The area, the smell, the trees, the type of rock.

It all brought back unpleasant memories.

The monster and Pic’s trained mind screamed ‘monster’, had brought Grim outside instead of letting him perish in the dungeon space.

That act broke everything that Pic knew about dungeons, even the most peaceful ones. Most dungeons were like nature. What died was supposed to die to feed the next cycle of life they brought.

To see a monster breaking that simple rule was making Pic beyond nervous.

The pale man with no eyes and a cap with bells on it walked forward and held Grim out like the boy weighed nothing.

“Are you... a monster of Delta’s?” Pic had to ask, wondering if this was a rare half-breed that was just hanging around.

It nodded and Pic took Grim into his own arms. The monster backed up until he was back into the dungeon entrance, his form perking up and gaining some weight back.

“Contracted. You’re a contract,” Pic stated and the monster nodded, giving Pic a little wave as he turned to walk back inside.

“Wait!” Pic called and the clown thing looked back with another tilt.

“I will pay you back for this. I will pay Delta back for this. You have my word. My name is Yonus Pictus ‘Devourer of Demons’. I will return this debt,” he said with a solid tone. The silent clown merely nodded and the door closed on its own accord.

Pic was left alone with his grandson.

He looked down with a sigh of relief. The boy looked a little peaky and Pic put him down to check his pulse, eyes, and tongue. Clear places to check for any odd MP signs that could cause issues.

Everything checked out fine. Except for one thing that was more odd than worrying.

Grimnoire’s tongue was orange.

Pic was sure… sure that was nothing to worry about.

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