Quiss watched the stone door close behind them.
The lack of sunlight, the fading of the outside world and the darkness of a dungeon always made a new adventurer pause for the first time. In that crystal clear moment, a person knows for a fact if they can live as a dungeon explorer.
A single moment of basic bestial panic that showed the true strength of your character. Some chose to ignore it and burned out fast. If they didn’t die first.
To Quiss, he wasn’t sure the same feeling would happen to any newcomer in Delta’s dungeon. Warm air flowed around them, the entrancing hall felt more like someone’s home than a pit of challenge and death.
Quiss paused, then nodded to himself.
It was a home.
“Rather basic entrance hall, what age are we looking at?” Noland asked bluntly as he began to jot down notes on a clipboard he had pulled from his bag. Quiss could see forms, references, boxes to be filled, boxes to be ticked.
How did one clipboard hold so many damn forms?
“Not long, moving on to week three,” he stated. Quiss wasn’t sure exactly how much to tell Noland. The man was only doing his job, but Dabberghast was correct. Noland was the tiny pebble that began the endless avalanche of new faces and new problems.
Dungeons attracted just as many monsters as it created. It also, Quiss had to admit, let true heroes rise. People worthy of the mantle.
They just wouldn’t be allowed to test their blades on Delta. Quiss was going to make sure of that.
He just had to make Noland see how Delta operated.
“How many confirmed deaths?” Noland moved on as Deo dropped some gum into the offering bowl while Isanella placed some homemade cookies as well.
Quiss grumbled and fished in his pocket for something.
Dangerous curse stone... Dragon fang of Ilstar... Unstable dimensional amulet of storage connected to a bank across the world... keys to his shack... something that hissed.
He tried the other pocket and found reports he needed to hand over to the elders. He debated on it, knowing he would have to rewrite them all and sighed, he opened his jacket and placed his mostly full flask of the local brew.
Enough to make his fingers tingle but not enough that he would be hiccuping spells. He was sure Delta couldn’t do too much damage with alcohol. Last time he was here, she had a duck, some goblins...
Ruli did mention a mime which was a little bizarre but Quiss wasn’t here to be a judgemental donkey’s rear.
He’d leave that job to Noland.
“One of the village and maybe a roaming party. The other casualties involve my free time, my blood pressure level and maybe some trees,” Quiss interjected as Dabberghast hid a smile. Noland looked at the offering tables.
“Quaint traditions,” he said and moved past without offering anything. Quiss didn’t bother hiding his annoyance.
Uppity city ponce.
He watched as Deo grabbed the man’s sleeve with a frown.
“MISTER TAXMAN! YOU FORGOT TO LEAVE DELTA A GIFT!” he interjected in perhaps the most non-positive tone Quiss had ever heard from the lad. Noland gently tried to pull away, frowning when Deo’s grip refused to budge.
Noland opened his mouth to perhaps say something that would let Quiss back down and have Dabberghast turn the man into compost, but Isanella stepped in behind Deo.
“Sir, quaint it may be, it is important to us and the dungeon. As a representative of the crown, are you sure you can display such disregard to our beliefs and culture?” she asked, voice a calm but stern thing. Noland turned pink.
“O-of course not. I was merely eager to get on with the journey. Forgive me,” he smiled weakly and Deo beamed, dragging the man with little effort over to the bowls.
“DELTA LIKES FOOD AND THINGS LIKE THAT, BUT SHE’D BE HAPPY WITH ANYTHING; DELTA IS REALLY NICE LIKE THAT!” he calmly told the taxman. Quiss shook his head as the man struggled to escape the boy’s grasp.
Deo was his father’s son. The man cleaved people down with a blade that usually could not be wielded by anyone other than a monster or some angsty heroic lead.
Noland dropped in some coins which appeased Deo enough he released Noland. The man grumbled and straightened the creases out of his expensive coat.
“Now that we have paid respects, can we carry on? I’d like to be back at the inn before the sun sets,” he informed them all. Quiss stared at him, imagining accidentally pushing the man into the mudpit.
It made him smile.
“Careful, Peacekeeper, every time you smile, I am sure some small cute animal explodes into a ball of fire,” Dabberghast commented. Quiss rolled his eyes but couldn’t comment as something moved down the hallway.
“A monster, ready yourselves!” Noland commanded. Deo rushed past him.
“MR MUSHY!” he waved. Noland reached out to yank Deo back but the boy moved too fast. The giant shadow stepped into the entrance hall and looked at them all.
Quiss hadn’t seen the big fellow in some time and he was sure there was something different about it. He couldn’t quite put a finger on it though. The monster looked more... animated.
Mr Mushy reached out and patted Deo’s head hard enough that Deo had to move with the gesture to avoid being pushed down.
“Taxman Noland, meet one of the many residents of the dungeon. This is Mr Mushy. I did try explaining to you on the way here that the dungeon is deserving of a rank zero threat level,” Quiss used the stunned expression on the man’s face as a chance to push his agenda.
“Z-zero? No such thing. What is this creature?” he asked, his dagger held between two fingers.
“A wonder, a beautiful gift of nature,” Dabberghast moved forward to greet the mushroom. Noland ignored her and eyed Quiss.
“Generic monster of the first floor. I am lead to believe he likes making pottery now,” Quiss remarked.
“Like? Monsters do not like. He must be a contract or some developing mutation variant for that to happen,” Noland dismissed with a glare.
Quiss honestly was not going to spend the whole trip like this.
“You asked me here for my expertise in Delta’s dungeon. You asked me here because I have been dealing with Delta since day one. You asked me here because you happened to have your head shoved firmly up your own ass. Call me a liar again and I will remove you from this dungeon as per my duties,” he warned, a lick of fire curling out his nostrils as they flared.
Noland looked at him.
“Remove me? On what grounds?” he asked, more interested than threatened.
“For causing intentional chaos to the establishing system of a dungeon. Presets have been laid down, methods of contact have been established. Stomping through them in haste to go back to your room so you can drink your watered down piss of a wine in the bathtub will not be tolerated,” Quiss grunted. Noland thought that over.
“I drink good wine,” was all he said and made a note on his board.
He crossed the room and stood, knife at his side but not raised as before. He looked Mr Mushy up and down.
Mr Mushy looked at him with curiosity.
“Greetings, monster of the dungeon ‘Delta’. I am Noland...uh... how... goes the day?” he tried. Mr Mushy placed one finger to where his mouth should have been as if thinking of an answer.
Slowly, Mr Mushy gave Noland a thumbs up on a single hand.
There was some silence as Noland looked between the thumb and his clipboard, unsure of what to write.
“THAT MEANS GOOD!” Deo supplied, helpful as ever.
“Mushy, this man is here to inspect the dungeon as his duty to the king of this land,” Dabberghast spoke gently to the mushroom. Quiss wasn’t sure why until he saw her looking past the mushroom and down the tunnel as if trying to send the words to someone else.
Dabberghast didn’t want Noland to know that Delta herself could communicate with them. He wasn’t sure why, the fact she could would go a long way to help prove how stable and safe Delta was.
Mr Mushy reached behind him and handed Noland a slightly crooked pot. The man took it gingerly as if it might bite him.
“It’s... lovely. I’ll put it somewhere,” Noland smile looked pained as he put it on the table that held the bowls.
“I’ll pick it up on the way out,” he muttered. Quiss knew that man would ‘forget it’ on the way out but as Quiss was a wonderful Peacekeeper, he would ensure it would appear in Noland’s room before the night was done...
Noland edged around Mr Mushy and made some distance down the tunnel.
“Let us continue. We really must be on our way. I don’t want anything else to come meet us or jump out before long or this whole thing will take until morning,” Noland sounded like he was trying to be helpful but Quiss just waited.
“We’ll be fine as long as we contain ourselves and move with cautio-” he was cut off as a sign popped out of the wall with a cheery noise.
Noland screeched and fell backwards, his knife buried in the signpost.
Quiss was enjoying this. Who knew having a dungeon around could be so entertaining?
Noland stood with a growl.
“Why are there signposts here?!” he turned to Quiss as if blaming the man for not warning him in time. Quiss intentionally hadn’t because the man was annoying him, so he didn’t set him on fire for the tone in his voice.
“To be helpful, see? Zero threat. Also, the sign just went back into the wall with your knife still stuck in it,” Quiss informed him pleasantly. Noland walked back and forward, jumping and even tapping the wall to make the post pop back out again.
It didn’t and Noland stared at the thin slit where the wooden post rested.
“It just stole my knife, but how did it get it into the wall? The knife is too big...” he asked himself and Quiss pushed the man onwards.
“Noland, you said it yourself, no time to waste. Come now, plenty to see, plenty to do,” he said and looked to see Mr Mushy lower his hands, probably just finishing telling Dabberghast some secret.
The woman could speak plant, so he assumed she was decent in fungus as well.
“Oh... oh!” she smiled and place a kiss on Mr Mushy’s cap. The mushroom buried his face into his hands and turned away. Quiss had never seen a blushing mushroom, but Delta did things that he just had to accept happened and he moved on as quickly as possible.
Deo looked between them as his mother casually stroked the boy’s hair.
“Deo come, let’s begin your lesson while we wait for Noland to run into the spiders,” he instructed. Deo nodded seriously and waited.
Quiss tried to recall the lesson plan and remembered geography was on the list.
“Why do mushrooms, some plants and animals like caves? What makes them so good to live in?” he asked.
Okay, Quiss hadn’t exactly looked at the lesson plan that Seth had drawn up. He would have to throw caution the wind and fill the boy’s head with whatever he could make stick and hope it was enough to free Ruli.
Deo’s face furrowed into serious thoughts. He looked at Mr Mushy before Deo took one of the mushroom’s hands and squeezed it slightly. Mr Mushy looked confused before he turned and squeezed Dabberghast’s hand, thinking it was some human ritual.
“MR MUSHY FEELS COOL AND A LITTLE DAMP SO IF HE LIVED OUTSIDE OR IN TOWN... HE WOULD DRY UP! CAVES ARE COOL AND DON’T HAVE MUCH SUN!” Deo decided.
Sure, he didn’t mention the unique ecosystem, the fact the caves often had minerals and other factors but it was a good start.
There was a sudden thud followed by loud screaming.
“Noland just found the spider room and the trip wire. That man does not do well off a horse,” Quiss muttered.
He beckoned them all to follow.
He hadn’t expected Mr Mushy to follow but decided if Noland annoyed him, he would have the mushroom sit on him.
“Now, Deo, why do spiders make web?” he asked of his student. Remembering something about biology on the lesson plan... maybe it was about frogs?
Spiders were a close second, right?
“What do you want?” Ruli asked sourly as the boy with the orange tongue glared at her.
The orange looked familiar but Ruli didn’t comment on it. The boy jabbed a finger at her desk.
“You’re in my seat,” he stated. Ruli tilted her head at him before she slowly looked around the empty classroom. Every other seat was unoccupied and free to use. As far as Ruli could see, there was virtually no difference in any of the desks to show any of them had a owner.
“Well, school’s out. Why are you here?” she asked instead of moving. The boy looked like someone who walked around with a stone in their shoe and refused to get rid of it out of pride.
In other words, the kid had issues.
“I didn’t want to stay at home. I need to write things down and review my... trip,” he trailed off before he looked at her expectantly. Ruli grinned, stretching as she spread out her body to take up as much space as possible.
“No can do. Mr Jones wants me here and here is where my ass is sitting,” she responded before wincing as Mr Jones paused in his marking of tests to give her a look.
“Grim, please sit next to Ruli. I promise I’ll have your desk returned to you before long,” the teacher said to the kid. The tone was a little affectionate and it didn’t surprise Ruli.
Almost everyone knew how much Mr Jones liked his students, even the slow and stress inducing ones like Deo and herself. The boy, Grim, sulked but did as instructed. He began to take out notes, maps, drawings, and little measuring rulers.
“Looks like stuff you can do at home,” Ruli pointed out. Grim ignored her as he began to draw and roughly make lines on his incomplete map.
“Aren’t you too old to be in school? Did you fail so badly you had to do after class lessons?” Grim snapped back, face looking irked. Ruli felt the sensation of childish joy rise up inside.
Something to entertain her!
Escaping hadn’t worked. Even smuggling herself into the large cardboard box marked for ‘Hell’ hadn’t worked. Mr Jones seemed to be omniscient in his own school.
It made picking her nose discreetly a real pain.
“Well, you see. I don’t have to answer that,” Ruli smiled, eyeing the map that was beginning to shape some very familiar rooms and tunnels.
“You been to the dungeon?” she commented lightly. Grim’s pen stuttered and he almost mis-drew a room. The store room.
For some reason, the kid had drawn a giant devil mouse face next to it.
“What makes you think that?” Grim asked testily. Ruli jabbed a bit of the map.
“The pond room has a bit more... curve at this bit. Waddles likes his space,” she pointed out. Grim froze before he quicky edited the map.
“Your spider room is missing the berry bush. I like the picture of the spider with puppet strings, did Delta do some decorating since I’ve been stuck here?” she inquired innocently.
“You’ve been to the dungeon?” he asked her. Ruli shrugged.
“Once or twice. Got some good fish there,” she mused aloud. Grim spoke without really thinking.
“I guess that would really hook you in,” he commented before he slapped a hand over his mouth. Ruli blinked for a few seconds before she slapped the desk with a large grin.
“Oh damn, nice kid! Never knew you had a personality let alone some humor!” she guffawed. Grim glared and opened his mouth before he thought the better of it.
“Delta... she’s cursed me!” he moaned and sadly doodled the pond room into completion. Ruli could see his duck drawing wasn’t half bad...
“Why is there a duck here?” Noland asked bleakley as he pulled more spider web from his hair. His slightly blotchy skin from where he had tripped into the berry bush made him look like he was bursting out in hives.
Quiss had thought he had seen something move across the ceiling but when he squinted his eyes, he couldn’t see anything.
Quiss was sure the berry juice would wash out later... sadly. Deo moved forward, waving his heart out at the fish, the duck, at his mother.
The boy liked his waving.
The duck that Quiss had conjured himself opened one eye and met Quiss’ gaze. There was a glint of recognition in the duck’s black eyes.
Quiss knew that most the ducks he summoned knew of him. He had no idea where they came from but if left to their own devices for too long, the ducks ended up overthrowing the local power.
They did vanish after a while but this one apparently managed to keep one duckie foot in the world.
At least Delta had this one mostly under wraps, he only hoped she kept a close eye on it. Noland peered into the pond.
“A thriving fishing spot, a rarity. I’m seeing a lot species and no monsters... this does make the dungeon a good point for some unique fishing,” he nodded to himself. Isanella bent down as Deo pointed.
“I CALL THAT ONE GOLDY! THAT ONE SILVERY! THAT ONE HORATIO!” Deo said and Quiss wished he could bottle just a fraction of Deo’s spirit and use it in emergencies. While he liked being a utter recluse and as rude as possible to people... he’d like to have a very nice day off once in awhile.
Maybe if he chanted a spirit medium spell on to an object and rubbed it hard against Deo... it might work. Stealing spirit or will was not his intention... but seeing if he could make an object feel like Deo’s never ending enthusiasm?
“You look like you’re trying to decide if you want to eat Deo or just simply throw science at him,” Dabberghast commented dryly. Quiss sniffed.
“One does not throw science or magic at someone. You strap them down and take your time, not that I expect a druid to know anything about subtlety,” he fired back, a little less afraid of the woman now that she had another target to focus her annoyance on.
Dabberghast merely smiled.
“Oh, I have machinations set up from years previous. I have plans that involve you that you may never see coming,” she promised. Quiss wanted to roll his eyes but there was a glint in the jolly woman’s eyes that made him felt just a touch uneasy.
“We’ve only known each other for a year or so at the most,” he reminded her. Before becoming a Peacekeeper, he didn’t know anyone in the weirdo town of Durence.
“Of course,” Dabberghast nodded gently, patting his hand reassuringly.
There was an odd noise from the pond. Noland, which had been standing closest, peered into it.
“There’s something moving at the bottom,” he informed them. That was when a giant hellish worm emerged from the pond with a fluid arch. Water rained down, the duck made annoyed noises. Noland was screeching.
Deo was pointing with excitement. Quiss was about three seconds away from burning the thing to nothing before it wriggled a few more times and flicked it’s large manables towards them, sending someone flying into the ground.
The figure flip in mid-air before landing in a graceful roll.
“Refreshing! I thank you for the trip, Bob!” the goblin called. The worm wriggled and it’s body shuddered in a farewell before it sunk out of view. Fish swam all around it, nudging it in farewell.
The goblin turned and blinked.
The monster looked familiar but the form was entirely new to him. Too calm for Cois... too animated for Billy...
Unless this was a brand new goblin, the only one left it could be was either the contracted ones or Numb.
Since he was sure had seen the gobs in the distance harvesting more for the dungeon...
“Greetings, welcome to the dungeon of my mother. Delta greets you!” the goblin dipped his head in a greeting motion.
“It is good to see you again Quiss, Mrs Dabberghast, and of course, Deo!” the goblin grinned. Noland, now soaking wet after using his own body to shield his paperwork, looked at Quiss.
“Explain!” he demanded in a tone of terror and mindless panic.
“Delta has been busy. There is a second floor and apparently a few secret passages around. I assume that was a monster of the second floor,” he answered calmly. Quiss peered at Noland as if inspecting him.
“Are you harmed?” he inquired, knowing full well the answer. Noland said nothing but began to furiously write things down on the board.
Quiss wished him luck in finding the ‘Giant hell worm’ box to tick.
“NUMB! YOU LOOK SO COOL!” Deo greeted as Isanella managed to release her grip on Deo’s shoulders. The worm had startled her, he could see her body turned to shield his, her mouth open and ready to start singing.
“I’ve seen worms like those in the deep waters of Marlon. Little things that suddenly become much longer when they reach for prey. I was finding some herbs at the bottom where no sun could reach. I had to fend a few off,” Dabberghast mused. Quiss eyed her.
“Any of them grow to be that big?” he wondered. Dabberghast looked immensely pleased as she shook her head.
“None!” she giggled.
There was a grunt and Quiss turned to see Deo and Numb gripping each others hands. Deo was beaming while Numb grinned. Their hands shook as they squeezed.
Quiss closed his eyes.
A door puzzle. Mr Mushy entering the entrance hall, a place off limits to dungeon traps and monsters. A ecosystem of unique fish. Giant Hell worms. An evolved goblin.
Delta was friendly, but he was beginning to have to agree that maybe a danger rank of zero may not exactly be honest.
It had only been a small period of time. What else could have Delta possibly have managed to conjure?
She only had access to mushrooms for heaven's sake...
“So, there’s a secret passage in the storeroom now? Who would have thunk it? Go Delta,” Ruli mused.
“Did you hear about the devil mouse? That thing is evil, never mind the secret passage,” Grim bit out. Ruli rolled her eyes.
“It’s a bloody mouse. So what was in the secret passage?” she pushed. Grim frowned and jabbed at his drawing of a door with several vines slithering through the open space.
“Never saw, but whatever it was had vines, acid and definitely didn’t like me,” he shrugged. Ruli thought about it before she snapped her fingers.
“Greater Mushy, a sour thing. Mr Mushy’s brother. Not seen the guy in a while but I guess Delta moved him. Didn’t like people from what I saw,” Ruli mused before grinning.
“I wonder what the fella’s up to now? Delta’s dungeon does things to people, sour mushrooms are not exempt,” she stretched. Grim shot her a look.
“It’s bad enough with vines and acid. Why would you want to make that worse?” he demanded. Ruli thought about it.
“Cause Delta could always use more mushrooms. Kind of her unspoken motto. I mean, I’m sure the little pissed off mushroom is fine but what do you think it’s guarding?” Ruli questioned.
In her mind, it was a secret fishing spot filled with diamond fish or rare rainbow cod...
“Hell. That’s all that dungeon offers,” Grim muttered.
He began to draw a giant question mark on the map.
Quiss stared as Mr Mushy opened the secret passage for them. It had taken some prodding from Dabberghast. Mr Mushy seemed to hear something from beyond the wall.
The storeroom was nice and simple. Quiss could appreciate the various challenges now scattering through the dungeon. Accepting them all would be time consuming and the less Noland could report back, the better. So for now, he would have to leave this ‘Merry’ to its slumber.
The secret passage opened and there came a low hum that echoed outwards. Isanella straightened and walked ahead without a word.
Deo trailed after her and looked back at them grinning.
“MUM LOVES MUSIC!” he explained as he ran after the retreating form of Isanella.
When had Delta gotten music?
Quiss felt nervous about the whole thing but when Dabberghast rushed ahead, a flush on her face and a squeal in her throat...
The feeling bloomed into a full blown migraine.