Delta sat neatly on the bar stool near the end of the smoothed down the wooden surface that took up almost the entire side of the room. Her orange glowing figure looked ghostly as the cracking hearth behind her forgot to cast her shadow.
Delta idly ran her finger over a glass as she pretended the ringing noise was sounding from the glass and not her own lips.
“Ya walked into the room and I just knew ya were trouble,” the goblin tending the bar muttered as she downed the amber liquor herself. Delta gave her best mysterious smile as the bar had taken in some of her love for old 60’s detective movies. The bartender especially seemed to enjoy being the gruff goblin with a curious nose for trouble.
A fresh glass was poured and Delta almost giggled at the useless but kind gesture.If I’m such trouble, why have you not asked me to leave?” she teased and the bartender sniffed.
“Guess I got a weak spot for the strays,” she rubbed the wooden surface with an old rag. Clean but well used and well-loved despite only being hours old. Delta leaned forward and peered at her newest resident.
Goblins did not have genders but... something with the last few monsters had become screwy; Delta decided she didn’t mind the change in control or even the unpredictable outcome. The resulting Guardian of her new room was spectacular. The slightly slender form was not exactly more human or even more beautiful than the ‘masculine’ goblins. Instead of squat faces or strong features, this goblin looked more like a bird of prey.
Her long sharp nose curved down and her beady eyes were slitted with a deep gaze that seemed to gauge a person the moment she laid eyes on them. The hair was thin and cut loosely into a messy tail of black hair. The only soft feature was her lips which were full and curved more than any of the other goblins and her chest left… no illusions as to which way her body had grown in some areas, and definitely made ‘her’ the correct word.
Her own fine control when making monsters was getting worse, Delta had to admit to herself. But, like her impulse to make an inn, Delta felt no urge to fret over the outcome. She was slowly coming to terms about the simple facts of her being. Ruli... Quiss... Nu...
They had all let slip exactly what she was. A Dungeon Core. A being with no dying cells or limits to her growth. Why not have fun? The idea of fretting over every choice she made every day made her want to curl up and never do anything. Impulsive creation and new ideas would keep her going as her family grew.
The Swarthy Hog was a place of comfy rest and a bit of gruffness. It didn’t try to hide the simple yet solid tables or the cheaply carved candle holders on the wall. The Inn was more like the goblins themselves. Created cheaply but improved with skill and care.
The straw and sand on the floor and furs that lined the wall made the place gain a huntsman feel but Delta felt like a lady would enjoy the complex drinks made from mushrooms, apples, berries, fish oil, boar hair, Golden Fish scales, and well, Fera had a real knack for making up drinks when she got bored.
Fera the Goblin Innkeeper. What a gal.
Delta liked her the moment she kicked Cois’ ass into gear and made him light the room's candles. Each of the goblins seemed confused on how to treat their new family member, but respect was always somewhere in the mix.
“You look like you want to tell this tender a secret, hm?” Fera mused and Delta gave a slight smile.
“Not really a secret, but I think this is one of the better things I made,” she winked and Fera looked unimpressed.
“Doesn’t take a genius to see that, darling,” she nodded and poured herself more amber liquid from the tap. Delta hoped she didn’t get so sloshed that she started handing out freebies. She’d hate to sack a good goblin for addiction.
She ignored Cois cackling down the hall as the shadows of dancing fire roared out. Addiction came in many forms and levels of intensity.
Billy laughed demonically as Numb yelled a challenge.
“What’s the plan, Momma?” Fera asked as she rubbed the spotless counter over and over as her tip jar remained empty except the single berry from the spiders as they came to the party in the corner of the ceiling, a single thimble of the Durence brew making all of them drunk and slightly catty.
Delta mused on the question.
“Got some Frogs to check on and... well, some overdue upgrades to the fort room. It’s outdated,” she said as Fera lightly tapped the mushroom cap near the back of the bar.
“Maestro, gonna need something slow. Don’t want the boys rushing in,” she grumbled as Maestro slowly let a soft guitar resound throughout the room. A soft man’s voice called out as he sang. Something about leaving in the morning.
Delta stood and almost swayed to the song as Nu’s box slowly appeared next to her.
“Charmer,” Delta looked around the inn with extreme fondness before she moved down the tunnel to a room she had barely touched. The simple hills and wooden defences made her blush a little but it was all in the name of progress. One day wooden fences, the next? Laser controlled missile sharks.
Or something close to it.
The goblins looked at her when she approached and Nu spoke before she could.
The goblins let out a cheer and stampeded past Delta without so much as a single greeting. Delta twitched but she remained cool and collected, nostrils flaring as she rolled up her sleeves to get to work.
First, she liked the hill aspect and raised tunnel idea. It was just the rest that looked like a beginning Dungeon attempt. The Fort Room was above all else, a stalling room. It had to tire people who Delta didn’t want to come in deeper. A room Guardian before and a Guardian after should add pressure, but she wasn’t going to count on it.
She replaced the Wooden walls that were so easily hopped or burned or crushed or... Delta focused and with little effort, stone breached the mud and rose higher than Fran on Bacon could reach. Mana dipped a little low but she quickly added some parapets and a metal gate.
Overall, the room already felt about three times as tricky to breached. Delta rose up and focused on one of the towers. First, she borrowed one of Mr. Mushy’s more... stable pots and pulled up another ‘gift’ from Grim.
The pot filled with a still purple liquid that partially stuck to the sides of the pots where the air disturbed the surface before it settled. The ooze that Grim had used on Mr. Mushy. The walls, the gate, the sticky ammunition as well as the sticky patches already on the hill. Delta cheered as she left the rest up to Sis.
To let her partner work her magic in peace. Delta wandered back towards the inn and opened the menu to make sure nothing new had appeared in the short time she had been gone away.
The list wasn’t bad and Delta had no shame in letting the Inn produce the alcohol that Quiss had offered as a gift. The taste, according to Fera, was beyond intense. Her usual gobs looked a little red in the face after one drink while Fera drank the stuff casually.
“Inn, Fort Room upgrade... next on the list is seeing the Frogs,” she told a placid Nu. The sheer upgrading and building struck a peaceful cord in the menu and Nu barely argued over any of Delta’s choices.
There was a minor scuffle and Billy was sent crashing over a table as Fera sent him flying out of the kitchen where various foods cooked on a rough stove. Apple pies, their edges a perfect golden brown, sat cooling as their melted fruit filling gave off an aroma of delicious sweetness and tartness as the mana tinged fruit leaked its juicy energy.
In a large pot next to that was a big cast iron pot of creamy mushroom soup that would normally be bland, but Fera had used some of the plants on the second floor to season it and the smell was making the goblins hungry as the surface bubbled with carrots and salt. The smell captured the senses as it wafted through the inn.
The last food item was a sensual chocolate cake made from a gift of Deo’s. The chocolate was spread over a spongy cookie batter that Fera whipped up from the homemade cookies that Isanella had gifted the Dungeon. The mixture was a gluttonous mess of sugar and well-earned comfort food.
The kitchen became a treasure for all the beings of the Dungeon. Delta even knew that Fera had a single jar of supreme honey from the Queen on the second floor. The smell was enough to make even Fera drool and she didn’t accept messes in her kitchen.
Delta groaned as she couldn’t taste any of it just yet, as it was all Dungeon made.
What was worse was that tomorrow was Boar burgers and Fish Fillets covered in a mushroom gravy! Delta dragged herself away from the smells and waved sadly at Fran who was trying to bench press Bacon on his own.
Bacon was so sweet, but all he did was remind Delta of the boar burgers! Rushing downstairs, she took a deep breath as she was surrounded by wildlife. She blinked as a Bloodhare hopped past.
She wondered when Fera would grab one of those for the menu?
It took some time to track down the frogs. They weren’t exactly together. The first one was Gramps who seemed to have taken over the Frog pond cave as his refuge. The older frog was calmly meditating near the clear water, between the statues of Devina and Rale. His body slightly pulsed a deep blue and sweat leaked from his wrinkled head.
“Mother...” he whispered. If it felt odd to have an ‘old’ Frog call her mother, Delta didn’t feel it. She could almost see how young Gramps was, his outer shell a disguise for the young and curious being inside. He just hid it well.
“How are you?” she asked kindly. Gramps finally relaxed and he allowed a short gasp as he gathered himself.
“I was allowing my mind to wander. I saw many beings. Many great beings. The two-headed dragon of the white light. I saw the Fire King and Ice Queen in the endless struggles. I saw the two left eyed sheep of Opportunity. But I saw them and felt nothing for I am your loyal vassal,” Gramps grunted and tried to stand for a bow. Without the others around, the Frog tried to focus his stiff attitude to be respectful.
“Gramps... it’s okay. You don’t need to be so formal,” she instructed as Nu slid away to give them space. Delta knew between them both, she had the better ‘people’ skills. Gramps’ looked stubborn and got down on one knee.
“Instruct me, Mother,” he begged. Delta held back a sigh and rose to her full height which wasn’t much.
“I want you to look me in the eyes,” she began, his wandering gaze was beginning to worry her.
He did so almost regretfully.
“We are in the sacred place of your gift. Here... we must respect your power. Should we not live up to Rale and Devina-” he cut himself off as if cursing his own words for slipping out.
“Hm, I was very impressed with how you saw all those beings. I think you’re working very hard,” Delta idly commented and Gramps looked unsure at her sudden change of subject.
Delta could see the need to prove himself to her but nothing Delta could say would really make the old Frog feel any better. He was almost like Nu in a sense. Appeased by action. Delta was sure she was actually starting to get the hang of this whole Dungeon thing if this worked. Plus the Frog was perking up. If it made him feel better to be given a task... then Delta could handle being a little tougher than usual.
“Gramps. Keep focusing on your task. Learn how best to serve me and I will return. I will expect you to meet my eyes next time,” she almost teased. Gramps trembled but he nodded as if the task was a burden he was more than glad to accept.
“As you command! I will not fail!” he promised and made himself return back to his lotus position as the water pulsed at his energy. The Frog had a real talent for... whatever he was doing.
Nu almost sounded amused and Delta perked up at his words.
“You know where she is?” she asked brightly as they left the Frog Spawn room.
Luna peered into the water and tried to grab her own reflection. It escaped as it always did. There was something oddly alluring about something that stole her image and prevented her from stealing it back. How did it get it in the first place?
She never gave it permission. But perhaps the hot spring didn’t need her permission?
What an odd place. Why was it here? Why did Mum make this place?
Luna didn’t know and that was just fine. Luna wasn’t made to know things, she was made to...
That wasn’t exactly an easy thing to understand. Luna wasn’t a person, just like the Frog in the water. Touching it only made the Frog vanish. If someone peered too closely at Luna... the same thing would happen. The only thing Luna really had as a ‘Luna thing’ was her name. Moon.
That and being a Dungeon Monster which meant Death.
So she just pushed them together.
“I wonder if someone can just float off the moon and vanish?” she asked no one. The idea didn’t excite her so much as it gave her something to focus on. Luna needed something to be Luna.
Gramps was old and Giant was big. Rale was buff and Devina was both a female, a Frog, a magical Frog, and the older one.
Being the youngest ‘female’ Frog was a weak thing to have when a new one could be made any second. If Luna was none of the things that the other Frogs were, then what was she?
She was a reflection of someone. Luna felt that was something she could admit.
“Hey Luna,” Mum called as she walked into the area. Luna stood, her body stiff as she didn’t know whether to bow, wave, nod, smile, look away, or just plain run. Her being ached to do all of these and more. Being created, the echoes of Devina and Rale confused her. They changed too quickly for Luna to hold a solid idea of ‘what’ to do.
“Heyo... Mumo,” she grinned weakly. Her Mother paused.
“Hi Luna, you cute... tuna,” she fired back and Luna actually felt cooler compared to the powerful Dungeon core.
The shadow complained. Nu the system tool. The words were clear, but Luna couldn’t help watch it bend and respond to her Mum’s gentle touch and teasing. Nu didn’t give off the same warmth as Mum. He reminded them of their power, their potential, their... purpose.
Being stuck between the two was giving Luna a bit of a nervous tic.
“How are you getting on? You’ve taken a real shine to this place,” her creator said with audible delight. Luna guessed she had. Her urge to explore or follow Devina never really overrode her fondness for the steaming water. The place had a tranquil air to it that the Frog Pond didn’t.
The Pond felt almost religious in nature and the air just meant Luna couldn’t relax, not to mention Gramps grumbled and nagged at her to sit straighter, be more respectful, yadda, yadda.
The hot springs felt like a place of rest and Luna couldn’t deny the feeling on her soft skin.
“It’s not bad. You doing the whole ‘make sure no one is a psycho and will stab the humans’ thing?” Luna asked, twirling one finger around her head. Her mother chuckled slightly.
“No need. Wyin is in the boss room and Cois is drunk. I’m just wanting to make sure you didn’t need anything?” she asked and Luna almost wanted to say ‘a reason’.
“Nope. I’m jolly good,” she reported calmly and the glowing orange blur moved off with a cheerful wave.
Luna watched her go and then looked down at her reflection again.
If she could just reach in and touch the girl. She could maybe feel something beyond confusion and bravado.
Luna liked the hot springs. That was... something. Something she could build on.
Luna stood and began to gather rocks, her form picking up speed as she slowly put a plan together. The idea of who Luna was.
It all began with the rocks and the spring.
Delta gave the giant Frog warrior a long look as he silently guarded the log bridge, his form as still as a statue.
“You okay?” she asked uncertainty and Giant nodded.
No words, no facial expression, and no hint of what Delta should do to strike up a conversation.
“Guarding the log, huh?” she pressed on and Giant gave the log a frown, but he only nodded.
Okay, a frown! Delta could work with that. A frown suggested that Giant was unhappy with it. She guessed the log wasn’t exactly the most impressive thing to see in the jungle. Rubbing her hands together, she eyed her Mana that was just dipping below 30 but her DP still had plenty left to play around with.
She opened the menu of the log and saw Sis had already created the needed options.
Delta purchased the first one.
Giant took a step back as the log split in half and the rough sides smoothed out. The river shuddered as the bank sunk low to form a deeper ravine between the two sides of the jungle. The bridge stretched and, while the two sides were mostly made of solid rock, the middle was formed of solid looking wood.
Overall, the bridge and its reflection formed a perfect circle. Delta gave the river a wide look.
She was glad Rale could save people now, they would have to scale the cliff to get out if they didn’t wash out somewhere back upstream as the river recycled itself.
Giant took steps onto the new bridge and practised swinging his spear to adjust to the sudden space. He gave the bridge a few experimental hops, but the thing was pretty darn sturdy. Delta knew he would be able to use his bulk and speed without worrying about the bridge wobbling or throwing him off.
Giant’s quiet but deep voice sounded out and he took a kneeling spot on the middle of the bridge. Giant seemed to really like doing his duty.
Kinda like Gramps, Delta noted.
Bridge guardian. Her little John of the jungle. Least he wouldn’t have to ask any riddles about swallows to the visitors. Then again, the idea of a bucking bridge made Delta a little too amused.
Nu spoke up as Delta wandered away into the cover of trees and wildlife. Delta looked at the screen which displayed her remaining DP and Mana. She had enough to play with and start some things, but not enough to completely finish everything. Hob and Gob would have to dive deeper or begin to trade spider silk and mushrooms with the village.
“Not yet. I still have to get the little ones a good home so someone doesn’t accidentally smush them forever,” Delta reminded. Nu grumbled but he didn’t protest too much. Delta knew that the value of having monsters that didn’t need to be constantly resummoned paid for itself.
Not to mention, Delta just felt plain guilty for not securing her monster’s lives. It was just the right thing to do.
Nu seemed to joke, but Delta wanted to list how small they were with their tiny hats and baskets. The big eyes and squeaky chirps, and love for Mr. Mushy. They absolutely needed every upgrade Delta could find for them!
Delta lightly floated down the hole which lead to the Mushroom Grove and watched as the colony of pygmy mushrooms frolicked around starlight shrooms and a few gutrots. They all seemed to dance at the sight of her. Delta loved them.
Such wonderful creatures. Delta would have to maybe trap the entrance or maybe ask Devina to set spirits as guardians...
For now, she opened the menu for the grove.
Delta giggled and purchased the option to allow the cuties to be safe from now on.
The little chief closed its eyes as the room became theirs. The cache of weapons was neatly hidden under mounds of dirt as planned for their homemade traps. The act of eternal existence made the big shrine (hidden in a hut) to Mother glow. The tiny statue made from a shard of the fire crystal that a brave pygmy had risked its life to retrieve from the water of heat.
The room bulged and changed as their huts were raised on platforms of large sleeping mushrooms with no hands. The quiet ones.
Soon, Mother would gift them with more blessings and they would be her hidden knife. Unseen even by her.
As the great shadow instructed.
The room’s new power filled his body before the change was finished. The chief watched as his tiny little hands sparked with new found power. He could hear the tiny whispers of his people as they prayed to the Mother Shrine.
He stepped outside his hut, the highest building in the room now. He watched as each ‘layer’ of the village was set on bright red caps of the quiet mushrooms. Until the dark soil spread with grass and flowers below. A large round freshwater pool lined up with the hole in the sky where the intruders would fall from.
The life in the grove drunk deeply from the water as tiny tunnels went in every direction on every level. A tunnel to anywhere on the level.
The perfect ambush design.
Delta was jumping up and down as her menu said she could now have 10 of the little pygmies at once!
Delta paused and gave Nu a puzzled look.
“Tiny sweet Mr. Mushys?” she tried and Nu shook as the words scrolled over his face. A series of letters that roughly sped up to reflect laughter before Nu calmed himself.
Delta just gave him an odd look.