First of many 'sidestories' as voted by patrons. These are to flesh the world out ^^
Grosh Woodborn looked at his men with a grimace.
“It finally has a boss?” he repeated the words. His son, a man with more action that thinking to him, nodded stoutly.
“Snakes. Everywhere you go this thing makes snakes. Dunno if that’s normal or if it might be a little...” he trailed off as Grosh gave him a deadly look. He stood up from his chair. A wooden thing with many animals skulls fitted onto it.
The Hunter’s Throne showed power but it also showed an end of a great hunter. Unless one was willing to travel beyond the woods, through the marshes, and well... a predator knew where it belonged.
The wolf was mighty but the dragon was just unfair.
That all changed when a child fell into what seemed like an odd snake pit. They were too late to help him but the hole widened quickly and they saw that it was no mere pit. It was a cave and flowing out from the great maw was a subtle scent of Mana.
Already the monster attacks had increased. Sickly Goblins, Lizard tribes, the beasts of the deep woods... Everything had been so balanced before the Dungeon had appeared. Now Grosh could barely predict the direction of the wind over the howl of the beasts.
He had lost his youngest to an attack by Goblins. Weak things but even a dozen knives would bring down the wolf. His son rested now. Grosh turned to the gaps in the ranks. Men lost trying to explore the Dungeon.
Grosh had been to a few before but they all were all so different that it was useless to compare beyond a basic means. This Dungeon sat near a dead end cliff that used to protect the village from rear attacks and used to offer a measure of comfort.
Now it was a towering reminder of what new demon lurked behind their defences. Rough fences and quick patrols had been set up but how did one capture Mana? How did one slash a hole in the soil?
Then the snakes began to hiss.
A horrid endless noise that flowed through the night.
They all came from the Dungeon. Men coming out reported nothing but snakes. The Dungeon had a fascination with them to an unhealthy degree. Pits filled with snakes. Trip wires that dropped snakes on you. Doors that lead to rooms that when opened unleashed a flood of the little bastards.
The Dungeon itself hadn’t even bothered with decoration or proper rooms. It seemed to just want to fill every inch of itself with writhing, wriggling, hissing snakes.
But it had to obey the rules. The only thing that made any of this liveable was the Laws of Weissing. The Dungeon could not block exit nor entrance. The Dungeon could not live outside itself unless an offer is made. A Dungeon must produce mana. A Dungeon must-
“The team is ready,” a stout woman cried, her axe long chipped and bloodied from the previous night's work. Grosh stood and grabbed his spear.
“Then let us hunt,” he thundered and lead the way out of the hut that held the Hunter’s Throne.
With one last thought... Grosh wondered who would occupy it next.
Not his problem. It was never the Hunter’s problem who came after his bones long settled. The Village of Woodedly was one of practical make. No hut was made bigger than needed. No path was paved beyond the main. Water well was basic but hardly decorative. Woodedly had that trait to share with its people.
He walked past his woman. She was sharpening a long knife.
“You know what to do. If I am not to return-” he began before she poised the knife under his throat. Her red hair that of fire, her eyes like black steel, her face utterly like stone.
“Man of mine. Do not make stupid jokes. The daughters will have Rage Boar meat on the table by sundown. If you aren’t there again I will hunt you down,” she warned and stalked off. Her hips a sight to behold.
The mother to his children and a knife to his throat. Grosh could have found no finer woman if he hunted the lands day and night.
It was common knowledge after all that she hunted him and took her prize.
Allowing that little message of love to turn a small smile on his face, he turned to the men and women waiting for orders.
“You heard her. No use for goodbyes, wasted air when you’ll be seeing them all again soon,” he grumbled and headed to the rear gate of the village as wide-eyed children with their toy spears and stuffed beasts looked on as the group left.
He had been such a child once. Back then... didn’t everything seem brighter? Now these children, a product of his reign and hunting, would now suffer a very different hunt from the one he had grown up in.
For as much as they could carve out the danger of the dungeon... they could not strike at the heart. Grosh could not remove the threat and hang it on his wall. Or he could but the King’s law was a dragon stronger than he could ever be and that would mean the end of Woodedly.
For months... almost half a passing of the seasons... This Dungeon had grown. Sure, they had slowed it’s progress by starving it of wandering beasts and only sending the criminal or brave into its dark grasps but Grosh knew that each leaf that blew in, each rat that was lured in by meaty smells... each bug...
This Dungeon had seemed to manage override the local animals fear of Dungeons. It used smells of seasoned rodents or spoiled meat to make the animals ignore the sense of fear. In the woods, fear was constant but free food was not.
Inch by inch, the Dungeon had grown fat off morsels. If it managed to gain a Rage Boar or a horde of goblins… Well, Grosh knew he’d be looking at a much more vile place.
No matter what it devoured, the Dungeon of Woodedly only produced one thing so far.
They heard the sounds clearer as they arrived at the entrance. Grosh had been wrong. The Dungeon had spent some energy elsewhere. The entrance now looked like an open jaw of a snake. The crude eyes leaking what seemed like blood.
“Dramatic,” Jorna spat, a seasoned hunter who could such evil things with trap wires. She had been around for about the same length of time as Grosh. A good eye for such a place as this. Her arrows weren’t bad either.
The Dungeon Entrance was set into the cliff and the stone around it was pale white compared to the red dirt the cliff was supposed to be made up of. The ground before it was desolate and wet as if something was bubbling just below the surface.
The smell was moist and thick with the stench of beasts.
A Dungeon. How it warped everything around it. How the very balance of life in this area that had taken generations to form were now all at the whim of this accursed hole. More monsters would move in, leaving their previous homes free for more vile things to move in. Food became scarce and the Mana began to warp everything out of control. Their home...
What would become of it?
Would the children of Woodedly become infused with bestial Mana? Would they all grow scales and forked tongues? Would the taint of the Snake run free through them all?
Grosh knew there were ways of deflecting or redirecting Mana but their maintenance and cost required a grand Mage. Even then... it was not perfect.
The only way to escape Mana was to have more Mana than the outside threat or run far away.
Grosh did not want to doubt his people but a Dungeon would only grow.
Would they too become like the bird folk of the Errant Mountain? The Dungeon there had warped them all and they welcomed it.
The great lake of the west had made the people blue. Cultures build around Dungeons as their sickly Mana changed them. But for a culture to rise, their ways had to die and Grosh would fight that until the end. They chose when to change, not when this Snake pit forced them to.
“With me,” he ordered, the group of ten or more nodded. Grosh took the lead. The most dangerous spot of a hunting group but he would hardly allow some runt to take the spot.
If there was to be bloodshed then his blood would be first. Then he would blind his foes with it.
The first few steps in were safe. They must be or the Laws would be broken. The open space before him held spires of stone with crude statues of snakes curling them. Some looked decent enough to pass as rough snakes if one squinted.
“Why did we get the snake dungeon?” a younger male grunted.
“Because it obviously grew near a pit of Cliff Winders. Eat them all up and fell in love. Now it just wants to make more of them. Dungeons do that. They fixate on whatever they eat first,” an older woman explained, a well looked after bow in her hands.
“So what if we fed it a ton of healing herbs or gold then maybe it could finally be useful,” a girl snapped. Feisty but he would need to cull that idea fast as others perked up.
“Influencing a Dungeon to change to our needs is illegal by decree of the King of the land. A Dungeon cannot be made into a desired form by the locals as it would then serve only the locals. Too many Dungeons are wasted due to being nothing more than taverns on demand or Rich Spice dens. Too many Dungeons learned how to turn even those into weapons. Then all that was left was a hole that the only reward one could get out of was a stiff drink or an illegal high,” he growled.
What a waste.
This Dungeon before them seemed to being doing it all by itself. What good were snakes to the King? Hence why if he wanted help sooner or later, Grosh would have to prove this Dungeon was worthy of the King’s attention more than any other.
Any treasure... any hint of something more than snakes. Then he could get the noble bastards down here and let them deal with it. 6 months of ‘Snakes are just the beginning. Have Patience’ by the Tax Collector.
The blasted man hadn’t even bothered to tour the Dungeon like he was supposed to! Just snakes... that’s all he wrote on that clipboard.
But there had been nothing but snakes in the short skirmishes they had done.
Which is why now Grosh was going to dive deeper than ever before. The other scouts had seen a boss room being prepared and today... they had seen the door.
A boss had arrived.
He could only guess what it would be.
But the Boss was secondary to a full mapping. The most important thing was finding anything else that could raise this Dungeon’s value from a measly ‘Monster Den’ to ‘Something worth all the blasted snakes’.
He took a few more steps into the sole corridor leading in from the entrance.
“Loose pit ahead to the left. Sounds likes it’s filled with snakes,” Jorna said quietly. Grosh didn’t need this at his back. He readied his spear and gave the woman near the back who held potions and vials around her hip with a belt. Canu the Alchemist was the closest they had to a proper healer in the village.
Taking her in here was showing how desperate Grosh really was...
She threw a bubbling bottle at the pit and fire erupted, the shadowy forms of writhing snakes burning up. He shuddered as the fires showed holes, not in the floor but little rat tunnels all along each side of the wall. So many tiny little pock marks to hide a snake.
Even the ceiling held these holes.
“It’s a clever beasty. It knows how to really use snakes and our fear of them,” Jorna huffed. She reached down and used a wrapped stick to scoop up some of the lingering fire to make a torch. This Dungeon had no intention of making any light for itself. For Snakes, the dark held no danger.
“I t-thought Dungeons could only use so many monsters!” the young man, Hewn, cried. Jorna nudged the crumbling snake.
“These ain’t monsters. Just critters. Lot less limits on these and it looks like they got some pretty sharp fangs. If there aren’t any monsters in here... that’s a lot of snakes,” she mused. Hewn looked around, his sword shaking slightly.
“Hundred or a thousand. We’ll behead them all. Onwards,” Grosh growled and move on. No hole moved and no hole made even a whisper.
It was like the Dungeon had gone silent. It wasn’t use to this many people or fire.
Grosh had a feeling this place had grown comfortable as a dangerous being. It had not expected the ‘things from outside’ to use fire or present an actual threat to it. Grosh wondered if it had ever lost any snakes before.
If it just spoke or did something then Grosh could have… negotiated. Worked something out but this Dungeon’s mindset was to devour and coil, and far too shallow to have anything resembling human thought. How could a man argue with such an alien mind without it even wanting to try?
It was folly and he was reduced to mapping this area for the damned lazy Taxman.
The first room was oddly devoid of holes or snakes. Jorna choked as the walls instead had long extended curved spikes. The walls bulging as if giant snakes were trying to burst through.
“It’s an artist,” Grosh said bluntly and walked past them. Jorna watched them all with a careful eye but the room was nothing more than a place the Dungeon played in.
So far the space was straight. One room after the other. Grosh would miss this when it understood bending them into different paths and making them choose between them would double their time spent and wasted here.
Hewn moaned as he saw a thin bridge ahead in the next room. It went straight like the path but below was dark water that dozens of tiny forms slithered in.
“Cliff Winders hate water,” Jorna reminded Grosh as if he was a new hunter of the day group and not the Hunter.
“Yet, these snakes are green not red. The Dungeon is learning how to make new types. For a Critter it isn’t the worst but... doesn’t bode well for us having a clever Dungeon on our hands,” he frowned and cleared his throat.
“So keep steady and don’t fall in,” he ordered and took the bridge first. It supported his weight and it only had enough space for one person to walk across. He made it across. Jorna fired an arrow with a tight rope. Grosh grabbed it where it spiked into the wall. He tied it carefully around a stalagmite and watched Jorna tie the other end securely on her side giving the rest a secure balancing rope to use.
Not so much for coming across but just in case they had to leave very carefully.
The snakes hissed angrily all at once. They didn’t seem to like the rope nor their use of it to circumvent the bridge.
“Just because we have to play along doesn’t mean we have to do it like fools,” Grosh muttered at the red eyes of the demons. Most likely, it was the Dungeon that was being annoyed. No matter how basic of a mind it may possess... No one liked to think they were clever and then got proven wrong.
One they were all across, Grosh almost appreciated the Dungeon’s single minded focus on Snakes. No monsters made this place dangerous but also not as bad as it could have been.
The next room was a ‘nest’ so to speak. The biggest number of snakes yet covered the floor and walls before a mighty scale-covered door. Canu threw more bottles and fire erupted. Oils spread their fire quickly. Snakes burned by the dozen. The fumes not healthy in a cave but they all retreated to the water room and idly chopped or shot at any snake that slithered up the tunnel.
Once the air was semi-decent to breathe, they braved the room slowly.
Hewn carefully seemed to grow more confident as more snake bodies crumbled around his feet. He grinned and looked around.
“This Dungeon isn’t so bad. Maybe we can find a way to harvest the snake skins? Can’t healers make powerful antidotes with venom of a snake?” he asked brightly. Grosh ignored the question and Canu hummed.
“Depends. Some venoms are too toxic to really work well. But snakes are hardly a unified or simple species. Even if I did milk a snake, the substance wouldn’t last too long outside the dungeon. I would need a drop or some treasure to give the substance a lasting effect,” Canu said quietly.
“We kill a lot of snakes, yet to see anything drop,” Jorna commented to the group.
“Critters don’t often have the potential for treasure. Monsters usually do the lifting in that area,” Grosh said calmly. Hewn scowled.
“So this Dungeon ripped another potential to help our village out of our hands. I hate this place,” he complained and leaned against the wall like the arrogant youth he was.
Grosh saw it before he could react.
The dark grey wall suddenly moved and a grey stone snake that had been biding its time lashed out and bit Hewn on the neck.
The woman beside him pierced the snake with a well aimed arrow. Hewn screamed as he fell.
“It burns! It burns!” he moaned. Grosh dragged him by his feet to the centre of the room as Canu bet down to take a look.
“Stop panicking. Let me see!” she snapped and Jorna grabbed Hewn’s arms to help. The blood leaked out of his neck. Canu stripped a bandage and sighed.
“The wound leaked the venom out on its own. Blood is clean. He’s just being dramatic,” she sighed and Hewn shivered as she pressed a balm into the wound as she wrapped it up.
“Hewn, don’t touch anything. I swear to the Horned Wolf I will remove your hands myself,” Grosh warned. He didn’t need more people dead. Hewn was barely of age to join this trip and only because he damn well begged Grosh for a week straight.
Honestly, the kids tenacity wasn’t bad. Shame he was a bit better suited raising bees or helping plants grow. Fine professions but being a Hunter had its lure to the young ones.
Hewn nodded weakly and Canu helped him stand. Her medical skills a secondary gift to her love of crafting magical potions. The boy would need to leave soon but they would do it together as a group. Splitting up was a fool’s choice at this point.
“Cliff Winders. Water snakes, and now these rock snakes. More than I hoped but not as bad as I feared,” Grosh muttered. He still didn’t see anything worth it in this cave beyond snakes. How can one Dungeon be so obsessed over one thing?
Weren't these places supposed to be filled with treasure and lures?
Why did his village have to be cursed with the only Dungeon that made death?
He pushed open the door. The heavy thing was covered in rippling snake skin. Smooth and sleek as his hand pushed on it.
The space beyond showed that Grosh had it all wrong.
The Boss room was like an ancient ruin. Made of rough stone and covered in long fallen pillars and ruin. Many deep holes had been made in the walls and floors that led to who knew where.
The ceiling draped down with long vines that made the place feel old but not dead. From the middle of the ceiling a large White snake slowly lowered itself down, fangs exposed. The liquid that dribbled down from the fangs hit stone and hissed violently.
But Grosh couldn’t focus on that entirely. His eyes were drawn beyond. To the end of the room.
Because on the far side of the room two important things were visible. The back was was like a shrine. Clear cut stone steps lead up to an altar with a ten-headed snake statue leering down at the person who would pray there.
The simple table made of stone took up all the space.
One, was the Dungeon Core. It had yet to make a room for itself beyond the Boss room. It sat inside an oddly large golden chalice. The chalice was a beautiful thing with curving depictions of a snake devouring the sun stamped into its side.
Even from here... Grosh could feel the magic coming off it.
The core sat in the chalice like an egg in a cup. The Dungeon Core had not found a pit of Cliff Winders as it’s first meal.
It had devoured... become one with this magical object that must have been buried here by Grosh’s ancestors. A magical item that the core used as it’s pedestal.
The Magical item had in turn slowly merged into the core, becoming one with it.
This explained a lot. It also gave Grosh a mad smile as he saw now how he would save this village.
First, he had a to kill the large White Snake. It’s form diving into a nearby tunnel to play the ambush game with them. Snakes were all the same.
His village had hope. Cores with access to old magical items were of great worth to the kingdom.
Whatever this chalice was... it was now a symbol of hope.
If... they made it out alive.
Grosh raised his spear and leapt forward, the Hunter blood flowing through him.
Fire and venom rained down. The young were wounded and the old fought.
But as the sun set... he was home.
He was grinning like a wild beast at his shocked wife.
“Get the PeaceKeeper... he needs to get the Taxman here so I can rub his smug face in this,” he ordered. Holding up a vial of a dark golden liquid he had collected from the Chalice of the Core. Canu had almost wet herself when she studied it. He grinned as Hewn swing his new Serpent Sword, the tip hissing ever so slightly.
The Village of Woodedly would survive. The Snakes had made it so. The Chalice of the Snakes had the answer!
Grosh watched as his people cheered and even the growls of distant monsters could not dampen the spirit of the Hunters that night.