Mr Jones put the test paper down and gazed up at the collection of people in his classroom.
In one hand, he held the marked test of Deo. The boy sat at front where Jones could be completely sure there was no chance that Seth, the water mage, was helping him from afar; nor Quiss... He didn’t expect it from Seth, the man had pride, but he would almost gamble on it as a certainty with Quiss.
“Tell me, how well do you all think Deo did?” he asked lightly. The question posed was open-ended but Ruli took it as a direct question.
“Given the shit eating grin on Quiss’ face, decent?” she offered. Quiss tutted.
“Ruli, you may settle for decent but I put Deo through a tough tutoring session. I feel that he fared beyond expectations,” he announced smugly. Seth gave him a blank look.
“You cannot teach beards to fly,” he pointed out. Jones blinked but he hid the smile at the language barrier. He was getting better but the man’s butchery of the local language was rather endearing.
“Birds! Birds!” Quiss argued.
“Ducks!” Seth beamed. Quiss’ face soured.
“They take down a few lords and rule a local land for a few years and no one ever lets you forget it,” he mumbled. Jones had no sympathy. Summoning Dark Drakes from the River Tohn was just asking for trouble. Honestly, the man would be doing better just setting the poor people on fire.
If they weren’t so duck-like... even the demon king would have to contend with them over some points.
Still, he saved that for another lesson.
“Deo... how did you think you did?” he asked kindly. The boy grinned and looked so happy as he spoke.
“MR. QUISS SHOWED ME SO MUCH AND TAUGHT ME A LOT IN THE DUNGEON! I WROTE DOWN SO MUCH AND REALLY HOPE YOU’RE PROUD OF ME! I’M GOING BACK TOMORROW TO DO MORE STUDYING AND I’LL BRING HOMEWORK ON WHAT I FIND!” he said as his eyes lit up.
Jones eyed the thirty pages of what should have been a six page test at most. The boy certainly hadn’t lacked answers. Jones also decided not to bring up that it was he who set the homework...
It was choosing one's battles that got them through the day.
He was about to speak when Deo carried on.
“I THINK I NEVER HAD SO MUCH FUN LEARNING! I HOPE RULI CAN SHOW ME MORE AND I WANT TO TAKE POPPY AND AMANSTER NEXT TIME!” he grinned and gathered his pencils as if to make sure he had enough resources for his self-assigned task.
Jones put the paper down and sighed heavily. The room grew tense.
“Ruli... you may leave. Mr. Brawndo has passed with flying colours. I will uphold my end of the deal,” he smiled as if a little annoyed at the outcome but not enough to raise a fuss. Ruli hollered and stood up, grabbing Seth, kissing him hard before she threw him over a desk. Quiss snorted.
“Grateful, are you-” he began but Ruli did the same to him a moment later. She cheered and threw Quiss out a window in her excitement. The window allowed the world outside to be shown and Ruli hopped through it. She hollered and yelled with joy as she ran away from the schoolhouse.
“I was just stabbed by lady of power...” Seth touched his lips, cheeks a flushed pink. Deo blinked.
“RULI SHOULD HAVE ASKED IF YOU WANTED A KISS! IT’S NOT RIGHT TO KISS PEOPLE UNLESS THEY SAY YES! I HAVE PERSONAL EXPERIENCE WITH THAT,” he nodded seriously. Jones merely watched the scene with a light amusement.
“Deo, you may go home. Seth, you may go... do whatever you wish,” he ushered the two out of his room and closed the door, waving gently at Deo’s bright smile and promise of seeing him tomorrow.
Such a good boy. Jones wandered over to his desk and flipped Deo’s test over and eyed the bright red ‘2/100’. The boy had ignored the questions and just written down what he had learned in the Dungeon. Pages and pages of rambling notes and theories on what Delta the Dungeon Core might make next or why she made what she did.
But each word... every word leaked a joy of learning this knowledge. Seeing Deo’s face when he couldn’t wait to learn more? As a teacher, it was a little amusing and frustrating. As a Demon of Knowledge? It was a gift. To see knowledge so enjoyed, so valued on its own merit in sheer childish enjoyment? Jones would be unable to accept anything less than a pass.
Still, he won’t be able to go for a drink anytime soon. Seeing Quiss’ smug expression would be a little to much, but maybe he could see this Dungeon? He suspected this was the true source of Deo’s curiosity...
He breathed deeply as he felt his pressure to teach Ruli eased. Her knowledge of Dungeons would help Deo along his path. He need not teach her anymore. She had ‘graduated’ by proxy. How odd. How very much like Ruli...
He opened the drawer and took out a bottle of deep amber liquid. The bottle had ribbons of a deep dark metal woven around it like a skeletal system. He pulled at the top of the bottle, a deep crystal stone cork, before he drank deeply as a yellow post-it note floated to the floor.
On it simply read ‘Drink to Deo’s success’.
There was never any doubt on the success. Just a matter of when.
Quiss watched as Ruli downed another mug of frothy ale. The froth gave her an elegant moustache. She sighed with deep pleasure.
“I love being an adult. I can get wasted and no one will give a damn!” she cheered as Seth sipped his small glass of exotic spring water with spirits infused in it. Quiss took his time with his own ale.
“Not entirely true.” Quiss stated with a glare but Ruli dutifully ignored him like always. No one ruins her buzz.
“So I felt like I was gone for like a week, what did I miss?” Ruli asked. Quiss thought on it.
“Me, Dabberghast, Deo, and his mother, all went on an adventure as we had to escort a Taxman about. We saw the full second floor and discovered a secret boss. There are also another bunch of unique and upgraded monsters,” Quiss summed up as the bartender brought another round. He looked sour.
“Really?! Second floor eh? What’s wrong with you eh?” she jabbed a finger at the tender. He growled.
“There is another pub nearby... I can sense it,” he stomped away. All three of them blinked.
“That’s a weird magic power. Imagine living in a big city if you can sense how many blokes pour a pint?” Ruli huffed. Seth looked pained.
“Like having many swords in my nose,” he agreed.
“That guy is the only pub in this town. I always wondered why...” Quiss trailed off before Ruli nudged him.
“So, what’s the second floor boss? Is it a frog? A bee? A giant Mime?!” she giggled as she drank more. Quiss brought up the memory.
“It’s a weirdly sexy tree,” he summed up. Seth and Ruli gave him a long look.
“Imma going need you to explain that,” Ruli stated bluntly as she pushed her hair back so she could lean on the table. Quiss gave her a huff in annoyance.
“A female tree with curves and a personality of a murderer. It’s the most dungeon thing Delta has ever made to date. Not like dryads, this thing is the actual tree,” he tried to explained. Ruli thought about it.
“Like Crushing Cypruses or Rough Rowens? But with, ya know...” Ruli jiggled her body and both men looked away, not taking the bait.
“It’s something you have to experience. I bet you’re heading there before long. Just... we saw something in the waterfall. Something huge...” Quiss’ eyes went distant.
“How bad could it be?” Ruli dismissed. Quiss stared right into her eyes.
“It made Dabberghast excited.”
Ruli’s wooden mug cracked as she gripped it.
“Something... in the water made...Holly...excited?” Ruli repeated and she began to chuckle as she drank her ale from the new crack at the bottom. The deranged look that Ruli sometimes got when her demon blood got boiling appeared and Seth inched slightly away.
“I can see it now. Delta bans everyone. Ruli is never seen again as she refuses to leave...” Quiss mused, almost hopeful.
Seth looked between them and snorted.
“Who needs unfriends when I have people of love like you...” he sighed.
“Try now,” Delta coached. The large monster of a bee settled on the even larger flower. There was a moment of held breath before it settled without breaking. Delta cheered and then stilled as her new plant shifted. The problem of trying to super mutate a plant was not without consequences.
Blooming Rence has been exposed to large amounts of Mana and evolved into ‘Vase Plant’!
The flower was a weird one. It actually drew earth up through its roots and formed a central stone pillar for the plant to crawl up. It was a weird reversal as the plant held the solid material like a leafy vase. The rock barely peeking over the rim of the plant’s highest point as greyish liquid turned solid, forming more of the stone center.
Delta was pleased, however. It didn’t have teeth nor did it have thorny vines to assault people in their sleep. That was her main worry done and gone. Now if it just stopped trying to grow into a large spire that matched the Bee spires...
It works. The large bees will be able to gather more as it grows.
As Nu pointed that out Delta frowned.
“It’s still dangerous. It has some weird acid that melts rock and dirt... like if someone hacks at it, it might rain over people, but this was just my first attempt!” she had to remind herself. At least the bees weren’t sad anymore! She’d set up a warning sign for plants in a little bit.
She looked up at something... as her Gobs returned.
Flying to the entrance, she watched with growing horror as her goblins brought a huge spider through the entrance. It dissolved immediately but... Delta could only watch as her goblins rushed out and get another one they killed.
Her mana and DP skyrocketed. Her Goblins looked to her with wide smirks.
“You guys did great! You didn’t take any bad risks, right?” she demanded but both her gobs looked confident.
“Spiders were easy! We trapped them with Hob tracking and I broke the legs off!” Gob guffawed. Delta nodded as she watched them praise each other.
So the spiders weren’t smart, or at least the lowest spider soldiers were still animalistic as far as Delta knew. Her Mana and DP had shot up 20 a piece on those spiders! She blinked at the number.
The last spiders did not garner nearly as many points. Had they changed since she had last seen them? Or had Delta’s goblins actually found spiders of a higher order without noticing?
“Great work guys! This really helps! I’ll tell Fera to give you both free drinks for the night!” she clapped her hands and smiled as her goblins cheered loudly.
They rushed off and Fera sent her a disgusted feeling but accepted the free drink order. Fera liked to hear the clink of coin... the clunk of mushrooms... the swooshing of webs... Overall, Fera liked making money even when it was technically not money.
Delta hoped to get Maestro to put good music in the place soon. He just needed time to go through Delta’s large library of... acquired tastes.
Delta had enough of Butterflies for an hour. It was a good song to grind a highscore to, but hearing it over and over as maestro begged for a machine like the one in her head was just soul crushing. The idea of Maestro forcing poor adventurers on DDR machines was amusing but Delta could barely make basic things let alone complex machines.
Delta grinned as she floated around the first floor and blinked as she found herself in the mushroom grove, watching as Boary snoozed away the day. She hadn’t been in the mushroom grove for so long...
She smiled and opened the room’s menu.
Delta blinked at the growing list of new mushrooms. Sure, it had been awhile since she had poked her nose in here but the sheer amount of new mushrooms was making her feel like she should be popping in more often.
Combined with some minor things that Hob and Gob also managed to find Delta was well off with Mana and DP.
Delta knew she should wait before spending all her DP but some of these were really good! The sheer rate that the other mushrooms spread meant that Delta might not have to purchase them in bulk for them to be found in bountiful amounts.
Delta tried to reason out the the pros and cons of the new ones. She was still not pleased about the magical mushroom or the deadly one. The tasty mushroom was nice along with the restful mushroom.
If they were cooked together... would it be the perfect supper soup?! Delta swallowed her drool and focused. She wouldn’t mind eating something, anything... even mushrooms.
A healing mushroom was good. If people understood the use then they could farm them and show the world that Delta made nice mushrooms, not just gutrot and Bloodcurdling ones. She had a feeling that having drunk adventurers might be a bad idea but...
Fera could harvest them for her brews. Mushroom beer. Delta hoped no little folk would find her dungeon... she didn’t have enough mushrooms if they got hungry. A mild peace making mushroom sounded cute! Delta also decided she did not want a firestarter mushroom when most of her floors were made of wood and green things.
Delta mused for a second longer before she purchased the tasty mushroom and the herbal one.
Delta watched as two mushrooms burst from the soil of the Mushroom Grove. The first must be the Tasty Mushroom. It was a mushroom with a white cap with what looked like natural pepper on the skin. The tiny black powder was actually pigment but it made the thing look enticing rather than off-putting. The stalk was a pale yellow and a slight slickness made it look buttery.
The other one had a more esoteric design. The fungus pulsed with a soft green light. The cap looked more like woven threads of a fine cloth than any spongy material. At the edge of the cap those thread hung loose and slightly shimmered in the green light, catching the eye.
Boary woke up and gave both mushrooms a long look.
“See! I can do this whole mushroom thing without it going horribly wrong!” Delta nodded to herself. Boary gave her a long look before he snapped down and swallowed both mushrooms. There was a moment where Delta gaped.
“I just... made those...” she said before Boary’s snout flared as his eyes lit up. On his back, two more mushrooms emerged join the rest. They were the mushrooms she had just made.
Boary quickly went back to sleep and Delta watched the scene with a long look.
“They’re going to grow on their own now... but... what the hell pig? At least save one for later!” she chided and paused as something peeked out from under a bush nearby.
It was a dark mushroom. Delta twitched as the Bloodcurdling Mushroom seemed to looked around it’s new home.
“They migrated...” she hissed. With some hope she waited, and sure enough a Starlight Mushroom appeared and tried to block the black mushroom from seeing the Mushroom Grove.
“I really have got to do something about them. Sys! Remind me to do something about that!” she called out and left the room, eager to spot her new mushrooms sprouting.
In her Sphere of existence, Sys looked at the order and blinked. She adjusted herself on the wooden chair that was her only object.
“Fix... them? Are they not working properly?” she asked herself. She pulled up the information on both mushrooms.
The screens were basic but they had an odd symbiosis going on in that when one grew, the other did as well. Delta wanted them to... not be so connected? Sys pulled a few screens around and tried to ignore the sparking screen which controlled monster templates. The window was completely orange and the data and words were now gibberish.
Sys liked it. It was different.
The new window showed they were more akin to enemy tribes fighting for supremacy than living in co-existence. Delta had brought this on herself, but Sys could fix this! She really was sure she could! She perked up and dug into the automatic-conjuration system. A minor part that waited for the clock to countdown on endlessly different projects before it produced an item.
She nudged the central control.
It acknowledged her.
“I need you to add this to the next two batches of M-2-BC and M-2-SM. Thanks.” she smiled and shut the hatch. The request was not needed. The talking was not needed. The eye to eye contact was not needed.
But... Sys wanted to try it for once. Talking to Nu was fun! Watching Delta talk to her creations and systems was fun! Sys...
It was all Sys. It was like putting hand puppets on two hands and making them talk to each other. But in the act of trying to pretend it was another being... something happened. The Central Control had held the two instructions for a moment before it gingerly did as it was told. It hesitated, tried to slot them in before it paused, and finally turned them upside down and put them into the line of processing.
Sys had not made it act confused... Sys hadn’t seen they were upside down.
Sys peered into the hatch with wide eyes and a huge smile.
Then she looked over the ‘floor’ of her space.
The hundred of thousands of hatches of different sizes and colours all briefly lit up from the darkness.
They were Sys.
But... she could always pretend for a while longer.
Delta stood up and frowned.
“Where are my darn mushrooms?” she asked then laughed.
“The day I ask that is the day I’ve gone loopy,” she admitted and looked at the storeroom. The shelves held random objects from her Dungeon. A small jar of honey from the bees, an empty mug from Fera’s bar, some Boar hair...
Her Storeroom had been collecting things it seemed. The challenge for Merry was still there and it reminded Delta she had so much to do!
But the second floor was so close to completion! Well the basic idea...
She had so much to experiment with and so little resources.
Delta shook her head.
“We take what they bring. They aren’t a hunting party, they can’t handle too much,” she reminded. Nu’s screen turned to her.
Delta tilted her head with a frown.
“Onwards! Follow Gob!” Hob pointed. Delta watched as Hob and Gob left the Dungeon with Renny in tow. In his arms, Renny carried Waddles like a loving pet.
“I just sent two goblins, a possibly evil duck, and a mime out to kill spiders...” Delta said hoarsely.
“Yeah, a raid on my sanity. I just hope no one sees them. I don’t even know how to explain it,” Delta muttered.
Ruli held her fishing rod limply to one side as the odd party marched out of the dungeon. The Goblins sang loudly as the Mime petted the duck. They vanished into the distant woods and Ruli eyed her other hand which held the bottle of dark booze.
There was a moment’s pause before she simply shrugged and took another swig.
“Quiss’ shit is good!” she burped.
She took a few lumbering steps after the party. She liked that duck! It hung out at her pond!
“Ducky!” she called, falling flat on her face as she caught a root. She looked up and a wide grin spread over her face.
“Ducky ducky!” she laughed, face so red that she looked feverish. She got up and pushed a tree out the way as she chased after the group.
The tree fell and began to roll down the decline towards the dungeon.
“NU! THE TREE GIANTS ARE BACK!”
Deep in the dark woods, the darkness inside the giant web in the middle of the Spiders’ Lair paused.
It dismissed this as an after effect of the change. Awareness and emotions were not a welcome gift... it was just getting excited as the tunnel grew closer to completion.
Mila watched the distant horizon.
A carriage with some people on horses took the long winding path towards Durence.
Young. Excited. Eager... Unprepared.
It had begun. Noland would not reach the king until at least a week or so from now, but any inn or village he stayed in... the news spread.
A party had come to seek Delta’s richess. What fools...
Mila merely walked back towards her home and saw that everyone was on or watching the streets. Each watched those flickering torches grow closer.
The world they had run from had finally decided to come to them.
Well, at least things were not going to be boring. Delta alone provided ample change to the usual dynamics. She wondered how long this peaceful act would last? Until she was driven mad?
Or would she change everything?
Mila laughed and raised one hand in the direction of the Dungeon.
“Good luck, little girl. You are gonna need it,” she grinned.
The stars twinkled as if agreeing.