Durence was a weird place with even weirder people, that was the fact of the matter. It wasn’t thought of much, not that Kemy even knew it was a place until a few days ago. Her leader, a blunt man named Delem, had.
“My Da said the place was cursed and monsters lived there. I remember it when he was teaching me the best places to hunt. I got curious but he didn’t really know too much. I was pretty sure this whole area was supposed to be Mana-Dead. Feels... pretty good so far,” he commented as they neared the town, the only light were their torches.
The gate was a simple wooden arch. No door or even any way to repel monsters. The open space made Kemy frown. Sure, magic would be good but even a damn gate would be better than nothing... were the people here so devoid of Mana that they were just waiting to die?
Ah well. The Scarlet Moon party would lend a hand to shore up any defences or handle any requests for the locals. It was their duty to be helpful in return for being given access to a new dungeon. A newborn dungeon wasn’t much, but being the first proper kingdom-sanctioned adventuring party to officially set foot in it was kind of exciting!
Kemy mused on whether they were even still alive, maybe there were a few goblins around or even a kobold? Hard to say but Kemy puffed her chest out as the mark of her Goddess glowed around her neck.
A golden hand that showed her devotion to the Goddess of Trust and Honesty. A bare hand had nothing to hide and she put on her best smile as a few locals started milling around, probably going to and from whatever late evening tasks they might have.
“Not exactly an excitable bunch, eh? We ride into town and they barely spare us a glance. Must think we’re a circus or something,” Gonga said as he looked around. He was a large man with no hair and a sizeable scar running down his face, one eye gone milky white.
Kemy gave him a look. He easily towered over most people and he looked a little disappointed. Gonga always did like attention.
He was also the group’s mage. He could split a tree in half with an axe but wanted to cast spluttering fireballs and give monsters light shocks... the group allowed it since Gonga usually ended up beating things to death with his oversized spellbook anyway...
“We may already be too late and another group is here,” the group marksman suggested. The woman had red hair and a leather outfit. The outfit had caught on every branch during their journey and caused the woman a lot of pain and irritation. But Aneya was stubborn and refused to take it off. She liked looking ‘dangerous’. Her bow skills were pretty good but Kemy had noticed during the few months since she had joined that Aneya was... competitive.
Delem shook his head.
“Hasn’t rained, unless they ran all the way here, we would have seen carriage tracks or horses at least,” he grunted and got off his horse. Aneya pursed her lips and got off as well. She walked up to a man arguing with a younger woman. The woman held a rolling pin and the man-made Kemy feel uneasy. Something about him made her necklace feel heavy.
“Velki, you can’t be a baker and a murderer of the evils of the world at the same time. I can be a banker and a badass because I am me, but it’s best not to emulate me, as it will only cause you to fail,” the man instructed.
“Pardon me, citizens of Durence. I need to know if there has been any other Adventurers coming to this... hamlet recently,” Aneya’s voice turned to a cold tone. The man paused and his head turned before his body, almost unnaturally so.
“Well, I didn’t order from the local brothel as far as I remember but I’m always happy to see my membership card is working,” the man’s grin was... Kemy worked to moved her horseback but the horse had already moved on its own. Aneya’s was shaken a bit by the man's brazen rudeness as she spluttered.
“Ex-excuse me?!” she demanded, her hand going to the knife on her waist. The man bowed.
“Von, at your service but really, we can get to the foreplay later. I haven’t been staked in so long I may need some extra oils on that blade, the old entry holes haven’t been used in a long time. Do I need to pay extra to get you to wear a nun costume? Or is your friend coming?” he asked. The woman behind him smashed the man over the head with her rolling pin.
“Oi, ‘Master’, you’re supposed to be teaching me or whatever. Do that stuff in your own time,” the woman snapped before she stormed away. The man sighed.
“Kids, once you adopt one, it expects you to actually look after it. Never have kids, you won’t fit back into that outfit, toodles!” Von, the man so elegantly dressed and with aristocrat features spoke in a manner so vulgar... Kemy felt a little shocked.
The man left them and Aneya looked furious.
“He was...not human,” Kemy hissed, her necklace very warm. The group shared a look.
“Every town has a freak or two. Ignore him. Aneya, let’s find the inn,” Delem said and led his horse deeper into town.
“Hoy there! Welcome to little Durence, haven’t seen you folks around!” Kemy turned to see a man sporting a large and friendly smile. He had some missing teeth but seemed to be a very jolly man indeed. Kemy was relieved to see he wasn’t making her necklace hot.
“Name’s Haldi, just the little ole cheesemaker of the town. Welcome, not much to see but I hope you find your feet here!” he continued.
Haldi... Haldi... that name felt... Kemy frowned, why was that name nudging something in her head.
“Thanks, maybe you can answer some questions?” Delem asked. Haldi nodded as he pulled wrapped candy of all things out of his pocket.
“Well, first have some treats,” he insisted and handed each of them a piece. Gonga looked pleased while Aneya held it like it was a rat. Gonga ate his and he blinked.
“It’s cheese. Really good cheese,” he commented. Kemy opened hers and a rich smell came out of the white ball. She smiled weakly and took a nibble.
She’d hate to upset him but if it tasted bad, she was duty bound to be honest...
The ball melted in her mouth. Kemy felt like she was somewhere far away. She floated down a warm gooey river, above the clouds made of fluffy dairy product rained shredded cheese down on her face. Her Goddess beamed down at her and threw wheels of the stuff at her like offerings.
“Oh... that... I liked that,” Kemy mumbled, drooling just a little.
“Can... I buy more?” Kemy asked. Haldi beamed. He handed her three more pieces.
“Usually I’d charge but I like you, girl. Want any more, just come visit my shop - it’s the old church!” he said and eyed Delem.
“I heard you question Von and the Miss’. No other outsiders in town aside from the local Peacekeeper’s old friend who popped in for a visit. Inn is just around the corner. Run by Madam Ghu. Nice woman but a bit stern on the payments, just remember to cough up the money and you’ll be fine!” he grinned and walked into the nearby dark building which Kemy was surprised to see was indeed a former church. Not a single holy feeling leaked off the building anymore, though...
Gonga peered at the blackboard outside.
“One cheese candy costs 500 coppers. That’s... like a months work in my town!” Gonga reared back as if slapped. Kemy looked at her pouch and considered the 1500 coppers held there. Not 1500 hundred coins of course - the kingdom had long since done away with such absurdity by using proper denominations - but still, that candy...
“He’s a scammer, nothing is worth that much in this dump!” Aneya cried and forced her candy into her mouth.
The woman went quiet and then merely urged her horse away as she turned her back on them. Kemy watched with open mouth as a few tears rolled down Aneya’s face before she pulled her hood up.
“Right... I’ll save mine,” Delem commented. Kemy followed but not before seeing the most expensive item.
Cheesecake Deluxe: 50 Gold Coins.
100 copper to a silver. 100 Silver to a gold... Kemy felt like she was looking at something she couldn’t quite wrap her head around.
“Rooms for four? We have hole in the wall for 20 copper a night, we have cupboard for 50, we have room under stairs for 100, we have unwanted-child-in-the-basement treatment for 150 copper-” Madam Ghu listed.
She was short, barely over 4 feet tall, and about as old as the earth itself.
“Can we have a room for like four people, with beds?” Delem asked, voice tight. Madam Ghu frowned.
“You sure? Expensive.” she warned. There was some eye sharing between the group. Kemy felt like crying as the prices kept going up.
“800 copper for good room and you can have it for the week since you’re first-time customers,” Ghu offered.
There was a pained silence as Delem handed the money over.
“Breakfast and bathrooms included,” Ghu added and led them towards the stairs. Kemy watched with amazement as she moved with agile grace.
On the first floor, they walked by large rooms with a single bed, a desk, a private bathroom, and even enchanted fireplaces.
“What are those?!” Aneya asked, face longing for the room. Ghu dismissed them with a ‘bah’ noise.
“Holes in the wall! Not worth your attention, good customers!” the woman beamed. They climbed another floor. These rooms had suites, and large book cases of what looked like rare tomes and a small food table for guests. The rugs and drapes were of very fine quality.
“Let me guess... those are cupboards?” Delem inquired, voice strangled.
“Yes, very good for storing junk and odd ends. Very little space for honored guests,” Ghu carried on. Kemy almost begged to be left here but the curiosity of what they hadrented was too much now.
The building only had two floors outside but they easily climbed another five flights.
Space magic, it had to be, and the woman had woven it so many times onto itself that Kemy was... actually getting a little afraid.
The rooms grew grander and more lovely. One even had a damn fountain and a garden!
“I heard a story about an inn so magical that it moved and never ran out of space. About an Inn run by a beautiful elven princess who enchanted all her rooms. Guests never wanted to leave... guests begged to stay until one day the list of requests grew too long and the inn was treated like a tourist attraction rather than a place of rest for the weary and it drove the elven princess to tears... the inn vanished one night soon after,” Delem commented as he looked around. Ghu merely snorted derisively.
“Girl sounds like she’s an airhead. Make magic inn, people gonna come and waste time, bah!” she replied. Kemy blinked at Delem, wondering why he brought that up.
“I visited it once when I was very small. It sort of looked like this,” Delem pushed. Ghu shrugged.
“Inn traded hands many time. I can’t say if it's the same, only that it's mine now. Well then, here is your room,” Ghu said, smiling as they finally stopped before the room.
It had a set of double doors, Ghu ran a hand down the surface in a specific spot and it clicked open to reveal what seemed like the entrance to some lord's mansion. A grand staircase led to an upstairs section where more rooms awaited. The floor was a hard stone but felt warm as if heated. Far above, a sparkling chandelier glinted in some unseen light. The scent of fresh flowers filled the room and paintings of great talent were hung along the wall.
Some showed the kingdom and the sunrise, others showed daring battles with knights and monsters.
To left was a giant kitchen and to the right, some drawing room with huge sofas.
“Madam Ghu will be in tomorrow with breakfast, rest well... oh weary travellers,” the small woman closed the doors and left the group alone.
“...800 coppers got us this? Did we rip off an old lady?” Aneya asked with a small voice. The only answer was the honesty Kemy had to give.
“We did and I’m not in a rush to fix it,” she stated.
“The mana in here is very different from outside,” Gonga said, speaking for the first time in awhile.
Everyone looked at him.
“It... I think Madam Ghu is holding this place together. I’m not so sure, my magic sense is as accurate as my common sense,” he guffawed and wandered off towards the kitchen.
Kemy wandered to the window nearby and looked out.
The lands beyond were lush, green, and a little fake. Like a memory half forgotten.
Ruli hollered in glee as she bent two legs back and made the spider scuttle up a tree as she directed the party this way and that way. Below on the ground, Renny itched at his chin while the goblins looked around at the five other crushed spiders.
“Gotta get these back to Delta!” Hob declared and Gob looked sad.
“I wanted to smash...” he grumbled. Waddles was fast asleep on Renny’s head like a ruffled wig. Renny pulled off one spider legs and chewed on it as he helped the goblins pile the spiders into a single mound, he lifted an invisible rope and began to drag them as if a sled had been put under the corpses.
“Can’t leave Ruli. Delta will worry!” Hob protested. Renny slowed and he looked up at the laughing maniac as she rode a spider across the trees that grew so big that it would take men hours to safely chop through.
He silently sighed and once again wondered why he agreed to leave the dungeon. Ah yes, Delta had asked politely. It had been fine until Ruli, the demon woman who had utterly crushed him before, appeared - making him freak out for a bit - but it turned out that the woman was a little...
“Shooting Spider Star!” Ruli yelled and crashed into the ground, the spider under her bulged and popped like a child’s balloon. Ruli sat there, blinking, as she still held the two spider legs that were no longer attached to any torso.
“My spider exploded,” she stated with a frown. Standing, she shook the gore off and peered around for more... fun. Renny threw one hand out and tried to drag her along but Ruli merely walked away, deeper into the woods.
The rope that only Renny could feel or see snapped as the woman walked on with her drunken haze.
They all looked after her.
“Delta be sad if she dies,” Hob reminded.
“Delta be sad if Ruli destroys forest,” Gob agreed. Renny wondered when a Dungeon core’s feelings made them all actually consider chasing the mad woman into the forest. Waddles merely hopped down and casually walked after Ruli.
That was troublesome.
The duck had power and if it was interested in something... Renny dropped the spiders and urged the two goblins after the duck and the demon woman. He missed his tent.
There was less hassle in his tent.
Something scuttled above him and he mimed pulling a string.
The tree shuddered as a unseen cannon ball tore its shadowy canopy apart and spider guts rained down on them. Renny’s patience was not unlimited and spiders really did not endear themselves to him.
Half-spider women, yes, he had known a few in his circus when it was a thriving. Nice people, made the best sweaters for winter.
Renny cheered up as he remembered his past fondly. He moved his hand over his shoulder and gripped the air and the guts and gore simply slid off his umbrella. Hob and Gob screamed and ran on ahead to avoid becoming drenched.
Tsk, you blow a few spiders up and everyone loses their heads. Like that one spider that had been dead centre of his attack.
If Delta were here would she have something to say about that?
Something about going dead ahead. Renny smiled, his large ghoulish smile revealed as he picked up another spider leg for the journey. Best not to get famished when near people.
Ruli shouted in joy in the distance. Renny didn’t hurry nor did he panic.
He simply walked at a leisurely pace while listening exploding spiders.
Pic and Mila watched as Haldi entered the the city hall. The only light a candle on the round table.
“Anything?” Mila asked without preamble.
“Nope. They all ate the cheese, the leader chewed his for a little too. No reaction, Madam Ghu promised there was no deaths. They really are just plucky youngins looking for adventure,” Haldi confirmed. Pic rolled his teeth.
“Don’t like this, but we all knew it was coming. Anyway, can wewe can put people off?” he wondered. Mila shook her head.
“Idiots travelled to a place called Shit Valley when a dungeon appeared there. I mean, if that doesn’t put people off I don’t think there is anything we could do. We adapt, we’re good at that. It’ll be fine for the first few groups but we can’t test everyone that will comes. Sooner or later, one of them will slip by,” Mila drummed her fingers.
“Well, let’s be fair, we hunted a fair bunch of them down. Still, Silence fuckers got good at hiding. Let them come, we’ll chew them up like nothing,” he growled. Haldi and Mila stared at him.
“What?” he complained.
“You said... Silence,” Mila said quietly. Pic paused then swallowed.
“Well... how about that? I remember.” he said simply. Haldi looked away.
“It’s coming. How are we supposed to plug that back up? How can we even reach it?” he puzzled. Mila stood.
“Reaching is easy, that dungeon only has one way to go so far. The other... well, I’m rapidly running out of friends so let’s hold out on ideas until we have to burn that bridge. There’s more people here, more forgotten history…... criminals…... monsters... We collected them. We promised them this was coming. We didn’t have an army before and now? We have the most dysfunctional one ever. This won’t be like last time. Durence will...” Mila closed her eyes.
Pic slammed his fist down and stood. His eyes were glinting.
“Not only that, we have that Dungeon. Delta. She likes the kids, I bet she won’t sit back idly either,” he grinned, his teeth almost animal-like as he slid them into their proper place.
“And we’re gonna have every Adventurer from here to wherever the hell Von came from on their way. The king can’t ignore that if anything happens. We’ve been waiting for this. Now, we just need to see what happens next. I bet Delta grows famous first. That should bring those combat junkies and Dungeon weirdos flocking,” Haldi mused.
The candle burned brightly in all their eyes.
“For Durence,” Mila said simply. The other two nodded.
“Aye, for the people and our kids,” Pic added.
“For a Dungeon that isn’t trying to kill us,” Haldi beamed.
“Don’t remind me. The onely time we needed a violent dungeon making super weapons and we get some friendly thing,” Mila complained. Pic shrugged.
“Yeah, but that means we get to ask Delta to make super weapons. Quiss said she’s fond of them mushrooms. Maybe we can start shipping in the banned kind? I know a man who might know some Death Swamp Druid. I bet he can ship us some Death Spores, or Giggling Caps,” Pic mused. Mila rolled her eyes.
“Psh, Pic stop suggesting that weak crap. Get her the good stuff. White Fingers... maybe some Spirit Eaters. I think they appeared near some necromancer’s tower. Oh what was her name...” Mila grumbled.
“‘Malicious The Dreadful’. I think her real name was Gina but I barely remember her,” Pic scoffed. Haldi grinned.
“She had that great laugh that made skeletons shiver. I should send her a letter. Ask her to drop by for a visit for old times sake. We didn’t have a healer for a while, remember? She pitched in and called herself a ‘Healer Who is Late’. She was funny,” Haldi mused.
“Isn’t she wanted in like every country?” Pic frowned. Mila snorted.
“Name someone over the age of 30 in this town who isn’t. That is hardly impressive!” Mila dismissed and walked towards the door.
“I’m going to go home and get my old- lady cane to whack shins with. I want to enjoy pissing people off when they come. I’ll bet you I can get a rep before you two old codgers,” Mila challenged as the other two followed.
“I can’t believe the world forgot us... I feel let down,” Haldi sighed. Pic patted him on the shoulder.
“I’m sure we’re still in some scary stories,” he comforted as the door closed.
The candle burned brightly before putting itself out.
Kemy sat up in bed, eyes wide. She gripped her necklace and stumbled to the next room and shook Delem up.
“WAKE UP! WAKE UP! I REMEMBER!” she shook him over and over. Delem blinked, keeping his sheet from slipping lower below his waist.
“Are you sleep converting again? I told you, you need to stop trying to convert barn animals to your religion-” Delem sighed but Kemy gripped his face.
“Haldi... cheese!” she heaved with panicked breaths.
“Yes... it was good,” Delem frowned. Kemy swallowed hard.
“Capital. 20 years ago! The castle was invaded by a cheese thing! The Mad Mage had the king at his mercy! Cheese, Haldi! Had cheese banned in the kingdom for 10 years!” Kemy fired these facts off quickly. Delem stood and Kemy was so upset she didn’t care if he was naked before he grabbed a pillow to cover himself.
“Kemy, the Mad Mage of Cheese is gone. He vanished. He went away,” he soothed her.
“His name was Haldi!” Kemy screamed through her teeth. Delem froze.
“He makes cheese and has the name, doesn’t make him the mage,” he argued. There was a cough from the door and they both turned to see the shadow of Madam Ghu.
“Problem, honored customers?” her voice was soft. They both stared.
“Did we wake you?” Delem asked apologetically. The Madam shook her head.
“I always listen for customers. May I help you tonight?” she repeated her request. Kemy frowned... her voice was... less gruff.
“Is Haldi the man who nearly killed the King 20 years ago?” Delem inquired, maybe in hope of calming Kemy down.
Kemy frowned and was about to apologise when Madam Ghu spoke up again.
“He had no intention of killing that king. He was quite in control and merely wanted to leave a message. Haldi doesn’t kill too often these days, honored customers. His temperament is quite good!” Madam Ghu sounded amused.
A minotaur could have charged past and Kemy wouldn't have noticed.
“If that is all, honored customers,” she bowed and when she turned towards the light, Kemy saw the wrinkled face looked... smoother, as if the woman had shaved some 20 years off in the few hours since they had last seen her.
“Forgive me, I left a window open and the fresh air got inside. I forgot how nice it was outside now. Dungeons do give lovely atmospheres,” Madam Ghu said airily as she left.
Delem, still nude, looked to Kemy with wide eyes.
“Wake everyone up!” he ordered.
This place wasn’t real. This town was hiding monsters!
If this was the town... Kemy nearly fell at the next thought.
What was the Dungeon like?!
Delta clapped and cheered as Bob wiggled to his own rhythm as his two crabs danced in synch. Bob wiggled and his high pitched screech warbled off key.
Maestro tried to provide music but Bob was having too much fun dancing to his own beat.
“Wonderful! People are going to love it when they see it!” Delta promised. She giggled as her Pygmy Mushrooms rode past on the giant Bees, using them like cowboys rode horses. It looked absolutely adorable.
This place was so lovely, she hoped Ruli or someone nice came to see it.
She paused as something caught her attention. She zoomed over and watched as something odd happened between the usually aggressive Blood Curdling Mushroom and the Starlight Mushroom.
They both appeared to be trying to grow in the same spot... Delta felt unease as the two objects actually sparked as the mana around them was heating up.
“Sys... what did you do?” she called aloud as the two mushrooms trembled. The space warped and the two were slapped together like the space had twisted their existence together. The cap grew very large quickly. The ground shuddered.
Delta took a few steps back as the unnatural actions of Sys caused something to stand up.
There was a long moment as the cap lifted up to show two glinting eyes, like two distant stars.
“I wasn’t going to say anything but you really like them mushrooms,” Luna commented as she hiked up her dress to calmly walk onto the scene.
Delta could… maybe… with some squinting, see how one would think that.
The mushroom had not only been made of the two mushrooms but somehow Sys had slipped in some... more artistic choices of her own.
The cap covered a small head with two large eyes. The hair was made of the deep black threads from the cap, the colour of the Blood Curdling. Its arms stretched out and it's skin, white and fluffy, was reminiscent of a large sweater. It was pretty short too, only coming up to about Delta’s waist.
There was no mouth, beyond a slight indentation, but the new monster did have large eyes and a button nose.
It took slow steps forward, its smallish ‘feet’ were flat things with no toes. It even had fingers that poked out from under the large fluffy sweater-like skin, barely visible.
The box appeared overhead.
Delta looked at the box and for the first time in ages didn’t run away.
She bent down and looked into the eyes. There was a calm blink as the Mushroom saw Delta.
“Blood Star, I get it is a fusion of the Blood Curdling... and the Starlight, but that is really...not a cute name. Sys... what is this?” Delta said... almost amused.
After Bob... The bees... Renny... the spiders... This thing was just not scary in the least.
Delta looked away as it sneezed. She giggled and petted it as best she could.
“This thing is adorable! I actually like it, Sys!” she admitted. A bee wandered past and the Mushroom was startled as a stinger moved past it’s face
The two starry eyes lit up like blood red orbs. Delta’s giggling died in her throat as the Mushroom blasted twin red lasers in random directions with a shriek.
There was a pause before Delta looked back at the screen.
The Mushroom blinked a few times before it waddled towards Delta and gave her a hug, mostly just hugging air.
“P...please... don’t....laser people,” Delta whispered, pleading.
The feminine looking mushroom looked up and blinked. The star-like eyes now innocent.
It was cute... Delta pursed her lips.
“Maybe a little laser if they get nasty,” she amended.
“Sys... give this one the name...,” she requested and thought about it. The little kid sibling to Maestro and Mr Mushy.
“Call her, Missy.”
Delta was running out of M names for these guys. Soon she would have to start making words up.
Besides, calling her Peach was just too easy.