Kemy had been excited.
Then she had been merely entertained.
That had dwindled down to boredom after about half an hour as Delem and Aneya argued over the symbols on the door that could be rotated. Four symbols in shapes Kemy had never seen, but Dungeons always brought out the weirdest things.
The Industrial city of ‘Mollimock’ had made great progress on taking the advanced devices their Dungeon made and figuring out how they worked. Shame that most of the people there were real horrid individuals.
They shared their tech but often without a manual or instruction. Kemy guessed they all got a kick out of watching the rest of the world blow themselves up with technology they didn’t understand.
This Dungeon inventing it’s own language wouldn’t be weird. Unless it required all who entered to learn the letters and characters to progress.
Kemy bit her lip.
Would the Dungeon be an endless quest of gathering new letters and trying to piece together the words ‘trap’ or ‘boss’? Gonga offered to blow the door open, but Delem turned another circle. The smallest and innermost symbol was locked to that of a triangle with one side being thicker than the other.
It clicked and the door shuddered as it split in half and vanished into the frame of the entrance.
Kemy stood and clutched at her holy symbol for confidence as a waft of rich mana and smells of fresh earth flowed out the opened door.
“...Mana feels funny. Tickles the throat.” Gonga announced, his usual goofy attitude tempered by practise and instincts. Aneya smirked.
“I remembered the order - if it doesn’t randomise itself then we can make a fortune selling the code.” she announced. Delem nodded but he motioned for them to gather.
“Remember the rules. The party doesn’t split. We scout each room before moving on, and most importantly, watch our words. We don’t know how aware the Core may be. I’d rather it think we have an army out here or that we’re hiding something to save ourselves. Dungeons learn. Dungeons grow. Let’s not be the scraps it needs to kill others.” he grinned softly.
“The Scarlet Moons will not fade this day.” he promised.
The oath. The promise.
The words made Kemy beam as they all repeated them back like words of protection. A guild was a family. Small ones that stayed small often grew closer... that was what Kemy had seen with her own eyes anyway.
Delem led. Kemy was in the rear for support and protection. Aneya would mostly space herself out, and Gonga would go where he could blow things up with the most efficiency.
A simple party with basic Classes, but more often than not... it was this set up that got most people to at least the mid-way point of most Dungeons.
Enough to scout... explore... to be the experts until a bigger guild or Fairplay arrived.
Kemy brushed down her white robe as she was the last into the entrance hall. It was an odd scene. Kemy frowned at the tables... the door to the side, and the weirdest of all, a small rug of silvery threads surrounded by someone’s... ah... rough attempts at making pots. Kemy could see the love put into them, but...
“They’re really ugly.” Aneya announced. Delem was reading some signs and Kemy followed suit.
Two tables... two offerings bowls… two signs.
One had a nice message that Kemy liked. The other... she blinked at the rather rude message. Kemy already knew which bowl she would be offering to but...
“Is the Core trying to decide which mindset it likes?” Kemy had to ask. Delem made a noise like he was interested but also wary.
“No, it’s different words, tones, even intent. I’m thinking two authors. One has to be the Core but... nothing else can really make signs in a new Dungeon. Could it be like Gemino?” he muttered to himself. Gonga snorted.
“That’s a one in a million.” he argued as he put down the pot he was holding. The man’s rough coat crinkled and heavy stick he called a ‘staff’ but was more akin to a shillelagh clunked as he walked.
“What’s Gemino?” Kemy asked, interested. Delem eyed her for a moment.
“A city with a Dungeon to the far East. The Core had been damaged early on but instead of going mad, the damage split it evenly and it seemed to heal over. It resulted into two minds making the Dungeon... it…was...” Delem frowned as he trailed off. His lips turned into a small frown.
“A fuck-up. The floors were a mess, the monsters hybrids, the traps non-functional... the Cores fought over everything and everything was split. I heard it finally made it to the floor 10 a while back.” Gonga mused.
“If it was a mess... how did it grow?” Kemy inquired in confusion.
“The boss monsters? Yeah, I heard it smashed two monsters together in a massive mess. Deadly in ways that Dungeons with double the floors couldn’t match. Every Dungeon finds its strength eventually.” Gonga scratched his beard.
Kemy shivered and tried to imagine a Wolf and a goblin slapped together or some giant snake and a bat...
Kemy would avoid that place...
“Heard the city fell into civil war that cooled down to nasty infighting and arguing. Like the city was also split by the Dungeon...” Aneya added her own knowledge.
“You think this Dungeon has a Split-Core?” Kemy wondered. Delem shrugged.
“I think each Dungeon has its own surprises. I’m sure we’ll see when we reach the core.” He explained. His eyes lit up as he said this, showing his love for being an adventurer.
Kemy admired that about Delem. His calm attitude but also his deep love for what they did. Aneya looked at the door to the side.
“I thought Entrances could only go one way, what’s this door?” she called. That caused them all to stare at the door.
“Tradition first… then curiosity.” Delem reminded. He held out an object wrapped in brown cloth to the rude table’s bowl. Kemy walked without hesitation over to the kind-sounding sign and placed her offering in the bowl.
It was a tiny carving of her Goddess. Kemy hoped the Dungeon didn’t mind the roughness; Kemy had cut her fingers more than she cared to admit when making it.
She had only picked up the hobby because of how shopping for gifts for a stranger, even a Dungeon, made her panic. Making her own gift made the whole act somewhat more personal.
“May the Goddess of Truth lead you down a path true to your heart - er, Core.” Kemy prayed quickly. Aneya and Gonga dropped their own wrapped gifts with a bored expression.
Had she done too much? Kemy was the youngest... and newest member. Would she be as jaded as them one day?
She bit her lip then blinked as she saw Delem offering his own quiet words to the bowl.
Her heart brightened at the sight, not feeling so green and awkward when her own leader was doing the same actions.
“Kemy, have you got your potions and wards ready?” Aneya asked bluntly as she fussed over her suddenly while Gonga did the usual task of scanning for traps on the door. Aneya fixed Kemy’s hair into a professional bun and Kemy went pink.
“Aneya, I’ve got this!” she insisted but the older woman still checked her rings and necklace, each of them infused with minor enchantments.
Pricy things that only Delem had one of himself. Being the most... fragile member, the group had spent their money on making sure Kemy could take a few hits. Besides her own shield of faith... an actual shield was a good substitute.
If Kemy didn’t feel like hefting a wooden plank about, magical shields did good for a while.
Too much force from arrows or traps or even monster attacks and her expensive... novice-made shields would drop.
Not that Kemy planned on being near or close to things capable of doing such.
“Door’s fine. Should we investigate this ‘Memorial’?” he asked of Delem, pointing to the words above the door. There was a brief pause before he nodded.
“Usual entrance method.” he ordered. Aneya and Gonga took up a spot near the middle of the room, Kemy moved to the side, and Delem crouched, ready to roll to the side as he reached for the door handle.
If something did try to ambush or pull Delem in... then he would dodge, Aneya and Gonga would make the thing dead and if that didn’t go exactly to plan, Kemy would bless and shield where she could.
She knew she lacked the proper mindset for smiting.
The door opened and Delem rolled.
Nothing happened. Aneya lowered her bow, her thick leather hood making the confusion hard to see but not the way her body seemed to freeze.
“Well... look at that.” Gonga said as he walked casually into the room, eyes sweeping the floor and walls for obvious low-level traps that would be expected of a Dungeon this young.
“Names on stone... what killed them... when...” Delem pointed out as the walked into the room. It wasn’t cold like a mausoleum or a tomb, but the air held a crisp feeling of acute sadness. They all looked up the statue of a woman.
Her long dress like-skirt halted around her shoes. Her oddly silk like shirt with a necktie that seemed to reach down to her stomach. The way her hair only slightly framed her face.
Kemy looked at these details and took it in.
That was fine but it was the face.
The sheer utter sadness on the statue’s face as it stared at them as if to see into their souls. It asked one simple question and it broke Kemy’s heart.
Why? Why did they need to die?
She had to leave the room as the others probed for hidden passages or secrets. Kemy didn’t want whatever hidden wealth that room had. Not if she had to carry gold or treasure out from under that look.
Kemy prayed that she and her family would not end up on that wall.
For her sake... and the woman who the statue was inspired by. She had a feeling both of them would grieve for such a loss.
“Do you think they’ll be alright?” Dabberghast asked as she sipped her Mint Spirit. Quiss shrugged.
“They know what they’re doing. I think. I’m more worried about Delta.” the fire mage argued.
“Deary, those people are greener than my exploding cabbages.” Dabberghast said simply. Quiss could see that.
“So? The Dungeon is actively trying not to kill them. They’d have to be a special kind of stupid to die down there.” he said with a snort.
“Oh but what if they upset her? Delta is a delicate flower, and I have to admit I’ve grown to like her just a bit more than the average human.” the woman giggled. Quiss eyed her.
“If they come out with some kills under their belt, you aren’t allowed to kill them for it in return.” he reminded the druid. Dabberghast licked her lips as she finished her drink.
“Kill? No, no, my dear Peacekeeper. I have much longer punishments in mind but... I assume those would be off limit as well? My guardian could use some exercise.” the woman pouted before she grinned.
“Maybe I can sneak some Shrieking Violets into their room.” she mused aloud. Quiss actually laughed at that.
“If you wish to make Madam Ghu’s inn look... impolite, do feel free.” he offered. Dabberghast pursed her lips.
“Hm, I’d rather not bring out the cold grey for protection. Very well, but you must at least let me nag at them and tug some ears. I have been told my lectures would make trees filled with one thousand demon souls that turn into rude giants quiver...” she almost pleaded.
“You need to stop telling Jones you’d love to stuff him into your trees, the man is actually looking nervous.” Quiss didn’t exactly answer.
“But Quiss, my dear, I’m only three off from a thousand souls in my favourite tree!” came the complaint.
He was sure … almost ... that she was joking.
Quiss sipped his drink harder and wondered how the new blood would deal with...
Horribly, he had to assume.
“Should we do the challenge?”
The question came from Kemy and the other three gave her a look.
“Sweetie, we don’t do extra work when the work is already a tall order,” Aneya explained and gestured to the webbed room.
“Once we map out the simple dangers and know where everything is, then we can add extra excitement,” she explained. Kemy saw how that made sense.
The box was closed as they all declined. Kemy blinked as for a moment the box looked like it was adding new text but it must have been her jittery nervous tension making her see things.
“What kind of danger do we have?” she asked Aneya who was the expert on more natural traps.
“Spiders being the obvious. Venom and such, but Kem, what do you see?” the woman encouraged her to look again. Kemy blinked and her nerves shot through the roof.
“Shh, it’s not a test. You’ve been working hard. I know you can do this,” Aneya soothed her panic with a wink.
“I wouldn’t have any other priestess at my back. You’re my rising star,” she added casually. The praise from Aneya was a rare treat and Kemy beamed.
She turned to the room and gave it a hard look.
“Some of the webs might be linked to traps or they might be trip wires. The fruits in the middle look too obvious... I wonder if they’re poisonous? The web itself looks weird... not normal,” she listed after a moment.
“Missed potentially hidden pressure plates in the clearer sections, and the fact the bush itself might hide a monster but you did good,” Aneya said and softly pushed Kemy’s nose.
“Ya... I’m not a kid,” the priestess said, hiding her smile.
“Do we risk it?” Delem cut through their shared smile and it was back to business.
“Nah, stand back,” Gonga yawned as his hands began to smoke.
“The berries can be collected later. Our goal is to get as far as we can before anyone else,” he reminded them all. There was a beat of silence.
“Gonga, maybe we should be a little more careful-” Kemy offered before a blast of fire roared out the man’s hand and swallowed the webs, the tree, the spiders... the room.
The heat was not the greatest but it was enough to reduce everything to black ash. The smoke curled around them but Gonga easily used a cantrip to collect the smoke into a solid black marble that he threw down the hall where it exploded back into smoke.
Kemy couldn’t complain; breathing in fumes was bad for ones lungs. That was just the truth.
They slowly walked in, Aneya carefully checking for pressure plates that wouldn’t be affected by the fire.
Gonga looked proud of his work.
“A little fire and done. Really, we should blow more stuff up if it’s gonna be this easy. Nature Dungeons are my forte,” he bragged.
The room had looked pretty. The tree most of all... it had looked like a reward to her but... she was still learning.
That was when something very odd... sounded out. A collection of piano notes sounded out in a sly jingle.
“What?” Gonga looked shocked. Aneya had her bow raised in an instant. The music was soon followed by a smooth voice.
“I think it’s time for a date...” the almost girlish voice sang. Where was it coming from?
That was when Delem’s fist smacked into Gonga’ chin. A shocked silence took over, except for the music and the words.
“It’s time for the Spider Dance...” the girl’s voice laughed.
“Gonga- I didn’t-” Delem tried to explain but his foot rose so suddenly that he tried to kick the man.
“What the hell? Delem, have you lost your mind?” Gonga demanded. Aneya suddenly spun on her toes with a yelp as her foot shot out and hit Gonga on the rear.
“W-what?! My body is moving on its own!” she yelled.
“It’s time for the Spider Dance... all under her spell should LOOK UP!” The girl’s singing voice turned deep into the mirthful chuckle of a man for a moment running alongside the female lyrics.
Kemy felt her own body move, and fearing the worst, she blinked as she was pulled up into the air and put into some sitting position to watch the show.
She saw then her wrists and torso had been wrapped in a very thin wire that had been almost impossible to see in the dim room. She followed the wires to the source.
Looking up... and up...until she saw it.
A white translucent spider much larger than any other she had ever seen stared down at her. The glowing red eyes twinkled. The eight legs twitched wildly and her friends spun and twitched as they continued to assault Gonga with playful attacks.
“The madam of the first room, Lady Muffet invites her guests to dance!” the voice sang and Kemy could barely see a small mushroom near the corner of the room buzzing as the voice sang.
“Kemy, are you alright?!” Aneya yelled as her head tried to look behind her. Her body rose like a dancer on strings.
“Y-yes! There’s some ghost spider pulling your strings... uh... webs!” she called.
“Psh enough of this!” Gonga yelled and his free hand shot another fireball at the white spider...Muffet?
Was that its... her name?
The heat and flames engulfed the spider. The strings went slack and all three of her friends sagged with relief.
“Fire solves everything,” Gonga grinned triumphantly.
Kemy wanted to cheer or say something but her mind snagged on one little detail.
Kemy’s web hadn’t given or sagged.
“GONGA! YOU JUST MADE IT MAD!” she screamed.
Gonga turned with confusion but the large man was lifted off the ground and dropped twice as Aneya and Delem were put aside like toys the spider no longer had interest in. Gonga was yanked hard side to side as one of his feet was hoisted into the air.
He began to spin faster and faster as the Spider... eh.. Muffet emerged from the smoke untouched.
The mushroom buzzed again.
“With legs like those? Who needs a physical body?” the voice teased.
Gonga was yelling and cursing so much that Kemy was shocked to find a pair of earmuffs made of the silvery web lowered onto her head. She touched them gently, noticing how she was trapped but not tightly bound…
That was when Muffet the ghost Spider began to hold the man still.
It looked like the punishment was over until the very tightly twisted web began to unwind. The reversing speed spun her friend so much faster than before, she had a bad feeling as the screaming turned to groaning.
From what she could hear anyway... these earmuffs were really well made, a perfect size...
That was when Gonga threw up and Kemy heard a distant scream from deep within the dungeon.
Muffet was ready to do more but Aneya managed to loose an arrow and hit the thin wire like a pro.
Gonga dropped and he just laid there for a moment.
“I think we should regroup and leave for a moment,” Kemy suggested. Muffet looked at her, crawling closer. Kemy felt her face go pale before the spider patted her head.
Then the web vanished and Muffet seemed to melt into the shadows.
That was apparently Ghost Spider for ‘of course you will, silly human.’
Delem and Aneya dragged Gonga back and the man stumbled to his feet.
“What the hell was that?!” he demanded. Kemy lowered the earmuffs to her neck and looked sheepish as they all stared at her.
“I got a consolation prize… do they exist in Dungeons?” she asked with brightness.
The lack of answer made her wilt just a tad.
Gonga lead the way back.
“I had that... just needed the time to make the flame funnel spell work,” he said with some hurt pride and lingering nausea. Kemy wasn’t going to point out the lack of spiky objects in the room for Muffet to swing him into...
Gonga was getting his morale back with each excuse and he grinned before long.
“Let’s plan and get revenge!” he said with a boastful laugh. That was when he screamed and fell over in shock as a sign of all things popped out of the wall.
It was clearly the back of the sign but there was still text.
“Was Muffet too much for you? - Nu”
Kemy slowly put the ear muffs back on as the cursing began again.
They were warm...
Kemy wondered if placing an offering to a specific monster in a Dungeon was allowed?
She hoped the Dungeon wouldn’t mind. Kemy looked back at the blackened room, and had to be honest.
Both as a follower of the Goddess of Truth and as the kind of person she was.
Dungeon 1... Scarlet Moons 0.
Still, she got a treasure!
That had to count for something?
Ruli blinked three times at Quiss very slowly.
“You mean to tell me... that some asshat noob hero wannabes are in Delta’ place... setting shit on fire or killing everything?” Ruli asked, nostrils flaring as her hangover came in heavy. Quiss and Dabberghast shared a look.
“Delta has very good defences-” Quiss began but Ruli picked him up by his shirt.
“Delta is my friend. The girl who shits out monsters but turns them into gold? The person who made me a fishing spot? The girl who doesn’t want to kill and slapped you down like a bitch when you pushed? That Delta? It doesn’t matter if she can fend them off. I’m not going to sit here and let people torment her!” she growled.
“You can’t stop the world from coming,” Quiss said calmly despite his feet dangling off the ground. Ruli grinned darkly.
“No but I sure as hell can stop the first million,” she stated and dropped Quiss as she turned to walk back out of the village.
“If she takes the first load... I could always do another couple million on a bad day?” Dabberghast helped Quiss to his feet, ignoring the hot glare he was giving off.
“She’s a Dungeon. We can’t protect her from her own existence,” he said hotly. Dabberghast shrugged.
“Who is it for anyone to decide who Delta is? I think that’s just rude,” the woman said kindly and left Quiss alone in front of the pub.
“I know but... we aren’t doing her any favours by sheltering her. Nothing wrong with Delta learning how to deal with people...” he mused mostly to himself.
Honestly, they were acting like if Quiss saw a real monster heading towards Delta, he wouldn’t stop it.
He was just preparing for the long term.
He walked after Ruli, his body becoming a blue ball of fire, a tiny wisp in the forest as he easily overtook Ruli’s angry stomping pace. He’d give these fellows, these Scarlet Moon folks, a decent chance at Delta’s place.
Now... he just had to do it without Ruli breaking his jaw.
The group slowed as they bypassed the Spider room, as they called it; since they hadn’t left the dungeon... it hadn’t had the chance to respawn its contents, but they were wary of Muffet. Soon, they found themselves before a large pond beyond an intersection.
Aneya’s eyes lit up at the fish swimming about as Delem investigated the logs and the potential campfire he could make of them.
Kemy was smiling at the glowing mushrooms and moss on the ceiling.
She didn’t see Gonga eyeing the black duck snoozing in a tiny alcove.
Nor did she see Gonga licking his lips.
Kemy... really... wished she had afterwards. Because the challenge box appeared too late, as if to punish them for closing it last time prematurely.