It was a force that promised the end of Mr Mushy, but also gifted him the potential of his art. Fire was a creature he didn’t understand that well but was all too eager to give it a chance. Cois had always made it seem so tame, so... innocent.
The fire he saw now was not the friend he had sought. This fire cruelly danced before Mr Mushy as his home burned. Flames that formed his pots now devoured mushrooms, heat that had been merry now blackened the green and orange of the grove.
The beauty of the flame had been taken over by the ugly scene before him. Mr Mushy had no mouth but he screamed inside as a form raged not far away.
He moved forward as the creature tried to trample a fallen form of a small human. The boar’s lazy demeanour had been replaced by some endless madness tinged with rage. The gentle eyes of Mr’s friend was gone and the beast in his place saw nothing but targets.
Mr walked forward, feeling his cap singe from the heat as the beast stomped down hard, but the fallen human was surrounded by white domes of magic. Boary bounced off it without scratching the shield.
“Kemy! Run!” a high pitched human yelled. The small one rose and when Boary rammed the shield again, the white dome flashed, making Mr’s friend fly back and crash through several burning mushroom stalks.
Mr noticed how scared the human looked now that the dome had faded. He thought of Deo, he had never looked scared.
The other boy... Grim, he had merely looked annoyed.
But this girl looked scared.
Mr stumbled as fire raged around him. Tiny mushrooms, the quiet ones, the ones that did not walk or move... exploded or crumbled into black soot and ash. Mr was confused…
Why... why had everything become so horrible?
He burst through another wave of heat as Boary stood and in his rush tackled Mr to the ground, his mad eyes no longer seeing Mr. Mr’s friend wasn’t acting like a friend...
The word repeated over and over. Had Mr done something wrong? Had the humans caused this?
Had Boary lied about being his friend?
Fire... it had taken the first of his kind. The first Mushroom Spitter. They who was not named. The sibling that never was… Now fire had come for more of Mr’s important people.
The flickering white dome began to crack as Boary rammed it over and over. The girl inside screamed as her friends tried to wade past the exploding mushrooms and dancing flames. Boary screamed in rage. The girl screamed in fear. The grove screamed in pain.
Everything was screaming.
Mother… was screaming.
It needed to stop!
He could hear Mother commanding someone else which would be a good thing but Mr had to do something now! The girl’s white sphere was beginning to gather power again and if Boary was struck by the magic again... he might be hurt beyond healing. If he broke the shield… the girl would die and Mother would…
Mr would not accept this.
The heat burned at him. His squishy skin and rounding limbs were in pain but he pushed on into the eye of the firestorm.
He narrowed his eyes. If his pots... could take this heat to be themselves... then MR MUSHY WOULD STRIVE TO DO THE SAME!
Kemy prayed that the shield would hold and if that failed, would buy them enough time as it ruptured to escape. The fire demon before her was frothing at the mouth as mini-bombs went off around it. The mushrooms, the air... the very room itself was not designed to cope or even work with the monster before her.
Kemy had the oddest feeling that this was a bad outcome for the adventurers as well as the Dungeon. Still, she’d ponder that more as Aneya peppered the Boar harder with arrows, the wooden things barely lasting more than a few seconds in the heat.
The wards Kemy employed were based on her faith and Kemy had faith in spades but… she herself had used up a lot of power so far...
The boar rammed into her dome again and the unstable substance of her faith raged back.
Without control and restraint, the faith would explode into howling fanaticism. Explode in both the literal and symbolic sense. Holy magics worked best from the back rows, where the caster wasn’t under... duress, for that very reason.
Not that Kemy liked one choice over the other.
It was explode or be smashed! Gonga was too busy doing his best to filter smoke and toxins away from the group to do anything about the raging fire. Aneya lacked the expensive magical arrows to douse or freeze the fire... and well... her leader’s sword skills started this mess.
Kemy gripped her symbol of faith and watched as the coming attack of the fire demon build up momentum. This was it.
The boar would break or Kemy would.
It was the moment of truth.
Kemy closed her eyes as her escape was cut off by another falling flaming mushroom tree. The crashing noise only outdone by the explosions of the black mushrooms it crushed.
Oddly, her last thought was not of her Goddess’ prayer or Death but concern for her friends.
Aneya would never open her heart again... Gonga would have another dark memory related to his magic... her leader would take her falling as his own failure. How sad... that her death would cause so much trouble.
Kemy’s thoughts were halted as the expected sound of roaring magic did not come but instead the noise of the pig impacting something oddly moist.
Kemy snapped her eyes open and blinked.
A mushroom man...
The Grove must have become so angry with the fire it grew legs! The creature was between her and the fire boar. One hand pushed with strain against the snout of the boar and the other pushed against her shield where holy magic crackled and flared around the creature’s fingers.
The mushroom man pushed the demonic pig back and restrained her holy fury.
Kemy looked up at the pained eyes.
The look… Kemy stumbled back, gasping as the creature’s eyes showed confused agony. Kemy had the illogical urge to apologise, but a glint of a deeper emotion shined through the pain. As the creatu-
No... as the being before Kemy pushed back his fellow monster and her empowered ward, she saw sheer will and determination. It, of all things, made Kemy feel safe. The mushroom man had small round eyes and somewhat stubby fingers, but Kemy watched as it pushed the boar back with careful force and her shield crackled harder in response.
Kemy bit her lip.
Delta’s Dungeon. The Dungeon of Durence... everything… Kemy thought about everything she had seen since she had set foot into the place. Until the boar and it being set on fire...
Kemy had this sense that things weren’t as they seemed.
That something, the oddity and the weirdness of it all... was before her in physical shape.
A monster protecting her from another monster and protecting its friend from her shield.
It wasn’t normal.
But it felt right.
Kemy ignored the yelling of her friends and dropped her shield, letting the energy that was about to erupt just... fade.
Kemy took a leap of faith as she watched the monster before her eye her. His fingers now able to reach over and... well... Kemy watched as it slowly nodded at her.
Then it used both hands to push the boar back as the fire on the back of the boar began to splutter. Kemy felt heat rush in as magic faded, her team still struggling to push past the environmental danger to reach her.
She flinched as a another large mushroom fell near her and sparks splashed across her robe, but the sparks hovered for a moment before they slowly floated backwards.
“What...?” Kemy whispered. It wasn’t just those sparks but soon whole spheres of flame were peeling themselves off from branches and the ground. Smoke and heat were lured away from Kemy and in a surprisingly short span of time... the inferno of the Grove had been reduced to a black fireball hovering over a clawed hand of a goblin.
The steaming grove made the smaller form look dangerous as his mask and staff marked this goblin as different. Goblins came as warriors, scouts, shamans... and other. If it wasn’t a chief, then any goblin that looked different was dangerous. Kemy gulped as the goblin neared, holding more fire than Gonga could handle on his best day.
The mask was of some horrid child’s idea of a dragon, the dark straw skirt and dark red pelt was close to a shaman but the staff was charred black with the tip glowing like a tree struck by lightning.
Kemy felt safe with the mushroom man, but with this creature?
She wanted to run.
“This fire... stinks of human arrogance. Done? Done destroying everything?!” the goblin shrieked. Her team surrounded her. Aneya and her leader readied their weapons but Gonga hissed harshly at them.
“It’s holding enough fire to crisp us... we’re.. outclassed. I’ve never seen a goblin Pyromancer. This one...” he trailed off as the goblin shifted his mask to reveal a very pissed expression.
“This one doesn’t like you. Get out. Get out! Before you hurt someone else!” the goblin howled. The black staff spluttered with dark fire. The mushroom man slowly lowered the boar to the ash covered ground. It petted the creature’s burned skin as the boar struggled to breathe.
“Is it-” Kemy spoke up and the goblin turned to her with his red eyes quickly hiding pain with fury.
“None of your concern. Well done, you used one of ours to harm another. Mr Mushy’s hands are burned black... Boary is dying and I… I want you OUT!” the goblin ordered, voice so guttural and fireball so black that Kemy felt herself being pulled back by Gonga.
“Time to regroup,” her lead-... Delem insisted. The mushroom... Mr Mushy... it had a name and that made everything so much worse.
Mr Mushy cradled the boar gently and rocked back and forth. The body expression... the movements... the image.
Kemy felt ill.
She... felt like the monster right now.
Aneya tugged at her hand and Kemy could see the confusion cover her best friend’s face. Delem was blank and Gonga...
Kemy had never seen him cry before.
Delta felt Deja Vu as she watched Boary slowly fade from existence. Instead of feeling better or numb at seeing the creature die a second time, the scene only made Delta go over everything again. Where had she gone wrong?
Too many explosive mushrooms. Not enough signs. Boary’s hidden form was a clue, she should have examined him closer... so many things. But it was also a lesson in itself.
There wasn’t going to be simple instances of good guys and bad guys.
Delta liked the group that came in. Kemy was sweet. Aneya acted tough but Delta smiled when she saw the affection the woman had for her team. Gonga was an idiot but he made Delta laugh... Delem was polite.
Everything had just gone wrong... then something else went wrong.
It was all because of some innocent mushroom picking.
More signs... more ideas.
“Shhh, it’s going to be okay.” she said calmly... quietly as Mr Mushy shook violently next to her. Cois eyed the dark fire before he squeezed his hand and smothered the flame, his palm burning badly but the goblin walked onwards before Delta could chide him for acting so macho.
Boary wheezed weakly. That fire form had utterly exhausted the poor pig. Delta wanted to use mana or something to help, but the group had only made it to the spider room. It seemed like they intended to leave for now.
That was fine...
On the bright side, she didn’t have to add any names to her new memorial room...
“He’s going to be okay, Boary will be back before you know it,” Delta promised her Mushroom. Mr shook his head, sinking his fist into the ground in frustration. His beady eyes met hers.
Delta had to look away.
“You can’t blame yourself,” she insisted, but Mr Mushy stood as Boary’s body broke apart into orange sparkles of Mana. The item - a cloak made from Firemane’s fur - stood out clearly. Mr Mushy picked it up and held it aloft with anger.
Shaking fists and hardened eyes seemed to settle on something.
“Mr Mushy?” she nudged with her voice.
I cannot... be gentleman.
The regretful tone hit Delta hard as her Dungeon Core powers focused entirely on Mr Mushy, allowing her to hear… feel his existence.
“Mr Mushy, one bad experience shouldn’t make you want to quit,” Delta replied quickly. To be honest, this was something Delta would have to come to grips on her own as more people set foot in her Dungeon but she hadn’t expected her monsters to overcome it first.
Cannot be gentleman... selfish. Boary will not be forced to be not-Boary.
Delta was confused, but the sudden lack of people in her Dungeon allowed her powers to be fully restored. Nu and Sys as well.
A menu immediately popped up.
“Mr Mushy... you can’t. This might make you stop being you!” Delta said immediately. Mr Mushy tilted his head.
Mr is only ever Mr. I believe... that a gentleman would do this. Even if I cannot become one... I’d like to act like one... just this once.
Delta’s arguments deflated. She could feel Nu’s hard stare in her back but he didn’t say anything.
“Please... don’t change too much,” she begged as she hit confirm. Silently, the monster before her raised a single thumb in promise.
Then he began to glow with a deep blue aura.
Maestro paused in his third-row choir grooming as they were slightly off key. He turned to stare into the distance.
“Well... I’ll be a Mushy’s brother...” he mused.
On the second Floor, Missy paused as she broke up another fight between Stars and Bloods. She blinked as something washed over her.
She sat on a rock and sang in greeting as the power rose.
“Big… brother!” she chirped.
All over the Dungeon, mushrooms perked up and then went still as an utter rule came over them all.
Delta was only aware of the Grove exploding like a techno laser party as Mr Mushy’s plump form was replaced with something a little different.
The dying of the light only made Delta stare harder.
The bowed head was a deep red cap. Ringed around the edge was a golden crown. The eyes that looked up to meet hers were still a little beady, but there was slight dark marks to show pupils of sorts. Mr Mushy’s bare and youthful face now sported a flowing beard made from fungal threads. His body was cloaked in the deep red of the Firemane’s fur, trimmed and tailored to make a royal coat.
On the back was Delta’s symbol.
He stretched out one hand and a staff... no a walking stick tapped the ground. It was crooked and knobbly with various mushrooms growing over it.
The image was… impressive and still rather cute. It was Mr Mushy still under the new accessories, after all.
“You look… pretty impressive!” Delta praised.
“I thank you,” came an amused voice. Delta froze as Mr Mushy stroke his beard and admired his stick.
“You talk! I mean, out loud!” she pointed out the obvious.
“Quite well it seems. Not surprising as I had deeply desired a dignified form before, no?” Mr Mushy nodded sagely as Delta craned her neck to the information box.
“Sovereign… and you’re not crazy!” Delta smiled. Lose the scary, out-of-control fire boar. Get a snazzy cool Mushroom king.
Win-win, thank you Sis.
“Mother... thank you for letting me take this on. I believe it is, as you would say, a feather in my cap?” He stroked his beard, pleased.
Delta felt everything in her life just click into place.
“Mr Mushy-” she began but her monster raised one hand.
“A new form requires a new name. I would think Lord Mushy would do just fine, but as you are the most important person in my life... you can call me Lordy,” he winked in a pleased secret tone.
Nu’s box dinged in question. Lordy stood up straight.
“We are fellow sirs! You are Sir Nu and I am Sir Lord Mushy!” he nodded Nu took a moment to answer.
Delta couldn’t help the relieved smile as the Grove around them slowly rebuilt itself. From the ashes arose life. From the destruction of the fire and charging of Boary came fresh mushrooms and beauty.
She felt herself think of the adventurers. Not the best first trip but Delta would have to thank them for helping find a problem that would have arisen later at a worst time.
Lord Mushy was talking about the fact Lord was his name and not a title when all around them trumpets and horns blared as Maestro’s power leaked into the room.
“Welcome one and all to a very special day. The day that I, your gorgeous Maestro, gained the bragging right to be related to royalty!” he laughed.
“Does he not know I am more proud to be related to such a superstar?” Lordy mused.
“In another Dungeon, Nu... in another Dungeon,” Delta promised. She quietly didn’t think about the 3rd floor or any chances of gambling on rare moments...
Just knowing her luck, she’d get the dragon and the demon. But also knowing her own track record, Delta was sure she could make the Dragon into a fashion critic and the demon into a chef.
It was the small things Delta took pride in.
Still, she knew she had some work to do. Figuring out if she had any other ticking boss monsters waiting for dramatic entrances was number one.
The second was to correct the issue that her first floor was...
A little fire hazardous.
The silence between them was loud. Kemy twitched as she sipped her apple cider. Aneya drank some blue cocktail she had in a fancy rimmed glass. It smelled of slime cores and perfume... Kemy wanted to try it when Aneya had her back turned!
She adjusted her web ear muffs, carefully feeling the item for any signs of reality degradation. Dungeon items broke down outside their home but thankfully having a class meant that Kemy could slow this process down greatly by replacing the breaking or fading Mana with her own!
If she was a tailor master class or something close to it, she could instantly make the item permanent!
Still, she did her best as the glossy ear muffs were really really nice.
Gonga looked sad as he was forced to drink his ale out of a bucket. He kept breaking or somehow losing his mugs and the bartender had gotten quite irate. Delem went outside for a smoke. A habit Kemy hadn’t seen before from Delem.
The act made him... real... and the effect was weird to the girl. Delem had always seemed like the unchanging and relaxing fixture of the group.
The silence was only slightly made worse by the woman.
Kemy looked up from her glass at the dark-skinned woman with dark red eyes. The red orbs moved from glaring at Aneya to meet Kemy.
Maybe… maybe Kemy should say something?
“H-h-hi... My name is K-Kemy,” she pushed out and the noise was like a bear trap. The sound wrenching and dangerous. The woman’s nostrils flared.
“Kemy. Nice name,” the woman nodded as she drained her giant mug of something in a single gulp.
“So, since you’re the only one talking and I can’t help noticing you’ve got a lovely pair of spider-web ear muffs, gonna hazard a guess you folks are the lot that went into Delta’s?” she asked. The way she said the name of the Dungeon with familiarity made Kemy’s warning senses tingle a little.
She touched the muffs gingerly.
“Yes. We’re the Scarlet Moons, the... uh... adventurers,” Kemy introduced. She saw Aneya had gone from ignoring the threat to actively sizing her up in Kemy’s defence.
The woman licked her lips dry of her drink.
“Listen, I’m just going to cut to the chase... did you hurt her? Did you kill her monsters and hurt Delta?” the woman questioned bluntly.
The bar around them went quiet as the woman raised her voice. A blond man with a scruffy beard and hard eyes stood nearby, watching the scene...and the woman... intently.
“Kill them? That place is insane!” Aneya stood and slammed her hands on the table. Kemy put a hand on her arm. Gonga’s massive arms had tensed.
Being sent running and licking their wounds had made Kemy’s friends sore and she knew that this was the last thing they needed.
Besides, Kemy finally found something she had been looking for since coming to this town.
Someone willing to talk about the Dungeon!
“Delta isn’t... she isn’t a normal Dungeon, right?” she forced the giant woman to look at her again.
Her chest ached, Kemy’s mind pushing that image of the mushroom man in pain. The way it had put itself between her and the boar. The duck that had been sweet.
The ghostly spider that could have killed them all.
“Delta doesn’t want to kill us, does she? She’s aware but she only has two or three floors. Everything was fine until we made it harder. That’s why everything... was my fault,” Kemy trailed off and stood in a slow motion.
“Girl- Kemy... listen,” the woman stood as well to easily tower over her.
“My name is Ruli and I’ve been sorta making friends with Delta so sorry if I’m a bit of a... my mother, but if you did something, Delta is most likely going to be fine, she’s a great person to a fault,” Ruli stressed.
Perhaps Ruli saw the pain Kemy was feeling or noticed how the rest of her friends were trying to keep her away from everyone else.
Kemy shook her head.
“I had ideas and... I did something horrible,” Kemy announced and looked at her group as Delem walked back in.
“I knew Delta the Dungeon wasn’t acting like what you expected and I saw how nice things were being... I kept it mostly to myself. I didn’t share my thoughts because I wanted to show how serious I was about being part of the group. I didn’t express my truth. I hid it under doubt and now... Delta suffered. I got over excited and I was the one that started the fight in the Grove by deciding I could just take things,” Kemy said calmly.
“Hun, it’s a Dungeon, taking things is part of the whole concept. You had some ideas but you know, without seeing more your suspicions was just that... ideas,” Aneya tried to soothe her but Kemy reached inside her robe and pulled out the golden hand of her devotion.
“If I find the truth, then I must follow the truth. If it becomes a lie I must better myself,” she repeated the basic core of her faith.
She had no evidence to suggest Delta was dangerous. She had more evidence to support the other point of view.
But now everything was confusing and Kemy didn’t know how to feel.
The warmth of the earmuffs mingled with the lingering smoke in her nose from the burning grove.
Which was the real Delta?
Kemy wanted to believe the kind and unique Dungeon over the one that would wait for them to drop her guard.
But with how she was feeling, the boiling sea of frustration and uncertainty... there was only one thing to do.
“Delem, I’m going to do a Seek,” she said and the man’s face turned ashen. Ruli’s anger was gone and in its place was confusion.
“In a Dungeon? That is suicide!” Aneya pushed her chair so hard back it toppled to the floor. Kemy’s eyes swung to her and she could feel the power of her faith growing as the decision was made.
“Aneya, I am going to seek the truth. I will see you in the morning... or I will meet you at the end,” she said and walked to the door. Her sister in battle and friend sat down with a pained expression. Delem moved aside without a question.
They had done this dance before and Kemy was about to leave when the giant woman, Ruli, halted her with a single hand on her shoulder.
“Maybe you should take it easy or listen to your friends,” she advised but the woman’s fingers seemed to steam just a little. Kemy bowed her head.
“Sorry, I mean no offence but I have chosen my path,” she smiled.
“I’m just going to give Delta a chance, is that okay?” she pressed. Ruli removed her reddened fingers and hesitated.
“That’s mighty kind of you, but what exactly are you going to do?” she asked as she held the door open for her. Kemy had to admit... she sort of enjoyed the looks on people’s faces when she explained this bit.
“I’m going to put on a blindfold and walk in a straight line and hope not to die!” she beamed and skipped out of the tavern.
Ruli’s face was going to keep her giggling for days to come.