Haldi was soon joined by Pic and Mila.
The area around the Dungeon was experiencing the rushing waves of Mana as it grew it’s third floor.
“Must be a record,” Pic mused, as he rolled his silver teeth for a moment. The Mana rushed past and the barren lands drank it up even more than during the previous Mana waves. The third floor was special like that. Floors of three seemed to generate a special intense magical vibe. Mila inhaled and her eyes were slitted. Her humanity remained in control but it was clear they were all indulging on the vibes.
Pic’s teeth were creating small sparks as he ground them. Haldi was rolling a small ball of cheese over his fingers, the compact brie could be anything he so desired at that moment. He was remembering some of the things he had perfected over the years.
“Cheese Whip” was misleading to shout in battle. Claw Cheddar was amusing but left his nails smelling for days... Haldi winced as he suddenly remembered the Harmesan Lance...
He consoled himself with the fact he had been going through a phase...
Haldi formed a tiny cheese butterfly and it floated gently at the tip of his fingers.
“The Dungeon reached the first fort... fuck me, I forgot how it felt,” Mila growled as she leaned on her bow. Pic shot her an amused look.
“Wasn’t that the idea? But yeah... nothing like that feeling to bring back bad memories,” he agreed after a moment. They stood at the gate and behind them, another layer of Durence awoke. The hidden and slumbering parts that would only awaken when things would pick up.
The few odd spots. Paige’s book store... the Inn, and a few select others had never been reduced like others had... but now the more extreme elements were beginning to break free from the grey.
“I wonder if Sir Gloric Dawnbringer is going to join us for a drink soon?” Haldi said brightly. Pic grinned but Mila went pale.
“If there is any mercy left in this world... I would have hoped to be both blind and deaf before he came around,” she grimaced.
Sir Gloric was a tad bit... bright. But he was a knight of the Sun God, those fellows tended to be cheery at the worst of times. Pic rubbed his chin.
“I should introduce Grimnoire to him, the boy could use a positive influence in his life besides that Deo lad. I dare say Deo and Gloric would get along just grandly,” the man agreed. Mila looked like Pic had just stabbed her.
“Introduce them and I will hunt you down,” she warned. Haldi was glad to see his friends returning, second by second. The people they were had slipped back in. Even now, he could almost feel Durence beside them, getting fired up about challenging the sun knight to a duel.
Gods... he missed Dure.
Still, it wasn’t all cheese and rainbows.
“Could mean Thomas Darkblade might actually come out his basement from hunting dire rats,” he said and the mood dropped.
“I thought we buried him?” Pic whispered aghast. Mila frowned.
“No I think we just told him there was a secret boss if he killed 100 rats in his basement. I only released 99 so he never came out as the grey got to him... fuck. He might come out of his basement,” she cursed louder and louder.
Haldi turned to see the town they had built. Was it just his imagination or did the flowers bloom faster? Were the birds singing in almost jolly tones?
Was Durence experiencing life for the first time proper? What would happen to the children? The newcomers that had come to fade?
Haldi shivered as the shaking in the ground went crazy and the Mana peaked.
Mila opened her mouth and a rear end of a Giant Spider landed on her, cutting her off as it crashed loudly, crushing Mila under it.
Pic and Haldi shared a look, both doing their best not to smile as the corpse began to shake violently.
“You have something in your hair,” Pic pointed at the giant spider. Well, not even “giant” covered this beast. Titan? Colossus?
Mila lifted the thing with one hand as ichor ran down her usually clean features. The mix of blood and venom having no effect on Mila as she had been eating things far more toxic for fun in her youth.
“Could have left your horrid sense of humor in the grey,” she snapped and threw the spider to the side.
“But the grey doesn’t appreciate me like you do,” Pic said in mock flattery. He eyed the spider.
“Haven’t seen them this big since the time Haldi left his cheese packets open when we camped near Thortan. I swear I was still asleep when you all cut me free from the cocoon. Barely felt anything,” he chuckled.
“I remember someone screaming,” Haldi disagreed and Mila just smirked.
This was good... Haldi breathed and every moment, he noticed how much he missed his friends.
They all let the smiles fade as they turned to the Dungeon.
“What’s the plan?” Pic said, voice gruff as he turned to business. Mila flicked goo off her bow and said slowly.
“Let’s see what Delta can do. She’s a Dungeon and might be able to mount counter measures we can’t. The first three forts are jokes now... unless they all learned new tricks. It’s the Church we want,” Mila said bluntly.
“She might struggle. It would be wise if we help her,” Haldi frowned. Pic and Mila shot him a look.
“We go in there, then our brains get picked clean and it remembers even faster. It can cover the weaknesses we abused. We go in, then the Church goes from nearly-impossible to we-might-as-well-just-shoot-ourselves. We cannot go into that Dungeon until the last moment,” Mila said as clearly as she could make herself heard.
Haldi eyed the blue skies above.
“So what good are we?” he sighed, already knowing the answer.
“We gathered powerful people... those who know nothing but are eager for a true fight. They could have kicked our collective rears 30 years ago. If the worst comes to the worst... we have an army sitting on the doorstep. Best case... we have powerful resources to train Nature’s strongest cleaning machine to treat this sore on the world,” Mila turned, walking back into the village.
“We did do everything to make sure a dungeon would come... anything after that is up to the little miss in the Dungeon. We can only wait and see, eh?” Pic smiled, showing his powerful teeth.
Haldi remembered that...
“I just want to show we can still help,” he complained as he walked with his friends, hands behind his back.
“Make sure the new blood aren’t agents and drop some cheese chimeras in for the Dungeon to abuse,” Pic suggested and Haldi did his best impression of Mila, knowing the woman could hear him.
“Directing the Dungeon’s growth is against the Rules of the Kingdom! I can’t be arsed with the paperwork,” he said with a mock growl. This got a laugh out of Pic and Haldi grinned until Mila turned and stalked towards him.
He threw his cheese butterfly at her and ran.
He felt, more than saw, Mila catching his poor butterfly and chewing it as she chased him.
Now he really missed Durence. The man would be a good meat shield at this point...
Delta dreamed of children laughing.
Three boys and three girls.
They were playing tag. Above them, a matronly woman smiled as they played. Delta looked as each of the children glowed with a different colour.
Red, blue, green, gold, silver, and orange.
Delta half expected to see herself as a little girl but the girl looked nothing like her. Pigtails with oversized teeth and a nose that wasn’t hers.
Well, if nothing else, this woman had a Power Ranger team being handed to her on a plate.
“Again! I wanna hear it again!” the Green girl shouted. The woman smiled and opened her story book.
“Once upon a time there were two siblings. They were all that was, is, and would be. They enjoyed their life together. Then one day they wanted to play a game of hide and seek... but neither of them wanted to close their eyes. So, together they made a person. It would close its eyes,” the woman read. Delta shrugged and sat down, none of them were looking at her.
She guessed it was one of those weird important dreams with a twist... might as well enjoy the story.
“To make sure it didn’t cheat, the brother took the left eye as he ran to the left. However, he didn’t know his sister had the same idea and took its right eye. The Person was blind and when it came to life... it could only see the darkness instead of the light the brother and sister enjoyed,” the woman read on.
Okay... she guessed this was the ‘Grimm’ version of things.
“Should have taken the ears and tongue too!” the red boy cried. Delta scooted away from him. The blue boy spoke up.
“Maybe they should have eaten the eyeballs? I bet they never had those before...” he mused. Delta was running out of scooting directions as she neared the gold girl who wrinkled her face.
“Ew. Burning them as gifts to each other's is much nicer!” the girl argued.
Delta wondered if she was in the psych ward of spooky dreams?
“T...t...they should have given the eyes back!” the orange girl sniffed, upset by the story. The silver boy held her hand.
“They should’ve trusted it not to cheat,” he told her. This made the orange girl smile a little through her tears.
“The Person cried and from his empty eyes came the first shadows and pain. The Person cried for his eyes and the children ran in fear, still holding its eyes. The Person wandered the plain, spreading his tears that tainted the ground. The children created a lake to keep it away and it turned the lake black as it swam... they created a forest to hide in and the trees became scary as the shadows invaded the trees... they created mountains but the Person climbed after them,” the woman read on without responding to the children.
“People are scary...” the Gold girl said quietly.
“In a last ditch effort, the Sister jumped to the sky with a boost from her brother. Her blond hair became the sunrise and the sun itself but the brother could not reach the same height and fell as he tried to jump, His body crashed and became the earth, his bones the pillars of the world. His blood soaked down and formed the hot magma. The eye the Sister held fell from her grasp and became the Moon. The eye the brother had fell into the Earth and formed the source of all Mana,” the matron read on calmly.
Delta wanted off this train.
One by one, each of the children began to complete the story in a creepy unison.
“Then the Person broke down as he cried his soul out. It leaked out from his eyes and broke into millions of tiny people. The empty husk of the Person had no eyes... no soul, and no name. The Person fell into nothing as it had nothing. It fell into a world of Silence,” they said. The Matron had stopped moving.
Delta stood and was trying to backway as one by one, the children turned to look at her. All of them... all of them had no eyes.
“It wanted its eyes back and it would make sure it would finally find the brother and sister,” they chanted.
“And when it does... the World would be turned back to where it should be... utter silence. All except... the screams of those siblings. That would be lovely... wouldn’t it... Delta?” the children asked with smiles.
Delta ran... she ran and ran and ran.
She ran so hard she literally ran screaming out of her core with panicked noises, causing Nu, back in box form, to scream as well. It took her a moment to recognise the dustings of a dream and sleep falling away.
Nu’s scream made Rale yelp and Luna to screech. A lizard thing she had never seen before looked around, shrugged, then joined in by shrieking at the top of his lungs with abject terror.
After a few seconds there was silence before the lizard thing sighed in contentment.
“A good scream does wonders for the broken mind. Shall we do this again? Just to make sure you’re all real and I haven’t gone madder than a Goblin on Ent sap?” he suggested.
“Hello…” Delta said slowly and the creature paused as he squinted in her general direction.
“Oh, that’s one soft sounding man. I like it, no judgement here. After years of ‘rattle rattle’ and ‘ohhhhh eternal pain and torment’ noises. Everyone really does sound wonderful,” the lizard nodded.
He was about a head shorter than Numb. He wore a raggedy kilt but his chest carried a series of glowing orbs on thin leather straps that looked dangerous to even glance at, let alone carry. Scars, burn marks, webwork of green veins and crazed eyes made the fellow look charming... if somewhat likely to kill them all in their sleep.
At his side were clinking bottles made from what seemed like glass and bone. Inside bubbled chemicals and things… things Delta had no name for.
“Name’s Jack! Not me real name, forgot that a long time ago. I go with Jack because I can be a jack-off, a jack of all trades, jackass, a jack without a jill, a jack in the box, a cart jacker... well you get the idea!” the lizard held out a claw to shake. Delta, completely confused, tried to shake it. To her surprise... her hand made light contact for a few seconds before her hand broke apart into cloudy orange mist.
“Mum... you look... pretty solid!” Luna praised. Delta spun, still utterly lost on what happened.
“Nu? Help? There’s a lizard man in my dungeon. I feel...” Delta touched her cheeks as if unsure.
“Why do I feel like I gained 10 pounds?” she demanded. Her mind stretched wide as she felt all over her dungeon. The most important feature was the stairs behind her core. The stairs to a third floor.
She spun and froze. Instead of the excitement and anticipation she expected... she felt fear when she looked at those cold stone steps.She couldn’t sense anything at the bottom, as if her powers had been rebuffed or rejected from the space.
Nu’s box explained and that was when Delta suddenly remembered something.
“You had dimples and messy hair!” she accused. Nu’s box went blank as Luna shared a look with Rale.
“What’s dimples?” she asked blankly. Rale poked her cheeks with a bright grin.
“These! Nu had a human shape and Delta thinks of him to be quite dashing!” he announced. Jack looked at Nu.
“Was gonna ask about that but I didn’t want to seem ignorant of human/box hybrid species so I kept quiet...” he said.
Nu’s flustered words made Delta frown.
“But that’s like tyrant and evil stuff, the people down there might be pretty settled and peaceful,” she argued without pausing. There came a howl of bones on stone and screeching of ghosts that cast eerie shadows.
Jack chucked a green orb over his shoulder and it bounced down the stairs before the stairs belched green sickly fire. There was a beat of silence.
“Okay, not peaceful but maybe we should at least get information to act on...” Delta deflated feebly.
“That would be great but I’ve been trying. For years! Here’s the jiggy of the jag. Place is overrun with the dead. Everytime I blow something up, within a few hours it rises again,” Jack began.
Delta thought the more she looked at him... the more he seemed like a cute gecko. Maybe she could... keep him?
No, she had to focus!
“Sounds like a Dungeon,” Luna mused. Jack waved that off.
“Nah just boring necromancy gone supernova. There’s a priest of the Silence way back in one of the rooms, I can’t ever get to him... or her,” he said quickly, remembering Luna and Delta.
Delta felt cold.
“S...Silence?” she echoed. Jack itched his snout.
“I think... I remember… Maybe I made it up, but there’re some nutters that like the Silent One a lot... Like, a lot a lot. They kinda died for him. Still do!” Jack said brightly as he suddenly looked proud.
“Silent one, some boogie man of the oldest creation myths,” Luna said bored. Delta turned to stare at her.
“Wyin told me a bunch of stories!” she defended quickly. The idea of that tree telling anyone anything that didn’t involve death or blood was odd but considering her dream... yeah... Wyin might like that story as well.
“So… super religious nuts?” Rale summed up. Jack raised one claw.
“With an undead army,” he added.
“Most religious nuts have brain dead followers,” Delta muttered. Kemy’s religion seemed nice... she could exercise thinking and willpower and it didn’t seem to harm anyone.
“So... how do I expand?” Delta asked the question that she had been avoiding. Rale and Luna puffed their chests out.
“I, the mighty Rale, shall assemble a squad to aid Jack in taking over the first room and give you time to take control and improve it!” Rale grinned as he planted his trident into the ground.
“You... can go down there?” Delta asked in surprised.
Delta blinked for long moments, she silently opened her menu and stared at the new entry.
“I’ve been trolled!” she said aghast.
“Trolls could be useful, not clever but pretty good at smashing things,” Jack said cheerfully. Delta shot him a look.
“This is all too much, too fast. First off, how the heck did you get down there? How did you survive?” she said, voice filled with utter dismay at the idea of being trapped...
Another victim of these Silence assholes.
Jack deflated for a moment.
“That’s a long tragic backstory I don’t remember and will make up on the spot with lies to make myself look better... do you wanna hear it?” he asked somberly. Delta almost said yes.
“Maybe later. Nu... what happened with the Spider Tunnel?” she gave it an official title along with the question.
Nu struggled to explain so Delta just looked at the tunnel herself and sure enough, she also struggled to quite explain what she was seeing.
The crude tunnel had been superheated and twisted like the inside of a drill. Bright glowing streaks of orange and dim purple encircled each other for a fair distance until Delta came to a dead end where a white barrier prevented her seeing the outside of the tunnel
The eye-catching feature being a giant glowing orange egg nestled on the ceiling. Inside, a tiny form was seen as the egg pulsed with Mana.
The accusing tone made Delta smile slightly.
“I might have blown up at her a little,” she admitted before turning to peer at the egg.
“So, is it... a contract? Or something like an epic monster?” she guessed.
“It wasn’t my fault,” she said quickly.
“Ah, but Nu; I make it look good on purpose,” she winked. She eyed the glowing egg for a long moment but it didn’t look anywhere near ready to hatch.
“Hurry up, Queenie. You got some karma to work off,” she urged and the egg pulsed just a little bit brighter.
She turned and faced the stairs.
She had an… Adventuring party to make?
Delta was pretty sure Dungeons were not meant to be making the adventurers but instead waiting for them. Delta shrugged to herself, she never stopped to be a ‘proper’ Dungeon before.
Why start now?