They gathered around her core.
“Ain’t this a sweet little get together. We have goblins, frogs, and oh my, a Kobold! Do wonders never cease Delta, you foxy Mama? You find the most interesting of fans,” Maestro breathed through several of the mushrooms scattered around the core. Jack bent down to sniff at one.
“What’s with the peanut gallery?” he asked and the mushroom trembled.
“Why? I am the star, Maestro! Oh put away the pen, darling, I already know I’m fabulous!” Maestro chortled and he sounded pleased as Jack looked puzzled.
“Maestro, he’s a giant demonic mushroom about the size of a tree, who sings,” Cois said bored.
“Oh please, I am so much more than a hot bod! I am the voice of a generation!” Maestro sniffed and suddenly all the mushrooms began to softly vibrate as they broke into an angelic chorus.
Maestro’s voice rose above them.
“I can outsing any angel choir with my heavenly chorus...” he promised before the mushrooms’ tones dived deep into the demonic chanting of a latin cult that ended with a riff of a guitar.
“And my licks are hotter than any devil,” he laughed once more. Jack didn’t seem so bothered now that Delta eyed him.
“Can you do requests?!” he asked with a grin. Maestro thought about it.
“How about you make it back alive and impress my Momma enough to make me want to. I don’t work for chumps,” Maestro said haughtily and the mushrooms went quiet.
“Master Maestro once sang ‘row row down the stream’ for me,” Rale beamed, evidently pleased he was no chump.
“Let us focus, we have a goal to aim for,” Devina’s cool voice interrupted before Jack could respond. On her shoulder, the orange Delbird, Inchy, tilted his head.
“Goals are good! Means Dev wants to score! Make Rale a goa-” the bird was silenced as Devina snapped its beak shut without looking, her eyes staring hard at anyone who commented.
“I shall help you lift! If I am to be your goal then I shall devise your exercise routine!” Rale laughed with his usual boisterous self. Numb joined him and the two muscle-heads were thunked by Devina as she frostily stalked past.
Billy merely shook his head as he leaned against the wall near the stairs, watching for oncoming threats. His hooded face and red eyes truly made him the loner of the group but Delta could feel his ears twitch, showing he was listening with great interest.
“Listen up. You’re all going to go down and clear the first room. Long enough for me to move my core down and claim the space!” Delta began.
She gestured to Jack who had carefully put his mouth around one of Maestro’s speakers and was buzzing as Maestro’s music calmly floated out. He looked like a nutcase but Delta had little choice but to keep sounding confident as she spoke.
“He’s the expert of what to expect. Skeletons mostly but the space downstairs can change if foes inside feel threatened so approach with caution,” Delta added. Jack spat out the mushroom and wiped at his face.
“Skellys, Ghosties, and other dark spooky crap. Not gonna be easy. Their motto is numbers in strength and they can risk fighting to the death because it doesn’t stop them,” Jack agreed.
“Don’t you mean ‘Strength in numbers’?” Devina asked politely. Jack stared at her.
“Hot stuff, it’s all about using one stone to kill two bridges and burning them when we get to their corpses,” he explained carefully. Devina’s smile became fixed.
“In for a penny, in for a pound,” she muttered.
“I prefer in for a fight, in for a war,” Jack said darkly as he adjusted some of his new bottles.
“Is it a war down there?” Numb the fighter asked, his taped hands and muscular body looking more toned than ever.
“Was. Then everyone died and it just became routine,” Jack shrugged. Cois twirled his staff with eagerness.
“Remember, the goodies go to me! I need shinies! I have a brat that will cry if I don’t find some death wand or cursed golden pantaloons!” he hissed.
“Child payments are so costly... but fatherhood brings out the best in you, your spark lover,,” Billy mused, speaking for the first time. Cois glowered at him but said nothing.
“I’ll try to watch from here. Giant, Luna, and Gramps with Renny will guard the stairs while you’re down there,” Delta said quickly.
“Go down, beat things up, and look cool while doing it,” Rale summed up as he pointed his trident toward the stairs.
“To hell and worse, none shall escape Mother’s Mushrooms!” he cried and charged.
Delta felt her jaw drop.
“Did you just Leeroy J- No never mind! DON’T SAY THAT! THEY MIGHT THINK IT’S TRUE!” she cried as the group trooped after Rale’s jubilant war cries.
She never did see Jack plucking a few of the black fungi and hiding them in his cloak.
Ruli stared at the sign in front of Delta’ place.
It was a simple thing but the meaning confused the hell out of her.
“Gone Adventuring... be back soon,” she read and even after a fourth time it still didn't make sense. How did a Dungeon go on holiday? She shrugged and walked down, opening the door with the usual password. The stone doors ground to a halt and the air that rushed past Ruli made her toes curl with pleasure and her heart beat just a little bit faster.
Mana from a Third Floor Dungeon had no right to be this... intense. It filled Ruli’s body and its power was at her grasp if she chose to use it.
The entrance room was the same as Ruli remembered it besides the odd door to the right. Ruli stuck her head in and whistled.
“Delta, girl... you go two notches above impressive,” she smiled at the artwork and memorial space. Delta’s sad expression on the statue made Ruli want to bail, and she never was one for mopy scenes of feeling anything besides drunk or happy.
There was a lack of awareness in the Dungeon that told Ruli Delta had her focus elsewhere but she strolled forward with interest.
It felt like she hadn’t been here in so long, she was eager to see how it had changed.
And this... mystical bar.
That was something Ruli just had to see. She paused at the Spider room where the webs were pulled back for her by the rather plump and tipsy spiders.
“Are you guys drunk?” Ruli grinned as one of the spiders literally fell off its web with a hiccup. Ruli felt the spiders were just great little guys and gals but she smelled something... something that was often here but gone for now.
It smelled of mist and freshly spun string.
Muffet twirled three times and waved her middle legs. Quee followed suit and the boy’s attempt at saying ‘I am a child of Delta’ turned into ‘I give this offering of a child to Delta Supreme’. Not quite the right message. She clicked her fangs and Quee looked abashed as he tried to correct his stance.
Seriously, those extra humanly parts was throwing the poor Quee off. Why did Mother have to go do that? Give a perfectly good spider human bits? Ruined a perfectly good spider.
But that was just Muffet’s opinion so she kept it to herself.
“Waddles, how is it going, you ducking duck?” Ruli popped her head into the pond room and the black duck opened one lazy eye and gave her a long look.
“You really are one of Quiss’ disasters,” Ruli muttered and carried on to the Mud room.
Waddles stretched his wings. He stepped into the water and floated there for a long moment before he dove.
His sleek black form a dark missile as he dove into the tunnel. He followed the tunnel in complete darkness, his own feathers carefully pointing him to the right direction. Waddles swam and swam, his need for air a formality, not a necessity.
He followed the the seemingly never-ending dark tunnel for some time until it steeply began to turn up. Dungeon Mana thinned as if Waddles had crossed realms. This was where Delta’s realm ended and the real world returned. Waddles swam up the swirling whirlpool to the light above.
The second Entrance, a place which Waddles occasionally cleared of... pests. He bobbed slowly to the surface. He shook the excess water off his feathers and peered around. The lake was fed from a distant mountain. It split into many rivers, one of those nearing the town close to the Dungeon... this thin line of boundaries washed Mana into the area and creatures were more abundant here than around Durence and his summoner’s home.
The lake was in the shape of an eye, a single lone island made up the central point. Waddles had curiously flown up to check it one time. He looked for examples of the previously stated creatures and saw a few.
For example, the glaring drooling black wolf pacing the shore with corpses of goblins and smaller creatures around it. It wasn’t as much of a bother as the crackling blue bird far above, the feeling of Mana being drawn in to fuel its showy efforts to scare Waddles with a few lightning bolts. The closest foe would be the Giant Lure Lizard that had been busy breeding a small gang it seemed.
Waddles normally wouldn’t bother so much with this but...
He raised his bill to the sky where the setting sun showed a half-filled moon rising in its retreat.
As the moon rose, the lake’s water began to churn. Swirling fountains of water shot into the sky and the central island gave off a glowing pillar of yellow light.
Waddles wasn’t that impressed but the fact is the more it did it, the more the lake drained to make those water pillars.
And the lower the water drained...
Waddles guessed the pillar didn’t even breech the treetops around it but it was growing stronger as the moon grew stronger.
Odd, but it meant by the time the full moon came about, Waddles would have to skip his 15th nap of the day to work overtime.
He snorted once as his feathers ruffled.
The bird dove with his feathers covered in energy, the Lure Lizards snarled and rushed forward, even the wolf snapped at the lowering water level with glee.
Waddles tilted his head and his body began to leak a deadly black aura.
He’d feel pity for them but honestly, Waddles didn’t feel pity.
He just felt annoyed... and tired.
The water pillars began to spin out of control as luck would have it, the bird being swatted into the lure lizard, the smell of dying monsters like a balm to Waddle’s black mood.
Now, to actually move.
He turned to the black wolf as about ten more wolves emerged from the shadows of the trees to follow their leader. Waddles quacked once.
He guessed he would see if they would follow it to the Abyss.
He swam forward and the moon watched the slaughter below with indifferent beauty.
Waddles emerged to see Ruli washing her mud streaked hair in his pond water.
“What’re you staring at?” she snapped. “I didn’t know the platforms were random,” she mumbled. Waddles ignored her and went back to his nest, the blood almost impossible to see on his black feathers.
There had been more... at this rate, they would begin to come en masse. That shrine on the lake and Delta’s natural Mana was like a buffet. It had become worse since she had reached a Third Floor and along with her Mana came something more alien than the Abyss. Something of this world but so against all of it that Waddles had never felt such a thing before.
It was leaking out and it carried words and promises.
Waddles didn’t know why it kept inviting monsters to die, but soon things that might cause Waddles some issues might start to appear.
He considered bringing this up to Delta but she had a lot on her plate and hosting one of his kind was hard enough that Waddles didn’t mind guarding her Entrance... but... he wondered if she wanted to know about this?
“Quack,” he tried to sound out.
No, that sounded stupid. Made him sound a little sappy.
He had this handled, and if worse truly did come to worse... he would simply stop being a duck.
Annoying, but he owed the girl that much. If that didn’t work, well... he knew where his summoner lived.
He was sure he could wring a few of his brethren out of the man via snapping at his toes again or eating his spellbooks.
If one Waddles struggled, ten or so would surely be the answer.
Assured with that, Waddles went to sleep.
And dreamed of things unable to be described by human senses.
Delta found it easier to see through Devina’s eyes, being the person at the back of the group and having a more spiritual connection than the rest of her monsters. Delta watched as they descended the last step into the room that would host her Core.
The Fortress of the Silence loomed, the entrance hall a collapsed and spacious place with stone pillars that one had to crane their neck to follow. Stone floors with large slates stretched to give the idea this place was carved from a natural cave. There were windows, but the scene beyond had been faked by paintings and flowing banners. The light of the sun had been refused to be allowed to touch this place. The most unnatural thing of it all was the lack of... life.
Not just people or monsters, but there were no webs and no mold beyond the natural patches near fountains and on the wall. No flies... no errant weeds breaking free of the stone.
It didn’t even look that dusty.
It was as if things such as change, entropy, repurposed life... had simply been barred from this space.
Devina turned as Jack patted a fading soot mark.
“This place is like a painting; it has a certain image it likes to go for. I can screw with things, but before long it just returns back to normal. I have to keep blowing the gate up in the deep rooms over and over... but the good news is that means all the stuff I use for my bombs and the food I ate also came back!” Jack said brightly.
There was nothing else bright about this place.
Ahead, two large twin doors of wood crossed with dark metal looked ajar. Jack rolled his neck.
“You ready?” he called. Devina’s confusion matched Delta’s when Billy suddenly aimed his bow skyward.
“They’re on the ceiling!” he growled, and Cois wasted no time firing a flare like streak of flame that illuminated the grand domed ceilings, four elegant domes that held dusty chandeliers of crystal and brass.
In each of these rounded holes was a mess of bones and metal. Like a spider’s nest of a dozen young, the skeletons had meshed together before they suddenly dropped, balls of bone and metal aiming for their heads.
“No horsing around where people can get hurt!” Rale ordered. He stabbed his trident into one of the balls and heaved. Cois merely pointed his staff as a torrent of blistering heat and flame knocked a second aside. Numb was punching the third one so fast that chips of bone and metal were flying off as it slowly collapsed.
The last one bounced towards Devina but a red orb was slipped into it and Jack cackled as he yelled for everyone to take cover.
The rolling ball of bone promptly exploded outwards. Ribs acted like shrapnel and skulls as cannon balls as they smashed into the stone pillars. The cover most of Delta’s monsters could reach was other skeletons, the floor or in Rale’s case, crouch low and grunt.
The damn frog was too hardy for his own good!
A few of the skeletons looked to have survived their initial ambush attempt. The clattering and magically held together bones walked forward at a slow, purposeful pace. They wore no clothes and had nothing on them besides short, bladed weapons. Delta wished their eyes glowed, but instead the empty skulls looked like the night.
Blacker than shadows; that made it worse, somehow, than the lights or souls she expected to find shining there.
The skeletons all seemed to have the unending urge to rattle their jaws like a rattlesnake shook its tail.
“Spooky shites like ta freak you out but there’s real thinkers in there, don’t let the dead tropes fool ya. I’ve seen these arses play cards when I learned to sneak better,” Jack growled, both his hands holding on to red orbs.
Devina flexed her fingers. Standing here was not doing her any favours. That was what Delta could feel coming off the Witch Doctor.
“Foul beings spurned by nature, the grave calls!” she howled and from her hand, furious spirits of green nature rushed at the skeletons. They tried slashing at them, but Devina’s spirits did not fear iron like ghosts and demons did.
They were of nature and they would bend to no one.
The orbs invaded the bones and an empty pressing silence fought back. The power keeping these souls here easily fended off the spirits of Devina but the point was that she had caused them to come to a complete stop in the fight.
Rale grabbed one skull and crushed it with his raw strength as Billy lodged a black arrow into the eye socket of another, the gutrot mushroom promptly exploded with violent pressure.
Numb rushed forward. Delta covered her eyes as he began to snap limbs like twigs.
The first wave had been pushed back and the skeletons faded to a murky black mist that was sucked back through the huge double doors as if being summoned.
“Shut the door! More will be on their way and Hero up there better do her thing or we’ll be facing a two headed snake skeleton... or the horse with spider legs...or, or... you get the idea, they get creative!” Jack yelled. Rale’s shoulder bashed one side and the goblins threw themselves at the other side. The huge monstrous doors protested at being moved after so many years.
From the dark corridor beyond, that smelled of pain and death, there came a rumbling of bone, something that squished and the wailing of the damned.
Devina focused and more orbs of nature fired into the darkness, her aim wild.
“Are you casting magical missiles at the darkness?!” Cois yelled. Delta wanted to chuckle at the absurdity of the fight while Devina felt like she was about to shoot the goblin next when the Screeching doors had finally shut and Rale slid his trident through the two large handles as a way to bar the door.
Something extremely heavy smashed against the doors after a moment. The roar shook the room.
“That doesn’t sound like a horse!” Billy screamed. Delta was going to guess elephant or some kind of dinosaur at the sound.
She was distracted as a box appeared.
“So I don’t get a choice or can we vote on this-” Delta said then blinked as she now stood in the room her monsters had just cleared out. The door shook harder and harder as something tried to bash its way in.
“-for a fair democracy,” Delta finished lamely.
Her core pulsed bright orange and the room around began to shake as her Mana soaked into the stone.
The door cracked as something that was really pissed off tried to claw its way in. A lion? A mutant bear skeleton?
Delta had no idea but she narrowed her eyes as it nearly took Rale’s head off.
“Don’t touch my family,” she growled.
She pulled open the menu... and understood why the system had given her the monster choice it had.
She smashed her fist on the purchase button.
Garvan was a simple cult man. He desired the end of all people, the resurrection of the Silent, and an end to all that was light and free.
Really, he was quite simple in his wants as a skeleton that stabbed intruders. Still, this was the most fun he’s had in years! Besides, chasing the Kobold for the same outcome, day after day, it could get quite dull!
So as the Four-Armed-Near skeleton attacked the entrance hall door, he rocked on the heels of his... well heels. He was just a skeleton, after all.
The bear was his best attempt yet at a minion! They only had the same creature bones to fight over, he had won the extra arms in last weeks skull rolling game.
His beast pounded and pounded the wood as it shattered faster than a skeleton’s happiness when they remembered they didn’t celebrate birthdays anymore... or even remember their birthdays.
A hole finally formed and he looked to one of the dumber boneheads. He nodded for it to check. While they didn’t speak per se, they had learned to communicate with subtle pulses of the Silence’s power in them.
“Well?” he demanded. Bonehead looked in and froze.
“What… what is it?” he said slowly. Bonehead turned.
“They have a cave troll,” came the shocking response. That was...
A giant grey hand smashed through the fresh hole, a large thing that could easily match the armed bear, and dragged Bonehead inside, bones screeching in protest, the sound of crunching bone soon following.
A face pushed itself to the hole.
“Wotz dat? More crunchies? Ma? MA! CAN I EAT THEM?” the thing yelled.
Garvan felt a chill in his bones as he swore he almost heard... a woman ordering him to not play with them too long.
He turned and if he still had his favourite dress, he would have hiked it in panic as the door was swung forward and the beast stormed out after him.
He had to warn the rest!
He burst through the hallways, jaw chattering wildly.
“TROLL! TROLL IN THE CASTLE!”