High note... strummed slowly into a long trill. The swell of hope as the notes became a song of light and wind... only to be countered by the sudden mountain of challenge. Isanella let her fingers tell the story while her ears listened. Her lute was not even close to the most magical musical item she had owned... and destroyed.
But this one had value like very few others had. It was a meeting... it was a chance encounter... it was the meeting of two souls who saw music in each other. This lute was precious. From behind her, the following sound of strings and percussion followed her story like shadows. Making her simple tale into a memory... her idle strumming into a song.
Maestro followed her like a shadow cast off by her light.
But Isanella knew that Maestro deserved the light far more than she.
“You’re thinking too hard to be relaxing,” Maestro said as his large form swung slightly closer. His many vines coming off his cap seemed to allow him great agility when needed.
“Perhaps. I’m distracted. The Dungeon recently got a third floor, yes?” she asked as she put her lute down to sit cross legged. Maestro was a fierce looking monster and for those who had not seen much of the world... perhaps even evil looking. But not to Isanella.
To her, every word he spoke and every note he produced was of light and joy.
Nothing evil could be so in love with sharing music with others.
“Indeed but I’m mum on the details, ya hear?” he winked but turned serious when Isanella merely nodded.
“A Dungeon produces particularly potent Mana every three floors. No one knows why. Something about the number 3 is important to magic and the Mana of the world. So even someone like me is feeling... is growing again. I didn’t seal much of my powers away with lack of Mana... I mostly used it to forget, but like Quiss’ fire and my husband’s war cries in the bathtub... my memories are also becoming less grainy,” she sighed.
“Got some things you’d rather forget?” Maestro asked as he trailed the notes of a hidden piano. Isanella smiled at the distraction but nodded.
“Just for a while. I guess while the brain forgot, my heart didn’t. I think it’s healed a little. Oh Maestro, you’re kind but honestly I really was... how would the children say... a hag at one point,” she shrugged.
“What? No?! Wait... did you demand service at inhuman rates and demand to speak to a clan leader when their followers failed you and demand a beheading?!” Maestro gasped. That made Isanella smile despite her mood.
What a strange and wonderful creature Maestro was.
“Well no. I did once curse an entire castle and village to be without noise...without song...without the gift of words,” she said a little embarrassed. The large face leaned down and stared.
“Hunny, why on Delta’s funky tie would you do that? Were they dicks? Did they eat children? Did they wear sandals and socks unironically?!” Maestro demanded. Isanella picked up her lute.
“No, they didn’t really... it wasn’t... A question, if you would allow it, when you evolved into the lovely form you have now... did you resent the touch of music?” she asked and plucked three notes.
“Never. It’s how I became me from a little spitter nobody,” Maestro said immediately.
Isanella doubted Maestro was ever a nobody to Delta.
“I grew up seeing music... tasting it. I grew up when songs were used to hurt me by children and soon ex-lovers. They said sweet things but their notes would be sour. Soon I grew to such a state that the world sang to me. If someone died, an endless list of songs would haunt me... if someone was getting married, I’d be stalked by the bells of some love song. It was maddening... it actually did... break me at the end when I just wanted peace.. I just wanted quiet,” Isanella said, heat filling her voice.
Then she deflated and met Maestro’s concerned eyes.
“I just wanted silence.”
There was a break in the talking before she hugged her lute.
“But... in the end. The Silence found me,” she whispered. Maestro lightly patted her shoulder with his long fingers.
“We’ve been... dealing with those guys. Hush-hush, but Delta, good old Mum, she’s got it handled. Did they hurt you?” he asked with a frown.
“Worse, they gave me exactly what I wanted and I let them get a toe into my world. I...cut the toe off but the price I paid... the price...” Isanella trembled and then gathered her will as she began to create a soft string melody that reminded her of a lost home.
“What was the price, hun?” the giant mushroom pressed and Isanella felt a tear gather and fall.
Deo sang under his breath and he grinned as Vas seemed to nod to the beat. He hoped it was a good tune. Mum always said he sang good.
He wondered what he sounded like. Cool? Heroic?! Deo kicked up the tune into a crescendo and Vas tilted his head.
“How do you sing so well when you shout so much?” he asked, lips easy to read. Deo winked.
“Practice!” he said calmly.
He opened the door to the bar and saw the very person he was looking for.
“Kemy!” he tried to whisper and get her attention. He was successful as every bar patron didn’t even twitch but Kemy and her friends did.
Kemy turned and those awesome web earmuffs gleamed around her shoulders. They were looking a bit less shiny so maybe they needed a tailor to fix them.
Deo knew a tailor. He knew Smalls! He dragged Vas in as he waved to Quiss in the corner. The man glared but he seemed to sigh then waved back.
Vas had turned into a funny frozen shape, arms held out wide and eyes shut. His lips moved but Deo could only really read the word Tree.
Vas was funny.
“Kemy! This is Vas. He's the friend who keeps locking himself out. He’s a pot master,” Deo nodded. The woman next to Kemy winced and eyed him.
“Why are you shouting?” she asked politely. The large man next to her laughed and the boring guy with no real stand-out features just frowned.
“Sorry, I’ll go lower,” he promised and did just that. The woman still winced so Deo felt a little flush as he thought he was using a good level of volume. Vas hadn’t said anything so...
Now he had been rude in front of Kemy’s friends.
“It’s fine. How is your spider-leg collection going?” Kemy tried to smile and Deo beamed back. He made sure to speak really...really quietly.
“Good! They’re a bit ripe but Vas here can make a spider pot or something. I wanted you to meet him,” he got behind the frozen Vas and pushed as the golem’s heel actually seemed to scrape along the floor like a real statue.
He saw the bar owner, Nibs, wince as if that was something painful to see and Deo promised to himself to come back and sandpaper down the marks.
The group stared at the frozen boy.
“I think your friend is broken,” Kemy said with worry.
“No, he just really likes trees,” Deo explained and that seemed to confuse them. He turned to Vas only to see Quiss standing next to the golem.
“Excuse me, I need another drink,” the Peacekeeper grunted. Vas moved like he was suddenly water.
“See! Anyway, since you’re new to the town, I can help you find a tailor to fix your earmuffs and we can all get to know each other and become good friends and make awesome memories before you go!” Deo half stated, half-asked. Kemy went a little pink as the boring man said something behind his drink and masked his lips.
“She'd love to. Knowing the local Job class masters would be a boon in case we need to fix our things,” the woman in leather said as she leaned forward to smile at Kemy and Deo firmly kept his eyes on her nice eyes. He was raised not to look indecently at anyone without their say so.
Kemy looked sullen.
“This is for the Truth quest, isn’t it?” she asked.
The large man winked.
“You walk around blind and expect us to ever be okay with that? Please, go be shouted at and make friends now... with something other than mushrooms and goblins,” the man grinned.
“Don’t get hammered this time!” the woman also waved cheerfully.
Deo took Vas’ and Kemy’s hands, leading them outside with a little tune.
“We now have enough members for a team! We shall be Team Heroic Holy Pot!” he announced and Kemy tried to shrink under a hood as she heard something coming from the bar. Vas finally began to move.
“Perhaps we can try Team Bless Hero Priso-” he said and Deo blinked and looked down.
Vas was right... he had just made a judgement call for them all... he should have put it to a vote.
“Team heroic holy pot is actually fine! Right uh... Kemy?” Vas asked the girl who nodded quickly.
“Perfect,” she promised. Deo beamed.
They were going to do great. Just look at this team!
Delta wished she were a god. Just so she could see everything at once.
Did she chill and relax with Maestro and Isanella? Did she watch as this Nina girl literally cloned herself to slap herself when the first Nina went catatonic when Bob drooled on her? Or watch Ruli and Giant beat the crap out of each other as they got drunk and Luna promising the winner a back massage at her spring?
She stuck with the Nina girl as Hob and Gob gave the group an odd look before they hurried to the bar, dropping a ton of goodies in the tribute bowls on the way.
Her two scouts had been gone quite a while but they promised her they had a tale and half to share once the guests left.
“Listen, Drama, you got to handle your own shit,” the second Nina said patiently and the first girl looked sad.
“But Nina...eh...which one are you?” Drama-Nina asked. The clone huffed.
“I’m the bossy one,” she stated without any shame. The mage next to Lordy was simply shaking his head at them.
“What a weird girl. Doppelganger skills are rare enough in monsters but to see it in action with a human is undocumented,” he mused. Lordy nodded.
“Quite a sight. She does seem to be a little...messier when she splits. A side effect?” he asked and the mage nodded.
“When you split, you take a person or monster and divide that person into two complete halfs. Various traits could go either way,” he said. He then made a show of pulling his hands apart.
“So when they split again, more traits are divided into even more simple and basic forms. This divide goes on and on until...well, there’s nothing left to divide,” Seth explained and nodded to the hallway.
“Shall we go, my good fungal friend?” the man smiled.
Delta liked Seth. He spoke with intelligence but not snootily. He seemed to soak in what he saw and parsed it under his own opinion. He was fairly attractive too. Delta moved closer and felt like she could...almost hear the ocean around Seth as his Mana drifted off his form.
Quiss was like crackling wood so she guess people’s mana had flavours. They reached the Mudroom and Seth grinned as the two Nina’s followed.
“Remember, eat nothing and make no more clones. I don’t want crying Nina out or unreasonably hungry Nina. Absolute nightmares,” Bossy sniffed. Seth looked to Lordy.
“If it’s no bother, I can make it easier to cross - if that's okay with your Core?” he offered. Lordy eyed her and she gave him the thumbs up.
Lordy nodded and stepped back as Seth held out a hand and the mud began to bubble. Delta watched with interest as mist began to rise and her mudroom went hard and drier than sand.
Seth collected the moisture into a tiny ball and turned it into a tiny bird that rested on his shoulder.
“I shall return it when I leave,” he winked at Lordy.
“He could clean our bar in a second...” Drama-Nina mumbled. Bossy looked calculating.
“I wonder if we can get blackmail material...” she purred.
“Interesting trick!” Lordy applauded. Delta was impressed too, but she also felt a bit nervous...
She relayed her question to Lordy who tilted his crowned head.
“Daresay, good fellow, can you pull water out of anything... like people?” he asked as they walked across the cracked mud to the other side. Seth mused.
“No and yes. That was easy because dungeon water is the purest. There’s no life and material in it. It’s water... and Mana. I can do things a lot easier with it. People? Not so much. Even sweat has metals, salts...sometimes more. You have to be aware and familiar with each person to control their water. Could take days... could take years... if they have any water at all,” he admitted.
“Sounds deadly. If you do water magic and ice magic so well, what would be your specialisation?” Lordy asked, also piquing Delta’s interest.
Seth’s face went still before he managed a sad smile.
“Natural disasters, if I had to pick a phrase,” he walked on.
“I’ll ask Ruli to get you a house. Welcome to Durence!” she commented but the man didn’t even hear her.
Damn it, Delta knew she was too funny to be ignored. She was going to enjoy the fourth floor - barring any mole people or hidden scientology cults lurking there.
Ruberoi Smalls was a man who did not feel like he was shocked by much of anything these days.
Living in Durence and having had a full life as an adventurer, in both Dungeons and popular fashion shows, made him quite experienced in bloodshed. However, Dungeons tended to be simpler.
Cram and Smalls had only arrived in the last two years and had only just begun to feel the Grey settling in over them. Thankfully, the letter had been true and a Dungeon had appeared.
A very odd Dungeon for a very odd town. Smalls loved it. It was such a unique soul among the drab pitfalls, spikes, screaming little horrid monsters, and no decent lavatory for many floors! He hummed as he stitched along the cloak. It was a custom order and he whistled as he sewed the final sigil into the hem and the cloak turned invisible.
He had a long overdue custom order list from many places but the local letter ban had meant he was actually getting through the list, finally.
He eyed the cloak and added a three-pronged apple symbol which would turn the magic off if the wearer intentionally entered an outhouse or a shower room. It would use the owner’s own mind to alert the sigil. Nothing invasive, just a surface thought, but enough to prevent Smalls from worrying that he had just loosed a predator on the unaware.
Now extremely worried, he added three more symbols to shut the magic off...slowly...if the wearer got...excited under the cloak under any circumstance.
Ruberoi Smalls would not accept his products being used for such crass things! The people deserved to know that while their government secrets were being pilfered... their decency was not!
He looked proud. The symbols he embroidered were actually parts of a complex magical lettering system using ten interlocked sigils. It had taken Smalls years to figure out how to sew them so close they formed whole new letters by proxy.
Some he learned from their team leader, may he rest in peace, some he had figured out by accident when sewing in the dark of a dungeon as they camped.
He ran a thumb over one symbol.
Those were the days... never knowing when the next payment would come... never knowing if the next dungeon dive was the last... never knowing what the day would bring...
But they had each other and that... that was Smalls’ happiest days.
“You look sad, my friend,” Cram appeared with his huge axe. Smalls quickly brushed his lashes as his eyes seemed to be blurry while he collected himself.
“Just thinking of the old days.” he admitted. Cram slapped him on the shoulder.
“Stop thinking and make pretty things,” Cram winked as he sat down at their dinner table and popped a fresh bottle from Nimbs’ bar.
Smalls was about to retort that he himself was pretty, and thus so were his creations, when there was a rather lange bang. Only the fact that Smalls had reinforced the door had prevented it from falling off its hinges at the powerful knock.
“MR SMALLS! MISTER CRAM! I GOT AN EMERGENCY EARMUFF PROBLEM!” Deo Brawndo called.
“Yeah, the problem is a shortage of them. Ah well, let the kid in Smalls, he won’t bite,” Cram insisted. It was easy for the lumberjack to say, the man had practice listening to trees fall!
Smalls prayed for strength and then chided himself for being over-dramatic.
Deo, a boy that looked vaguely familiar and a girl, a little older, who looked at Smalls with a pleading look to either save her or to end her or to convey the desperate need for the outhouse.
“Hello,” Smalls said politely as he shook Deo’s firm handshake. He hid a wince behind a mask of casual interest. That boy was strong, it always took Smalls by surprise.
“HELLO MR SMALLS! THIS IS VAS AND KEMY! VAS IS A GOLEM AND KEMY IS AN ADVENTURER!” Deo said calmly. Smalls eyed his two friends with more interest.
“Oh! Please do come in. Cram was just about to make tea,” he explained. The grunt of grace and sophistication from Cram showed he had no intent on doing anything of the sort buta glare from Smalls had the huge man bending over the fireplace to put the copper kettle in.
He sighed at the rip the man had running down the rear of his pants. He had been buffed again since the Mana had returned in order to chop faster. He had just fixed those pants!
It was a small favor that his underwear was stretchy. No need to give the young woman and golem a view of something they would need a mind healer for. Deo was too busy looking at Cram’s collection of wooden carvings to notice.
“KEMY HAS-” Deo began and Smalls stuck one of the prepared sweets for guests into the boys mouth. The hard fudge candy seemed to act like glue and Deo smiled in pleasure as he chewed into the tar. That would keep the boy’s mouth busy for a small while.
“Yes, I heard. Something to do with earmuffs?” he repeated and the girl, Kemy, pulled off a pair of silvery earmuffs that he had noticed. Odd things, too pure and clean for simplistic cheap threads... it reminded Smalls of the spider thread from the Dungeon but more refined.
Evolved. Now that he actually was bothering to pay attention to his guests, the girl was giving off Dungeon Mana vibes. A recent plunderer it seemed.
“I got these as a gift and I would... really like to keep them around but the tailors with actual job classes are in the capital as far as I know,” the girl looked down. Cram smashed his head on the stone alcove above and the fireplace cracked a little.
“Ah bad idea bringing them up-” Cram warned but Smalls crossed his legs and held out a hand for his damn cup of tea.
“Them? Are you referring to the Golden Spool Guild of charlatans and braggarts? The fools who couldn’t tell a needle from a twig? Those meat-heads - pardon my rudeness, Cram - who stuff magic into a dress and declare it a job done! Bah! I declare! BAH!” Smalls sipped his scalding tea without milk or sugar.
This simply was not the time for milk or sugar.
“Oh... I did... mean them but I didn’t want to upset you either,” Kemy said, trying to take back the muffs but Smalls held on.
“All wounds are hard to avoid when you do not know what causes them. No offence taken. I’m just easily ruffled by cheap work,” he said and turned the spider earmuffs over and over. Rather basic without any enchantments, though it was finely made.
The natural break down was well on its way, however, that was easy enough to fix. He focused on the item, his Mana gathering as it surged through his fingers.
Kemy gasped, Vas looked interested and Deo was busy being distracted by Cram carving a tiny figurine of Smalls scowling. Smalls glared at the figure.
It was annoyingly good work.
His Mana surrounded the muffs in a silky globe that began to rotate the item. A basic Tailor class would need a proper bench, materials, and a few hours. A journeyman would need a basic kit and some intense focus. A master would simply need materials and a deep understanding of his chosen field. Be it silk, leather, dresses, suits, coats... they’d seen so many types and examples that one detail was engraved into their mind.
That detail being a single phrase. For some it was ‘Thread’ or ‘Cloth’ or even ‘Gold stitching’. It would allow them a medium to manipulate the item and soak their Mana in.
For Smalls, he simply needed a few seconds and his Mana to do a simple task like this.
His Mana slowly overlayed the Dungeon Mana, learned where it formed reality... where it was ‘earmuff’ and where it was ‘dungeon’. Smalls began to replace the Dungeon Mana, decaying without its core to power it, with his own.
Natural Mana that would simply be. The earmuff glowed, and the silky bubble faded as Smalls examined the piece.
No degradation or corruption. No misfires and no transmutations, and best of all, no ticking timer to breaking apart from anything but the ravages of time. Even then, Smalls was pretty certain it would last quite a while.
The ability to keep a durability counter on an item, forcing customers to return in order to refill the time limit was... Smalls was but a small minority that spoke out when the guilds of craft began to greedily apply this practise.
It lead to the rich hoarding magical items and the poor forced to spend most of their life returning to a Dungeon where their fire sword or stone shield had been found to restore its dungeon Mana.
This was not why the class was formed. Not for the greed of coins, rather it was the passion of the cloth.
The thread and needle were their sword and wand... and the guild spat on it and, by proxy, Smalls.
Ah well, he had gotten his revenge in the end. Smalls handed the muffs to, a now wide-eyed. Kemy.
“You’re a...master-level tailor?” she squeaked. Smalls had to smile at that. The girl was wonderfully untouched by the horrors of this world. Cram snorted.
“Let’s go with that before he toots his own horn and pulls out his closet,” he mumbled.
“I would never do that to a guest… unless they asked to see my collection. I’m sure I haven’t dusted off the Nebula Drake scales mini-skirt in a while! I’ll need to wash the Blossom Hare’s handbag but it still smells as sweet as a field in spring,” he chuckled. His works were like balm to his temper.
“Mister Smalls, the earmuffs look as good as new,” Vas said and blinked at them.
“How did you do that?” he met Smalls’ eyes with a blunt interested expression.
“Many years of sewing up my friends, it left me with a talent in the area. I simply traded scars and blood for cloth and dyes,” he poured tea for the golem who simply drained it one gulp.
Ah, now he remembered. Japes’ boy.
Nice to see the lad actually looked human these days rather than that monstrous form Japes had shaped him into duringfor a minor skirmish.
“Thank you! How much do I owe you?” Kemy asked, face pinched with worry. Smalls could simply gush at this girl!
Then he was hit with a delicious idea.
“Oh no...” Cram mumbled as a confused Deo chewed the fudge trap and stared.
“I don’t suppose you’d be willing to... do your next Dungeon dive in a rented piece of clothing would you? I haven’t advertised in... years,” Smalls purred.
Kemy’s innocent look of confusion made Ruberoi Smalls feel like a Crafting Guildmaster once more.
He looked over to his knick-knack shelf where he dumped the odds and ends he had found during his time in Durence.
The standalone item was, of course, the golden spool of thread that would make even plebeian clothing into a royal treasure.
Shame how the best guild in the city had lost this little relic. And to his knowledge... still hadn’t announced it publicly. Wasn’t some princess’s birthday coming up?
Oh, now that was going to be deliciously sweet to hear the news of.
After all, all the money in the world would struggle to buy actual talent in a pinch.
He swept Kemy into his closet which was really a large tunnel underground leading to an armory.
Bat Queen dress? No... Perhaps Mimic wood? Smalls danced around with excitement as Kemy stared and stared at the room that actually vanished into the horizon.
Smalls guessed he had gone a little overboard when he got bored - but who didn’t?
He paused at one glowing rack of clothes and his smile went from divine to devilish.