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The giant pig that lived in the magical mushroom forest was nice.

He was rather relaxed when Lord Mushy called for him. Drama-Nina hadn't even seen the boulder covered in mushrooms for the creature it was until the head appeared.

“This scoundrel will rest all day if you allow him,” Lord Mushy promised as he twirled a ball of mud around his hand. His fingers glowed like the mushrooms on the ceiling and the mud began to take a rounded shape.

Bossy-Nina looked at it and the silence on her end was telling. The tiny etchings on the side and rimmed opening of the vase that was quickly forming would be beautiful in appearance if it set properly. The boar accepted Drama-Nina’s petting, she carefully heeded Lord Mushy’s warning not to pluck any mushrooms or it would upset Boary.

Cute name. Seth and Lord broke into that enchanting language of Seth’s once more but Drama-Nina was distracted as Lazy-Nina back at the bar split on her own volition and sent the new clone to do the work.

That made Drama-Nina sigh... the good news was that the Nina that formed was Perfectionist-Nina. The sight of undone dishes drove her mad and she dug in with a war cry. Lazy-Nina nodded to the Clumsy-Nina.

Damn it, it was already starting. Lazy would make Perfect to do her job, then Perfect would be annoyed at the uneven number of clones and split again, which might make either Sleepy-Nina or Lady-Nina.

Find the bar, gather herself, be as whole as she could be.

Idly, she opened the mind connectivity to all the clones and sighed as once again, Ambitious-Nina didn’t appear.

Her missing part. Her missing Nina... where was she?

Something to brood over later when she got drunk. Being drunk or under the effect of a substance made her unable to split. Something about extra chemicals in her veins made the magic go wonky. It was why Nina couldn’t wear magical items either.

It was... unwise to duplicate magical items unless you knew what you needed or if you wanted to see a confused clone explode a second later. Gory chunks had rained that day and that had put Nina off cloning for a while.

The pig stood up and waddled off as Mushy placed the solid pot down and reached into a bucket that was kept out of sight for more mud. The creature seemed to love making these oddly pretty pots with unorthodox patterns.

The pot depicting the creature known as Bob was something Nina had shoved into Seth’s arm. She wasn’t ready to confront that trauma yet.

The Mushroom grove smelled wet but not off-putting. The Dungeon had a point in the fact that her mushrooms didn’t need decaying matter to grow or to spread. Some of the star mushrooms were pretty and she idly ran a hand over a few of them. The only ones she had to watch were the black ones, according to Lord Mushy. Bossy-Nina talked about pot sales and how many people had patented his work.

The girl was a little high strung on being in charge of things.

Her hand brushed an odd cap and it twitched. Drama-Nina froze as she looked down into two eyes that glowed like stars. The black cap had looked red in the light but the tiny fluffy white body that softly trotted forward with flat feet rushed past Drama-Nina and latched on to Lord Mushy’s leg.

“Little Missy, what are you doing away from the second floor? Did you follow me and Quee upstairs?” Lord asked. The tiny mushroom...Missy... merely buried her head into his leg harder. She, it definitely was a she because Nina got the strongest ‘little sister’ vibes ever, risked a glance at Seth and the Ninas.

She didn’t speak but handed Lord a flower of a deep blue colour that was striking in its beauty.

“Ah, another one!” Lord chuckled as he held his new pot in one hand, where it began to flop without another hand to shape it. Lord placed the blue flower in his crown-like cap before lifting the monster known as Missy onto his shoulder.

“Guests, may I Introduce Missy of the Stars,” he boomed. Bossy-Nina and Seth shared a look as Drama-Nina looked amazed.

Drama-Nina made a little ‘ohh’ noise as Missy waved.

Of the stars? That was a title that just begged for a story or... maybe it was because the monster was an alien from another Dimension!? All sorts of weird things fell from the stars. Everyone knew the stars were gates to other realms.

“So, why the title?” Bossy asked, Drama shot her a glare for trying to ruin the mystery.

Lord raised his weirdly shaped pot with a hole in the middle.

“Little Miss, can you?” he asked cheerfully. The sweet little alien(?) blinked before nodding. She stared at the pot.

Drama-Nina pushed Bossy into a pile of mushrooms to get a better view.

Alien magic?!

Lord threw the pot up and the little starry eyes exploded like a nova and twin death beams of deathly death fried it into a solid glittering glass vase with three handles.

The alien had a death beam!

Drama-Nina turned and ran for her life.

“I swear I can’t believe she’d miss the opportunity to patent the name of this move. How do you feel about ‘Twin-nova-Beam attack?’ We must appeal to the children!” Bossy’s fading voice offered.

Drama-Nina barely focused, the next room looked like a hole to some fortress but Nina panicked and looked around, seeing a well! Darkness! Cover from the deadly lasers!

She dove for it.

Safety!

--

“That’s not good,” Delta said bluntly as the girl who acted like a rabbit on energy drinks began to lower herself into the well.

“Fera! Get the stick!” she called quickly.

---

This was the life.

Ruli sipped more Shroom Pop. She loved it, hated it, then loved it again. The Jungle sun was out for a blast and she rested near Bob’s pool. The beast was elsewhere for the moment. She rested as her skin soaked up the sun rays as bees buzzed... birds sang... tiny little devils skulked in the bush.

This was the life.

Still, the one weird thing to all this was, of course, her new friend.

Ruli opened one eye to see the sword laying next to her as if also soaking up the rays.

“How you doing?” she asked, and the veins on the blade blazed red like molten lava. Feeling smart, Ruli named the blade Magma. It looked like a fiery scar in the earth and Ruli kinda liked its spunk to follow her around.

It was a demon sword alright. It had that feeling. Kinda spicy and smokey. It also looked metal as heck. Ruli had given up locking it away in Fera’s bar and just enjoyed having a decent weapon around. The person who gave it to her? That was something Ruli would have to snoop out later.

Much later, when her paradise got boring.

A few bees dropped honey into her pop and boy did it taste crappy. No wait... amazing.

Ruli sighed and rested once more.

She enjoyed having Delta to herself in a weird way. Not only did all her monsters give her VIP treatment, it was free.

Delta... That sweet but shy avatar of hers made Ruli grin, the memory as sweet as the honey.

What a gal. Made beer and defeated evil.

She watched as the sword vanished and a bunch of those runty mushroom monsters fled from the bush as Magma toppled on top of them.

Leaving behind their blowguns and darts.

“Nice Maggy... good sword,” Ruli mumbled as she began to drift off once more.

---

Drama-Nina was safe. She crawled in besides coins and pearls in a tiny nook. If the death lasers came, she had ammunition. The best part was the water didn’t reach high enough to flood in and it was actually a little warm here. This had to be a secret in the Dungeon and she, DRAMA-NINA, had found it.

Suck it, Explorer-Nina.

She looked around and saw a dangling ruby necklace. It glinted in the low light and was slightly swaying. Drama-Nina eyed it.

Oh, her hands were moving...

They seemed to be aiming for the necklace... odd.

In her head, Perfectionist-Nina was arranging tables and ordered that metal wool be used on all but the wood as Nibs begged her to stop. Lazy-Nina looked into her view and whistled.

“Looks kinda nice,” she admitted.

Her fingers brushed the necklace and pulled. The effect was like a basket being held up by a stick getting yanked away as Nina set off the trap.

The roof of the nook snapped down and darkness took her.

“THE ALIEN CAVE GOT ME! I’M GOING TO BE DISSECTED FOR BARMAID SECRETS!” she screamed. Tiny little teeth slid down and locked the ceiling to the floor.

“That’s no cave,” Perfectionist chided while she began to trim Nibs’ beard as the man began to turn red.

“Oi, you buggering Clam. Spit her out,” a gruff voice commanded, and a shining pole of justice wedged into the alien cave and began to leverage it open. Drama-Nina crawled out, still clutching the necklace.

“My hero!” she cried and then looked down into the pissed expression of a goblin.

“Hero? Heroes don’t get paid for being helpful!” the goblin growled, taking the necklace and chucking it back into what Drama-Nina could now see was a giant clam.

Nina felt like crying as she saw the loot flying and her mind fought with the instinct of staying safe and diving for the treasure.

The sucky part of already being split so much was that her will to stop herself from splitting was... reduced.

Nina watched as another Nina flew out of her body after it.

“Mine! Mine! Precious booty is mine!” Hoarder-Nina shrieked. The clam opened its huge mouth and Hoarder-Nina almost gasped in pleasure at the sight of the gold and jewels before she was swallowed whole. The clam shut up tighter than a bank vault as faint giggling could be heard from within. The good news was that any interest Drama-Nina had in jewelry or shiny things was gone. Just flat out not there anymore.

So now she could focus on the deadly lasers.

“Come on, you and the good-looking bloke are in my bar,” the goblin huffed and walked towards the ladder out of the well.

Drama-Nina blinked.

“Bar?” she repeated. She turned to the clam.

“I’ll get her on the way out,” she promised and followed the goblin.

The clam just rocked back and forth, its odd decorative eyes bobbing.

---

Nu was a cautious menu. He decided that while Delta dropped everything to go party with the intruders, he would watch what the Silence and its cult might be plotting.

Not that he could do anything else. Floor 2 had Ruli on it and the first floor was literally becoming infested by these Ninas.

Thankfully, Jack was now a contract and slowly his own natural Mana would be replaced by Delta’s. The process would take years but eventually Jack would lose the power to go outside in return for great power inside.

Such was the nature of contracts. Nu also knew that Jack’s natural Mana would be filtered into Delta as a consequence. He hoped that would only result in some... minor love for explosions.

Nothing quite like the idea of Delta going insane or deciding to become even weirder than she already was.

He watched as the garden changed, as Delta’s Mana finished up. He swore it was almost sulking, but dismissed that thought as silly.

The fountain was replaced by a deep well with arches around it. In the water, Mana glowed deep orange. Pure unshaped orange Mana.

That was by far the best and worst thing Nu had ever seen.

A Delta Fountain. You could literally drink Delta Mana to do… well, the list was long but this easily tied with the map room for efficient ways to begin infecting people with Delta.

A temporary boost or recovery would be possible. Perhaps an upgrade to some natural ability or strength. It was rare, but some Dungeons did offer such upgrades if one braved the risks.

The downside, and it really was a downer, was that it was just in the middle of the garden. It wasn’t hidden. It wasn’t protected... anyone and anything could go have a sip.

It was irksome.

What if these slug-gurgling flea-ridden waste-of-precious-existence cult members sipped? It would give the Silence a deeper connection to Delta!

He sighed and floated closer.

Another bit of good news was... that the boost was a one-time thing. The Mana would only change beings once. The pulsing runes along the walls of the well were complicated and he suspected Sis was taking care to make sure it was limited.

As far as he could see, the Mana would mingle with the natural mana of a person... find out where it was best used and push it to a new level.

Painful would be putting it lightly if done in a single dose.

Small...careful sips over time. That would be less gruesome. Sip until you hit that limit and broke through. That would help people, really give a reason to come and think Delta was too nice and kind!

Nu was going to remind them that this was still a Dungeon.

He began to focus on his goal.

Keeping Delta alive. Keeping Delta from being abused... keeping Delta happy.

Nothing else mattered.

He glared... he plotted... and most of all... he crafted traps.

When he was done, he turned to the watching Gnashly.

“Anyone who your mother doesn’t like... crush them before they touch this well,” he warned. The troll frowned at the garden.

“What... well?” she grumbled, staring at his work. Nu just turned and faced the doors still unconquered.

The quiet was worrying, but he was far from done.

Above every second door in this room, he began to gather Mana and intent. He had never done this before. He had never let himself do this.

But as things appeared and his purpose became crooked, Sis took notice. He formed four hunching statues to stand guard for any... interlopers.

His orders made them still, and the monsters went to sleep with only a lfaint awarness of their surroundings. Maybe Delta might not notice them as quickly.

Delta could be in the light and be happy with people. But Nu was content to be down here waging war.

He was content to be her shadow.

Because no one could be closer than one’s own shadow.

And if assholes made it this far down?

It was better to be prepared. After all... who Nu when trouble would come from below or above?

He paused... felt sick... and swore to himself that he would never do that again.

He would have to leave it to Delta to make the Goyles a spawn room or turn the garden into one. He already felt like he was at his limit of pushing his power over the Dungeon. He looked around the garden with the nine doors and...

Nu wasn’t sure if it was anticipation or worry that made him want to have their secrets laid bare. He honestly wished he could just grab a sword and do the job himself, but that option just wasn’t available to him now.

That’s why he and Delta had minions. Very... strong minions.

But he had no doubt the Cult had some horrid beings waiting for them. They had so many years of testing ever-reverting subjects until something stuck.

That spoke of trouble and Nu was very good at tackling trouble.

He was more worried about Delta.

If she found some monstrous creature or something... she might try to befriend it, or worse… cry.

Nu would not let that happen.

Not while he had something to protect.

---

“You make a compelling argument,” Bossy admitted as they stood outside the very bar they had come in search of.

“You know I do! Come on, with Perfect-Nina and Lazy-Nina splitting for the heck of it... we need to pull together. So, go get Hoarder-Nina and we’ll smush together, balancing out the splitting,” Drama-Nina explained.

Being one of the older clones meant she kept some sense of the original Nina. Just a little.

Bossy narrowed her eyes and Drama-Nina quickly did some repair work before Bossy stormed off.

“It lets you get back into the driver seat. Get Hoarder under control and bring me into line,” Drama-Nina said as she nodded. That made her clone smile.

Bossy went off without another word, pushing past the large wooden fort that guarded the bar. Drama-Nina could see how their towers would offer decent cover against the climbers. The various mounds and slippery mud made the climb even worse. Nina... all of them... were just going to pay the fine to the devil clam and move on.

She looked up and read the name that was just visible from outside.

The Swarthy Hog.

It sounded like a place to find grizzled old men and potential lost princesses. No wonder Nibs was excited about it.

There was a faint buzz as Bossy took Hoarder back into herself. The feeling made all the Ninas tingle.

That feeling was her only way of coming back if she split too far. Mindless Ninas wandering for food and attacking everything until one got the idea to eat another Nina. That usually stuck them together, and the first rush of human pleasure that clone would feel would spread, and soon all Ninas would hunt other Ninas until a spark of intelligence returned to the Nina mind.

It was hard to see, hear and remember the things the Lesser Ninas had done. If she was lucky, it was just funny stories of bumbling bitey twins in the forest. Worst case was being hunted for attempted murder.

That always sucked.

Bossy returned and Nina smiled as Bossy held out a hand.

She took it and Bossy vanished into a shimmering green cloud of Mana that was taken back into Drama-Nina.

Control... desire... those emotions and ideas were suddenly real again. They were hers.

It felt like being a person again.

She turned and entered the bar. More Nina than before.

The place was... a little bare bones but hardly the worst place Nina had ever seen. The goblin who saved her was serving drinks to Seth and two goblins armed with bags and weapons. Lord Mushy and Missy occasionally used a spray bottle to mist themselves down with clear water.

The large mounted boar’s head above the entrance was a fake as the boar looked less defeated, less strung up, and more like a watchful protector of the place. Round tables were placed between thin but sturdy pillars. On one side was a crackling hearth that bathed the room in warm dancing light.

A collection of mushrooms growing out of the wall nearby was playing something rather sad... a piano melody of something soft... tender.

“Never heard the bloke go anywhere below ‘excited’. Wonder what’s got him all torn up?” the goblin asked Lord Mushy. The giant monster put down his thin flower vase and sighed.

“People. Such wonderful things... but they all have their own pasts. I can’t imagine having a year’s worth of memories, let alone, say... 35. I do believe my head would explode, wouldn’t you agree, my fair lady Fera?” he gruffly said. Fera poured herself a shot of something familiar and nodded, not scowling as hard as she shot Missy a crooked smile and the little mushroom kicked her legs off the high stool.

“Is that Nib’s brew?” Nina called out and the goblin... Fera, looked up.

“Was. It tasted like pig swill so I made it better,” she said, and as if in response to something only she could hear, Fera coughed.

“No offence to the maker,” she added with little warmth to her tone. Seth raised his glass of bubbling brown drink up, face revolted, before he took another deep swig.

“Evil but heavenly!” he marveled.

Odd.

Fera turned back to Lord Mushy.

“We got Mum’s memories to a point. So it isn’t the same. I keep getting ideas for drinks I’ve never heard of... something called cocktails, but they’re too fancy for this place,” Fera dismissed and looked to the standing Nina.

“Make an order or grab a mop and clean. Standing there is ruining the view,” she ordered. Nina, hearing this almost daily, snapped to attention and looked around for the mop only for none to be found.

“Hah, this is a Dungeon bar. Stains and marks are intentional. Sit down and get your drink,” Fera ordered. Nina did so, pulling out the letter from Nibs as she was handed the same kind of drink that Seth was drinking... was drinking.

He stared at the empty glass.

“Vanished... some taker of things? No... I am... in love,” he mumbled.

Fera took the note and opened the seal with one of her very long nails. Nina took a sip and froze.

The drink was something akin to awful lich spit. A corrosive evil liquid that destroyed all that it touched... such evil that would consume Nina and leave her a husk of a woman.

She almost broke and cried, but then in the darkness came life and light. Joy and love danced across her tongue and her body felt light, as if she would float off the stool at any moment. It hit her stomach and she got a headrush, as if she just had the best night of her life and now came the bubbly and cute pillow talk.

The Drink tore her opinion in two.

And thus, it tore Nina in two.

---

Fera scowled at the letter. She didn’t know exactly how to read. Speaking was easy, everyone in the Dungeon spoke the same language. She closed her eyes and Mum... her good mother... let her tap into her own knowledge. Fera wasn’t one for compliments, but Mum was smart - scary smart. She knew one whole language and even parts of others!

Fera would beat the snot out of anyone who would call her Mum dumb, and then shoot them.

She focused and the words began to blend and work together. The local language was now in Fera’s mind.

Ah... words.

Fera needed to make a menu and some boards to declare her wares.

The letter was short and to the point.

Fera’s rise in power would not go ignored. While she was highly respected for her passion, Niblet’s Lunch and Drink Pub would not stand idly by. Fera was to prepare to be utterly shown up as the amateur she was... and a small extra note invited her for a free drink if she ever managed to break the rules of Dungeon and not go abomination.

Fera narrowed her eyes.

Rude. How utterly rude!

A free drink? How dare this Nibs! Fera had treasure for days! She even had a clam guarding it!

She tore the letter up and finally turned to see what the noise coming from her bar was. She paused as the girl who had come in was splitting into copies of herself. Each of the girls snatched the Shroom Pop and buzzed... splitting again. The splitting was happening faster and faster.

The bar was getting rather full and the girls were beginning to screech at each other.

Fera’s nostrils flared.

She reached under the bar.

All the girls, even the ones baring teeth and snarling, froze as the almighty boomstick announced itself with a bang into the ceiling and a shower of wood chips.

“Enough of this! I want you all back in one piece before I fill yer rears with burning pellets!” she roared and the room shook with her anger.

She was the damn room guardian of this place and she would not let it get trampled!

There was a beat before clones began to pop out of sight. In the end, there was only one left who looked confused and dazed.

“I’m sorry... I...” she said, and Fera looked at the two broken stools and her other disturbed customers. Missy was on top of Lord Mushy, hiding in nervous fear. Seth had his new drink all down his front...

Unacceptable.

She reached under the bar and threw something at the girl.

It was an orange apron with frills.

“Tomorrow morning. Be here and work off your debt,” she growled.

Inside, she was smirking.

Sorry, Nibs, but Fera had just pulled ahead in the race.

“But my other job...” the girl protested.

“Split. You seemed to be good at it,” Fera replied waspishly. The apron was meant to be a reward that made someone better at making drinks, or something similar, but Fera had never had planned on giving it out.

The girl wasn’t bound or even likely to turn up, but Fera looked to the floating form of her Mum.

“You deal with the consequences. She’s a real person and you might not be aware how much you’re biting off,” came the words of wisdom. Fera jutted her chin out slightly.

Fera always knew what she was biting into.

That was one of the benefits of being a cook.

Nina meekly approached the bar.

“Can I have something to eat?” she asked. Fera narrowed her eyes and tapped her finger on the bar as she gave her recommendation.

“You want the mushroom soup. It’s less conflicting,” she said, and the girl opened her mouth to argue.

“You... want... the soup,” Fera insisted. A beat later, the girl nodded.

Five minutes later, or it was free (not like these guests were even paying) Nina - the girl’s name - sipped the brew.

She blinked and then looked up.

“It’s good!” she said, and Fera was just glad she didn’t split again.

“You get free meals when working here. Also a break in the Pond room or a tour of the jungle,” she added on the rewards. Her intent wasn’t to make the girl suffer but to let her see and experience the bar... and a bit more. Then she could spread the news when she returned home.

Also, it wasn't about the stools, but Fera wanted it known... very early... that if trouble was to be started in her bar, there would be consequences.

Money was not going to be accepted... only very valuable trinkets for Mum or honest work.

This was not a pay-to-win kinda place.

Fera thought about that and then went through the back to get a blackboard and chalk.

She began to write.

After a bit of time reading this over. Fera added one more line.

Fera had a feeling that the list of rulz would only be getting bigger.

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