Lordy Mushy awaited Delta’s answer.
“Pretend to be a Dungeon?” Delta repeated the question. She honestly should be proud that she was considered ‘not a Dungeon’ by Deo.
She eyed the group.
Kemy, the girl that almost made Delta wish she had a pitfall just so Kemy couldn’t leave, was looking not only her cheery self but also downright amazing in a cotton candy fluffy priestess robe. How on earth did someone sew clouds together?
It was hugging but not revealing, it was light but not flimsy... it was cute but not demeaning. Delta wanted it but stripping a gal naked in her Dungeon wouldn’t send the best message.
Beside, who else would wear it besides Luna?
She imagined Rale proudly walking down the river in the robe and snorted.
Vas was also here. He was surrounded by Lordy’s pots and looked amazed at the sheer skill jump the mushroom had gained in a such short while.
Delta wanted to rub her chin in pride.
That’s right, Delta’s kids were prodigies.
She made a note to put a sewing needle in the hand of a gargoyle if she ever made one. If nothing else, they wouldn’t be pricking their fingers if they messed up...
And Deo… oh Deo. After seeing Isanella so much, the resemblance was uncanny. There was also something else… something she only noticed now that her senses had been refined.
The boy felt… scarred. His Mana swirled in powerful but flawed ways as if paths it should be able to travel were snatched away. Gone.
The lingering scars twinged with a foul numbing feeling and Delta narrowed her eyes. She moved closer and, carefully, sunk her hands into his face. This felt invasive but unlike her monsters, Delta still couldn’t touch people that much. Ruli seemed easier due to her demon powers but Deo didn’t even seem to notice.
Her hands felt his Mana, rich and warm like milk before bed… the sun on your skin… a loved one’s hug. It was beautiful but as she felt up, near his brain and ears… the feeling was jaggedly torn away and she yelped as she actually cut herself on the sheer tear.
It was still sharp… cleanly torn inside Deo but the Mana had adapted… evolved to ignore the damage. The wound was old… very old.
Deo had to have been a baby or… or…
She dropped her hands to her side.
Delta… was going to destroy the Silence when she kicked down it’s doors. There was- is no reason to ever harm a child like this. Unless Deo’s natural hearing was going to kill him there was no reason.
Deo hadn’t hurt anyone. He had been damn nice to her! Her monsters! Delta let a growl escape. Deo was her friend.
As a damned Dungeon at heart… she was possessive of her treasures.
“Sure… I’ll need a day or two but I can make it happen,” Delta said as the silence had stretched on for a bit. Lordy cleared his throat and relayed the message. Deo cheered.
“Ask Deo if I can try something on him?” she asked. Lordy made firm mouth motions despite having no mouth exactly. It was good enough Deo only struggled a little to understand him. Oddly the mustache helped.
“SURE! DEO BRAWNDO IS ALWAYS HERE TO HELP!” he promised with his beaming smile. Delta smiled and placed her hands near the jagged torn part.
Maybe… since Deo had grown up with little Mana… she could take its place? She gathered Mana and swirled it around Deo.
Kemy gasped as Deo began to pulse with orange light.
“WOW… I FEEL WARM!” Deo said with a laugh. Delta focused… her vision splitting into the lines of numbers. The walls were microscopic ones and twos… the air was Mana mimicking the surrounding Oxygen… Lordy was a physical shell pulsing with her Mana. Deo… a glowing red sun… Vas an oddly black pond that sucked up light that came near by… Kemy… a golden beacon of truth…
She focused and Delta broke down from human-happy to a Delta of processes, of a hundred simulations and ideas. Each one suggested before being discarded as her Mana gave live feedback of what did what… what failed…
No successes. She tried to be more like the core she was and her head pulsed as she barely parsed 200 simulations. A single Mana doing this or that… perhaps higher there… perhaps that single particle of orange Mana a bit faster?
At this rate it would take a year to just finish seeing what would happen if she carefully filled Deo up with Mana.
Delta breathed and emotion returned… humanity.
Her Mana in this form and shape was too disorganised and unpurposed! Too… impure to do what she wanted. She wanted to kick something.
She sighed and Deo itched his ear as if suffering from air pressure.
“Thanks Deo,” she said and the boy grinned.
“LATER DELTA! TEAM HEROIC HOLY POT WILL BE BACK SOON TO TOTALLY WIN… PRETEND WIN!” he said and raced outside.
Kemy opened her eyes, her hands unclasping. She had been...scrying? Sensing? Doing something like it and she stared roughly at the direction Delta’s avatar was in.
“You are… so nice. Praise to you, Delta,” Kemy bowed and ran up the stairs.
“No, come back! I forgot to lock you in here and make you stay forever!” Delta whined. Damn it, what was the chance of an innocent gal like Kemy passing through in the next few years?! Vas merely said something quiet to Lordy and the tall creature laughed loudly.
“Many secrets await you! Please… do come back and seek them out,” he encouraged the golem. Vas was slower to leave but he looked thoughtful.
Delta grumbled about escaping maidens for a few more minutes until she felt like a giant fire-breathing turtle so she stopped and floated back to the Pub where Fera was pouring more water on Seth. Delta was about to ask what the hell was going on until she saw the water being literally being sucked from the bucket and drained into the regrowing stump of Seth’s hand.
“He’s like a plant. Just water him I guess,” Fera shrugged. She went back to get more clean water and Seth looked less dead and more hungover as he grumbled.
Delta was impressed… and a little scared. How would you kill this man near a river or an ocean?!
She felt yet more people come and decided today was going to be busy when she saw a red-faced Quiss shouting for the ‘Idiotic exploding tea cup’.
Delta hoped he meant Seth. She really did.
There was a second person Delta had never seen before. A wispy woman. She looked like if a mummy had laid out for a tan and then been forgotten for about 100 years.
“Be’narl, I don’t care about your hearing. My friend blew himself up again! He’s a damn water mage! How does he keep doing that?!” Quiss yelled as Maestro opened the tunnels for them. The woman gave Maestro a once over.
“Cut back on the miracle grow, bean sprout. Size ain’t worth things falling off later,” the raspy wrinkle warned. Maestro had no answer for that.
This woman wasn’t human. Delta just knew it. Like an apple and a mouldy old orange standing next to each other as Quiss and the woman appeared in the pub.
“Delta, Be’narl Ghu. Be’narl, Dungeon and monsters. Now see if he needs help,” Quiss sighed. He looked around.
“Thank God, a bar!” he praised the skies.
“I’m an innkeeper, not a doctor!” the woman hissed but she bent down nonetheless. She began to touch tender points and Delta noticed how her golden eyes saw more than she let on.
“Minor Mana conversion. Typical magic horse waste, bah! Man is a fool. He is of water… not ice. He should keep to his element,” the woman held out a hand to Fera. “Something strong. For me. I’ll pay,” she said. Fera actually choked back a gasp.
“Pay… you’ll pay?!” Fera rushed over and began to mix bottles. Honest customers, Delta guessed Fera might want some of them.
“Depends on the drink,” Ghu warned.
“Seth uses ice because water causes leaks in cities when he uses it,” Quiss grumbled, and despite his pissed attitude, he was watching Seth’s form with real worry. He sipped his drink and it looked different from Shroom Pop.
Quiss smirked at the watching Fera.
“Strong… but I’ve burned my tongue on hotter things,” he bragged. Fera waited, then Quiss burped, shaken for a moment as his eyes actually watered.
“It’s called ‘Troll Tears’ for a reason. I used a few spins of my new assistant’s wooden spoon to mix the spirit,” Fera grinned.
That spoon was used for troll soup!
Ghu pressed a point near Seth’s elbow and the man gasped awake. Ghu said something quietly. Seth’s eyes slid close and the woman for a moment looked much younger… her wispy hair a little black before she grunted and sunk back into decrepit.
“He’s fine. Pure Dungeon water is the next best thing short of a pure Nature spring or some Unicorn piss,” Ghu snorted and cackled. Fera passed her an oddly green drink.
“Witch Doctor’s Medicine,” Fera offered.
Delta watched the bubbling glass.
“What is in there, Fera?” she asked quietly.
Fera covered her mouth to mask her words.
“Some Pygmy dart paralytic crushed in, mixed with one part gutrot but mended with rare herbal flowers from the secret garden. A touch of royal honey and mixed all together. Oh and rum. Devina promised me her nature spirits weren’t in the flowers but… I can’t be sure. So she may be drinking actual spirits,” Fera listed.
Delta stared in horror at her goblin and the worst part was… Ghu ordered a second one not long after.
King Lendious sat on his throne as his select council and Royal Guards watched him slowly grip a report.
He tried to keep his cool, a king that lost control was a sad sight indeed but the mere mention… the sheer audacity… of the words before made him want to throw his crown out the window and scream.
He felt anger bubble and he smelled… cheese.
Lendious’ eyes snapped about but there would be none. The very room itself had been cursed with the stench. He had priests and powerful mages work spells but the best they could do was mask it for some time. It was still too easy to smell.
“My King. That shanty cursed place is of no concern-” a woman offered. Gineria, mistress of coin. Her eyes cut better than any sword.
“No concern? No concern?! Have you read the report? It mentions by name several interesting parties. One of which would be HALDI KEER! Wanted for the crimes of 55 different accounts in this city alone! One of which was assault on his own king,” Lendious leaned forward and threw the report to the ground.
“Another is Mila Darknessbane. Maybe you remember her as the monster that dropped our royal drake’s left leg on my front door step and told me I would be able to bargain for the rest attached? Need I even mention the name ISANELLA BRAWNDO?!” he screamed.
Cool lost… mood ruined.
A few people gasped loudly at Brawndo’s name. Damn that woman and her monster husband.
A brazen new Royal Knight stepped up. Mendah or some such. He was too new for the King to know him closely. His Royal Knights grew every year for this very reason. To make up for the losses sure to come.
“Let me go and bring them to justice,” he knelt and requested.
There was silence.
Then, a figure was just there, an arm yanking the boy to his feet. The Knight turned to chew out whomever it was, but his words died off as the cloaked Lorsa stared back.
“Back in line, egg,” Lorsa said calmly. Mendah obeyed meekly.
Lendious felt better seeing the oldest Royal Knight.
The one who guarded him as a child.
“Lorsa, so glad you can join the hubbub!” Perhal giggled and waved. The slightly rotund woman made people look away in fear. The King allowed her to speak openly. The woman had done much in his service… many dark things. Her new apprentice stared at Lorsa with… interest. Odd boy that one.
The new star under Perhal was quickly climbing the ranks. Willing to do any and all tasks given to him. His strength grew just as astronomically.
Some said he was a gift from the gods. Others said he was a curse waiting to happen. Lendious didn’t care much. The boy had been found in some odd sleepy town that suffered a stray bandit attack. The town was oddly unknown to the king and yet… the boy didn’t look like he was a victim.
He looked like a warrior.
Lendious leaned back and knew the boy only spoke in carefully prepared lines or stared silently.
His name was Alf Far but everyone ended up calling him Al.
Even the king was somewhat unable to really explain why they took such interest in the boy.
“Attacks on the town would be unwise if even needed. Durence is and always has been a promise. They would go to that town and they would stay there. They have done so,” Lorsa calmly picked up the report, scooping up the papers slowly. Lendious squirmed with a touch of guilt and shame at his temper.
“But Lorry, they’re getting Mana now! That means they won’t be still for long. Best to crush them and drink them dry before they become a pest,” Perhal sang. Another Knight spoke up.
“Control your disgusting habits, Perhal. Durence was Grey… but a Dungeon appeared. Are we to blame them for that? They could no sooner do that than control the sun. It’s unfair even for wanted criminals who agreed to a prison of their own terms… provoking them would be stupid,” Adala warned. A clever woman whose arrows could hunt people like beasts.
The King admired her for her ‘robust’ common sense.
“Yet leaving them alone without a warden was always a risk. Before, it was a danger to our men but now with Mana… it would not be unreasonable.” A knight nodded. Lendious frowned.
That deal… how much of that deal was an ultimatum.
Mila Darknessbane had cut through his already injured men and told him flatly.
“Leave us alone to grieve and die… and we’ll leave your city alone to stand,” she whispered. Then she was gone.
That was the deal.
The King had had lies spread. Contracts… promises… blackmail…
All lies. But Lorsa had made it sound good and the kingdom soon believed the King had exiled these criminals in a stalemate…
He hadn’t been stupid. He had the place watched. People arrived and yet no one left. He followed trails and found… no recruiter… people just woke up one day and went to Durence.
Not any old beggars but dangerous people. All mail from Durence, slow as it was, was checked… read… and sealed. There was no magic! No hidden code. But people still kept coming.
It was maddening.
Lorsa has been in charge of tracking the progress of this migration but their many duties left this secondary. In Lorsa’s words… let them gather into a spot. The Grey would end them all.
He trusted Lorsa to do what was needed.
Lendious closed his eyes.
“This Noland, he is to return with a scribe who will act as his apprentice. With him… I want two Knights to escort him. I want complete reports. I want to know strengths… I want to know numbers, and I want to know viable plans if an invasion is needed. Is that clear?” he said to Lorsa and his own scribe who was writing down his every word.
“Who shall go?” Lorsa calmly asked as if Lendious hadn't just stated he was sending two of his most deadly warriors on a tax run.
“Zane… and Perhal,” he said and the woman—busy snacking on something burned to a crisp—blinked.
“Me? Oh I’ll bring Al for some hands-on training,” she beamed. Lorsa tilted their head.
A sign of extreme agitation for Lorsa, he knew that well.
“Usually we pair different mindsets to make sure all thoughts and avenues are covered,” Lorsa said logically. Lendious leaned his head into his hand.
“Sometimes a battle-axe with two blades will stir things faster than a sword and shield,” he stated. Lorsa bowed.
“I shall inform Zane of his duty. Perhal… I doubt we’ll need to chase you down tomorrow,” Lorsa was gone before the woman could answer.
“Oh poo. I hate when the leader does a vanishing trick. Can’t even invite them for tea,” she told the blank faced Al.
Lendious dismissed the unneeded and four Knights remained in the corners of the throne room.
Three of them were absolute masters in their area… the fourth was just blessed with the ability that made him too perfect for Lendious to ignore.
“Knight,” he said quietly. The man clenched one fist and from his feet a ripple of white energy scoured the floor. Removing traces of germs… dirt from boots… and the smell of cheese.
Minutes of blissful clean air.
It was a blessing.
He nodded his thanks to the man as the room was cleansed of Mana. He wasn’t strong enough to remove the curse of Haldi but his natural gift to break Mana down and repel it was good enough to earn him a spot on Lendious Royal Knights.
In a way. All his Knights served one purpose very well.
It wasn’t like the old days of his forefathers where any criminal scum was branded with the loyalty mark.
Now, he could read lists of applicants… judge people on their power and actions. Decide if it was better to let these beasts—most of them anyway—stand behind him with weapons or loose on the street with innocent people.
Zane was such a person.
The world was darker if he was free but somehow just as bad with him being a Knight. Growing stronger with access to the Dungeon.
A proper deal.
Loyalty with the promise of blood.
Besides, Zane had a history with a man in Durence if he remembered right. Why not throw a bone to the Knight watching over his youngest daughter?
Honestly, Lendious just wanted her gone for a short while. At least in Durence, it might be left untouched after she left.
He sat there and waited.
Waited for the fear in his heart to release its control over his feet.
Even to this day… Haldi had left more than a bad smell in his home.
Lorsa walked out of the wall - well… not the wall. Just the hair-thin space afterwards that made it look like they did.
“That’s bloody annoying,” the woman hunched over her desk said as she skinned a red rabbit.
“First words you say to me in almost thirty years and it was that?” Lorsa complained. Mila snorted.
“I got a few more if you want them? You’re the first decent target I’ve had since my kid finished school,” the woman buried her knife into table and stood.
“Oh, Ruli actually went back? Aw, how is the little demon princess?” Lorsa helped herself to the hidden bottle of cheap wine hidden in the roof rafters. Exactly where it had been left all those years ago.
“She’s annoying, rude, pissed off at the world, and makes friends with monsters and Dungeons. I can’t believe she grew up so wild,” Mila complained.
“Oh gee. I can’t believe it either,” Lorsa drank from the bottle, her hood dropping to reveal the silvery hair.
“Where did you get that one?” Mila grunted. Lorsa smiled.
“Yal built it. I had to fetch him bloody rare books on statues and art! The snob has gone artsy,” Lorsa said before she lowered her bottle.
“I always wanted to ask… well visit, but with the Grey, I couldn’t afford to shut down. The letters, the tricking, the bribes… I hoped you knew I was still helping where I could,” she added. Mila nodded.
“With each creep that showed up. Had your smug little fingerprints all over it,” she agreed. “How’s your princess? I heard she’s finally breaking out of her shell,” Mila asked politely.
“Serma? Good girl but she is more like her mother than she knows. Her father…” Lorsa winced but Mila waved it off.
“-is an idiot who let things get as bad as they did. I’ve had a lot of time to be pissed about it but I’m old and care less than I do about the fact that you’re drinking my wine,” she held her hand out.Amused, Lorsa passed it over.
“How is Hae,” Mila said and Lorsa blinked.
“Oh… you were out for a few years. You might want to brace yourself for this. Hae ran off,” Lorsa said bluntly. Mila gulped, eyes wide.
“No fucking way. She wouldn’t leave her brats,” Mila denied Lorsa’s words instantly.
“Well, with Lendious as a husband, I could see her giving up but she didn’t leave. I said ran off,” Lorsa waggled a finger.
“Queen Hearah… long way from little mousy pickpocket Hae. So where did she go? Church? Thieves guild in her fancy gown?” Mila snorted at the image. Lorsa’s tone was flat when she spoke.
“Currently? She’s a contract on floor 100 of Yal’s Dungeon.”
The wine bottle cracked and shattered.
Delta stared at the garden that used to hold that weird gazebo.
The fountain was gone. It was replaced by something… quite odd.
A statue of Nu was on a round stone platform. On his stone screen were a few lines but it had been covered in moss and the fact that it was a little cracked was making it hard to read.
The two floating hands were splayed open as if taunting people to read.
“The well of wisdom is deep but you’re all up the creek without a bucket?” Delta read aloud, but let her mind space out a little to take the room in.
She blinked and stared at the bubbling well hidden under the hollow statue. The glowing orange liquid was still like glass.
Delta let the numbers appear and her garden became still digesting room of information covered in her Mana to her eyes. The well was barely a few drinking glasses full but someone would have to climb down to reach it.
She brought up a menu and watched as Mana drew together,information flowing from her core and imprinting on the Mana, shaping it and making it real. So that was how a menu looked in progress…
She came back to human sight and her eyes almost went backwards as she blinked hard at the words.
Delta pursed her lips.
“If I find out that the stealing-eyeball thing is real, I am going to make you wash your hands before we talk again,” she warned but the Menu simply vanished.
Delta let out a sigh and she stretched, looking up.
“We’ve been noticed.”
“Perhaps she doesn’t see us? We could be that well hidden?”
“No… she’s seen us if the rising keening noise is any indication.”
“… Quiet. This is our first impression.”
A nearby hill moved and Gnashly woke up. She yawned and looked around.
“Where’s the chicken? What’s screaming?” she demanded. She looked over and paused.
“Oh… well, Nu’s in the dog house,” she mumbled. Delta stared up at four looming figures and her vision flickered under her shock, causing their forms to flash as if orange lightning was in the background.
Four faces. Only one of them close to human.
One peered down in the most hideous bat like snout Delta has seen. The next one she thought was a bird until she saw the wide dark eye sockets.
A doctor… a plague doctor stone face. The last of the monstrous visages was something like a dragon but deformed.
The leader, as the rest looked up to him, crossed his arms. His hair was wavy and dark… his chest defined… his eyes deep and… brooding.
“We’re thinking of the ‘Stoned Four’!” the bat one sounded pleased. The rest all made noises of disgust.
Delta closed her eyes. Opened them. Breathed.
“I am so getting sued,” she declared.