Perhaps the best part of Seth and Quiss walking past a grinning Fran, newly respawned, was seeing Ruli blinking at them as she returned from her Paradise snooze.
“Delta’s being invaded by nerds,” she announced and slung her new sword over her shoulder. Delta had heard her call it Magma. It was an awesome-looking sword but it was also a bit… edgy for her.
Delta snorted at Ruli’s words and her own little joke. Ruli shot her general direction a smirk. Away from her Core but having her own Mana to push out Delta’s out gradually, Ruli wasn’t able to see her anywhere near as clearly as before. It was a shame, but it just made aiming for the fourth floor a goal in the long term.
Delta was beginning to wonder if the tenth floor would give her a proper sense of taste? Sure she got impressions from things she devoured—Gutrots still made her stomach curl up— but it wasn’t the same as eating.
“Ah, fair… milk lady of the forest!” Seth announced, speaking as if his tongue didn’t quite work. Delta stared as Ruli ignored the words and waved. Quiss gave her a long look.
“What have you been doing?” he asked with outright suspicion. Ruli walked past and clapped his shoulder hard.
“Fought an underground fortress of the unliving and ghouls on Delta’s third floor. I think I found whatever it is my Ma and her friends are ignoring,” she explained and Quiss looked at the sword for a long moment. Ruli shrugged.
“Someone chucked it at me. By ancient laws of… the Gnomes, it’s mine now,” Ruli said quickly. Quiss and Seth shared a look.
“Gnomes actually have very detailed and finicky laws-” Quiss started and Ruli blew a raspberry at him.
“Again, I declare you… nerds!” she waved him off and nodded to Seth.
“You look like a mess, what did you do?” she asked confused. Seth touched his pale arm.
“I locked my passion with Ser Fran. He pierced me andI him…” Seth said proudly. Ruli gave him a long look, smacked her lips, and walked to the bar without a word. Seth turned to Quiss.
“I… announced myself wrong?” he asked. Delta was both baffled and pink at Seth’s words.
Delta had Fran come to the door before the two men went down to the second floor. She used him as a mouthpiece to his amusement. It had been a while since he’d had that task.
“Seth, why are you speaking like an idiot to everyone else? Ruli thinks me and you engaged in far more than passionate combat,” Fran asked. Seth blinked then he looked a little horrified at his own words.
Quiss blinked wildly and smacked himself.
“Of course… Dungeon Translation. This would have saved me so much damn time,” he muttered to himself.
Quiss cleared his throat.
“Delta… this may be rude and potentially risking your wrath but I am a blunt man. You don’t have ears or a mouth,” he stated. Delta touched her Avatar’s ears and frowned.
Well, sure they were made of Mana too thin to be heard but she had them.
“You do not have an ear canal or nerves or a tongue to speak. Everything you do is through Mana. Sound and other stimuli are casually absorbed and translated in real time by your Dungeon,” Seth spoke up and his tone went oddly distracted. Quiss looked pained.
“He’s lecturing again,” he said faintly. Seth paced the small corridor.
“Words are essentially noises given meaning. It’s symbolic but your Dungeon can use those small hints of humanity and intent to make sense of them. Mana is easily influenced by memories, elements, power, and intent. As a Dungeon you take all these things and use them to grow!” Seth went on. Delta was panicking because she didn’t have a notebook or pen to write this down.
Was there going to be a test?!
Delta didn’t perform well under test conditions. She… blanked.
“So as a Dungeon who is friendly and lovely as a rose, your ability to be a universal translator to current affairs or read lost texts and ancient tomes would be amazing!” Seth beamed. Quiss began to push him towards the stairs.
“Stop flirting and get moving. I swear you will end up in someone’s bed if I leave you alone for too long. You already got intimate with a Dungeon boss… let’s not have you humping the walls,” Quiss grumbled.
Fran blinked slowly.
“My heart belongs to the fight and my job,” he called after them, as if trying to make sure his intent was not misunderstood.
Delta gave his head a firm pat.
“I believe you,” she said solemnly.
Fran didn’t look amused.
Seth watched as stone became wood.
The smell of damp earth and caves was swiftly replaced by the scent of the wild world of life.
Quiss pushed open the room that hosted the stairs leading back up and the view it revealed actually took Seth’s breath away.
It was a whole new world. Towering trees were crowned by a veil of mist, soft… actual light floated through the peaceful scenery to make a dazzling first impression. Seth closed his eyes and heard birds singing songs, things moving in the underbrush.
This jungle, this cradle of life was simplistic but rich. He took a few steps forward and he felt more pure water… he could hear the distant song of a waterfall nearby. Fran, the bar, even Lord Mushy had been fantastic but this?
This spoke to Seth.
Quiss looked unimpressed. This was Quiss’ ‘nose down and slow blink’ unimpressed. That meant he had seen this before rather than just didn’t like it. Growing up together with vastly different cultures and languages—which neither were willing to learn out of some childish triviality at the time—taught Seth more about Quiss than words could ever really reach.
Sure, they could talk in Magic but that was dangerous.
The general path forward was clear and Seth decided to stroll rather than rush on. Quiss seemed to be fine with it. Really, alone like this, it was always quiet between them. They simply just didn’t need the noise.
If they talked too much... that would echo into the hole where their teacher once was... how she would blab on, in both their languages and others Seth hadn’t ever heard of.
The trees that Seth could see looked to be off-shoots of the trees outside but greatly mutated and enlarged. He wondered what a proper Lumberjack class could make with that wood? Sell the treated plants or blocks to blacksmiths or other crafting jobs, what wondrous creations would be brought forth?
There were a few other trees, but they were unknown to Seth. Unless it had ten thousand uses in common potions or made good tea, Seth’s education on green things was actually lacking. He would have to visit that nice Druid woman, Dabberghast, for her opinion… bring her to the Dungeon for easy translation.
The idea of an actual universal translator tickled Seth fancy. Imagine the sheer joys of learning between two very different people or creatures if they could bridge any language or use of noise that counted as talking!
Could the Dungeon understand animals?
Seth was curious to know but not enough to speak… to ruin the sheer serene feeling he had walking under the thin shadows of the towering trees. The artificial sun above was peeking through and making his skin feel warm but the heat was just slightly more than a warm day and was actually quite nice.
Fighting with Fran… earning his way here was worth it.
Seth had found somewhere that had clear signs of someone having no idea what they were doing… the mismash of trees, blooming flowers in the shade root plants exposed… utter lack of proper insects that would be found normally… oddly placed benches that Seth stopped to test out.
It was a little chaotic but the sheer joy and effort Delta had put into this place shone clearer than any biological or ecological mistake. This jungle was imagination and it was pure.
The bench was nice too, just firm enough but not too solid to make it uncomfortable. Delta had gotten the curve of the seat just right. What a gal. Quiss looked up at the giant trees, with a small frown. Seth knew what he was thinking about.
Hard not to know when it sometimes plagued Seth as well. Memories. But after a while Quiss relaxed on the bench and his hands unclenched. He pulled out a flask and took a light sip. Seth actually rolled his eyes and then accepted the flask when it was offered. He blinked as the scent hit his nose.
It wasn’t booze, it was tea. Seth stared down at the flask.
That exact kind of tea was- He sipped it and said nothing.
Seth didn’t have to say anything about the why. The taste hit the back of his throat and he gagged.
“Like behind of deathcow,” he shivered. Quiss nodded.
“Just the way she liked it,” he grinned and took another sip himself and grimaced. Seth mulled it over.
She meant… Deson. Liked… Saert…
Seth nodded with a small smile once he made sure he got what Quiss said. One day he'd get this language thing but at the same time, Seth also never wanted to learn.
Their habits… their way of interacting was how they had always been. Seth was stupidly worried if he learned Quiss’ language… things might change between them. Funny how the little things could get to Seth.
A little orange bird landed on the armrest of the bench and the two men looked at it.
It was a squat little thing with a puffed up head crest and little round eyes. It was bright orange and looked like it had no idea that cute things like itself would have many predators.
Then it spoke.
“You got beaten by Fran so badly, you and a whole other person got benched!” the bird chirped. Quiss looked confused as the bird was speaking to Seth and in Seth’s language.
Seth’s mouth dropped open and he watched the bird look mighty pleased with itself.
“You speak! How interesting!” Seth leaned down until he was eye to eye with the ball of feathers.
“I speak to break the ice,” the bird peered at Seth’s newly healed arm which had indeed still felt massively cold from his dangerous use of the element.
Quiss mumbled something and licked his lips at the bird. Well, it did look like it would be a nice cooked piece of bird but Seth was aghast Quiss would eat something so cute.
“You are just too damn cute to even eat!” Seth announced. The bird tilted his head.
“That’s taking roasting to a whole new level! But what do you expect from a fire mage? I’m Inchy! I am part one of your tour guide!” the bird chirped. A shadow loomed over Seth and he looked up to the pale form of a gangly man with beady black eyes and a thin painted smile.
“…Hello?” Seth offered.
The man bent down slowly and the hair prickled on Seth’s skin as the mime squeezed Seth’s nose and a honking noise sounded out.
“This is part A! That’s Renny, a real chatterbox! He’s started making noise. Before he was kinda a quiet fellow!” Inchy the bird announced. Quiss stared regretfully at his flask and Seth stood, offering his hand to the odd creature.
Mimes and jungles weren’t exactly connected but maybe this was a wild tribe of mimes or something? Delta could be a bit weird like that.
The creature, Renny, shook it and everyone turned to Quiss.
“Touch me and regret it. I’m hungover,” he snapped.
Oh! Seth knew those words! Quiss had said them a lot over the years.
The bird tilted his head and said something to the man.
Quiss eyed the bird and reached slowly for it with fire appearing on his hand. Renny neatly picked Inchy up and stuffed him under that odd jester hat he had.
“So, you’re our guide? Where shall we go first? I’m very eager to see more!” Seth beamed. The Mime looked at him and the thin smile painted on the pale face split, and opening like a demonic egg, revealing rows of serrated black teeth. The Mime held out a hand as if to offer Seth a whimsical hand held tour.
Under the hat, the bird’s muffled tones could be heard.
“Renny asks if you trust him?” he was informed. Seth shared a look with Quiss but the man was downing a second flask that had he pulled from his boot.
Seth turned back and hesitantly took the offered hand.
“…Yes?” he replied. Seth hoped Delta hadn’t lured him into a trap by using an entire level to make him think she was nice and good.
That just would suck.
Renny nodded and the smile vanished. Loud steps sounded from the trees. Everything shook. Something very big was approaching.
“Then Renny shall take you on a magic pet ride! It has the best views and only smells a little! Lots of monkeying about to get a ticket though, so feel lucky!” Inchy cheered.
Seth didn’t feel lucky. He felt… small.
The trees parted and a monster that did belong in the jungle appeared.
It wore a little hat with a tassle and a simple banner-like jacket that read ‘Renny’s magical pet ride. Wilhelm has eaten ‘0’ people in the last 24 hours!’
Seth blinked then he felt excited, this was fun! He took a step forward and Quiss dragged him back.
“No thank you! We’ll risk the bugs and the pissed off tiny bugs,” Quiss called and Seth reached for the magic monkey ride as he was dragged away.
But... his fun!
Renny watched the two guests turn the bend in the trees and vanished. He looked to Delta who was comforting a let down Wilhelm.
He looked at her. Questioning if he should follow.
“Ah I guess so. I mean I’m worried Quiss is going to set fire to the jungle or give me more ducks… Waddles is awesome but I hate to become predictable by having the same thing on every floor!” Delta announced. Renny looked around at the growing mushrooms and decided not to say anything.
“Their gooses are cooked! Their ducks are fu-” Inchy was prodded by Renny and chirped in annoyance.
Renny took off and listened to Delta explain to Wilhelm how the circus was soon to be much better. That cheered the creature and Renny up. This wouldn’t be so bad. The pretty one seemed pleasant and Quiss was… well… he could leave tiny thimbles of beer to lure the man to where Renny wanted him to go.
This should be fun… and definitely not that hard-
Quiss pulled his staff from his large coat, space magic making sure his rod was not on display to the public. Seth knew Quiss had a large staff but seeing it always made Seth hold his own wand with a little uncertainty.
Power or control… girth or grace? Seth had no idea what truly was better.
“A challenge! See, Seth? The Frog wants me to actually be rowdy,” Quiss rambled on and took more swigs of his flask. The giant actual frog man loomed on the far side of this amazingly large bridge that looked like nature herself had grown it over the deep ravine below.
“I think….Hoppyman will let us… dance pass if we do not… aim our rods at him!” Seth tried to calm his friend down.
“I’ll point my rod at whoever gets in my way! I am a wizard and I put a lot of work into getting a rod this powerful! What’s the point of not shoving it in people’s faces after all that work?” Quiss scowled.
Seth gave him a flat look.
“You did worked little. You jumped into pit of fire and walked out holding rod! Not work! Idiot!” Seth reminded. Quiss sniffed
“An idiot with a big hot rod. Now excuse me, Seth. I am going to do mortal combat with my new arch rival, a giant frog with a bigger stick than me, but clearly mine is magical and better,” he stomped off.
The giant frog leveled his log shaped weapon and walked forward at the same time as Quiss.
Seth covered his eyes and waited.
Delta was yanking on her shirt collar and blowing out hot air, her cheeks flaming orange.
“They can’t be saying those… things in public! What if Deo was around! WHAT IF KEMY WAS AROUND?!” Delta yelled and pointed to Giant.
“He needs a cold shower!” she ordered.
Quiss spun his staff and it left burning sparks as it moved. He smirked at his foe.
“I am a highly trained weapons master with the staff. Even without magic, I am dangerous to underestimate,” he warned the frog.
The frog paused, then threw his weapon to Quiss casually. He caught it in confusion and the Frog picked him up and tossed him over the edge before Quiss could adjust to having a rod in each hand..
He hit the mist and his cursing turned into a large drawn out noise as the mist warped his swearing into some weird man’s scream. He hit the water and a beast emerged from the water and stood over him.
“Do not be scared… of the water… BECAUSE I AM HERE!” another frog promised in red shorts and holding a trident.
Quiss glared and the water bubbled around him as the heat rose.
Back on the bridge, Seth coyly leaned into the bridge railing near the giant frog.
“You are very smart. Those muscles aren’t your best asset at all!” Seth grinned. The frog looked away, his dark green cheeks turning darker.
“Do you have days off? I love a man who can make Quiss look like a fool at times. I’m Seth and I’m just delighted to meet you,” he held out a hand. It was gently shook by the giant.
“Ah you’re shy,” Seth laughed good naturedly as the Frog idly kicked the ground. The giant frog gestured to the stacked staffs he had ready to fight.
“Oh, not me! I couldn’t bring myself to harm a shy handsome knight like you! But I’ll wait here until Quiss comes roaring back if that’s okay?” he said and the giant frog looked lost until he pulled out containers of honey and fruit juice in ice cold water. He gestured for Seth to sit on the bridge and join him.
“Oh Sir Frog, I am in your tender care,” Seth beamed. The frog blushed and actually managed a smile back.
“…Giant… my name,” the hill of a frog offered. His voice was deep but not loud… careful.
“Seth. So Giant, is that for the muscles or your heart? Cause this fruit water is delicious and you are a saint for sharing it on a warm day like this!” Seth sighed in relief as he drank.
Giant said nothing but poured more for Seth to enjoy.
“Then I said I was short four stones but Bob swore he didn’t cheat. Of course, it was his crabs that had done it but Bob is clever like that,” Rale explained as he calmly rowed a tiny log up river as Quiss sat there, feet in the water as he listened, bored.
He saw something glinting and spotted two tiny red crabs carrying his sealed flask into a wide pool.
Quiss watched in horror as they jumped into the deep abyss with his booze.
“After them!” he commanded Rale. The frog grinned.
“Some things aren’t worth diving too deeply for,” he warned. Quiss met his eyes.
“If I get sober in the next ten minutes, I will drown the next person who speaks to me,” he answered. His rescuer merely rode the log over the deep black pool and watched. Quiss slid off and held his breath, diving.
Seth had a dozen or so breathing charms or transformations to swim… or move water itself. Quiss had the art of looking like a drowned rat as he dived and clung to the tunnel walls to sink deep. He saw his glinting treasure near the bottom of the shifting silt and sand.
He reached for it.
Two devilish crabs watching in glee.
“So quite into bridges,” Seth nodded as Giant hugged his knees. The giant figure was a gentle being and every time he reached for honey to suckle or more fruit water, Seth immensely enjoyed the sight of flexing muscles and a solid jawline grinning.
He was nudged by Renny and the bird, Inchy.
“Time to go! Tour is a-waiting,” the bird encouraged. Seth turned to Giant and the frog offered him one last clay cup of water for the road.
“This had been quite lovely, I’ll be back!” he promised and Giant nodded, pleased to hear it. In the distance a fountain of water erupted and Quiss’ scream that sounded like a 5 year old seeing a dire cockroach for the first time.
“… Right, Quiss is on his own. He’s upsetting some poor thing. I can’t take that man anywhere without something catching fire or being banished from the kingdom,” Seth threw his free hand up in disgust.
“Where next?” Seth asked and Inchy and Renny shared a look.
“The Bees,” Inchy said quietly.
“Bees?” Seth echoed.
In the dark shadows of the jungle, tiny forms watched the tall one. His hair shimmering like gold. It would be a fine tribute to the goddess Delta!
The Pygmies raised their spears and began to hunt.