Delta watched with a hint of nervous energy as the door to the laboratory creaked closed behind them.
The open hall with many tiny connected hallways was a surprising space compared to the Silence pit but Delta used Doctor’s eyes to peer into the space. It was more like a dungeon in the most real sense. A place where people suffered, and that the sun never touched.
Delta paused… wait, that still sounded like most Dungeons of this world. Well, this place was like places where prisoners were sent when castles were common. Stone walls and drafty floors with hay spread over it to soak up odd spills or maybe have the odd worker just collapse for a power nap.
The hall itself was arched with statuesque pillars like twisted bone to hold the ceiling up above. The top of these pillars spread like roots. Delta had no idea if it was artistic or just how the material acted. It didn’t look like normal stone. Too white.
Her group moved forward. Gnashly and Jeb taking the lead. The hall was thankfully much more suited to their size. The gargoyles either used their shoulders as perches or like Dragon and Dozer, crawled along the ceiling, their stone claws making easy work and handholds of the fancy roots.
Jack was keeping back, making sure nothing got out.
Jeb stomped and the creatures that littered this place scattered.
They were like thick viscous black puddings. Bones and items sunk and rose out of their bodies.
It was like tiny swamps that had gotten bored and learned to move but… their bubbling slime made flesh erode and turn black on contact.
Not that Jeb or Gnashly even noticed.
Something Delta learned about Trolls in general was that their pain receptors never really… bothered to develop From an evolutionary perspective she guessed if the creature could just regenerate damage, pain wasn’t needed to tell them to stop being idiots.
Instead, evolution just made their skin thicker and walked away screaming in frustration at what she had just done.
The slimes mostly used something as a ‘face’. The common theme seemed to be skulls. Delta winced and guessed she knew what happened to the undead around here: they were stripped down and used as fancy accessories by these puddings.
A few of the pudding slimes used helmets or shields but the general foes used long dead eye sockets to glare at them. One of the puddings lashed out with a tentacle and a sword emerged from the slime.
It sunk into Jeb slightly before getting stuck. The pudding yanked and pulled with frustration while Jeb looked down.
“Free sword!” he cheered and stomped the pudding, which made a lot of things scatter across the floor.
“At least he’s having fun,” Delta sighed.
“Better the one who can fix himself up than us,” Doctor agreed. The gargoyles were neatly avoiding the puddings as best they could as their flesh would be exposed to the burning muck while not in their stone form.
Harder than it looked when the puddings could slime up the walls and give chase.
Doctor lashed out. Under his flapping cloak came a series of flasks. The bubbling solution broke on contact and spread fire across a few of the puddings.
Jack cheered in support as the combined efforts of Doctor’s oddly poisonous fluids and Jack’s bad habit made firebombs. Delta was surprised to learn each goyle had their own weapon, as it were.
Gargoyles… were actually very cool once Delta explored into their biology and powers. It took some explanation on Nu’s part but the idea was that each Gargoyle was unique. Their soul was formed and poured into a statue.
Usually they were considered religious creatures by proxy. Ambient faith for whatever god or goddess or thing or toaster (Delta was sure Nu was joking about that last one) would gather in a temple or church over time.
That energy would eventually leak into the building itself. Hence that weirdly nice but unearthly feeling such places could get if they were old enough. The side effect was that things would become empowered.
The water, the food, the beds, the toilets, and even the mops.
It also meant such fixtures such as statues and water drainage on the roof that had been carved into angelic or demonic looking creatures would also get that power. And like in most good stories with statues and magic… they came to life.
Now the issue was that each tiny feature and defect of said statue shaped what a gargoyle could and could not do.
Delta had a feeling that if her monster template hadn’t screwed up and gone wonky, her gargoyles would have been uniform and exactly the same in terms of powers and weapons until she learned to control the process.
But since Delta had accidentally broke a few tiny… not important things somehow, her gargoyles were each wildly different.
Delta had to reassure herself that the whole defective template thing was no big deal. No big deal at all.
“As a Doctor… lying to yourself is unhealthy,” Doctor said airily and another couple puddings went up in flame, exploding with more loot.
“If it was that bad, Sis would have told me,” she argued.
Doctor’s silence was heavy.
In a deep desert, a series of ten or so white gleaming towers stood, with sealed tunnels that arched up between the towers to connect them. The land around the towers was lush with a series of oases. Nearby, a bustling city of towers that tried to impersonate the white towers had been built.
It was connected to the towers with several roads and aqueducts and its people moved on with their lives, unaware of the being that controlled the towers screeching to herself.
Dejen stared down at the things before her. She was on her 70th floor. A very important floor. It ended with a zero! It was damn important, and this? This was not what she needed to deal with right now.
Her towers reached to the stars. The glowing white spires of beauty and treasure to lure in those from miles around. Dejen refused to bury herself into the dirt like some mole…
Many of her lower floors were occupied and facing threats.
She had spent a pretty amount of Rainbow Gems to make her bosses respawn within an hour… her lower floors were wonderful.
Lackluster and somewhat primitive in her early attempts but the sheer charm of them, her fumbles and success were a past… a story… and Dejen didn’t have the heart to change them. Her future was ever higher, and here she was climbing.
Her first monsters, after months of stockpiling and waiting to buy her new floor, the seventh tower rising by another 100 meters to show she had done just that. Her monster choice was new… exciting.
The Sister had always given her interesting choices. Sand scarred assassin clan… the Thunder Scorpions… or the Mimic Cacti.
Each a deadly breed capable of devouring legions of common warriors on their own. She had chosen the scorpions. Dejen was envisioning some endless plain of storms where one would have to do deadly battle and dodge death from above.
It had nice acoustics once she set it up. Dejen was sure she could hold some concerts here and it would be lovely. Well, aside from her audience dying by lightning strike but the show must go on!
She had set up natural lightning rods where one could race for cover from the deadly storm, the tall crystal of rubies and sapphires that would be impossible to miss. Occasionally Dejen set in an Emerald one on high ground.
Dejen liked pretty things and these towers were damn pretty.
Next, she summoned herself three scorpions. But her idea of exactly matching jewel-encrusted scorpions was ruined…
One was a tiny thing with huge claws and a twin-stinger. An opal and a pink diamond on each tail. It curled them together to sting at foes. A second one was so big it lumbered, and its tail was used more to itch its head than attack, and the last one was just… orange.
Dejen screeched but no matter how many times she erased… summoned…erased… SUMMONED…
They all were so imperfect!
Dejen screamed, and the thunderstorm howled with her. Dejen (still screaming) adjusted the storm to be slightly louder and more in sync with her. The light was a bit dim so she set that to be higher as well.
Dejen was of a mind that while she had time to rage against the cruel fate that she now suffered… there was still time to make the floor look slightly better. One could have a breakdown and still look perfect.
Eventually she decided… that with some effort and random luck, she could work with this. Dejen was a good Dungeon. Good at what she did.
Making people die with style and beauty.
She made vaguely colour themed scorpions and did her best to ignore their other issues and sent them to the right towers.
Red one to the ruby towers… blue(ish) to the sapphire ones… and the glowing green one to emerald.
Dejen had no idea why it was glowing, but decided it actually looked cute once it was in the right spot. Like the towers , the monsters fit them like good shoes.
Dejen liked pretty matching shoes.
Yes… Dejen could work with this.
Her concert might have to be put on hold until she was sure the monsters wouldn’t outdo her, however.
That would be tragic. Dejen had a habit of erasing those that outdid her.
These odd pudding slime monsters weren’t like the blood elemental.
There was no core to speak of. When one was splattered their black gloop remained inert over the stone floor. Thankfully, their inability to dissolve anything but flesh meant the room wasn’t collapsing around them from acid holes.
The thing was that while they displayed reactions to Delta’s monsters, they lacked fear or even a sense of planning. They rushed forward to consume, stab, swallow, and generally rush them but there was no thought to dodging or trying new tactics.
Slimes emerged from some side rooms using beakers, axes, and even a few gnawed bones as weapons. Those rooms needed to be explored but there was something more important Delta needed to check out first.
A giant hollowed out space in the middle of the large hall held a bubbling cauldron with a bright glowing green mixture. The mixture inside was still being heated and cooked, despite this place being cut off from the world.
That had caught Delta’s attention.
Doctor was the best one to look into it but the amount of squishy slimes trying to bombard them with sheer numbers was beginning to wear even her trolls down.
Dragon opened his maw and several of them burst into fire as Dozer just charged, his form slightly glowing with a rippling shield that gave his forward momentum a slight unstoppable feel. Vanguard was the odd one. He took any weapon that came within reach and turned them from half eaten scraps into deadly tools of war once more.
Swords, axes, whips, table legs… anything that could be used was used and Vanguard was a master at using them.
The broody gargoyle swung a sword, cleaving a glaring skull in two while he splattered another foe with a club with the same momentum.
“Right let’s see!” Doctor mused as he used a tiny set of stairs to get close to the cauldron. A slime slurped out of it and Doctor pressed a tiny bundle wrapped in cloth into its body where a fizzing powder floated for a second before the slime simply gurgled and collapsed into a puddle.
“What is this thing?” Delta asked, focused on the cauldron. The urge to switch between her monsters was strong but she knew if she could just stop this cauldron, she could easily halve the number of slimes.
Doctor ran his hand over several symbols, carved letters, and stains.
“Nothing good. I would say that this thing is a source of those monsters but where it gathers resources from and how it keeps itself alight and working is a mystery,” Doctor said and stabbed another slime pudding that tried to yank him into the cauldron.
“The fire, maybe we can put it out!” Delta said suddenly. Doctor let himself fall down the last of the stairs and dropped to his stomach in the dusty bowl that held the cauldron. Delta blinked at the embedded dark red crystals.
Those looked familiar…
“Fire Crystals, the angle and the distance to the ground means I won’t be able to swing a hammer to smash them. Of course, no fire to put out either,” Doctor stood and with some quick movements, he used his claws to carefully balance on the lip of the cauldron.
“Any ideas, my fair lady?” Doctor sounded rather calm despite the sheer number of bubbling slimes that were rapidly forming at the bottom of the cauldron. Delta was sort of reminded of the cooking she was able to do.
It had too made monstrous blobs at the bottom of the pot. Wait, that gave her an idea!
“Maybe we should throw stuff in and see if we can mess up their dish?” she suggested. Doctor pulled out vials and more wrapped tiny little powder bags.
“Allow me!” he announced and he began to throw his arsenal into the cauldron. Most of them just dissolved harmlessly and hissed out in white smoke.
The powder seemed to cling for longer but the sheer volume of acidic green sludge simply washed it aside.
“We need something more deadly than Sin Choir Dust,” Doctor responded to the scene in that same calm tone.
Delta, however, could feel his agitation on his tools being outdone. Delta looked around but the science scene in the hall was either being used as weapons by the slimes or turned to dust long ago. She was beginning to panic when Jeb belly flopped and black slime went everywhere. At his side was a meat cleaver, a tenderiser, and a large jug corked with a simple brown lid.
That cherry red jug sloshed with something familiar.
It was bad… but could it be that bad?
“Jeb! Give Doctor your Troll soup!” Delta yelled and the troll didn't even look as he chucked the container across the room. Doctor leapt and what was a jug for Jeb was a barrel for Doctor.
He slid a few feet back, gasping as he tried to slow down the projectile. He was now quite a bit away from the cauldron and he began to stomp forward. Delta yelled a warning , as if sensing something was up, the puddings began to gather around Doctor like a plague of locusts. They lashed out with tentacles and knives. The downside was that Doctor couldn’t progress and defended himself by turning to stone.
Vanguard was there like a vengeful angel. His weapons cleared a path forward which Doctor took without slowing down.
The panic in the slimes seem to rise and a few began to blob together into some horrid wave of trash and acid. Dragon responded by swooping down in a storm of fire. The light and the dark clashed, sending flaming bits of pudding everywhere but the hole left behind was used by Doctor to rush deeper.
The cauldron was working overtime, shaking and hissing as it spat out puddings like no tomorrow.
“You can do it!” Delta cheered. The oncoming wave was torn apart, squished, and blown away by Gnashly, Jeb, and Dozer. Doctor was so near that he burst into a sprint.
Delta felt Doctor’s mind go crazy, he never felt more alive. The moment of victory was near but at the last moment, a pudding that had no items and no weapons rose out of a crack and tripped Doctor. He face planted, almost breaking his beak mask right off. Delta cried out as Jeb’s brew bounced and rolled away.
The slimes didn’t touch it but made the path to the jug a nightmare of acid and bladed weapons.
“Damn it all. I’ll make them regret that,” Doctor hissed, his foot crushing the slime that had tripped him. The numbers flowing from the cauldron and the side rooms was staggering.
The air became fouler as the slimes gave off noxious fumes. Delta had little doubt a normal person would have their lungs scorched trying to breathe in here. The walls moved like water as the slimes ran out of room on the ground and began to claim the high ground.
This was… this was a nightmare.
And what was worse that they hadn’t breeched the inner sanctum of the lab yet. That cauldron kept spitting out more and Delta had a horrible feeling she had started it up like a long dormant auto-factory.
They would keep being produced and Delta wasn’t sure how she would begin to fix this.
Inside, she began to feel like a slime was crawling around her heart. It burned and every second felt like a dark morbid understanding that she might be in over her head here.
She opened her mouth… to say something? To call her friends back? To yell in frustration and fear?
She didn’t know. Delta wouldn’t be given the chance to find out as the jug rolled forward on it’s side like a barrel out of a comedy movie. Jack the Kobold on the top.
“Move it or lose it sisters! Remember me?! I FRIGGIN REMEMBER YOU! TODAY WILL BE THE DAY-” he hollered and screamed as the barrel crushed the slimes, the burning muck hiss on Jack’s feet as the jug spun around and around.
Nothing could stop him.
Jack let the jug fly over the edge, himself still on it.
“-THE DAY YOU ALMOST CAUGHT MAD BURNING JACK KOBOLD AND FRRRRIEEEENNNDS! ” he yelled with mad glee and the jug, the kobold, and several trapped slimes on the jug crashed into the cauldron, the cork on the jug flying off.
The thick brown liquid seeped into it and the cauldron began to give off a high keening noise. The Troll soup, Jack’s mad laugh, and the jug itself sank and the cauldron began to crack, dark light seeping out between the stone fissures.
“SHE’S GONNA BLOW!” Delta screamed. Her monsters ran as all the black puddings had gone stark still, shaking in time with the cauldron.
Jeb and Gnashly formed a trollish shield around the goyles as the cauldron gave one last shriek and the whole room shook.
Delta felt it ripple through her body.
Her whole Dungeon was shaking.
Seth paused as the trees and rocks shook fiercely for a moment. The Queen and her subjects became a noise of furious buzzing.
“Mother…” Inchy whispered. Renny took the bird and passed it to Seth.
“Renny! Where you going?” Seth called. The Mime didn’t answer, funnily enough.
“He’s going downstairs. Momma needs help,” Inchy said quietly. Seth looked at the bird.
“I could go?” he offered. Inchy looked up before shaking his little feathered head. He hopped to Seth’s shoulder.
“We gotta have faith. Renny is strong! And you gotta finish the tour! That was my job! To give you the tour,” Inchy said. The bird must have been worried because it didn’t even pun once.
Seth felt the tremors stop and honestly knew he couldn’t offer faith. The best he could do was trust.
So he put on his best smile and let Inchy lead him onwards. His senses flickered… his mind being brushed gently by a stroke of magic.
An assurance… a promise. The hot smoky aftertaste told him that Quiss was already heading to check things out.
The concern and softness in the embers of Quiss’ magic would surprise most people but Seth knew the man had the deepest warmth for those he cared about.
Seth smiled, relaxing truly as he felt Quiss move on to follow Renny.
Between those two? Perhaps he could have a little faith.