Delta watched with some hints of worry as Jack reformed. The price had been costly but she had a lot of Mana left over from absorbing the various rooms and monsters. The idea of waiting for the five days had crossed her mind but in the end? There were more pros than cons to that idea that went along nicely with Delta’s own guilty feeling that she led Jack to his demise.
The Kobold shuddered once as his body settled on the stone floor of the lab. He blinked a few times as he licked his scaly snout as if tasting the foul air for the first time.
“The afterlife is filled with smut,” he croaked. Delta sighed with a smile. Good ole Jack was back. Doctor peered him over.
“He’s breathing and isn’t leaking anything. I assume he is in good health,” he announced. Delta turned her presence to him with a long look.
“I never said I was a medical doctor,” the gargoyle said promptly. There was zero hint of shame at this.
Delta watched as Jack wobbled to his feet and stared at his claws.
“I… where was I? I… did anyone see a chap in a bathrobe?” Jack asked the group but turned away before anyone answered.
“I need to find housewife porn and offer it to the great beyond,” he said in a hushed tone of someone who had seen… something.
“Jack? Are you alright?” Delta called and the Kobold turned to look somewhat skyward towards the garden of Delta’s Dungeon.
“Aye. Just met someone I can’t remember rightly. They liked books of that nature and if I die… I wanna make sure I earn brownie points. Grease the system, right!” Jack turned, that mad glint in full force.
“You saw someone?” Dozer asked rudely. Jack raised one claw then dropped it.
“I don’t remember but I have the oddest urge to eat hamburgers,” he announced and looked at the ruined crater where the cauldron of slime used to be.
There was a large dark smear now. It reeked of troll soup.
“That’s gonna be one to remember,” he mused. Vanguard kicked a soot pile and half dissolved weapons shifted about. Vanguard looked annoyed.
“I’ll get you a nice sword,” Delta offered shyly. Vanguard paused then nodded silently in thanks.
“So, not to be rude or ungrateful or myself but why bring me back? Cost ya a pretty penny right?” Jack stared roughly at Doc where Delta was watching from. Delta cleared her throat.
“Your knowledge, oh mad Kobold, is needed. You know this place better than anyone,” she said with the grace of a Dungeon core, or so Delta imagined.
“You felt bad about me blowing myself up,” Jack stated, picking his teeth with a bone shard he found. There was zero doubt.
Delta puffed her cheeks out.
“I can feel both cunning and sappy,” she said defensively. The monsters around her all shuffled in silent avoidance. None of them agreed or disagreed.
“Fine, I felt bad. Are you sure you’re alright?” she asked Jack.
“I blew up the old slime maker. That put me in a damn good mood,” Jack grinned maliciously at the smear. Delta had to agree.
The idea of some pot or cauldron able to endlessly make an army of acidic slimes was… worrying. Jack crossed his arms and looked around.
“Well, I owe you twice over for my life now. Guess I can show you around, now that we aren’t drowning in slimes,” he agreed. Delta watched as the Kobold looked around as if to get his own bearing.
“Right, the few times I was held prisoner here, the place was run like a business model with extreme consequences on fucking up. Tons of arrogant apprentices deciding they could do anything and if they screwed each other over then that just meant more subjects to experiment on,” Jack frowned. He pointed to the many side rooms.
“The rooms closest to the exit belonged to the lowest dregs. Barely smarter than a rock or ethical enough not to do shitty things to earn favour,” he moved the clawed finger up the side of the room.
“The closer you are to the end room, the more of a shitnoser you were and more dark things you had done. Human experimentation, mutation, weird things… see how they’re bigger and have better toys?” Jack grunted.
Delta frowned as he finally pointed to a set of stairs that lead down into a lone basement door. It was set in the farthest wall.
“That was the head honcho. The smartest, cruelest, most dangerous egghead here,” Jack’s voice had dropped to a tiny echo.
“Most times I was here, there were a lot of new leaders. Scientists that managed to kill or dethrone the previous one by making some new way to kill people. But I heard rumors… there was a guy in charge. A real scary looking fella. He ran things for the longest time before the great collapse. He made that slime cauldron and a lot of the really freaky shit a long time ago,” Jack hopped down and the goyles followed him to the basement door.
“That guy locked the head office and since then noone could get inside. A real asshole move I kinda respect. The guy office-blocked any head scientist to come,” Jack knocked on the solid steel door.
“What was his name?” Doctor inquired with deep interest. Jack shrugged.
“Never heard it. Kinda busy being tortured,” Jack grinned darkly at the goyle. Delta shot him a look.
“That’s not funny,” she chided. Jack rolled his eyes.
“Maybe you can open the door once you do the Dungeon thing here,” he suggested. Delta closed her eyes, feeling her Mana. It brushed up against the entrance to the lab but even with the cauldron slimes gone… there was something projecting enough energy to act as a barrier.
Delta had a bad feeling on where the source might be.
“We need to get inside that door,” she declared grimly. Jeb waddled over.
“Move aside, please!” he rumbled. The polite troll reared back one fist and her gargoyles scrambled.
There was a loud crash and the door became alight with glowing symbols along the frame, dark lightning crackling furiously as the troll’s fist was stopped inches away from the surface. Jeb pulled his fist back to show blackened skin and bone.
“Door not like punching,” he declared. Jack snorted.
“I love this guy,” he said with a shake of his head.
“The guy was a magical scientist. I’m pretty sure he did more than just lose the key. People have been doing all sorts of things to get inside over the years,” Jack offered as Vanguard tried to jam a metal rebar into the frame which the door simply melted.
“Which means we need magic to open it?” Delta guessed. Jack shrugged with an apologetic look.
“Magic is as diverse as the people of the world,” he offered. Dragon stopped breathing fire on the door - it was having no effect - and looked annoyed.
“And that means what?” he replied with a wave of one claw.
“It means Magic is bullshit,” A new voice interrupted.
Everyone spun. Delta gave a small noise of surprise. She had been so focused she hadn’t felt Quiss reach the third floor.
The blond man looked… less annoyed than before. He had a chicken wing in his mouth and a goblet of something. He looked like he had stopped at the buffet for some time.
There was a long silent pause.
“It’s a pretty goblin!” Jeb declared with amazement. Gnashly looked down and she too seemed a little awed by Quiss’ pink skin and blond hair.
“I like this guy,” Dragon declared as he inhaled. He seemed to have caught a whiff of something on Quiss’ scent.
Delta guessed that knowing there were humans and meeting one would be a little different for her monsters. Well, at least it was Quiss. He would at least be roughly polite. Ruli had been on the third floor but Delta had a feeling her monsters had seen more of her demon side than anything human.
Quiss walked into the lab, a foul expression taking over his face as he eyed the many instruments.
Was he sensing the dark magics? Was he upset at the horrors? Was Quiss… going to be alright?
“Underground evil lab. I really hate cliche assholes,” he threw his chicken bone to the side and finished his drink.
“I came to make sure you haven't unearthed an evil fire demon or let loose a 1000 year old desert dark mage or unlocked the door to the monster hell,” Quiss listed as if Delta was capable of doing any of those things. She was insulted!
“I just blew up a slime making cauldron that had unlimited energy!” she fired back. Thankfully Doctor acted as her mouth piece.
“That was going to be my next guess,” Quiss hummed as he neared the door and then stopped.
“What’s with the door? Thing is literally vibrating with magic,” he pointed as if no one else had seen the door.
“We need to get inside so we can take over the place,” Dozer scratched his head. Quiss looked around the area and narrowed his gaze on a part of the door.
“Well, good luck. Those glowing runes near the corner that look like two horses trying to dance over hot coals? Those are Mana bindings. Kinda like a handprint. This door is sealed, locked, bound, and many other annoying words. You need a sample of the caster’s Mana to even begin to unravel it,” Quiss explained.
Great, a magical DNA scanner. Delta threw her Mana that ebbed off her monsters at the door with a futile act of frustration. The orange cloud splattered against the metal and there was an odd clicking noise as three layers of glowing symbols simply evaporated and the door rattled.
There was silence as Quiss turned to the various monsters.
“Did Delta… take and master the school of ancient tomb raiding?” he asked, voice faint with some hidden emotion.
“I didn’t do anything!” Delta protested but she eyed the door. Her Mana had undone the door magic! But… how?
Quiss merely looked at the door and shook his head.
“You must have already got a sample. Did you eat or meet someone who looked like they might be an evil tosser? Someone magical and slightly batshit insane?” he inquired. Delta frowned.
Not unless the farmer from her early days had lead a double life…
Doctor told Quiss this and his eyes gained an odd glint.
“Mana… can be inherited as well. Some children or rare enough artifacts may carry enough of the caster’s Mana by means to be gleaned. Perhaps you met someone who was connected to the caster?” Quiss mumbled, his questions not even directed at Delta anymore.
The door shook as the enchantments began to fail one by one. The last glowing symbol to blink out was a simplistic vase. It faded and the door creaked open in the creepiest manner Delta had ever heard.
There was a foul wind that rushed out and through Delta’s Dungeon and out her front entrance within a minute or two. Quiss turned, eyes alight with white fire in alarm.
“A spirit. Left to alert the caster no doubt,” he spat.
Delta had a bad feeling about all this but…
She felt even more worried when the spirit flew towards the town of Durence.
Japes paused in his newest creation. A thrice-sealed space contained with an earthen basin. Good for some more Earth born monsters. At his window a dark orb floated with patience.
“Well, well, well… as I live and breathe,” he smiled and let the spirit in. The orb hovered like a ball of shadows for a moment before a face formed on the surface using inner red light to form features.
An angry young man glared at Japes.
“You utter sack of Minotaur crap,” the ball said with deep hatred. Japes looked around but Vas was still out. Good, language like this was just no good for the boy.
“Oh hush, Gilona. You were planning on using my heart for your own inane empowerment rituals. Very shoddy work by the way. I found the notes after I raided your room. Not a very kind thing to do to your master,” Japes mocked. The spirit, a sealed glass sphere that contained the rotten soul of one of his more talented apprentices, roiled with furious hate.
“You had ruled too long. I awaited you to succumb to age but you are a monster in all senses. I had to act. I simply miscalculated… besides, it’s all for naught! Have you seen the lab? Ruined!” Gilona screamed. Japes idly rubbed his head as a headache formed. Gilona was always a screamer.
“It’s silly to be attached to dusty beakers and dark corners. A true scientist goes where results are best formed without interference or biases. If you were a bit less obsessed with becoming a silly demon or what was it called? A terryboy?” Japes mused, knowing full well what it was called.
He had to admit, he missed sending cocky apprentices into a rage.
“THERION!” Gilona screamed.
“Yes, yes, that thing. Then you would have seen the Lab of Silence was restricting us. Narrowing our focus to their goals. Who wants to research how to bind human darkness to the source? Who cares about bringing back the war of the Three? Really, so boring,” Japes sighed and Gilona was quiet for a long time.
“Is that why you imprisoned me instead of killing me? To see what would become of those who did fall in line?” he asked. Japes’ smile was demonic as it stretched from ear to ear.
“No, I simply wanted to make you regret trying to use me in such pathetic science like you had planned,” he answered honestly. Gilona screamed and tried to charge him but Japes held one hand up and the glass went still.
“You mistake my patience and kindness I have developed as a father as an offer to push my limits,” Japes said softly. The orb cracked as a force pressed in on it.
“I respect you for trying to take me down. Your pride and methods, as shoddy as they were, were leagues above the rest of the fools that tried to slither into my dead heart. Hence why you were spared to learn a lesson and the others were… assets that I liquified in the end,” Japes’ smile was distorting his face now.
“T-t-the cauldron! You knew they’d… try to unearth its secrets!” the spirit huffed in pain. Japes shrugged.
“I knew that the cauldron would use anyone’s souls nearby to make an army of slimes. Souls are rather interesting as endless fuel if you can both sustain them and drain them. Like light through glass. Honestly, I had planned for them to eventually flood out at my command to consume the early fodder of the Silence. I take it… the Dungeon had to deal with them? How annoying. I hate to have caused a bother,” Japes frowned.
This made Gilona splutter even more in confusion.
“Consume? You speak as if you are here to help this… festering town?!” the orb whispered. Japes leaned in.
“Oh I intend to be one of their frontmen. I intend to march into the bowels of hell and Silence itself with them,” Japes promised.
“I don’t… I don’t understand,” the orb was unsure and Japes was reminded of the young lad Gilona had been when Japes had found him. Half-dead and almost fed to the growing undead army. A waste of useful talent.
“As your teacher, even now, let me teach you something, my dear Gilly. It is not ourselves that matter in the field of science. No, it is the results and knowledge we leave behind that is our true salvation. I will go when the time is right. I will use my greatest tools to see, to learn how a god can be sealed in a container with no walls. I will learn this. Then I will finish the greatest container… the greatest prison known to this world. I will die so that my knowledge will complete the last pulsing cell in my heart,” Japes was standing now and he was aware of every pot in his home was shaking with his excitement.
“Your work… don’t tell me you finished phase 1?!” Gilona screamed in disbelief.
Japes merely tore his shirt open from the front to reveal a deep empty hole in his chest. A glass surface, a tough alloy that Japes had crafted, showed Gilona his actions.
The orb was struck silent.
In the window. Most of Japes’ heart was gone. Neatly cut away over time. He smiled, a small gentle smile. This seemed to scare Gilona more than anything else.
“I believe that if I wasn’t willing to pay the price, I didn’t deserve to see the reward,” Japes hummed and looked out the window.
“But… who? You don’t trust! You don’t have that ability. So who did you give this power to?!” Gilona asked with fear. The orb’s crack was slowly healing. Good, Japes would hate to have made a shoddy prison.
“The only person who ever made my heart feel warm,” Japes admitted.
Delta felt she didn’t understand what she was seeing.
The large circular room was bigger than the side rooms of the main hall. The curved walls taken up by endless books. Many were cracked and dog eared. Every so often, a portrait with amazing style and detail of landscapes and fantastic sights of green waterfalls, blue forests glowing with crystals, fields of flowers that bloomed like stars broke the books up to give the room a more personal feel. The inner circle of the room had a large desk facing the door with mounds of tiny apparatuses that had gears and flippable switches.
Another desk held many rusty instruments stained a dark brown colour. Boxes of dry clay or other kinds of soil were on the floor and scoops from each seemed to be missing.
It was not as bad as Delta was expecting… except for the giant tree in the middle of the room that instead of bark on one side, had a broken sac filled with some dry sludge. A large tear on the sac showed where something had either been cut free or broke free.
The tree reached to the ceiling and Delta was reminded of Maestro where the branches turned into roots and dug into the soil. The large pool of dusty green slime that must have been in the sac stunk even now of alcoholic disinfectant and earthy plants.
“I live in a town where weird crap happens, so trust me when I say I know weird, and this… has left me speechless,” Quiss stated, breaking the odd frozen grip over the group.
“If someone emerges from the shadows with blond hair, wearing sunglasses underground at night, we shoot first and ask questions later. I won’t have stupid puzzles in my Dungeon!” Delta said, words just tumbling out her mouth. Her monsters all seemed to look confused at this but honestly, Delta was creeped out by the vegan version of a horror movie mad scientist monster test tube!
“I know that wood,” Quiss’ voice was flat and Doctor turned to see a heatwave shimmering off the man and the floor under his feet began to bubble. Quiss took a shaky breath and the heat vanished. His eyes began a glowing white ember as he glared at the wood.
He was closer to the test tube tree and Delta watched as the wood itself seemed to ripple as if trying to ooze away from Quiss.
“Don’t think it’s legitimate but who ever grew this knock-off… made sure it remembered me,” Quiss spat.
“What is it?” Dragon hummed.
“Some homegrown World Tree. It’s already dying and it was never meant to live long… but to get a sample would have been insane,” Quiss’ fury turned to actual honest curiosity.
“Suppose if there were two world trees… it kinda loses its shine as a title,” Dozer agreed. Quiss shook his head.
“It’s weird. The tree is strong, magical, real magical. Nothing about this tree here wouldn’t be useful in some spell or potion. Your average hedge mage could be a small force by himself if he used the tree right. The person who did this, however, used the tree, then just threw it away. That scares me more than growing a second tree,” Quiss admitted.
Delta then focused on something that was niggling her senses.
“That tree… is the source of the barrier stopping me from getting my Mana in,” she said quietly.
“So, we need to destroy it to get the labs under our thumb? Kind of a bummer if we can’t take the tree in. I bet that'd give you some nice things,” Dozer hummed. Vanguard looked like he agreed.
“Can’t be helped!” Dragon grinned and gave the tree a taste of his fire breath. The tree… was untouched and didn’t even seemed to notice. Dragon blinked.
“Now that tree really needs to die,” he growled and tried to slash his claws over the bark. He simply slid off the remaining wood and left no marks.
“Allow me,” Quiss said and he held out his hand. An orange flame gathered on one finger. This action alone got the tree’s attention and it began to wriggle, futile as it was a mutated thing, bound to the room.
“This… is going to feel amazing,” Quiss promised aloud. His eyes flashed and his whole body became wreathed in a cloak of fire.
He inhaled and Delta felt something that made her very heart grow afraid. His fire turned bright and bathed the room in silver. No shadow could escape.
He didn’t burn hotter or denser. But his silver fire seemed to seek life… to seek thoughts and emotions.
Quiss gritted his teeth and the fire reluctantly left her monsters alone and began to surround the shaking tree that was trying to grow half broken thorns. A screaming face formed in the bark as if Quiss’ fire gave it life as well.
Quiss’ fingers snapped once.
“Murderer,” Quiss replied far too calmly.
The silver fire devoured the tree like a beast and the howling and barrier vanished as the thing was reduced to ashes.
The silver fire chewed… it roared… it laughed.
Then it was gone and Quiss stood over the remains with a large smile.
“I love it when I’m right. That felt… good,” he grinned and Delta was too scared for her monsters to make a sound. The fire mage turned and he schooled his expression.
“I… uh… saved you the hard piece of wood and a bit of sac goop,” he offered awkwardly.
“Please don’t ever say those words to me in that order again,” Delta replied blankly. Doctor was all too quick to repeat her words.
“Pardon? I put a lot of effort in holding back my white hot force so you could enjoy the outcome. I could have just covered it all and left you disappointed,” Quiss frowned. Delta covered her ears.
“I can’t hear this!” she yelled.
Quiss just threw his hands up.
“I’m going to go back to Seth before he sleeps with your pissed-off tree,” he declared. Delta uncovered her ears.
“What? Tree… Quiss?! What is Seth doing to Wyin?” she demanded. Quiss quickly hurried as to give her Mana the space to work.
“QUISS?! WHAT IS SETH DOING TO MY POOR MURDEROUS TREE?!”