Demons. Unnatural beings. Outsiders.
As long as there have been stars, there have been demons. In between the Abyss and Oblivion, many layers of dimensions existed. Within these layers were nebulous creatures who developed societies, magic, art, horrific monstrosities, and door-to-door charity knockers.
Their nature was not too unlike the creatures that formed on the fallen Sibling. They could even reach out to each other through dreams or acts of power. This happened for so long that doorways and methods were formed to allow passage.
It was something that the demons regretted ever since, frequently.
The world of the Twins was usually harmless to demons. They could breathe the air, drink the water, and even settle down with the people, but certain things prevented this new world open to them from being… totally perfect.
Like how acid and fire destroyed humans, a unique metal found in this world, Iron, did the same to demons on a worse scale. The rising holy energies of their increasing gods and goddesses began to make city life a pain. Demons and Celestials were universally reactive in terms of layers. There was no real hatred or dislike. They were just highly allergic to each other which made friendship between them harder than most.
What really was the final straw for demons - well, besides the sheer amount of musicals the humans tried to shove down their throats - was the fact that the humans tried to sell their souls for. Every.Little.Thing.
Something in their beings was malleable and powerful. Most demon scholars believe it to be a remnant of a primordial being of some kind, it was a very powerful resource for a demon to increase their powers… at first.
Soon, it became quite clear the demons had been cheated when they had traded secrets to summon them in return for these soul fragments. 99.9999999999% of the bloody time? The fragment was below average worth, but the summoning contract basically meant they had to accept the job if it was within their power.
A demon spent most of their power on this plane trying to go into witness protection by having their rituals destroyed or annulled. However, if the soul being offered was beyond worth, the demon would’ve be insane for turning that down.
Runilac the blacksmith assumed he was smarter than most demon folk, so when he had his ritual being called, he had a moment of tasting the offering before deciding whether to accept the summoning or resist, and lose a day’s wages.
He was highly paid, so Runilac could afford to skip a few summonings. Not that his ritual was common or cheap - he had pride after all.
But the souls being offered ranged from common to a seldom seen rare quality. He was promised their souls once their lives were vanquished. Runilac sensed something fishy but went for it. Humans were short lived and all their souls were firmly of the human type. No sneaky immortal elf bullcrap happening…
The group paid the initial cost and he had gotten to work. He had built them a temple worthy of whatever ‘fallen’ god they worshipped. It could have been a demon but Runilac didn’t ask questions. He could have… he just didn’t care at the time.
That had been a mistake.
The crafty men did not die nor did they keel over when he poisoned their meals or caused a few tunnel collapses.
The facade lasted for a few years until Runilac saw that his promised souls were not coming. Something else had a claim on them, far stronger than his. Their leader finally appeared and like a child being locked in his room, he had been forced into this… prison of iron and darkness.
And that was where he had tinkered and smashed the days away, trying to escape or wait for his contract to end.
“Then, you appeared,” the demon blacksmith grumbled. The kobold was a weirdo. He sipped at a cup that Robin, his aide, poured for him, but the thing was cracked and only dust fell from the teapot.
Neither Robin nor Jack the Kobold seemed to mind.
“You looked pretty close to escaping. You got out, right?” Jack asked, his scaly snout twitching as he examined the make-shift forge room. Runilac frowned down at his pile of empty wine bottles. As a resident of this plane, he didn’t need to eat every day. He got enough energy from his contractor, but the point stands that he was a little insane from the lack of change in his environment.
“I did and I got speared for my trouble. That damnable knight captain in his hall toyed with me until I was weak enough that his grunts could carry me back over the burning iron and back here,” he rubbed at his deep red skin. Then he couldn’t help but quirk a deep smile.
“I heard his screams. I came out and saw the Princess of Calamity. I honestly thought that my king had come to free me, but it seems more like his daughter just stumbled upon me. All the same, I was glad to arm the royal family in their time of need to cut the heads off these damnable vile wretches that not even the disgusting cousin of a succubus, a Crypt Mistress, would touch with a ten foot barbed pole!” He roared and slammed his hand down, smashing the table that was barely holding together with rope and hope.
Jack nodded slowly as Robin eyed the mess before bending down and then freezing on four limbs.
“I am your table of doom, balance terrible weapons on me, my master,” Robin said with deep acceptance.
“And… them?” Jack gestured to Robin. Runilac flared his nostrils.
“None of your business. Now put your damn cup on Robin’s shoulder blade before I decide you’re being rude,” he warned. Jack eyed his skeleton assistant and then shrugged.
“I respect them for their furniture life choices,” he agreed and sat back in his armchair made of broken golem pieces and decorated with spider web. Robin had done the best they could.
“Now, this Delta? You say she is a devilish mastermind aiming to take down the Cult?” Runilac changed the subject. Jack nodded eagerly.
“She is. She’s a Dungeon core eating away at them and already has powerful supporters, like Ruli, whom you saw earlier. I’m her grand vizier and demolitions expert,” Jack explained.
“Odd combination,” the demon mumbled. Jack grinned and his gleaming eyes lit up.
“That’s nothing. Wait until you see the bar or the circus,” he winked. At the mention of a bar, he leaned in.
“Now you have bargaining material!” He said with approval.
If he could offer some form of trade for actual alcohol? He might have to stamp this alliance out faster than expected.
The match began with a charge. Fran was ready for a good fight he party that had entered was the first officially sanctioned group! Deo, Poppy, and Amenster’s attempt beforehand wasn’t with apt permission so he didn’t count it.
When they had finally touched the door, Fran knew just exactly how strong he was allowed to be. Invisible bindings sealed a decent chunk of his power away and his second form was just not accessible at all.
There was no honor in crushing everyone, meaninglessly, with a single attack. They would just die, learning nothing. Fran and Bacon didn’t believe in such baseless slaughter. He was Mother’s knight, her shining example of what this Dungeon was about! Both fair play and growth.
If they lost, then they would come back, later on, stronger! If they won, then the experience would make them all stronger regardless! Fran was weakened, but just enough to still be dangerous without being overwhelming.
Fran couldn’t wait to see what techniques his worthy challengers had! His armour and weapon seemed to be of a bronze alloy. Not strong or flexible. Fran would have to watch his reactions or sides. The power of his own inner core made his aspects change so easily to fit the challengers. The metal would reflect most basic blunt damage and would definitely be painful if Fran landed a hit on them. His weapon was long, but a good strike should be able to shatter it. Fran hoped they picked up on that.
Bacon moved like the wind he often expelled. The group parted into two. Deo and Grim on one side. Poppy, Amenster, Vas, and Kemy on the other. He swung his lance in an overhead spin, telegraphing his intent a little.
He went after the caster side, to remind them that throwing themselves about wildly would give Fran more room to pick his targets.
“He’s coming this way!” Amenster yelled and splayed his hand, a white powder flung from a pouch. The dust settled before tiny bone thorns rose from the chalky dust of the arena. Kemy began to pray and Vas just looked ready.
Poppy waited to see how Amenster’s spell went.
The issue was that while bone spikes would slow any foe that was surprised or unprepared, Fran was neither and Bacon had firm metal hoof guards on. His steed crushed the bones in loud snaps as he swung at the praying Kemy with the side of his lanceto his surprise, Vas was there, deflecting the attack with a snap of his arm.
Vas’ calm eyes made Fran silently bump him up in the threat order. He shot past, sending white chalky dust up in a cloud, forcing the group to cover their eyes. Kemy kept praying, and by the time Fran got Bacon turned around, a golden aura had covered the united group. Deo and Grim had rejoined the splinter group.
Amenster’s spell had boxed them in just a little. This was the trouble with such area of effect spells; unintended targets could be caught in their effect. With more speed than before, Deo, Grim, and Vas moved towards him in a sprint. Grim flashing a dagger while Deo unleashed a boar tusk sword that Fran had to admit looked quite fetching. Vas just ran with his arms behind his back in an attempt to move faster. They moved in a rough arrow formation. All things considered, they were doing pretty well.
Kemy was focusing on her buff while Amenster and Poppy watched. Those two were being too passive. Support fire would make what Fran was about to do next a lot harder. Bacon sped forward, and Fran angled his lance into a javelin throw that soared true - it sliced past Deo’s leg, causing him to trip and tumble from the strike, before the spear forced Vas jump back lest he be pierced in the shoulder.
That left Grim as the sole one moving forward. His smaller knife no less dangerous than any larger blade.
Bacon lowered his tusks and Grim must have realised he had no true method for stopping of moving meat from running him down. He threw himself to the side and Fran leapt at Vas, landing on his spear as Bacon kept his charge up, aiming at the priestess.
Their combined souls let them communicate without words.
“Attack or defend?” He asked the golem child. Vas watched Deo standing up on a wobbly leg and at Bacon charging the casters. He dashed for the pig.
“Good lad,” Fran muttered and spun to rush Deo. He was cut off by Grim who stood before him with the knife raised, buying Deo time to find his dropped weapons.
“A knife versus a lance isn’t wise,” Fran commented coolly. Grim grinned.
“I’m not wise,” he agreed and threw something on the ground. A potion exploded and black smoke filled the space between them. Fran held his breath and waited, expecting a knife to come lunging at his side but the smoke quickly vanished to reveal Deo rushing in with his sword. Grim had helped the boy re-arm…
Fran was impressed.
He sidestepped the first overhead swing from Deo and nearly fell to the knife that stabbed at the gap in his armorbetween his torso and arm. Grim was like Deo’s shadow, the two boys began to swing and cover each other while Fran couldn’t get enough space to lower or swing his lance in any meaningful way.
Bacon was driven into the background as Poppy (growing black fur and muscle mass on her thin frame) and Vas each pushed against a tusk , both straining with the effort of preventing Bacon from reaching the two casters.
Amenster was actually focusing and chanting along with Kemy. Her golden energy infusing the bone dust that the necromancer boy was collecting.
A combined spell? Fran couldn’t believe he was getting such a wonderful event in this fight! He grinned under his helm and got to work. He threw his lance horizontally at the two boys, it hit them and bounced back into his waiting hand. He spun it in wide, flashy arcs that sheared the ground kicking up a tiny dust storm as he pushed his way forward like a vortex of crushing force. Deo tried to block with his sword, but Fran feinted to the left before sweeping Deo’s legs out from under him and used the butt of the lance to strike Grim in the stomach.
Fran hoped they got armour soon.
The boy wheezed as the breath left him. Fran heaved and Grim was lifted up and over the goblin’s head before Fran threw him at the casters. The boy sailed and the forming golden skeleton the two casters were making exploded as Grim crashed into them.
Bacon stopped pushing, letting both Poppy and Vas stumble forward in surprise before the giant pig wrenched his head side to side, sending Vas flying, but Poppy held on in gritty determination.
Then Fran moved to climb the pig’s back and they were one again, a rider of Delta!
The girl below him stared up, golden eyes glaring out from under the hood. She was slowly growing in power the longer this fight went on.
Interesting, Fran was learning something new about his power level fluctuations as a boss. The power he got from the group was the party average strength, their skills and tricks no doubt also factored in…
But Poppy was now outpacing the group’s average. If a weak person and a strong warrior entered… Fran would be closer to the warrior in terms of power… but not quite due to the weak member tugging at his limits as well.
Good to know… Fran suspected if one strong warrior came in with four weak folk then his gimmick would be skewed into his opponents favour. With a jab, he caused the girl to stumble and just as he was about to knock her out when a tusk sword intercepted the strike. Deo looked ready to take the strike with his bare hands if it protected the taller Poppy who was turning into some lycanthrope.
Fran was about to urge his steed on when Bacon gave a hint that something was wrong. He risked a glance to see the sand he had trained so furiously on was crawling up Bacon’s legs like unyielding hands. Fran snapped his eyes to Amenster who had both hands on the sand.
Clever lad… how long had he been spreading bone dust and chalk over the arena? Bacon freed a leg, but the necromancer’s trick was digging into Bacon’s weakness. Without having the ability to charge, he was basically a giant target in these low ranked matched without armour.
The chalk and bone dust began to shift into the vague outline of a hand. Fran had seen this symbol before. It was Kemy’s deity’s prefered icon.
Fran looked around wildly… where was the priestess?!
He found her.
High up in the stands, at the very last and highest row… Kemy was finishing a prayer.
“The truth will set you free… but it will also brand you. There is no right or wrong before my eyes… only the truth that we will win!” She cried, and the hand icon around her neck lit up with golden light.
The chalk and bone mirror hand below him doing the same.
Fran had been around Cois long enough that… he knew what was going to happen next. The symbol below Bacon that was both trapping them and acting as a conduit suddenly exploded in a golden wrath.
Grim couldn’t help but cheer as the forms of the boss went up in smoke and golden light.
Even if it didn’t defeat Fran, that was a heavy blow! His party was the best. Clearly, Grim’s talent at locating (stumbling really) onto power was akin to Deo stumbling into befriending people. The two examples were not entirely unrelated, to be fair.
He regrouped as Kemy rushed down the steps of the audience seats. Poppy was huge now, and Grim tried not to stare at her bristling black fur.
“DO YOU THINK WE WON?” Deo asked as the explosion zone was wreathed in falling dust and smoke.
“Not now, since you just said that,” Grim muttered and readied his weapon. They watched for a long moment as the cloud settled, the feeling almost absuredly dramatic. A black form slowly began to become visible in the fallout of the holy blast.
Everyone got ready for the last stage of this fight. When the sight of the giant pig laying down with no rider in sight became clear, Grim had a bad feeling.
“ABOVE!” Poppy snarled, the warning coming too late. Fran fell from the shadowy ceiling where his form must have been thrown by his stead.
He landed hard on Amenster, his spear’s shaft cracking hard on the boy’s head. Amenster eyes rolled and he crumpled. Poppy lashed out, but Fran intercepted her by tripping Kemy into her path, forcing the girl to halt her attack.
Vas caught Fran’s flying punch easy enough, letting Deo get in with a swipe of his sword. Fran moved aside to dodge, but Grim was like an unseen pest, coming in with the knife to his back.
Grim…... Grim had never properly backstabbed anyone before. Fran gave a grunt was powerless to stop Vas from headbutting him, despite the fact the goblin had a helmet on. Fran stumbled back, bleeding slightly and Poppy was on him, claws raised to finish it.
Fran closed his eyes.
“I…... yield,” he said.
The room went absolutely still.
Everyone shared a look besides the drooling Amenster.
“R-really?” Kemy asked surprised. Fran began to laugh and chortle as if this was a reaction he had longed to see.
“Yes! Yes! This test of courage, skill, and teamwork has been enough to make me feel confident in granting you all…... a solid victory over the first floor!” Fran said seriously, bowing, despite his injury.
Deo tilted his head.
“ARE YOU SURE?” He asked, as if worried they had done something wrong to end the battle prematurely. Fran wobbled to stand, but Kemy was there, beaming, as she began her basic healing.
“Yes. This test was never about death. In my home, it is never about death. I tested you in strength, quick thinking, adaptability, and I found you all…... worthy,” Fran said and then ushered Kemy off to check on Amenster, who opened one eye, sighing, before Kemy could do anything.
“And I played dead for no reason…... I wasted all my energy on my Bone Empowerment buff,” he grumbled and stood up.
Fran went over to the still Bacon and patted the form as it burst into orange motes of mana.
“He’ll be back and he’ll be hungry,” Fran shook his head. He turned and focused on the group.
“I only have three gifts for you, I am unable to produce more than that at the moment, however…...” Fran held out his hand where mana formed into tiny grey coins. The material like cheap iron. He passed them out. Grim saw each coin had their name on it, their group name, and a date.
“You rite of succession. Bearing this coin or having it on you when you enter will allow you to reach the second floor without hindrance in the future. All traps, monsters, and tricks will ceased to hinder you unless you travel within 20 feet of an uncoined person. If someone tries to use you to avoid the challenge then Lord Mushy or the Dungeon itself will put a stop to that,” Fran explained.
Grim saw the coin had a head of a weird smiling girl and the other side bore the symbol of a window with an annoyed face. Little Frans and Bacons finished the pattern by ringing the edges.
“Be known that these coins are marked in a way we can check if the coin matches the owner. Selling or trading these coins away will do the buyer no favours,” he warned. Then Fran smiled.
“Now, I may generate two gifts for the winners. Due to Mother’s…... habits, I cannot promise what will drop. It is like a…... game, but even I do not know the prizes,” Fran told them dryly. Grim had a feeling no one knew the prizes in this dungeon until they suffered a lot.
“I ask that the two MVPs step forward,” the goblin asked. Grim stared at him, sharing confused looks with the others. Fran’s green skin went slightly blue in a blush.
“Forgive me, slip of the mother tongue,” he said and quickly went quiet. A screen appeared before them showing their faces and a ‘contribution’ bar. This had happened before in the spider room…...
Vas seemed to be the lowest again, the golem having no issues with that. Grim and Deo were close, but to Grim’s surprise…... he was higher. Deo clapped him on the shoulder, beaming at him in pride. Next up was Amenster…... then Kemy and finally Poppy.
Kemy and Poppy were so close in ranking that the screen had to zoom in to show the difference.
“Kemy, the priestess able to buff and keep the party strong before wielding her power against me…... Poppy the girl able to slow me down and draw my attention away from a ploy while able to stand her ground. Step forward,” Fran said formally.
The girls did so, Poppy shrinking as she got her emotions back under control. Kemy looked pink with delight.
Fran smiled at them before mana gathered in his hands.
“Reach out and claim your prizes,” he said and offered the glowing orbs of mana to them, to reach into and…... find something.
The mana tasted of a mid-life crisis and mushrooms with a hint of spice. Grim guessed it suited the joint rather well.
The two girls reached and the mana began to take shape…...
After a long moment…...
“I apologise, I can try and refund it?” Fran offered to the stunned priestess. Kemy shook her head.
“It’s a very powerful focus! My last staff was a bit generic…...” She said brightly. The long shaft, a red cherry mushroom head, vines that caresses down the shaft, almost tightly…...
The staff seemed to be almost too thick for her dainty hands, but Kemy gripped it with determination to show she was able to handle the girth. Poppy eyed her own prize.
It was a long piece of paper with peelable stickers. Some showed the various goblins or pigs. Some showed Muffet the spider, others showed Fran with long flowing locks of hair.
“They’re made with potent healing mushrooms and potion extract, stick them on a friend and watch them perk up!” Fran said brightly. Poppy peeled off one and stuck on Tom the tome, who she pulled out of a bag.
“What? Is the battle ove-…... DEFACED! I’VE BEEN DEFACED!” The book screeched as Poppy put a Bacon sticker on him.
Grim wasn’t sure if he would want either prizes to be honest.
“THAT STAFF IS SO COOL! MY MUM ALSO HAS A MUSHROOM THING SHE GOT FROM THE DUNGEON! SHE KEEPS IT IN HER ROOM AND USES IT TO MAKE DAD HAPPY!” Deo explained. Kemy was looking like she had been sinned upon. Amenster was hiding his face, and Poppy looked at Kemy’s staff with uncertainty.
“Let’s put a peg in this discussion and go back to the bar for food…...” Fran said, looking like he was in extreme pain but refusing to make a sound.
When Fera saw the staff, she gave Kemy a wicked smile and said something about ‘always the quiet ones’ before cooking.
Grim wondered if it was too late to erase any trace he had even been in this dungeon?
No... it was far too late for that now.
He heard Amenster whispering to Poppy.
“I wonder if she’ll get round charms to add on to her staff later?” he asked before both of them giggled like children.
Grim wished he could drink legally.