“Enjoy it while you can,” Garth said, motioning to his ultimate masterpiece, a guacamole hydra burger using the last of the monster’s flesh they’d been backpacking down with them, one of the only meats that didn’t taste like complete ass down here.
“I’ve specifically designed the rest of the meal plan for the dive to be as bland as possible, so you’ll have a reason to get out faster.” Garth said with a grin, taking a bite.
The rest of the party groaned and bitched as they ate. “I mean, It’s not like we’re down here for a vacation or anything.” Melaa said as she devoured the burger beside her sister, leaning up against one of three bags stuffed to the brim with Sanatite crystals, the self-healing wondermetal that this particular city prided itself on producing.
“We’re not interested in being down here any longer than we have to.” Hesie tacked on, wiping a bit of guac off her lips.
“One more thing to look forward to when you get topside.” Garth said. “Until then it’s rice and bean burritos, no exceptions. We can’t have you getting comfortable down here before we get topside.”
The rest of the adventuring party groaned louder, and Junten threw a guacamole covered bun at his face. Garth caught it in midair with a bit of telekinesis and put it back on her sandwich.
“Not even for me?” Sandi asked with a pout.
“Well, as the person knocking boots with me on a regular basis, of course you’re the exception to the no exceptions rule.” Garth said, winning another round of jeering.
“Well, if they’re not going to get anything yummy to eat…I won’t be.”
“You would hold the sex hostage…For them?” Garth asked in faux outrage.
Sandi lifted her head, determination chiseled onto her face.
“Okay, okay, I give, you guys can have tomatoes and soy sauce and beef flavoring on your fried rice and shit. You know I was kidding about that, right?”
“For a Succubus, food is deadly serious.” Sandi said with an aloof posture.
The rest of the group cheered and patted Sandi on the back, chuckling as Garth’s campfire slowly burnt down.
“Ah, damn, I’m beat,” Grok said, his eyelids slowly sliding shut. “First watch?”
“Spooey.” Bulad said, tucking his arms into his coat, snuggling up to his new bow with his eyes closed.
“I can…”Kath yawned into his fist. “I can do it…” the orc’s eyes were in REM despite being open.
“I’ll do it. Woody and I will give you guys the first four hours, aright? Then somebody else gets the bitching hours.” Garth said.
Grok grunted, nodded, and began to snore, the torpor drugs in the food finally starting to drag the men with the highest endurance into dreamland.
Garth stood and cracked his back with a groan, overlooking the placidly sleeping crew. Sandi was curled up in the corner while her Lure was being spooned by the benkei mage. Helie and Melaa were buried under some covers, and Grok and Kath had nodded off sitting against the walls, with their weapons in hand.
Surrounding them was the small antechamber just before the Core room, covered in depressions in the dark stone where they had spent the evening prying away fist to arm sized crystals from the wall. In three weeks they’d made enough money for most people to retire, even split six ways.
Sanatite was a soft reddish metal with a shiny luster, a bit like gold. It wasn’t an ideal metal to make tools out of, but it had the habit of healing any marks that were made in it in a matter of seconds.
With the right treatment, the healing ability could be suppressed long enough to add the metal to alloys, or permeate other objects with it, giving inanimate objects the ability to repair wear and tear.
It was often used to create heirlooms to be passed down from generation to generation, of course, whenever a sanatite laced blade was struck against an Adamantium one, it would be sheared in half.
It was a poor man’s luxury good, but despite all that, it was the lifeblood that sustained the entire town built around this dungeon, and as the dungeon grew larger, so would the town.
And Garth was planning on destroying it.
Nobody calls the mother of my children dim-witted and gets to keep their job, their dungeon, their respect. Their fucking city.
Garth grabbed a blanket out of a backpack and draped it over Sandi, heart beating madly. He glanced at the door to the core room.
The survey teams that went in once a year had essentially barricaded the last opening to the dungeon, putting a thick concrete wall between Garth and the final room. There were tiny holes in the original wall to allow the dungeon core to breathe, but just barely. Around the concrete plaster, there were gaps almost a finger length wide, where the dungeon had expanded its walls in an attempt to ease its own breathing. In another nine months, the team would come back, remove the wall, catalogue the dungeon’s growth, and replace the concrete closer to the dungeon’s core.
Garth Summoned Woody.
“Stand guard there,” Garth said, pointing to the dim hall the group had come from. “If anything tries to attack them in their sleep, stop it.”
Woody wordlessly went to stand in the hall, hunkering down like a hockey goalie. No one woke up.
Garth returned his attention to the concrete wall, and snuck his way up to it, putting his eye up to the crack the dungeon had managed to carve for its breathing.
It was dim until Garth summoned a light on the other side of the door. In front of him was an elongated, cucumber shaped chamber with a core on a pedestal at the end of it, as if the core was trying to stretch away from the door, burrowing deeper into the ground.
It fit what Garth knew.
Garth closed his eyes and focused, wrapping himself in mana. In a blink of an eye, Garth was standing inside the chamber.
“Hey!” Wilson whispered from outside. “What about me?”
“Fine, just be quiet.” Garth whispered back, teleporting his familiar into the room with him.
At the end of the short studded with red, lustrous metallic crystals, was the mutated dungeon core. It was about the size and coloration of a softball that had broken someone’s nose and been steeped in blood. Garth knew from experience.
Most Cores, normal cores, were gold when they were born, fading to pale white as they aged, but mutated ones like this had unique colors, apparently.
“I hear you make really high quality potions when you’re ground up,” Garth said, manifesting a wooden maul in his hand.
“Yeah, fuck that guy for making Sandi cry.” Wilson said.
Garth stood over the red core, maul raised, one solid muscle twitch away from killing the entire dungeon. He suddenly thought of Grok and co. and the thousands of adventurers who would come here to make their fortune over the millennia this dungeon would be in operation.
“I’m having an attack of conscience…” Garth said, lowering the hammer.
“Yeah, me too.” Wilson said, deflating. “Maybe we could leave a note to the people who survey the dungeon implicating the Guildmaster in a conspiracy? He is up five million bucks of unreported income.”
“That might work, but it just feels too…impersonal.” Garth said, turning the hammer to ash and taking a seat in front of the Core, legs crossed. “And destroying the core just hurts too many unrelated people.”
“I just wish I could…Idunno, rub that smug bastard’s nose in it.” Garth said.
Wilson’s eyes widened, and he pointed at Garth.
“Yep, realized it the moment I said it.” Garth said, putting up soundproofing.
Guildmaster Eckert Duvan was wrapping up a long day of looking for a business to launder the five million credits, organizing guild paperwork with a relieved sigh. Relieved that it was over. The day, and his career.
In another six months or so, he’d be announcing his retirement, they’d send him off in style, and he’d get full retirement benefits. That combined with his recent nest egg, would allow him to be sipping booze watered down with fruit, ogling young women on the beach until his heart gave out.
If he bought a brothel on the beach of Caasia, he’d have his piggy bank right at hand. Retirement was looking ten times better than it had a few short weeks before.
As Eckert was organizing the brochures of the beachside pleasure houses with information written down on the backs he’d received from getting into contact with their owners, he smelled a waft of something…musty.
Like the stale air from the deepest part of a dungeon.
Eckert’s skin crawled as the mana in the room vanished, but before he could look for what had done it, a hand seized the back of his neck and shoved, slamming his face down onto the table.
“Gah,” Eckert shouted, his eyes watering as he clasped his hands to his nose.
When he could open his eyes again, Eckert found himself in a very different location, surrounded by red crystals in a tunnel lit by a floating white light. The air was musty and stale. He was in the dungeon.
“Good evening,” The purple man holding his neck said. “We’re gonna have a talk about your recent behavior.”
“I am the Guildmaster of Pelianore, if an upstart like you thinks you can-“ The iron grasp on his neck tightened, strangling Eckert’s words.
“Let me show you something.” The purple man, No, Garth, Said. Eckert put a name to the only purple person he knew. Then invisible pressure shoved Eckert to his knees and Garth forced his face into contact with the Dungeon Core.
“What does that look like to you?” Garth’s voice came from behind him as Eckert’s eyelid was peeled open by the core being roughly smushed against his face.
“Good answer. It’s the Pelianore dungeon core.” Garth’s voice raised. “And if I Smash the Pelianore dungeon core, are you still the Guildmaster of Pelianore?”
“And if I tell Anyone about the five million credits you accepted to let an unqualified individual buy citizenship, are you still Guildmaster?”
“And if I gut you, leave you here to be eaten by the core and its monsters, are you still the guildmaster?”
Eckert was silent. He didn’t like the direction this conversation was going. He needed to scare the upstart off and buy himself enough breathing room to retaliate. Judging by his mana controlling technique, he was part of one of the guilds. If they found out he was poaching someone else’s territory, the boy was as good as dead.
“This planet is under the protection of the Kinereth Paquis clan, what you are doing will start a war between yours and theirs. You will die for doing something this stupid.”
Behind him, Garth chuckled. “You should have thought about that before you took my money. How are you going to explain that five million credit windfall to your Kinereth Paquis clan? I know for a fact you didn’t give it to the guild, instead you stuffed it in your cheeks like a greedy squirrel.”
Eckert paled. That could look bad for him.
“Let’s face it,” Garth whispered in his ear. “You took my money, I own you.”
“I’m not going to do anything for you, you fucking maniac!”
“Calm down, calm down,” Garth said quietly, murderously, his breath tickling Eckert’s ear. Eckert began struggling in earnest, trying to roll aside, elbow his captor, gore him with his horns. Anything.
It was all for naught. Eckert saw the mana in the room move at the clan member’s command, locking him in place. Ecker tried to wrench it away, tried to cast his own spell and blast the upstart in the face, but he couldn’t do anything more than pluck on the mana’s strings, making it vibrate ineffectually.
“I don’t want you to do anything difficult, or life threatening.” Garth murmured into his ear. It felt like the words were reaching through his ear and settling directly into his mind, causing Eckert to struggle even harder. The bastards using magic on me!
“Just do one, easy, simple, legal little thing for me.” Garth continued. “Or I’ll burn your life, and your dungeon, and your guild, and your town to the ground. And once all is said and done, The Kinereth Guild is gonna come looking all right…for you.”
Eckert slumped in his magical restraints.
“What…What do you want?” The bastard probably wanted him to smuggle Sanatite out of the city to bypass the tariffs and make a boatload of money. It was a stupid plan. The clan paid extra close attention to their source of income. It was the same as stealing from them.
The whole thing was just a more circuitous way of winding up disgraced and dead.
Garth shrugged and shook his head, saying, “Just an apology.”