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I was no longer in my comfortable Sanctum. I floated in a starry void.

An enormous wheel stood above me. The wheel was made of fiery stone surrounded by the blazing aura of the sun; it was marked into countless segments, and each one had a carved out niche where a statue stood, holding a chest.

So many boxes. Chests of pale white ivory covered by ornate designs in silver. Chests of pure gold studded with gems. Chests of simple and undecorated wood.

It began to spin. The flames roared higher as it turned, faster and faster, until it was a single solid disk of golden light. A sun. A blazing sun!

Slowly, it rolled to a halt again, the fires dimming. A segment slid to a stop before me, and the statue stepped out of its alcove, walking forward to lay a chest of mahogany and onyx before me. The lid flipped open of its own. Lying in the cushioned depths was an amber hourglass.

 

You have won:

The Gift of Foresight - Once in your life, you may rewind time by ten minutes.

 

The statue stepped back onto the wheel, and the void faded out.

 

I was in my Sanctum again. If I could shake, I would be shaken by the experience, but I couldn’t deny I was happy with the gift.

And speaking of gifts, my rat had returned! She sat at the bottom of the Sanctum proudly displaying a haul of golden treasures. Lost rings, brooch pins, belt buckles, anything she could find that glittered or shone. None, I noted, were gems.

Aurum shifted, sliding down into the pit. I was amazed by his agility as he slid down handholds and curled over razor spars, slipping down the walls I had designed to be unclimbable. The white rat froze as she saw the serpent - her primordial enemy - loom over her. Aurum ignored her, calmly scooping up the gold in his mouth before turning and slithering up the walls again, returning to me.

The rat lingered even so, trembling pitifully but refusing to leave. I considered. I tried to send a message, to shape a feeling through my Mana. I sent out waves of beneficient approval and watched as the rat lifted onto her hindquarters and stared up - directly at me.

And then she scampered off to find more treasure.

Time ticked by and Mana slowly flowed into my reserves. Below, my snakes had succeeded in carving out a territory, creating dens in the cracked walls of the tunnel. After their initial rampage most the intelligent creatures had retreated from my nascent Dungeon, leaving them to feed on insects. And unfortunately, mere insects had no Soul shards to give me.

I needed to lure better prey in.

A healthy ecosystem needed a strong base. Taking my inspiration from a mushroom growing on the walls, I began to populate the floor with a thick bed of flat-topped fungus, adding a divot at the top of their heads to catch the water dripping from the ceiling. A kind of natural drinking cup.

Then I began to experiment. In a matter of a few hours, I’d successfully pushed enough mana into one specimen to cause it to let off a godawful reek of rotten meat, an aroma I hoped would prove attractive to the kind of wildlife that lived in a sewer. In the process it had turned a pale red color, and so I named it a Bloody Cup.

Having layered the floor with bait, I added predators. Smaller, stouter mushrooms, with peaked caps and a net of finely-woven threads that hung down from below like the stings of a jellyfish. Exactly like the stings of a jellyfish. I gave the tendrils a set of fine, clinging teeth, and poured the last of my Mana into exaggerating their venomous properties. I was discovering that the more Mana used to modify a creature, the more difficult further modifications became. In the end this soft limitation prevented me from making them able to do more than lightly sting a human-sized prey, but they’d be perfectly able to snare unsuspecting rodents. Nematocelia, I called them.

 

[ Bloody Cup ]

Largely harmless, this blood-colored mushroom emits a rotten stench pleasing to the insect palate.

[ Nematocelia ]

Deceptively common, this mushroom catches small animals in its poisonous tendrils and incapacitates them with a paralytic venom.

 

Soon, I had a thick carpet of insects crawling through the mushroom forest, and they drew larger predators. A fat, stoney-skinned toad hopped into my killing fields. The snakes immediately tensed and began to slither towards him, but they were too late. He had already stumbled into the snares of a Nematocelia. The fat old fellow took one more leap on half-paralyzed legs already beginning to fail, and crash-landed in a twitching heap.

I was just licking my lips after the meal when voices intruded on my lair.

“Croakwise, the map says. That means you look for a frog drawn on the walls.”

A fat man made his way down the tunnel, pausing to read a symbol on the walls I had taken as random scratchings but they apparently found meaning in. A skinny youth followed behind, carrying a lantern, barely more than a boy with a wispy bit of stubble on his chin.

They looked delicious.

“Somewhere near here.” The fat man mumbled, scratching the stubble and pockmarks of his flabby chin.

“I’ve never seen mushrooms like these.” The boy said.

“We’re making good time, we’ll be back before your mother starts to wonder what her sweet little angel is up to.” The older man teased, catching his comrade by the ear and shaking his head around.

“Never you mind about my mother.“ The boy snapped, swatting the man’s hand away. “Anyway, what’s with that door?”

They both looked up. A moment of silence seized them as they stared at the serpents carved around the archway, at the faint light spilling through the doorway.

“I’ll be damned. Never seen that here before. Go have a looksee.” The big man said, shoving his companion, who glared back.

You go have a looksee, dammit. I’m not stepping through spooky doors.”

“Ooh, spooky doors. Wee sweet angel, scared of doors.” Shoving his companion aside, he mocked him all the way as he strode through the doors, his jaw going wide as he stared up the shaft; awestruck by the false stars of the luminous mushrooms against the backdrop of black moss.

I was deeply gratified by his screams as his foot plunged right through the false floor, plunging him into the spikes. A stone spear plunged directly through his thigh as his foot twisted beneath him, instantly ruining his leg, and he fell backwards, bawling.

“Gods, gods! Milo, help me, godsdammit!” And other cries of that nature echoed up to me as his young companion tried to pull him free.

And all the while my two vipers were slithering up behind them, bloodthirsty little terrors that they were. They coiled their bodies up like springs, and then shot forward, straightening and diving like arrows for the young man’s heels. He screamed and drew a knife from his belt, hacking one of them to pieces with its head still clinging to the back of his calf.

The other had more survival instinct than that, letting go and slinking back into the blanket of mushrooms as the young man looked at his wounded leg with horror.

And back to his companion, still yelling and thrashing, horrid amounts of blood spurting from his wound.

I saw him make the calculation and realize he’d never make it back in time hauling the lamed oaf with him. It was a delicious moment.

“I’ll come back for you.” He said, a barefaced lie you could tell he didn’t believe.

“You little runt!” The fat man shouted. “Come back here!”

But it was too late. His sweet little angel had turned and fled.

“Come back here you little shit!”

When the cries of anger had faded to defeated, scared whimpering, Aurum uncurled from around me. As silent as a murderer’s knife he slithered down the tunnel, moving by his secret handholds to slide down behind the man. A coiled moment of tension, a leap, a flash of fangs - and total, gratifying quiet followed.

The rush of Mana from killing a full grown human was intense. It flooded into me like a euphoric wave, filling my mind with delightful visions of just how I’d spend it. Carnivorous mushrooms as tall as a man and as hungry as a wolf. Bladed traps that spring from the walls. A snake that could swallow the sun-

You are experiencing Mana Overflow

Due to exceeding your maximum Mana by a factor of two, Mana will be expended to create a new and random Blessing for your Dungeon. You will be left with between fifty and zero percent of your maximum Mana.

 

What? No.

No!

My precious Mana! I felt it pour out of me, pulled by a forming maelstrom. In moments, my pool had plummeted back to a mere three and the Mana whirlpool that had formed was still greedily sucking up the cloud of ambient Mana that was my eyes and hands, rendering me briefly blind, helpless.

When the awful moment passed, a pale blue egg the size of a human fist had materialized next to me in the little alcove at the top of the Sanctum.

As Aurum lifted his head back into the alcove, he looked from me to the newcomer in apparent confusion, wondering how a gemstone had laid an egg.

Not willingly, that’s my answer.

As if to add insult to injury, Aurum wrapped himself around the egg instead of me.

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NoDragons

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