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A note from Astiar

At the beginning of the chapter the dungeon MC does not know any of there names. 

This one also switches between the dungeon and the group.

 

I frowned as Una retreated. Even though I knew there was little chance they would win. I had hoped my kobolds would do more damage. Their pride was going to be hurt.

 

“You fought well Una.” I told her as she tended to the male using leather scraps as bandages. They would heal quickly but he was badly injured and she didn’t want him to die before then.

 

“I failed and ran away, Creator. I do not deserve your praise.” She hung her head in shame. Her tail curled around her. She looked so sad I wanted to hug her.

 

“I have gained the ability to see the levels of those that enter. Out of the 9 of them 3 are level 4, 1 level 3 and the child is level 2. The other 4 are all above level 4 and I can’t see their level. There is no shame in retreating from a larger group that are higher levels than you.”

 

Una gave a solemn nod. I could tell she wanted to be left alone to sulk and lick her wounds so I sent her one last wave of pride and turned my attention back to the group.

 

“Let’s rest and heal before we continue.” The archer said. “I’m a bit light headed after fighting here. It threw off some of my shots.”

 

“Agreed.” The other young female said with a determined smile. “Don’t think any of us will be tackling this dungeon without an outsiders support until we get used to the mana.”

 

“It would be nice if I knew their names.” I told Arizo.

 

“Once you gain more levels in Analyze their names and some stats will show as well.”

“I just don’t want to wait for that.” I whined. Which made her chuckle.

 

We watched as the darker human girl and the kenku with the shiny armor healed the 3 that had been injured.

 

“I’ll keep all the drops and we can see what they are once we are back at camp.” The other kenku said. “Let’s clear this room, then decide if we continue.”

 

Her and the 3 human teens began searching. It took them a bit but they found the hidden entrance to the kobold room.

 

“That’s a clever illusion. Using light instead of magic so my eyes were as useful as anyone else's.” The human with the bow said.

 

I beamed, glad my little trick was appreciated.

 

“She must have some kind of sight skill.” Arizo observed. “That would make sense for an archer.”

 

The aarakocra and the shiny kenku headed into the room. Una hissed at them putting her body between the door and the shovel wielder.

 

The shiny one held up her empty hand and they backed out of the room.

 

“That’s a bunk room for the kobolds.” The aarakocra said to the group.

 

“Thought as much.” The old man stated. “So are you kids up for continuing?”

 

The teens looked at each other and I got this feeling they were talking even though all they did was share eye contact and a few gestures.

 

“Let’s try the next room and then think about it.” The archer said for the group. I had a feeling she wasn’t the leader but the spokesmen.

 

____________________

 

“Are all dungeons so well built?” Myra asked, running her fingers over the wall near the entrance to the hall.

 

“Dungeons are made well. Whether they look structurally sound.” Mika made a weighing motion. “This one does have a nice aesthetic. I’m looking forward to what decorations might be farther in.”

 

“Alright everyone is healed or healing, let’s form up and head on.” Yenstar stated.

 

Yenturis and Mika dodged the first trap and were about to warn the others when shriek from Myra and a shout from Tuck had them turning.

 

Myra took a firm step onto the weak tile and fell through. Tuck tried to grab her forgetting that the selkie was heavier than she looked and was pulled into the pit with her.

 

“Are you hurt?” Olive called worriedly.

 

“Just my pride.” Tuck replied. He was cold and wet but both of them were fine.

 

“I feel stupid. Tripping the first trap.” Myra stated.

 

Tuck touched one of the walls. “Eww.” He said holding his hand up to show the others. “This pit is coated in mushy clay. It feels gross.”

 

Feta chuckled. “At least there weren’t any spiks at the bottom. Can you climb out or do you need a rope?”

 

“I’ll try first. My wounded male pride demands it.” The others chuckled at him.

 

“I’m good for now. The cold water doesn’t bother me.” Myra said, just floating in the 5 ft of water. Her toes could just reach the floor and keep her head above water.

 

“WHAA!” Tuch shouted falling back into the water with a massive splash.

 

“What happened!?” Olive didn’t like her brother being in danger where she couldn’t help.

 

Tuck was nearly red enough to light the hall. “Sorry. It was nothing, I just grabbed something weird in one of the hand holds.”

 

His sister chuckled in relief.

 

This time he was able to get to the top. But he was covered in mud. He handed Feta some muddy things he’d pulled from the wall. “I don’t know what these are but they were hidden so hopefully something good to make up for that.” He glared down the hole.

 

Myra laughed as she easily climbed the sides. It was still slick and gross but he’d made marks where the hand holds were.

 

“Are you ok to keep going?” Olive asked with mischief dancing in her eyes now that her brother was safe.

 

He gave her a withering glare. “I’d push you in if I didn’t think it would start a war.”

Her smile only grew in response.

 

“Alright kiddos break it up.” Hamish told the sibling. “How am I supposed to cross this?” The trap was big enough that his wide snake body couldn’t get past without slipping into the mire.

 

“An ice bridge would do it but I still don’t think you should be casting.” Myra replied

 

Yenstar called out a spell and vines grew across the gap. “I’m an accomplished sorcerer you know.” He said, leading Le’Ly over the bridge. “And far too old to be jumping pit traps.”

 

Hamish smiled and slithered across the vines.

 

“Make sure you call out any more traps.” Yenstar told the lead 2. “The kids have never been in a dungeon and don’t know how to recognize them as easily.”

 

“Of co… Ah” Yenturis replied turning to start leading and stepping into another pit. Everyone laughed as his foot got tangled in vines and he had to wrestle it out.

 

Mika was almost in tears seeing his face.

 

“Maybe I should lead through this section.” Feta offered with a raised eyebrow. Yenturis’ pout made them all laugh again.

 

Feta did take the lead pointing out 2 more traps.

 

“Seems like the dungeon doesn’t want us too badly hurt. The trap caps are a different color from the stone around them.” Myra observed. Noone replied as Feta stopped in front of a large discolored patch of ground.

 

“Can you make a bridge to span this one?”

 

Yenstar came closer and looked at it. “Doubtful. Those vines lose strength over a wide span.”

 

“Can you 3 fly us over?” Olive asked.

 

“Mika and I might be able to glide over. Yenturis’ wings are too wide to open fully in these halls. And I don’t know that I could get any lift with Hamish’s added weight.”

 

Olive leaped over the gap and looked at the issue from the other side. “Let’s break the top and see what’s inside. If it’s more mud, then everyone that can’t make the jump can cross it.”

 

Tuck stepped forward and used the butt of his spear to break the slate cover.

 

“Fireweed and poison ivy.” Olive said looking down into the pit. “I have barely enough ointment to treat Hamish for as long as it would take him to cross.”

 

“Why can’t we use those vines?” Le’Ly asked pointing back to the trap Yenturis stepped in.

 

“Great idea. We can reinforce Yenstar’s vine bridge with those.” Myra cheered. “As long as they’re safe.”

 

“Yep I looked at them earlier. Just normal vine. They look like they’re from a honeysuckle bush.” Olive replied.

 

Feta smiled at the teen. “It’s always handy to have a plant expert in a dungeon.”

 

It took some time to gather the vines and prepare for Hamish to cross. Yenstar cast his tangling vines spell that he used to make the other bridge. Then Yentuis and Mika held the opposite side vines while Feta and Tuck took the ones on the near side.

 

“Try going backwards and holding your weight up off the vines.” Tuck suggested.

 

Nodding, Hamish turned around and stretched his tail over the 8ft gap. Olive grabbed it and would help pull him across if needed.

 

“Ready… go.” Myra said. Olive pulled and he slithered as quickly as possible.

 

The bridge gave when the bulk of his weight got to the middle. Olive tugged with all her might and Yenturis dropped the vine he was holding and grabbed and back of Hamish’s robe to keep him out of the dangerous plants.

 

Some of his underbelly did touch the fire weed and Olive quickly treated it.

 

“One down 4 to go.” Tuck said. He, Myra, Yenstar and Le’Ly still needed to cross. “It’s not very deep.” He stuck his spear down in the pit to test that.

 

“Think you can vault me far enough to make it?” Myra asked.

 

“No but I bet Yenturis has higher strength and could do it.”

 

The avians looked at them like they were crazy. “She’s what 5’5” she can’t be that heavy.” Feta said.

 

Myra chuckled. “Selkie weigh twice as much as a human of the same size. I’m almost 500 lbs.”

 

They goggled at her.

 

“I should be able to get you across.” Yenturis said. He dashed and made the jump again. Kneeling near the edge he placed his hands as a cup to vault her over.

 

Mika stood ready to catch her. She barely cleared the gap and Yenturis’s wing touched some of the plants. But the feathers kept him from being affected.

 

“Your turn.” Tuck said motioning to Yenstar and Le’Ly.

 

Yenstar picked the girl up and they were vaulted across. He fell heavily onto Mika. “I really am too old for this.”

 

Tuck was pretty sure he could make it across but didn’t need another wound to his pride so let Yenturis boost him as well.

 

“Now how do we get back across?” Hamish asked.

 

“That is a problem for future us.” Olive replied. “Come on.”

 

She stopped as they came to the end of the hall without finding any more traps.

 

“There’s your answer.” Olive declared, motioning to the table. “That should be plenty tall and wide enough to place into the center of the trap and cross.” She leaned across the round table. “About 3ft that leaves only a 5 foot gap to worry about.”

 

Hamish and Tuck shared a look rolling their eyes.

 

“So which way now?” Myra asked as she looked down the 2 halls.

 

“Olive scout that one and I’ll take this one.” Feta ordered.

 

The teen smiled and took off down the left path.

 

A few minutes later they both returned. “Olive.” Feta said, wanting her to go first.

 

“There are a series of 3 shooting traps. Iron arrows, crystals and small metal balls. They fire at different rates but there is enough space between each for us to cross one at a time.” she reported. Not telling them that she had crossed them a few times already and had some bruises under her armor for the trouble. The other teens knew her well enough to assume she’d tested it out.

 

“Down my hall looks to be 2 more pit traps but they seem a bit different.” Feta told them.

 

“I for one am tired of pits.” Hamish said.

 

“Agreed.” Yenstar added.

 

“So trying the shooting traps?” Feta asked. When she got nods from everyone they headed down that hall.

 

Feta crossed first in case anything attacked while the others were crossing. Olive was next followed by Le’Ly. The fast little tigerling made the trap look easy. Mika and Yenturis crossed with only a few bruises. Myra’s heavier weight had her sinking more in the clay and getting several bruises and cuts that Mika healed once she was through. Hamish had little trouble. His wide snake tail kept him from sinking at all. Yenstar grumbled, pulled up his hood and moved through the traps.

 

“This dungeon isn’t trying to kill us, but it is gettin on my nerves with these little annoyances.” The old man said once he was through and they were all ready to head forward.


“I’m beginning to think that’s the point.” Mika replied. “Annoying and embarrassment seems to be the goal of these halls.” She looked at the ceiling. “I get the feeling the core is laughing at us.”

 

“I think it’s fun.” Le’Ly spoke up. “Like a real fairy story adventure.” She had a wide grin on her face.

 

Myra and Olive smiled at her. “It is less scary than the forest isn’t it.” Myra said petting her head. She nodded hugging the teen.

 

“An actual door.” Yenturis started, looking at the dark cherry wood with an iron handle.

 

It opened without an issue, though they all were tense incase of attack or a trap.

 

“It looks like a shrine.” Mika said, looking at the room. 6 stone benches facing a statue on a base with a well behind it. There didn’t appear to be anything else in the room other than another door.

 

Tuck headed to the well and started pulling the chain to get the bucket up.

 

“This may be a resting room.” Feta said as she looked around at the walls, looking for traps or hidden items.

 

“Well that’s what I’m using it for.” Yenstar said, taking a seat on one of the benches. After checking that it wasn’t trapped.

 

Myra ran her hands over the writing on the statue's base. “Wonder what that means?”

 

“Well he has his hand out.” Olive said. She reached into one of the pouches on her side and placed some coins in the statue's hand.

 

There was a click that had everyone at attention. The door out of the room opened on it’s own.

 

“Well now we know how this room works.” Olive said blushing.

 

The adults shook their heads chuckling.

 

“Is this water safe to rinse off in?” Tuck asked once he had the bucket up. It wasn’t well selled so the water was leaking back out rather quickly.

 

Mika came over and tested it. “It’s clean and even safe to drink. Nice and cold too.” She added, sticking her hand in it to test the temperature.

 

“Good.” He dumped the rest of the bucket over his head to get some of the drying mud off. The next bucket everyone took some long drinks from before Myra and Tuck cleaned up a bit.

 

Once they had rested they decided to see what the next room was before choosing to leave or press on.

 

“Wow.” Olive stated, looking at the room.

 

There was a thin strip of stone crossing the room with only 3 stopping points that weren’t much bigger and each housed a lantern. The amazing part was the gentle glow coming from the deep pits on either side. “We are so coming back here to harvest some of those. Goblin’s gold is hard to come by in the forest. And I think I see some Lilac’s Bonnet.” She turned to look at the adults. “Will the dungeon mind if I take some of these?”

 

“They probably won’t mind you taking samples but I wouldn’t strip the area of plants.” Yenstar replied “Most dungeons expect for useful things to get taken, but destroying things it made could make it angry.”

 

She looked at him oddly. “I’d be pissed too if someone came into my garden and ripped up everything. If this is going to be a good source of Goblin’s gold without needing to chance facing bears and skunks it’s well worth the travel. Who knows what other goodies might be in here.”

 

Feta chuckled. “Spoken like a true adventurer. I think we should leave the harvesting for another day and press on. I’d like to see how far this dungeon has gotten.”

 

“It only opened a few days ago. Surely there is only the boss room after this.” Mika replied.

 

“With this forest I don’t doubt anything.” Yenstar said. “I felt it open miles away on the other side of the swamp. Who knows how deeply it dug before opening.”

 

The avians looked at him. They hadn’t dealt with many young dungeons.

 

“Most dungeons make a small hole to the surface soon after being born. That lets out a very small puff of mana that might not even have been felt as far away as the forest's edge. This one let out a massive yawn meaning it had to have several halls and maybe some rooms done when it opened.”

 

“How do you know all this?” Feta asked

 

“It was part of my training to take care of my old dungeon. Knowing more about how dungeons act helps care for them as they are growing.” He got a faraway look in his eyes. He hoped Aggitash didn’t miss him and was being well cared for. He liked to think they had become allies if not friends in all the years he’d watched over the dungeon.

 

“That is so cool.” Olive exclaimed.

 

“Maybe you can look after this one.” Tuck suggested, “Or train someone to do it.”

 

Yenstar gave a single nod but didn’t say anything.

 

“Are you 4 still ok to travel deeper?” Mika asked to get the attention off the old man.

 

“I think I’m becoming accustomed to the dungeon mana.” Hamish replied.

 

“Yeah my head is still a bit fuzzy like I’ve stood up too fast but I don’t feel sick.” Myra added. The twins nodded.

 

“Then I’ll lead.” Feta told them walking across the narrow path like it was a stroll in the park.

 

___________

 

Arizo and I were having a ball watching this group. From the first trap and the male coming up looking like a muck monster to how they work together and the adults making sure the teens were ok.

 

“She can turn into an animal right?” I asked when they mentioned the archer was a selkie.

 

“Yes she can become a seal. That allows her to breathe underwater and withstand very low temperatures. And selkie eyes can’t be tricked by magic”

 

“So she wouldn’t do well in heat and her weight is a disadvantage too.”

 

“Every gift has a cost.” Arizo replied sagely.

 

“There is no such thing as a free puppy.” I paused. “That phrase came from another life. Not even sure what a puppy is.”

 

Arizo giggled.

 

“They got across!” I cheered. Hamish’s underbelly and Yenturis’ wing touching the plants counted as tripping the trap so I got the xp as if they had fallen in.

 

“And now we know half their names.” Arizo added. “I bet they choose the hall to the cathedral.”

 

“I’m not taking that bet after the trouble they had on the last pit. Maybe I should change the pits in the garden hall. So many in a row may deter everyone from going that way.”

 

“Let’s wait and have a few more groups challenge us before changing. Unless you think of an idea you like more.”

 

I was quiet as they looked around the cathedral and took a break.

 

“Can they not read?” I asked as Myra looked at the words.

 

The little fairy chuckled. “I can’t read that either. It looks like at least 3 different languages all mashed together.”

 

“It looks fine to me.” I have very confused

 

“You are a dungeon. Your magic translates all languages, spoken or written. That’s how you understand every creature you make.”

 

“Oh….. Well then how do I write messages?”

 

She shrugged. “I’m not really sure. I’ve never heard of a dungeon writing more than 1 or 2 words. Most just use pictograms to send messages.” She frowned and seemed to be thinking hard on the matter. “I wish I could be more helpful.”

 

I frowned but went silent.

 

“You’re right... about earlier.” I said as they were resting in the cathedral, “This is our home and I shouldn’t change it for the visitors. But they might give us ideas for improvements.” Arizo just nodded having no need to comment.

 

“We are keeping her.” I said beaming at Olive as she praised my plant selection and was kind enough to ask if taking things was alright.

 

Arizo just laughed at me. “I wonder what they will think of the bats?”

 

“We’re about to find out.”

 

_________________________

 

“That was easy enough.” Hamish said, breathing hard. He’d almost slipped a few times. This was not a dungeon for a naga that wasn’t prepared, or had good friends.

 

Olive broke out in a wide grin, she was loving this. She pulled open the next door. They were once again prepared for a trap that wasn’t there.

 

“Looks like they hit one of the underground caves and just left it.” Myra said.

 

“Isn’t she pretty.” Le’Ly said coming over and looking up at the Emily guardian.

 

“It is very detailed.” Feta agreed, coming over and looking at her as well. “If a bit creepy.”

 

Tuck, Hamish and Yenstar headed to check if there were fish in the water.

 

“WHOA!” the old man shouted falling into a hole in the ground.

 

“YENSTAR!” Tuck yelled as the man vanished down a dark hole.

 

They were distracted from the man’s plight as the shouts woke the bats and they started attacking.

 

While fighting the bats Mika also fell into a hole and vanished. Though Yenstar and her soon rejoined the others dripping wet and irritated. The last bat fled into the previous hall.

 

“That was not fun.” Le’Ly said. Her dagger, that looked more like a short sword in her hands, had some bat blood on it.

 

“I agree.” Yenstar said gumply wringing out his robes.

 

“Are you alright?” Feta asked. “What happened?”

 

“Another pit trap. Seems the ones in this room are slides that dump you into the pool at the end. Swimming in mail is not a good idea.” He griped, making a weak fire to dry his clothes.

 

“Were there any fish?” Tuck asked. As Olive was collecting the bat wings and fangs that were dropped

 

“A few blind cave fish. Not much of a meal.” Yenstar replied. “You’d have to offer the dungeon other varieties for it to be able to stock them. Unless it finds a large pond or river.”

 

“I’ll be sure to bring samples when Olive drags me back here harvesting.” Tuck was grinning. “Being able to fish while Mom and Olive coo over plants would be a great day.”

 

_____________________________________

 

“Can I set the room so people that are just here to fish don’t get attacked?”

 

“Your guardians have no mind of their own so unless you tell them to attack they will just stand there. The bats only attacked after they made noise so if they are fishing quietly there shouldn’t be a problem.”

 

“Hum.” I focused on Jack, Sally and Emily, then changed their order so they wouldn’t attack anyone just fishing in the pool. Right now just giving them instructions for each person that entered would work but what about when I had 4, 5, even 100 floors to manage. As more people entered I planned to see how complicated I could make their automatic orders.

 

While they were fighting the bats and chatting Emily’s 10 minute timer was up and she moved to attack the nearest person. Which happened to be the aarakocra, Yenturis.

 

“Ohhh. I can’t wait to see how good my guardians are.” I said as she grabbed one of his wings and bit down.

 

__________________________

 

“AH!” Yenturis cried out turning to get the creature off his wing.

 

Le'Ly, who was the next closest, stabbed her in the thigh. The knife sunk deep into the clay of her leg but as soon as it was removed the wound closed.

 

“It’s not a statue, it's a clay construct.” Feta said as she closed on the struggle.

 

“Piercing attacks do little damage and slashing isn’t much better.” Mika continued, hitting the form in the side, finally dislodging it. “Bludgeoning weapons and magic have the best effect.”

 

KABOOM! Most of her lower half was blown off by the fire rune. Mika smashed her head into the floor and looked at the older man.

 

“Fire magic is very effective against clay.” Is all he said in defense.

 

“Yenstar is getting a bit grumpy.” Olive said with an evil smile. “I wonder what else this place has that will annoy him?”

 

Myra tried to hide her wide smile behind her hand. “We should move on. That one didn’t attack till we were in here for a while. They must be on timers. I don’t want to stand around until the other 2 wake up.”

 

“I’d like to search for more treasure next time. I found one chest before the attack.” Feta told them as she picked up a glob of clay that was dropped by the guardian.

 

“It’s weird that they dissolve into the ground, but nice that you don’t have to butcher the kills.” Myra said as they grouped near the door.

 

“Yes but you have to remember that everything in this place is made of mana. It wasn’t born. Those kobolds will never lay eggs, tedious spell and rune work wasn’t needed to make this construct. And they will respawn just as they were after they die.” Mika told them.

 

“That is kind of depressing. That they never grow old or have kids or do anything like that.” Tuck’s shoulders were lowered and his tone morose. “Let’s just move on.”

 

Yenturis opened the stone door to the next room and they were hit by the noise in what had been a mostly silent dungeon.

 

It had the effect of lifting the mood because Hamish started laughing. Which set everyone else off and they were all soon chuckling at the 10 chickens running around the otherwise nice room.

“Why chickens?” Olive finally asked between giggles.

 

Yenstar just shook his head and took a seat on top of one of the cages near the door. “Watch that step, it's trapped” He told the others.

 

Looking around the room he could see that each corner had these square alcoves, 3 of them had cages similar to the one he was resting on. There were also some ledges at various heights, made for the chickens which were all over the room. The steps down into the room were long and shallow. It would look almost majestic if not for the fowl. He couldn’t help but chuckle at Le’Ly, who was chasing one of the birds.

 

Feta was using the hand holds to search the room for hidden treasure while Yenturis took the time to stretch his wings fully.

 

“So which door should we try?” Olive asked looking at the one opposite the one they came in and the one in the middle of the left wall.

 

“From how we traveled that one likely leads to the hall we didn’t take and back out of the dungeon.” Hamish said.

 

“Then this door it is.” Olive tried to open the door. “It’s locked, and no keyhole.” As she searched for a keyhole.

 

“No hidden areas or traps up here.” Feta told them perched on one of the highest ledges. She had to crouch or her head would have hit the ceiling.

 

Tuck moved over and tried the other door. “This one is locked too. Myra, try the way we came in.”

 

“Locked. I guess we have to figure out what the dungeon wants us to do. It has been too nice for the answer to be killing the chickens to find a key.” Myra replied.

 

Yenstar kept quiet. He had already guessed what they had to do and wanted to see what the others came up with first.

 

“None of the ledges move so it’s not a sequence puzzle”

 

Olive laughed, getting their attention. “I think Le’Ly has it figured out. Cages and loose chickens. Seems like an annoyingly embarrassing job.”

 

The others laughed. “Let’s see who can catch the most. You girls versus us boys.” Tuck challenged pointing at Myra, Olive and Le’Ly.

 

Yenturis and Mika took a seat on the steps to watch the young members turn this dungeon puzzle into a game.

 

Feta dropped down silently, spooking the aarakocra. “I haven’t had this much fun in a long time.”

 

Mika smiled at her sister. “I think they have it right treating this dungeon like a big playground. Or at least this floor. Can you imagine being a part of keeping this place so pure? Letting this dungeon keep making challenging but fun puzzles and traps that just leave you muddy and scraped.”

 

“You want to move here.” She knew her younger sister well enough that it wasn’t really a question.

 

She nodded anyway. “Yes. I want to care for this dungeon. To be it’s protector and light. I wonder if it’s deity is also Alphriya? We resonate so well.”

 

Feta smiled at her softly. Mika may be 34 now but Feta still remembers when she was a hatchling covered in down. “We must check that miasma first. Then you can let your childish heart rule here.”

 

“Look” Yenturis said interrupting their moment. He pointed to the one alcove that didn’t have a cage. Now there sat a nice looking chest made of a grey wood with shiny iron fixtures and lock.

 

“I guess you catch enough chickens and there’s a reward.” Feta observed. “Wonder what’s inside?”

 

“WE WIN!!” Le’Ly shouted stuffing the last chicken in a cage.

 

“The door clicked open after 5 were caught.” Yenstar replied.

 

“Then the chest appeared. I guess catching more gives a bonus.” Mika added. “I think Le’Ly should get the honor as the catcher of the final chicken.”

 

The tigerling bounced her way over to the chest, which was chest high on her. “Cherries!” She cheered pulling out a basket of the fruit. All the other items were placed in Feta’s bag to be looked at in depth back at camp.

 

The teens took a well earned break sharing the cherries with everyone. They were perfectly sweet and ripe.

 

“So yummy. I’ve never had them before. The orphanage could never get exotic fruits like this.”

 

Myra smiled, pulling the girl into her lap. “Tuck and Olive bring back bushells every fall. They aren’t exotic here.”

 

“Mr. Yenstar, would you be mad if I wanted to stay with Myra and Olive?” She asked the older man in a small voice.

 

“No I wouldn’t be mad. Though setting up shop in Adortin is sounding better and better to me. I’d be on hand to train whoever cares for the dungeon. And I could help by telling your town what adventurers are likely to want and need to tackle this place.”

 

“I would like to care for this dungeon.” Mika added. “This place resonates with me and I want to keep it safe.” Yenstar gave her a weighted look.

 

“Can we help?” Tuck offered. “I love fishing and being out on the water but there is something about being in here. Like healing a hurt you didn’t know was there.” His twin nodded.

 

“You 4 can help best by exploring the dungeon and scouting the forest for anyone or anything that wants to hurt it.” Yenstar said. “Though I’m not talking about bears and bugbears. I’d say those kobolds can protect this place pretty well and we don’t want to stunt its growth by killing everything.”

 

He turned back to Mika. “I’ll send a message by firelight when we get back to camp that you are claiming the role of caregiver for this unnamed dungeon. I have several friends that will make sure everyone knows about your new job. The main thing is making sure people aren’t destroying the dungeon or pissing it off. Or feeding it things to make it more of an item farm. And making sure that there is only one team allowed in per level. Everything else is up to you. But I’d be glad to answer any questions.”

 

Mika nodded. “I don’t know what to ask right now. But I would like to see what else is on this level. I’m sure I have loads to learn about dungeons.”

 

“Like people each one is unique. What’s true for Aggitash might get you killed in Gabolax.”

 

“Let’s get moving so we can find a new home in Adortin.” Feta said like she was put out. “I know you will want to stay near these brats.” Her joking tone didn’t match the words.

 

The hall that followed was blank. No traps or anything really, just enough mana lights to light the path.

 

They looked at the next room. “A maze.” Yenturis deadpanned. “I don’t like mazes.”

 

“It’s a key maze too.” Mika observed taking the key shaft off the hook just inside the door. “Gabolax has a few of these.”

 

“What’s that?” Myra asked.

 

“There will be pieces hidden in the maze and we have to find them, put them on the shaft in the right order and then this becomes the key to the next room.” Feta explained.

 

“Sounds like a fun treasure hunt to me.” Olive said with a grin.

 

“Not always.” Yenstar replied but didn’t elaborate. “Olive and Feta should take the lead.”

 

She shrugged and looked at the rouge with a smile. “Come on.”

 

___________________________

 

Arizo and I sat quietly after listening to Mika’s words.

 

“I think she will make an excellent caregiver.”

 

“But what does that mean?” I replied. “My dungeon is young but I have years and years of memories. I don’t really need a babysitter.”

 

She smiled softly. “We assume they call the job ‘caregiver’ because that person’s job is to look out for the dungeon’s best interest. To speak on your behalf and keep you safe from people trying to kill or control you.”

 

“Oh.” I felt embarrassed at being offended by the term. “Who is Alphriya?”

 

“She is one of the nature deities. The goddess of flowers and flowering plants. Mika’s shield has her symbol, the lotus.” She pointed out the silver inlay on the shield.

 

“Hm… I like flowers but I refused to be ruled by anyone but Death. Pretty sure I wouldn’t take orders well.”

 

Arizo chuckled at me.

 

“Though, Feta has given me some ideas for hiding more things. If Mika takes the job I’m sure Feta is staying too. I wonder how those 2 are related? Family or lovers?”

 

“No idea. Beast races aren’t the easiest to see family resemblances in.”

 

A shout turned our attention back to the visitors.

 

___________________

 

“WHA!!” Olive shouted and punched the little chest that had bitten her hand.

 

Feta stabbed it with a dagger while it was dazed.

 

Tuck was almost in tears looking at his twin's face.

 

“What is that?” Hamish asked as the box dissolved.

 

“A mimic.” Mika said, getting her laughter under control. “Though I have never seen one so small and cute before.”

 

“It slobbered on me.” Olive whined, holding out her fingers for healing. It had razor sharp teeth that had done some damage.

 

“At least….” Yenturis stopped. “Never mind I am not giving this dungeon any ideas to mess with people more than it already does.” The teens gave a small chuckle.

 

They found the other chests and mimics. Having 10 rings and only 7 slots on the key took a while to solve but finding the hidden door wasn’t hard for Olive or Feta.

 

“I don’t have any advantage here.” Myra said as they finally opened the door. “This dungeon seems to favor non-magical illusions.”

 

“Thay may change on other floors.” Hamish told her.

 

“Everyone still feeling fine?” Mika asked

 

The teens said they were and wanted to continue.

 

“This hall is kinda creepy.” Olive said looking at the glowing plants in the otherwise dark hall.

 

“By the look of the door at the end this is the boss room.” Yenstar told them. “A dramatic lead in isn’t out of the ordinary.”

 

“Wonder what it will be?” Myra asked

 

“Could be anything found in this forest, another construct or a more powerful version of one of the creatures we’ve seen.” Feta replied.

 

The doors slid open without a whisper when Mika and Yenturis pushed on them.

 

“It’s beautiful.” Myra stated, looking at the crystal filled, cavernous room.

 

“Don’t let the looks fool you.” Yenstar warned. “Somewhere in here is the floor boss.” He pulled out a wand with an intricate design on the end. This floor felt more like a fun house than most but the power and intelligence those kobolds had made him leery of what this beast would be able to do.

 

Once they had all cleared the doors they closed behind them and the main crystal started to unfold and stand up.

 

“What?” Olive said stunned at the 11ft creature.

 

“Crystal guardian is what it says. I’ve never seen a construct out of crystal.” Feta replied after analysing it. She glanced to Yenstar whose face was a bit tight.

 

“Blunt weapons and explosives are about all that can damage crystals. It being magically held together and hardened will make taking it down a chore. Even though all of us are over leveled.”

 

“Don’t forget bosses are smart.” Mika added diving to the side as it shot a piece of crystal at the group.

 

The behemoth used it’s ranged attacks to keep them split up as it tried to take them down.

 

Mika and her mace were doing some damage to its legs but the others weapons weren’t much use. It was smart enough to target Yenstar to stop him from casting.

 

Yenturis tried to cover the caster so he could get a spell off but was only rewarded by a spike of crystal through his bicep.

 

“Hamish!” Myra shouted at the naga who was being mostly ignored as neither hitting it with his staff or sling did more than a point of damage. He nodded and fell back.

 

:Icy Field: Hamish called out and the ground under the boss turned to ice. Though it didn’t seem to notice at first. When it turned to take a swing at Mika the boss slipped and fell. The fall damage doing more than many of their other attacks.

 

:Explosive Rune: Yenstar was finally able to finish drawing the rune he needed.

 

The concussive boom from the explosion deafened the whole team and peppered them with crystal shards.

 

There was a scream from Feta. The crystal growth she had been hiding behind had fallen on her in the blast.

 

“It’s not dead!” Tuck warned. He’d been keeping an eye on the thing. Myra stood near a woozy Hamish and shot at the recovering guardian.

 

Olive used it’s somewhat blocky form to climb the beast and shove one of her dirks in a crack that had formed in its head.

 

The boss screamed in pain as she was able to pry part of its face off.

 

Tuck and Yenturis were trying to move the crystal that was crushing Feta. While Mika took out the boss's right knee. Olive was thrown free as it went down again. She slid across the floor, not stopping until her back hit another crystal growth. She didn’t rise again.

 

Yenstar hadn’t been idle and cast another spell. :Fire Rune: This was the same one that he used on the clay construct earlier. It didn’t have as much of an effect but it knocked the boss flat and allowed Mika to finish it off.

 

As soon as it started to dissolve Myra dropped her bow and headed over to check on Olive. “She’s unconscious but fine. I think she hit her head.”

 

Tuck’s eyes watered as he continued to lift. Mika was able to pull her sister free.

 

“Is everyone alright?” Yenstar asked. They had all recovered their hearing even if there was still a ringing in their ears.

 

“That! Was! Awesome!!” Le’Ly cheered. “You guys beat that big, huge thing!” She started miming the fight like only an excitable young child could do. The others couldn’t help but smile.

 

Feta was leaned against the same crystal as Olive so Mika could heal them both. Once Feta’s broken leg was set and healed as best as she could. Even after healing Olive didn’t wake right away. Mika then turned to Yenturis and took care of his arm. Then cast a broad spell over everyone to take care of any scrapes and bruises from the exploding crystal.

 

“Let’s not explode crystal giants anymore. Ok.” Hamish suggested sluggish joining the others.

 

Yenstar blushed.

 

“Are you ok?” Tuck asked his best friend.

 

“Yeah I was fine after I cast but as my mana refilled I felt woozy and seasick”

 

Olive groaned and opened her eyes. She smiled at everyone. “That was wild.”

 

“Don’t scare me like that again.” Tuck ordered pulling her into a hug. She returned it without saying a word.

 

Myra gave a light kick to her hip. “I think he means worry us. You crazy monkey. You are definitely not allowed back in here without supervision.” Her hands were on her hips as she glared down at her friend.

 

She just got a wide grin in return. “Who else is going to protect the other girls' virtue by having your brother convinced I only come over for him?” She blinked her big green eyes.

 

The other 3 teens laughed. Seeing confusion on their faces, Myra explained. “My brother, who thinks he’s the gods’ gift to women, believes Olive is going to marry him because she’d one of the prettiest girls in the village. But he’s an idiot and Olive has turned down his advances every time.”

 

“He can’t get it through his thick head that my sister is a free spirit and more likely to run off into the woods and become a wildling than to be his trophy housewife.” Tuck helped her to her feet as he added his opinion.

 

Feta chuckled. “There are males like that everywhere.”

 

“Feta has had more than a few incessant suitors in her time.” Her sister said with a grin.

 

“And you haven’t?”

 

“Most of mine leave me be after I told them I took a vow of celibacy.”

 

Yenstar laughed. “You lied to keep them from bothering you.”

 

“How did you know that?” Myra asked. The look on Mika’s face told her it was true.

 

“Alphriya, my Goddess, has command over flowers and blooms. Sex and reproduction is part of her domain. She would never have one of her followers be celibat.”

 

The boys blushed at her frank reply.

 

“Let’s see what’s in the boss's chest and peek behind the final door.” Feta redirected with a roguish smile. She wasn’t greedy or hurting for money but she liked to find treasure and collect unique items.

 

The others agreed and let her empty the chest that had appeared once the boss had fully dissolved. They then grouped up near the other door in the room.

 

Feta looted another hidden chest in the hall.

 

“Let’s not try that today.” Hamish said looking at the spiral stairs going down.

 

“Yeah we were not prepared, after 4 days in the woods. It’s probably after nightfall by now.” Mika agreed.

 

Yenstar stepped to the front of the group and addressed the stone guard between them and the door at the end of the hall. “We would like to see the core and place a marker around it.”

 

There was a long pause, but the guardian stepped aside and the door opened.

 

“Put your weapons away.” Yenstar told them before crossing the hall and entering the door.

 

They did as they were told and then followed him into the room. They looked around at the pair of honeysuckles that farmed the door and the hammock that had various nice smelling plants growing from its supports. But the purple gem floating near the back of the room soon drew all their attention.

 

“Wow.” Olive said softly. “It’s beautiful.” She stepped forward to get a closer look but Hamish grabbed the back of her armor to stop her.

 

“You can’t touch a core. It’s punishable by death.”

 

The adults turned to look at him. “What do you mean?”

“That’s not true on the surface?” When Yenstar shook his head the half naga continued. “In the bay that was one of the first things I was taught when I saw my first core. IF you even get too close to one the marine adventurers guild will put a price on your head.”

 

“On the surface anyone that touched a core would be banned from entering another dungeon or joining the guild. But they would only get a bounty if they tried to move it or harm it.” Yenstar replied.

 

“I think we should follow the Marine rules.” Olive said, her face turning fierce and protective. “This thing is beautiful, funny and makes amazing things. Anyone trying to threaten it I will personally hunt down.”

 

“I agree.” Mika said. “Let’s put down the ring and leave the dungeon in peace for a while. ….How do we do that?”

 

Yenstar chuckled. “Core, the ring she is talking about is a circle around your core. Anyone that crosses it will be marked and interrogated by the guild when they leave. I don’t know the marine version.”

 

“Neither do I but I can have someone come and place it.” Hamish replied.

 

He nodded and approached the core. Bending down he started tracing runes on the floor around the core. In about a 3 foot circumference. It took a while for this process but once he was done the runes glowed and a dome of magic formed around the core.

 

“I added a layer of shielding as well.” He held his hand out and it stopped on an invisible barrier at the outside edge of the runes. “It will need to be broken for any to even cross the runes. And breaking such a barrier made by someone with a level 31 in warding will be no easy chore.” He boasted.

 

“We should leave a tribute.” Mika advised.

 

Hamish nodded. “That’s what we do as well. Either in the core room or wherever we stop. To thank the dungeon for the experience we gained and apologize for the things we killed.”

 

Olive gave a wide grin and moved over the shield. She spread her arms wide hugging the barrier and gave it a loud kiss. “Thank you for letting us explore and for any of the future plants mom and I come to harvest. Grow well.” She announced, then turned back to the others, who were just shaking their heads at her.

 

They each left a little something then headed back the way they had come. Using the table to cross the poisonous pit and some more vines to get over the gross trap. They didn’t have any issue leaving the dungeon. Though they did look toward the unexplored hall. But after travelling so far they were ready to end the day.

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A note from Astiar

My poor 1 year old puppy is currently in the hospital with parvo. :( I was so worried yeasterday this was the last thing on my mind.


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