“Ready to move on to the unseen room?” Olive asked excitedly.
“Let’s do it.” Hamish replied with a smile.
“I’ll try these new traps first.” Tuck offered.
Once they were all at the vines he grabbed one and tugged on it. It seemed solid so he grabbed up higher on the vine and took a leap to swing across. The vine broke in the middle of the swing causing him to gracelessly flop onto his back.
A round laughter greeted him as he stood up. Even Una was laughing at the human.
“I am not trying any new traps first.” He said with a pout, face bright red.
Olive, Olga and Evanna moved forward into vines inspecting them.
“Most of these are normal honeysuckle vines, with a rare poison ivy in the mix.” Olga tapped her foot rather hard on the floor. “The floor under us is solid so I would guess the vines are there as a trick.”
“Which would mean this next section of vines are not the trick and the floor is dangerous.” Olive guessed.
Evanna walked forward in curiosity and placed a foot on one of the tiles under the second set of vines. “There are 2 inch spikes under the tiles here. More than enough to go through a foot but like everything else we have seen so far not deadly unless you are very unlucky.”
Le’Ly let out a shout and took a flying jump, grabbing the vines over the trapped floor and swinging to safety. She didn’t really stick the landing instead rolling a couple times. Her laughter let everyone know she was alright.
“I wonder if all of the tiles hold the same spikes?” Warsh asked as he came close and looked at the 30ish tiles under the vines.
“Hum,” Typha said in thought “It is possible that some might hold a treasure or a different kind of trap but we aren’t here to reveal all the dungeon’s secrets just to make a map and place our protections.”
The teenage merman continued to study the trap. This place was so different from the few marine dungeons he had been in. Coming back might be worth the discomfort of the talisman that gave him legs and let him breathe outside the water.
None of the group had any real issue crossing the trap. Though Typha had to grab several vines to hold her weight. And there were a few more poor landings. Poli ended up tripping and breaking his glasses but he always kept several spares when going into a dungeon.
They regrouped in front of the nice wooden door. The soft almost pink color identified it as pair wood. There were darker red cherry inlays in the shapes of vines wandering along its surface. It was the most highly decorated door the teens had seen in the dungeon. When they were here last the doors were plain wood or stone. Typha not knowing that hadn’t commented on the decorations of the other door.
Almost as soon as the door was opened the 3 alchemists went through and started looking at the plants around the room. They were chattering quickly enough they were hard to understand by the rest of the group.
Tuck meanwhile was gripping his spear and staring at the bugbear that had just risen from a nap under the pear tree in the center of the room.
The bugbear was watching the 3 women but then looked down at the floor. He spoke to the floor in a slow gruff voice. There was some gesturing involved as well but soon enough he sat back down with a huff. He was still watching the women with a pout.
Typha and tuck both kept a hold of their weapons just in case. The other 3 joined the alchemists in checking out the plants.
It was a rectangular room about 40x20 with the door in the lower right corner. In the center of the room was a large pear tree. The ceiling had been raised from the 10ft of the rest of this floor to 30ft to accommodate the tree. It was a bit crowded with planters each one made of crystal and overflowing with plants.
After the 15x3 planter, which was amethyst, was an 8x6 aventurine planter. Another 8x6 made of clear quartz sat opposite it. Between the 2, in the middle of the far back wall was the exit door. It was made of deep cherry wood with a pear wood inlay in the shape of a mandrake snuggling a key. Opposite the 15x3 planter was an identical one. Though the plants differed. The final large planter was 6x8 rose quartz and sat along the short wall by the entrance door. Above the planters were smaller sconces made of various colors of quartz hanging on the walls.
There had to be at least 20 different species of plant and fungi crowding all the planters. There were some species that would never grow so closely in the wild. Like the dungeon had just dumped them all here not seeming to understand how the plants interacted with each other.
Though Tuck was sure it was listening to everything Olga, Olive and his mom were saying. Filing it away to use later.
As he started to relax since the large bugbear wasn’t making any threatening movements, Tuck wondered what, if anything, had changed since they were last here. Well other than the entrance hall. That would have been daunting and intimidating if it was the first he’d seen of this place. He could only hope it turned some people away. He knew his sister. She had promised to protect this dungeon and she would. Even if that meant taking on trained warriors many times their own level. He could only sigh and wish he was out on his boat fishing.
“At least the way out is simple enough.” Hamish stated rather loudly. His words seemed to break the concentration of the 2 trios that were examining the plants.
Poli and Olga looked at him owlishly. Rechni blushed at having become so engrossed in the plant life.
Olive turned to the door he was standing near. “Looks like a job for the 3 of us.” She motioned to her mom and Olga.
“Yes, getting mandrakes out of the ground without waking them.” Olga said looking at the door as well. “It would be best if all of you remained still and quiet.”
“But you don’t need to pull them out, only feel if they have a key and take that.” Evanna countered.
“Of course.” Olga agreed, “That makes it simpler but we still need quiet.”
Everyone else nodded and got into comfortable positions as the 3 alchemists hunted the beds in a whole new manner.
Soon enough they were each digging their hands deep into the soft dirt. They felt along the flesh like bodies of the mandrakes checking for the key.
Evanna ended up finding it and holding it high without making a sound. None of them spoke till all 3 had their hands out of the dirt.
“We should gather some Fools Truffles and Yarrow before we go.” Olga stated, wiping her hands on her skirt. “Those are all we are low in for the moment. It is a great relief that there is a reliable source of plant nearby should we have an emergency.”
“Yep,” Olive agreed with a wide grin, “Just over a day for a round trip. And when others start coming here I’m sure they will do some of the harvesting for us. And we can bring a few new things for the dungeon to grow now that we know more of what it has.”
“There is a fine line there Olive.” Typha warned, “Do not try to turn this place into an ingredient factory.”
Olive looked back at her with a harsher face than the naga had ever seen from her. “This dungeon is alive.” She all but growled out, “It is a growing, living, fighting, creating, amazing creature that allows us to come inside and look around. No one and nothing is going to hurt this core while I’m alive to do something about it. Anything I bring in here for the core is something I have fought and found in the forest surrounding its entrance. Things that it would one day find on it’s own. I’m not going to bring in mangroves or cactus or mountain lichen.”
“I have taught both of my children to respect this forest since before they could talk. And I don’t appreciate you accusing her of trying to harm this place.” Evanna’s green eyes turn to emerald chips in defense of her child.
Typha held up her hands to ward off their verbal attacks. “I meant no offence.” She tried to placate them. “In my career I have heard similar words from well meaning crafters that have unknowingly or sometimes intentionally done harm trying to get rarer items from a dungeon.”
Olive gave a big sigh and stepped over to the naga. “I’m sorry for being so defensive. It’s been a stressful few days.”
“That rumor from Riverside?” Tuck stated as much as asked.
She only nodded eyes cast down.
“If none of them return in 2 days we’ll be called to look for them. That’s the way of things. More outsiders is going to mean more search and rescue jobs.” Tuck told her with a resigned shrug.
“I know but I don’t have to like it.” She was still frowning as she looked up at her twin.
Typha wrapped her arms around the teen and hugged her tight. When she relaxed the naga hugged her even tighter using some of her 22 strength. The squeeze made Olive giggle. Getting a smile back on the usually cheerful girls face was what she was after so she let her go.
“I just don’t want all these people to hurt the forest.”
“I fear it is more likely they will anger it and wake things better left in tall tales.” Olga countered. “Now let’s move on and see the rest of this place.”
Evanna handed the key over to Le’Ly. They guessed the chicken room was next and it had been her favorite before. She wanted to move past these gloomy thoughts and the young tigerling’s excitement was just the thing.
Past the garden room was a blank hall that ended in a sharp left. Not far from the turn was another door.
“Being in a hall with no traps is a bit unnerving.” Typha commented.
“Probably part of the core’s plan to scare and humiliate invaders.” Tuck replied. Olive gare a mischievous smile.
Like before opening the door hit them with a wave of sound. The rainbow colored chickens were clucking, squawking and generally running amuck.
Le’Ly rushed into the room, forgetting the trapped step. The small metal balls under one step caused it to slide out from under her. She fell back and slid down the last 2 steps as the slate topper shot across the room and shattered. That made the chickens even noisier as they shrieked in complaint at the projectile.
Una chuckled at the girl and they could almost hear the core laughing with her.
The little tigerling stood up and brushed herself off, blushing bright red.
“Come on,” Olive told her with a wide smile. Her troubles shelved for now. “Warsh can be on our team to give the boys a fighting chance.”
“You’re going down sister.” Tuck declared, mock glaring at his twin. She stuck her tongue out.
“On the count of 3.” Typha stated. “1…. 2…. 3!” As she shouted the last number the 6 of them started rushing around trying to catch the chickens.
Warsh and Rechni were a bit older than the others, being 19 and 22 respectively. But they still joined in the fun while the 2 adults sat on the sidelines and watched.
“This is amazing.” Typha had a soft smile on her face. Though it turned slightly sad, “I wonder how many people will ignore the joy and purity of this dungeon? The childishness that lightens the mood.”
Una kept one eye on both groups. The Creator was translating everything they said. She was glad these people seemed to understand the vision. Her duty would be to kill all those that didn’t. That would come for other reasons than to just enjoy the adventure and explore. Those with greed in their heart and left destruction in their wake.
All attention turned to Olive as she let out a yelp. Her pants were split part way down the seam. Coins and salves spilled all over the floor. She glared at the chickens thinking one of them had torn her pocket while she was catching them. Only Una noticed one of the coins grow legs and drag a small packet of salve over to a nearby cage. One of the chickens inside pulled the coin mimic and the item into the cage and stuffed them under her plumage.
“I’ll pick it all up once the chickens are taken care of.” She said pouting at the mess.
As the kids returned to the hunt the little mimic ventured out to grab another treasure. With the core and the chickens assisting it the little mimic was able to steal 4 items total before there were too few chickens to cover it’s movement. Una and all the other residents could feel the core enjoying how well the little coin worked and that it was able to remain undetected.
Meanwhile the adults were chatting and made note that the chest did appear ounce 5 chickens were caught. After every one of them was caught the younger catching crew was tired and all had a seat to rest.
“The girls win again.” Olive said between panting. “And it only cost me a good pair of pants.” There were chuckles at that statement.
“Mrs Evanna, you should open it this time.” Le’Ly told her. She knew the older woman had bad memories about dungeons and hoped this would help her. “But I get dibs on any cherries.”
Evanna chuckled again. She moved over to the chest and threw back the lid. There were several items inside but right on top of everything else was 2 wooden bowls of cherries. Beside them were 3 pears. She handed the fruit to the tired catchers as she pulled out all the other items.
“We have an intact Destroying Angel and yarrow root. One mandrake leaf, 2 fangs of some kind.” She rarely worked with bats and wasn’t able to tell that’s what they were from. “2 chunks of rock. This one looks like copper and this one is just a rock.” She looked over the fist sized piece of basalt before sitting it aside. “Here is another copper lantern.” That was set aside as well.
She let out a gasp as she picked up a lightly glowing green lump. “It’s a Dryad heart.” Though it looked nothing like the heart found in a humanoid. This she carefully packed into her bag. They were easy to destroy and if it stopped glowing the potency fell to less than half.
“There is a shield.” Sher held it out to Typha to look over. The naga was most knowledgeable about weapons and armor in the group. “A rabbit pelt, completely cleaned. A snake skin and 7 rounds.” As she stood up she looked at her children. They were over collecting Olive’s spilled items. “Isn’t this a bit much for catching chickens?”
Hamish shrugged. “I’m not sure if the core understands the value of some of it’s items in the outside world.”
“I agree.” Olive added, “The fully intact mandrake that we found last time was worth more than everything else together.”
“That’s true. And I’m glad you got the others to agree to selling us the fragile tendrils before sending the resy with Myra to be sold in Eslan.” Olga informed them.
“I need to map the other room and passage before we move forward.” Typha spoke, turning their attention away from the spoils.
“I’ll go with you. I wanted to get a better look at the pool in there to find a good fishing spot.” Tuck spoke up.
“We want to see what all is under the narrow bridge.” Olive motioned to her mom and Olga. “But first I’m going into that empty hall to change my pants.” She rushed out.
“I wanna stay here with the chickens.” Le’Ly declared. She wanted to climb up the wall like Feta had before.
“I’ll stay with her.” Rechni offered.
“I want to submerge myself in any body of water possible.” Warsh whined. Being on dry land was getting more and more uncomfortable.
Poli took a seat on the now closed chest. “I think I’ll rest here. And meditate.”
As soon as he was knee deep in the water Warsh pulled off the necklace that allowed him to breathe air and fully submerged himself. Una and the core watched the transformation intently. Before he’d been pale like Evanna with a blueish purple undertone. Now those colors became more pronounced. His skin turned more blue with purple accents. Though the pink human skin tone was still dominant. Ridges along his jawline and under his eyes became more pronounced and darkened. His hair went from a flat turquoise to vibrant array of blues and greens. Webbing grew stronger and more purple between his fingers and his legs merged into a strong deep blue tail with purple scales scattered throughout.
For several long minutes he just lay under the surface seeming to soak in the joy of being in his true form again. During that time Tuck had found a nice rock to sit on and dangle his bare feet into the water. He pulled out his fishing rod, broken down into 3 pieces for easier carrying, and put it back together. He didn't expect to catch anything with Warsh in the water but just the act of fishing was relaxation for him.
Soon enough the merman was feeling better and started to explore the pool. It was only 13 feet at its deepest but there were little caves and bumps to look into, where cave shrimp and fish made their homes. He also found a chest half buried at the bottom of the pool. Inside were several iron chain links that somehow hadn’t rusted and a pair of fish fillets.
With a smile he looked up to the surface and noticed that Tuck wasn’t paying attention. So he snuck over and put the iron chain on his line. He laughed his fins off watching the human struggle with the massive fish he thought he'd landed.
Tuck almost yelled at the merman but stopped and looked to the ceiling. He remembered them startling the bats last time and the trouble the group had defending against a swarm of flying attackers. He looked to Una, the kobold was near the door keeping an eye on him and the ladies under the narrow path. She looked relaxed and seemed to be laughing at his plight. Tuck stuck his tongue out at the kobold, which only made her laugh out loud.
Soon enough Typha was done mapping and they all gathered in the chicken room.
“I’m sure that Warsh and I were in the bat room for longer than we were last time and the clay woman didn’t come to life.”
“They are Emily, Jack and Sally.” Typha replied. “But that shows up like it’s their species name. It’s the same for the Ferryman with his hand out.” She motioned to the cathedral room. “These chickens all identify as Rainbow Chicken 1 when I :Analyze: them. Una here is Una, Kobold Warrior 2.”
“So those names are their template?” Poli asked “That’s rather odd. Most core’s just name them guardian 1, 2, 3 and so on.”
“Most cores also don’t make traps just to laugh at you.” Typha answered, “This is an odd one. I am looking forward to how it grows.”
“Look what I found!” Le’Ly excitedly interrupted. She held out a nicely shaped piece of amethyst and a fist full of chanterelle.
Olive looked over the bright yellow mushrooms. “I think the dungeon likes you. Somehow you keep earning us tasty treats.”
“Where did you find those?” Evanna asked, looking over one as well. There had been a few in the crevasse they searched.
Le’Ly pointed to the wall with the chicken perches. “I wanted to climb the wall like Feta did before. She didn’t find anything but I did. There were some hidden spots and some of the ledges moved and opened doors. But only for a few seconds before they closed again. It was a great racing game.” She rambled in excitement.
“We can cook these up when we stop for a rest.” Tuck told her, taking the mushrooms and putting them in his bag. “Next is the mimic maze then the floor boss.”