Agate dove into the pile at once, heaving up clattering mounds of coins and tangled, unsorted finery in her search. She emerged moments later with a breastplate that was only a little oversized, and beamed at Error.
Error surveyed her minions. Now assured that Ognevika wouldn’t smash them into bits, they were scampering through the mounds of loot, pulling forth all manner of weaponry.
She then examined the hoard cave itself, noting that the ground at its entrance was made from layers of countless torched adventurers, clothes and bones turned to dust, compacted over centuries. Unlike the rest of the stone cavern, which was mostly unyielding metamorphic rock, this sedimentary layer could quickly be dug and fortified.
As Error commanded her new troops to dig a basic trench, Agate suddenly remembered that she had a talking book that she should probably show to Error. She ran back to her nest and fished the book out of a secret crevice.
"Finally! I was getting fed up of staring at your bedding," the book coughed. "Now listen here…" it began, but was muffled immediately as Agate stuffed it down her newly acquired armor, rushing back to the hoard.
She found Error busy directing kobolds as they raced around her in a flurry of action.
"Move it, you tardigrades! Find shovels or shovel-like tools! This trench ain’t gonna dig itself!"
Agate grew nervous as she approached. Error had told her not to interact with talking items. She had already drawn in the book and slept on top of it. That probably counted as interaction. Perhaps if she found an amazing shovel first, Error would be less disappointed in her when she saw the book.
She searched through the hoard along with her fellow kobolds.
"For a moment I thought you were going to do something useful with me,” the book groaned. "what was I saying before you shoved me down that flat lizard bosom of yours?"
"Dunno," Agate answered, without pausing her hunt for a shovel, and certainly not registering the insult. Clearly, she had nothing to worry about. This book was definitely stupider than her.
"...I think it had something to do with... Adventure? While you aren't the perfect specimen for Adventuring, I guess you'll have to do," The book mulled.
"Mhmrm," Agate grunted to be polite, and paid no attention to the book.
"Now, adventurers have parties. Do you have a party?"
"I have Error. She's my bestie," Agate answered, puffing up with pride. “Although she doesn't acknowledge it,” she admitted sadly.
"Right,” the book said, sounding unconvinced. “Well, you're going to need more party members. Generally, adventure parties have around five characters. So, keep your eye open for heroic, quirky personas. Hmmm… what else… you already have armor... you'll need to pick a class and a fitting weapon."
“I wish I knew what a shovel looked like.” Agate complained.
“A shovel is a tool for digging, lifting, and moving bulk materials. Most shovels are hand tools consisting of a broad blade fixed to a medium-length handle.” The book recited.
"Do you wish to class yourself as a Farmer?”
Agate declined the offer to classify herself as such, but remembered the useful description of a shovel. Moments later, she found one. She grabbed the silver handle and pulled it free.
“A SHOVEL!” she hollered in triumph. The book sighed, wondering how much further its patience could stretch.
“That… is a spoon,” it told her. Agate ignored this, and also ignored the book’s rude advice to “consider investing more of your points into intelligence.” She trotted over to Error, proudly displaying the spoon to her friend.
Error eyed the spoon, her gold eyes instantly recognizing the barely visible runes on its surface.
"I was going to scold you for thinking you could dig anything with that,” she said, “but luckily for you, that's a Gravity Wizard’s Wand. It's handy for making things lighter. So, use it to lighten the rocks that others are digging out." With that, Error immediately turned to direct other Kobolds, who had questions of their own about what a shovel looked like.
Agate stared at the spoon in a panic. She had no idea how it worked. All around her, Kobolds rushed to dig the trench with a variety of found tools. They seemed to know what they were doing.
"Congratulations. You have chosen the noble class of Gravitymancer." The book commented unhelpfully from under her breastplate. Agate waved the spoon, expecting colorful sparks of arcane magics like she once saw a wiz-man produce before Ognevika swallowed him whole.
Nothing happened. She frowned, shaking it harder. Again, nothing.
"Help," she whispered at the book.
"You have accepted the -Dig a Trench to protect the Hoard- quest." The book resounded from the depths of her armor.
Agate licked the spoon. Tasting things helped her understand them. Concentric runes around the spoon lit up. Agate's feet lifted from the ground as she stepped forward.
"Waaaa…." she began to say as her crystalline, azure hair billowed out around her, twinkling with white and blue facets.
Her surprise turned to panic as she rapidly lost control, twirling in the air, floating up faster and faster.
"Noooo no no! Whyyyy?!" she protested, flailing in the air.
Error looked up at the floating, howling blue kobold and began to laugh.
“I said lighten rocks, not yourself, you dummy!" she called up, still chortling.
Agate stared down at the tiny, distant Error with wide eyes. She was now standing upside down on the cave ceiling. She regretted everything. The book was clearly smarter than her and it had indeed led her to disaster.
"What do I doooo?" she whimpered.
"Congratulations on a wise decision of achieving weightlessness in a confined space." The book supplied. "Most gravity apprentices leave the planet far too early and become one with the universe."
Agate bit the spoon in frustration. The runes blinked out. Instantly, she plummeted and smashed into the pile of gold with an unhealthy crunch.
“My legs!” she bawled. While the armor had protected most of her chest, her legs had borne the brunt of the impact and hurt terribly.
“Affliction: compound fractured left femur, spiral fractured right tibia,”
her collar chimed. Agate’s face paled. She had thought her legs were broken! Now she had no idea what was wrong with her.
Error’s laughter paused as she took this in, and then she laughed harder. “Oh, you’re funny sometimes!” she said. Agate tried to smile at this praise but her legs hurt too much. “Listen. You have to think clearly about the object you want to lighten. Don't use it on yourself until you can get a handle on magflow."
Error turned away, back to plotting defense architecture. "Hmmmm… pointy ground rocks," she scratched her chin in contemplation of the stalagmites.
Agate cried softly. She knew she was as good as dead. A shattered blue crystalline bone jutted from her leg, spelling out her end.
"What's your problem, soldier?" Error asked, glancing back.
"You know what happens when someone breaks their legs!" Agate sobbed, staring across the hoard chamber towards the dark maw of the tunnel-gate that led into lower levels. "They're going to throw me into the Deep. Divine horrors will suck out my blood and mummify my flesh!"
"Say what?" Error questioned, glancing towards the perfectly circular gate with the infinity sigil emblazoned above it. "Oh. I see the kobold retirement plan here is top notch,” she sighed, and turned to walk away but stopped.
"You're dumb. Also, your legs are broken,” Error said aloud, mulling over the options.
Agate wept, nodding in agreement. At least she’d finally made a friend. Maybe Error would be the one to kindly cast her into the Deep. Maybe getting your essence sucked out didn’t hurt. Maybe the terrifying, desperate screams from dying kobolds really were screams of blessed happiness. By now, Error had wandered off, presumably to let Agate have a few moments to herself before getting pitched into the gate.
Suddenly, she was back, standing over Agate, holding a black box etched with hexagons and a black circlet, uttering strange, hissy words that Agate failed to understand.
“.̗̹̲̿͒̚̕.͚̇ͥͫͬ͞.͎͋͊̐̕U͉ͮ͛̔̌̆͋̈P̝̠̳̩͆̑͐̀ͅŘ̤̖̤͔̆͌̔͗A̯ͥ̋̍̒̎V̂ͯ͏̤̜̹̬Ḻ͕̥͎̭͇̎͒̇͊̏͌ͅẢ͌Ȉ̠͓͈̩ͤU̼͖̜̩͖̞̘͒̏͂Sͥ̽҉̪̩͍̦̞̼ͅH̰̜̫͖͉̊͢I̶͈̳̻̬͎̯I̢̝͚̲̰͒ͅ ̬͕̲͚̼ͪͥ͊͌͒̇N̯̤͙̆̏ͦ̒ͯ̒̈́̕E̡̘͇̞̹̾͂̿ͤͮͯ͊K͍̤͔̪͔̱̥ͩ̆ͯ͑̐͊Ṡ͊̊̓̋̐Ư̜ͬ̓ͣ͋Š͈̤̮͓A̝͉̠̘͉͊̊ ̪̖͓̰̠̹̘̔̐͐P͕͚̥͉̹̩̔̀ͬ̍ͯͯ͌ͅO͂͒ͣV̫͓̩͇͍͍̗ͤͫ̊ͪ̈́͒͗͞Ȇ̲̠̻ͦL͢E̟̹͎͎̝̮͖͜V̙͍͈̘ͧ̍A̷̩ͣ̽ͫ̇̌̑̒E͎̱̬ͭ͌ͮT̩̱̝̮͚̺͑͘ ͙̈ͦ-ͮ͂͐̈́͐͏̭̬̘͇̫̞̬ ̗̔Vͯ̆ͩ̽ͣͨK̸͔͓̫̗̣̿̈́ͨ͊ͪL̝̭̫͎͗U̳̭̞̅͊̆̍̀C͕͔͘H̲͕̠̜̟̺̫ͦͯͨ̿̈́̒ͪ͠Í̠̜͈̻̓T̸̯͖͖͍͇̭̭̊̃͛̔ ̬̣̝̬̊̑̄̈͝N̶ͬ̌̏̀̎̂ͤͅE̲͉̖̐ͭ̉̎̈͗K̬̱̪ͧ̅͜R̘͙̦̖̝̭̝̊̌̋͌̈̀͊Ọ̹̯͚͍ͅT̘̬̟̪͚ͨ̂͑E͈̤͚ͤͪͬR͓͓̭̙͎̤̉̀M̲ͮ̌ĮͭͨͧͩN͎͎͈͍̎͂ͣͬ̉ͬA̪͛͐ͪ̇̓ͤͪ͟ͅĹ̙̗̻̓̄͑̆̊̓!̧͈”
Error's voice reverberated oddly, and as she spoke the shadows around her twitched and moved as if they were alive. Only the shapeless horrors from the Deep spoke in a language that could not be immediately understood. Error was reading Agate her last rights of passage! How kind! How...
“̭͈͔͆ͤ̑̚Ĭ̫͔̜̹̄͑̅N̻̿͗̇Ĭ̭͔̘̠̣̜̎̉͊̃Ĉ͈̹̹̹̖̮ͭĪ̿͆͂͝’̰̪̜̗͂ͣͨͪ͗Ǐ͇̘̣̺̿͒̆ͭͥ̆R̩͖̣̥͔̆Ô̙̻̳̱̠̒ͫ͌̏ͦ́V̫̩̞̆͌ͯͯͫ̀A̯ͨ͝T̖̟̙͇͎͕͖̍̓͊̂ͮ̅’͂̋ͦ̂̔̚̚͢,̠̟̝͒̉ ͖̫̩͓̤͓̒P͓̩͂̎ͮ̉̆O͊͌͐̑͛̂͝DS̢̳̻͇͓̹ͨ̾ͧO͂͡Ỹ̳͈̻̹̙̠ͣ̒̽͘E̗̭̪̗̖̝̔̊̀͊̊̉̒͟D̷͍̻̞͙̻̹͉̐̃͗Ȅ͚͈͙̋ͪ͐ͦ̚N̫ͮ͑͆ͦ̇̄ͩI̖̲̱̗͙͙̟͐ͥ̌̌T̴̎ͨ̓̓͊’͙̙̥ͣ̽ͮ ̷͍̖̔ͅP̢̞ͮ͗̒̇͂̅̆Ơ̮͙̙̓͆̍͐͂̚L̛̮͚̟͖ͅͅZͫO̶̺̙̲̯̺͉V̴͙̔ͮ͋̅̏ͣA̝ͣT̞͛ͩ̿̈́Ē͚̖͊̀͊̓̉͘L̙̠̲̖͚ͫ̆I̟̱͍ͪͥ̏̊Y̝̤̩̦̯ͩͮ͒̊̑̐͞Aͤ̓ͤ̃!͍̦͖ͧ͋”͔̺͍͓ͦ̂̈̐̂̎
Error finished the unhallowed chant of Inia, and placed a black circlet on Agate’s head. Tiny blue lights started to wink on the thin, hexagonal tiara. She observed Agate twitching as a current of magic raced through her nerves. As the lights on the tiara synchronized their blinking, Error pressed the black box into Agate’s thigh. The black box melted into Agate with no resistance, as Error knew it would. Even after millenia, even on a kobold, the Inian artifact worked perfectly. Agate yelped as her bones sparked and snapped back into shape and her flesh and scales knitted together again.
“You’ve healed me!? How? Why?!” Agate gasped, watching her cuts seal themselves.
“I am Ognevika!” Error intoned. “I know how everything in my hoard works.”
“You do like me!” Agate’s eyes shone with love and devotion. She didn't quite get how, but Error knew secret things, impossible things. First the black gun, then the healing armor, now this. Things that only the Mistress--
“I tolerate your presence,” Error corrected, diverting Agate’s train of thought. “I wasn’t even sure that it would work on a kobold, but hey, it did.” She gave Agate a hearty slap on the shoulder.
Agate smiled with sharp teeth. Error definitely liked her, in her own tsundere fashion.
“Wait…” she said to herself. “Where did that word come from... Tsundere? What did it mean? Did I just make it up? I must have.”
The weird, profound train of thought was back in her head, chugging at full steam.
“What’s a train of thought and why does it chug?” she wondered. Agate did not understand her own internal monologue. Her thought pattern split, then split again, examining everything, examining Agate herself. New words and concepts formed, bloomed in her mind, unfolding like flowers. Agate found the world less complicated and confusing than it had been a few moments ago.
Error noticed Agate’s dumb grin.
“Don’t get too excited. The primordial power of the Undying always comes with a cost,” she warned. “Although, The Understanding is a lame-sounding curse as far as curses go. At any rate, you’re far too dimwitted to reach any kind of real understanding. So you’re curse-proof. Get to gravitating them pointy rocks. Enemies are at the gates.” Error tapped the stalagmite impatiently.
Agate nodded with grim determination, staring at the stalagmite. When she was just a small hatchling, she had licked every stalagmite in the hoard in an attempt to understand them. The other kobolds laughed at her; it was then that they began to call her stupid. It wasn’t fair! She was simply curious. The world was confusing but things had tastes. She could understand tastes.
She had only wanted to understand the world around her, trapped in a self-contained underworld ecosystem without definitions for things, without knowledge or curiousity, without friends. She’d watched stalagmites and stalactites for countless hours, water dripping down again and again, turning flavorful minerals and calcium salts into surreal, conical shapes. She understood that gravity was the engine that drove the underworld’s formation. She looked at the spoon in her hand. It wasn’t a true spoon. It was a graviton wave conductor in a spoon-like shape. She understood this now. She knew what she had to do.
. . .
“Builder be with you!”
The Probability Knight made the sign of Celestar with his hand, blessing a large group of Adventurers. They were as ready as they were going to get. He’d drilled them through his battle simulations twelve times.
“You’ve been chosen! Go forth, kill kobolds, avoid dying horribly, get the book!”
The group of adventurers descended into the passageway, brandishing a variety of light implements, fire-shields, and weapons both magical and mundane. They whispered among each other of an easy kobold slaughter and the great treasure that awaited them. They had no fear, for they were many. They were a versatile, diverse force to be reckoned with. They were well prepared for a fight against the enemy boss, following an unbeatable strategy made by their wise, prescient commander.
Dragonfire runes and Alchemist pentagrams shimmered on their armor, layered excessively over protections cast by Incendiary Class Wizards. Little bags with flame-retardant powder slapped against legs and arms with every step. Arrowheads glowed with scale-piercing spells. Arbalest strings vibrated, reinforced with tensile magics, held lethally taut by Ferrum-forged gears torqued by the massive windlass machines at base camp. Lectures on anti-dragon warfare read by the Probability Knight were well ingrained into their minds. This was not the first dragon that the Empire had faced.
As they progressed, the corridor around them grew darker. Adventurers shook their torches and lanterns, but the darkness only intensified, the further they went. The darkness felt moist and heavy. It made no sense. Torches started to sputter.
“Is this fog?”
“What in the Builder's name?!”
“The air feels... moist! Like some-sorta fog?!”
An adventurer scout waved her magic lantern aggressively at the fog as if trying to disperse it. The lantern only became dimmer as murky drops of water settled on the stained glass.
“I just scouted this tunnel!” she whispered hoarsely to the others. “This fog wasn't here an hour ago, I swear! Uhh… Does anyone have dehumidifying magic?”
“Don’t be daft! I spent all of my mana on these fire-extinguisher spells!” The nearest wizard angrily spat, pointing at his “FLAME-BE-GONE” pentagram.
“My staff is stacked to the brim with anti-dragon magics! Why would I put water control in there? Don’t you know, water can’t put out dragonfire?” Another wizard complained, quoting part of the lecture.
“Humidity wasn't part of the training! It’s supposed to be a fat, fire-breathing lizard! Why would the air be so freakishly wet here?!” a junior paladin whined.
As the party slowed, moisture continued to settle on their armor, soaking their heavy fireproof cloaks and irritating their eyes.
“Keep moving forward, damn it!” a high-level Incendiary Wizard ordered. “The flame-retardant pouches are going to get wet and useless if we stand here arguing all day about fog!”
An adventurer hastened his step, but slipped in the wet dark, sliding headfirst into a stalactite. His helmet flew off, clanking down the passage.
“No! My helmet! I saved nineteen years for it!” he cried, attempted to chase after the helmet and ran into another stalactite with a soggy smack. Oddly, there were no stalagmites on the cave floor. It was perfectly smooth.
The scout frowned.
“Hey... where did all the stalagmites go? What sort of dark magic is this?”
Other adventurers laughed nervously.
“No, I swear there were Stalagmites here! Loads and loads of them!” the scout sputtered. “Seriously, what just up and takes Stalagmites!?” She squinted into the unwholesome darkness.
Adventurers started to bicker about what a stalagmite-consuming critter looks like. They settled on a snail with glowing tentacles.
Far ahead, the lonely helmet clanked to the bottom of the trench still being dug by Kobolds, hitting Agate’s feet. She was standing rigidly, ropy muscles straining, darkness flashing in her eyes. Tiny capillaries burst from the effort. The black tiara’s lights twinkled madly on her head. Her shaking hand held the gravity spoon out, guiding the fog made out of dispersed particles of cavern water and levitating the stalagmites, the flavour of which she knew personally.
As the irritated adventurers packed together in the narrow neck of the tunnel, she let it all go and collapsed in exhaustion.
The fog turned to rain, pattering down. Just as Adventurers looked up in confusion, the stalagmites started to fall.
There was a good deal of screaming, crunching, and squishing. Kobolds armed with oversized swords and spears emerged from the dark to deal with the survivors.
Error, standing next to the fallen Agate, listened to the screams of the dying and observed the red blood pouring down the steps from the tunnel
“Well, we’ve won… for now. Although, I’m not very hopeful. Homani are a resourceful bunch... Wait. When did I start considering adventurers capable?”
She sighed, addressing the unconscious Agate.
“Is this depraved dream messing with my self-perception? I feel like it's changing me in some hideous way. I'm more and more inclined to believe that what I'm experiencing isn't a mere magcoma…” Agate didn’t answer, but Error was interested only in her own thoughts, so this wasn’t a problem.
Error rubbed her face tiredly. Her body still ached despite the healing magic. She wasn’t sure how long she'd been awake since her moss-mare in the cuddle room. Plus, directing kobolds was hard, yelling at them to find magical tools, then yelling at them to hack off hundreds of stalactites with them, then yelling at them some more when they didn't bother using the magical tools... all so Agate could levitate them into the entryway tunnel. She looked at Agate’s limp form. Blue girl wasn’t entirely dimwitted after all. The fog idea had been hers. Hiding the floating rocks from adventurers had made the trap work far better than Error expected it to.
“Clean this up, collect the crossbows and aim them at the tunnel,” she ordered the rest of the kobolds. “Your commander is going to rest. Put up rotating scouts and wake me if any more humans start to descend.”
Error limped towards the safe, homely glitter of her hoard, curled up in its welcoming, golden embrace and closed her eyes.
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- Archbishop of Captania and sovereign territories
I was born in the year 1984, in the 4th most polluted city of Soviet Union - Novokuznetsk of Siberian Russia.
On April 11/1997 fate has given me an unexpected twist and by means of aerial transportation I was thrown 5555 miles across the Atlantic Ocean to Ontario, Canada, wherein I currently preside in an 1890 Presbyterian church and partake in writing and drawing things.