Anadine moved down the main street of Iron Town, her brown colored slime uttering a small glow under the moonlight. No one disturbed her steps, for everyone was hidden in fear within their homes. Nor were there any guards, for their patrols did not take them where the girl walked. She walked alone in the night, unhindered and untouched. Her only companion, the sky above, looks down on her.
She wore the armored shirt and the leather pants, her hands and feet covered by the memories that shifted through her mind’s eye. When she looked at her hand, she saw not slime but fingers of flesh and blood. When she gazed down at her covered feet, she could feel the past tingles of toes and heel. Her body was her own, and yet not. Her mind was open, yet desperately trying to close.
“Who am I?” the girl beset the moon and the stars, “For where do I belong?”
“To thy master and lord,” the moon seemed to answer, “To he do ye endure. To he do ye swear thy loyalty.”
“But I know more and see less,” the girl argued back, “I listen, yet I cannot hear. Why do I thirst for more now than then? For who do I feel these tears for and wish to deliver?”
“Hark ye,” the stars seemed to call down, “Thy thoughts have always been your own. Flee, flee back to where ye belong and entrench yourself within thy memories. Renounce thy loyalty, renounce thy faith, renounce thy unspoken word.”
The girl continued down the road, following the light of the moon and stars. The main road never twisted, nor turned, but merely continued on to the guild and gate. The side roads and their shadows began to call out to her as she continued down the road.
“Come here, come to us,” they called out to her, “The road is too short, the road is too wide! Come to us and forget thy hardship. Come to us and forget thy pain. We’ll take you away, we’ll take you to shore for the main road leads to pain evermore.”
But she ignored the calls of the shadows and she ignored the songs of the alleys, and she continued down the main road.
“Go back,” the moon called down to her, “Go back to thy lord and display thy piety.”
“Go forward, go forward,” the stars cried out to her, “Reject thy enslaver, embrace thy urge!”
She came to the bottom of the steps. The white stoned blocks led up to the large, thick wooden door with bronze door knockers. The stone was silent, the wood was silent, and the knockers made no noise. The girl bent her head back and looked up at the windows. She said nothing, and her silence spoke volumes.
“Who am I?” the girl wondered to the window, “who am I to myself? Is it my prerogative to be myself toward others, or is it in my best interest to be someone else? When should I be one and not the other? When is one more truth than the other?”
The windows said nothing, for their only purpose was to keep the desired in and the unwanted out. In that way, it was very much like a door. Except, doors are meant to be entered and exited, and this door was closed. She would not be allowed to enter this night.
The girl bent down to her knees and shuddered in pain. Everything started talking to her now: the steps, the door, the windows, and the building. She heard their voices now, and yet the voice was her own. It spoke of things long forgotten, and yet not so long ago.
Then, she heard new voices not her own. They came from a far off place, yet growing closer. She needed to hide, to think, to remember. She needed more than she had. She was not given anything.
The darkness closed around her, and the voices grew closer. She closed her eyes, and the pain disappeared. Only the faint voices were left, both hers and theirs. They merged together. And then, silence.
“I finished my spell,” Claire reported to Milly, “Now your father will wake up refreshed, but will be too distracted to check on you or the store for the rest of the day. I won’t be able to cast this on him again for a time however; he might notice something’s wrong.”
“One day is all we need,” Milly said reassuringly, “Once we find Anadine and Doc finished fixing his mess, we can persuade daddy to let Anadine protect Rowen and I. Is there any news from Doc about the repair team?”
“They’re here now,” Claire flew above the hole and looked down. Out of the ground two plant slimes, two bug slimes that looked like ants, and a mimic slime popped up. The plant slimes immediately grew a scaffolding made of vines that connected the bottom floor to the floor in Milly’s room. The bug slimes then began to gather various pieces of wood into a pile, and the mimic slime crawled up to the top of the scaffold. It waved its tentacle in a salute, to which Claire answered with a salute of her own.
“Doc says the slimes will be done after lunch,” Claire informed Milly, “The tunnel to the dungeon will be moved to your practice yard and properly hidden, and Rowen will be returned tomorrow morning. It’s your turn in the dungeon once he returns.”
“Alright,” Milly acknowledged, “Let’s locate Anadine then. Can your magic track her?”
Claire shook her head, “Not after this long in a human settlement. Maybe if we were underground or in the woods; we have the next best thing however.” To illustrate her point, she pointed at the two patiently waiting puppies on the floor.
“We have her scent,” Ayla said.
“We can track her,” Aisha declared.
“In that case, let me carry . . .” The pups jumped away from Milly’s arms and growled at her.
“Don’t touch us,” they cried out against her.
“Girls, that’s not polite,” Claire scolded. The twins hung their heads at their chastisement, but still gave Milly a determined glare.
“It’s alright Claire,” Milly calmed her friend, “They don’t trust me because it was people like me that killed their original pack, correct? In that case, if you could give me the chance to earn their trust.”
“We will never trust adventurers, even little adventurers,” The Twins rejected her offer as they continued to glare, “You are an ally, but when this alliance is over and you enter the dungeon, we shall eat you and devour your meat.”
Milly giggled and gave them a cute wink, “We’ll see, won’t we?”
The two pups gave her a ‘hmph’ in their little puppy bark.
“They’re so cute,” Milly said to Claire.
“I know, aren’t they?” she agreed. However, Claire privately sighed at The Twin’s reluctance to be touched by Milly. It had been so long since their real mother had passed, yet their hate was still as strong as ever. They normally hid it well except during their fights, but the alliance with Milly had brought their feelings back in a way they couldn’t deal with. What was worse, Claire was worried that having the puppies lead them would result in other humans attempting to pet them, an action that would surely result in a bite.
“However,” Milly mused out loud, “If you girls insist on walking ahead to lead, it’s possible someone else will try to pet you or pick you up.”
Claire glanced over at Milly and brightened at a sudden idea. “Girls, why don’t you both climb into Milly’s bag?” Claire suggested, “That way Milly won’t touch you, and you can hide from other adventurers that would want to pet you.”
The Twins exchanged looks as they considered their options.
“We’ll get in the bag, but . . .” Ayla began.
“Not because we trust you,” Aisha finished. Persuaded by Claire’s words, the two worgs scampered into one of the larger bags on the floor, a remnant of the previous night’s shenanigans. After squirming around in the bag, two little noses popped into view.
Milly picked up the bag and hoisted it over her shoulder, with one nose at one end of the bag and the other at the opposite end. Claire followed their lead and dived into her normal pocket, poking her head out once she was situated.
“We’re ready,” The Twins mentally signaled Milly and Claire.
After verifying that Fred was still sound asleep, the girls slipped out of the tavern into the morning air. The Twins began sniffing the air, directing Milly to turn the bag.
“Her smell is that way,” they reported after a few minutes.
“So she went to Iron Town,” Milly observed as she began walking toward the gate, “That’s where most of the exit holes are right Claire?”
“That is correct,” Claire acknowledged, “As long as she stays in this part of the city she won’t run the risk of dissolving, but she’s still liable to have fallen unconscious.”
The Twins kept their noses hidden in the bag as Milly walked through the gate, nodding to the guards.
“Excuse me miss,” one of the guards stopped her, “but I think you should avoid coming into Iron Town today. It’s very chaotic right now.”
“What happened?” Milly asked in concern, “Was there another murder?
The other guard shook his head warily, “In a sad way, I wish that’s all that happened.”
“Hey, keep it down,” the first guard growled warily.
The other guard gave his partner a tired look, “Do you think now’s the time to be hiding things from the civilians? She’ll here about it sooner or later.”
The first grunted, but seemingly relented and turned his head away.
“So, what happened?” Milly pushed.
The other guard shook his head, “You remember the adventurers and rangers left a few days ago for some mission? Well, stragglers appeared last night; actually, it would be better to call them survivors. Those poor bastards were barely able to speak after getting treated by the healers. We’ve been getting a few more from the west gate since then.”
Milly held her hands up as she covered a gasp, “Oh no, does that mean they failed?”
The guard shrugged, “Who knows; it’s not for our ears. What I can say is that we probably lost a lot of good adventurers and rangers. I hope whatever they were doing was worth it.”
Milly bowed in thanks, “Thank you for telling me sir guard. I have an appointment at the Adventurer Guild however, so I must pass through.”
The guard shrugged, “Alright, but stay safe you hear? Things seem to be getting more dangerous these days.”
After saying her farewells, Milly slipped through the gate and slowly made her way down the main road.
“What do you think Claire?” Milly said mentally, “Do you think the adventurers succeeded or failed?”
“Does it matter?” Claire sighed in disappointment, “The fact that they lost so many when it’s clear your town needs all the able fighters it can get shows how much a waste the mission was. Unless they brought back some magical weapon or teleportation artifact, I doubt anyone’s going to be very happy. Doc’s going to be very upset when he learns how many play-things he lost.”
“Good riddance,” The Twins muttered.
“Hush girls,” Claire reprimanded, “Even if you hate adventurers, remember that they’re the important source of magic for the dungeon. Any loss of life outside of it is a waste. Do you girls smell Anadine still?”
“The human is going the right way,” they reported, “Her smell follows this road.”
“Why was she on the main road?” Milly questioned, “This is one of the worst places for her to be: no cover, full visibility, and nor turns.”
“Perhaps something called her,” Claire mentally whispered.
“Like what?” Milly couldn’t help but ask.
Claire hesitated. “Milly, you asked Anadine why she was so much more intelligent last night correct?” She waited until Milly nodded, “Well, the answer is that Anadine is a unique existence in more ways then one. Tell me, have you ever heard of the word ‘avatar’?”
“Avatar . . . that’s one of the words I learned in my divine studies at the Adventurer Guild,” Milly remembered, “That’s when a god or goddess chooses a vessel to embody their godly self for a visit to the world. Are you saying Anadine is a goddess in disguise?!”
“No, no,” Claire allayed Milly’s shock, “You see, dungeons can also create avatars, except rather than embody the dungeon’s mind, the avatar serves as a means for the dungeon to communicate with the outside world. Think of it as the dungeon’s representative. This inbred ability is only found in dungeons that have reached the complete level of sentience that Doc has. Anadine was originally Doc’s unknowing avatar; in other words, she used to be human like you. Her name was Diana.”
Milly tripped over a rock and barely caught herself.
“Anadine was the princess!” she barely kept her inner voice down to a low screech.
“Yes, she was,” Claire agreed, “However, her life was lost due to outside interference and she was thus reincarnated into Doc’s champion. After devouring the dungeon crystal shards of the Undead Dungeon, she regained her intelligence without her memories. As you could see yesterday, service to Doc has been the number one priority up until she began practicing acting like an adventurer. Whatever you made her wear last night seems to have triggered something within her soul.”
“She has a soul?” Milly gasped.
“Indeed,” was Claire’s answer, “An avatar consigns their soul to the dungeon in the same way a chosen like yourself or a warlock does with their chosen deity or demon lord. Dungeons can only have one avatar at a time however unlike those higher deities, and their support is also limited to within the dungeon. Anadine’s human form never had the time or training to use any of the powers granted to her.”
“Claire,” Milly thought suddenly, “The outfit Anadine wore before disappearing, it was of the style of Guild-Master Mary’s disciples, including the princess. If what you say is true, then perhaps seeing herself in her old style of clothes jogged something in her soul. If she followed the main road, she would have ended up at the adventurer guild.”
“Momma,” The Twins interrupted, “Anadine’s smell goes into that building ahead of us.
“The adventurer’s guild,” Milly and Claire muttered together as they beheld the large building at the end of the main road.
The building was overflowing with activity as stretchers holding wounded were being carried in as workers and guards rushed in and out of the guild. Other guards were creating a perimeter to prevent townspeople from approaching. The air was filled with shouting, the moans of the dying, the worried cries of family members, and the stench of desperation.
Milly ducked into an alley and gazed upon the building.
“If she’s inside, there is a good chance she’s been imprisoned somewhere. We’re going to have break in somehow,” Claire whispered in Milly’s mind.
“We can create a distraction,” The Twins offered.
“Violence isn’t the answer here,” Milly countered, “However, I do know of one way to get in without being noticed . . .”
“Alright Rowen, enjoy your break!” Doc announced cheerfully, “I going to adjust the parameters of the trap so that they don’t inflict as much pain so quickly.”
“You do that,” Rowen groaned as he dragged his body her to a pink slime. He sighed in contentment as the warmth of healing spread through his body at the slime’s touch.
That blasted Doc is going to get me killed, Rowen thought to himself.
If that happens, then it’s for the best, Rowen also thought, this way I can prove my usefulness and help my master perfect his traps.
Rowen growled and clutched his aching head. Ever since he had returned to the dungeon, two different voices had been echoing in his head: one him and the other another him. It was like the undead part that had been absorbed into Doc had taken on its own personality the established itself in Rowen’s mind.
We can’t both be Rowen, he argued, you need a name.
I’m Rowen, but I agree you do need a name, Rowen countered.
Shaking his head at the continued argument, Rowen picked up the pink slime and placed it on his head, letting the healing magic permeate his body. The voices disappeared under the weight of the magic, and Rowen, the physical Rowen, sighed in relief.
“Doc, can I walk around the dungeon?” he asked.
“You’ll need to stay on the boss floors, but other than that go ahead,” Doc mentally waved off the human.
With a thought, Rowen disappeared form the 26th floor and appeared on the 15th floor. There, he walked over to ladder and climbed down to the slime covered part of the floor. The grey family slime approached him and nuzzled his legs.
Rowen chuckled as he rubbed the bone and blood slimes around his legs. As slimes borne of his influence, Rowen shared a special connection to the bone slimes and blood slimes. After suffering through Doc’s special version of hell, he had discovered the slimes natural friendly disposition to him and had stayed with them during his infrequent breaks from suffering.
“Anything interesting to show me?” Rowen asked rhetorically. The slimes were not intelligent enough to understand words, but he felt better talking to them like real people.
In a surprising move, however, the slimes slipped away from Rowen and moved down the floor away from him. Their jiggling changed, almost as if they were trying to communicate with him.
“Can slimes actually communicate,” Rowen couldn’t help but wonder out loud.
“Of course they can,” Doc voice suddenly cut through the darkness, “It’s just they never have anything interesting to say. Claire said they’re a lot like bees and can communicate simple things like where food can be found and what isn’t tasty. The bone and blood slimes consider you an older slime and are trying to communicate to you.”
“What are they saying?” Rowen asked.
“Something about food and location, which makes no sense since there isn’t any food in the dungeon,” Doc seemingly shrugged, “You can follow them I suppose. No harm seeing what their tiny cores want.”
Rowen followed the bone and blood slimes through the floor till they reached what looked like a collapsed tunnel.
“Doc, what is this?” Rowen asked curiously.
“Oh, that’s one of the old invasion tunnels form the undead dungeon,” Doc reported after a moment’s analyzation, “I couldn’t destroy them as my influence doesn’t extend into the surrounding dirt, so I just collapsed the entrances. I suppose the slimes are able to squeeze through the cracks to the other side, but from what I understand the undead dungeon completely collapsed.”
Rowen scratched his chin as an idea came to him. “Hey Doc,” he spoke up, “Do you mind if I excavate this tunnel with the slimes?”
“I don’t really mind, but why?” Doc questioned.
Rowen’s face grew a slight smile, “I had a thought about finding something useful.”