Entering a dungeon portal wasn’t, in any way, similar to using a waypoint stone. This was more like stepping through a waterfall to find the hidden cave beyond. Two steps and he was in a small room, not the least bit drenched by the experience.
Entin exhaled, foolishly expecting pain. He punched Ruben. “It didn’t hurt at all!”
Ruben laughed and unslung his bow.
The portal’s teal glow illuminated shelves of broken dishes, stacks of mildewed rugs, and splintered chairs, rotted to the floor.
Something vibrated from behind, and Entin turned. The gray bricks that made up the wall flipped and snapped together, filling the space of the portal. The wall solidified, and the room grew dark except for the flickering of yellow-orange light outside a doorway.
The dungeon had a twisting, distant soundscape of a piano and something else. It was like the music in the market, folding itself into the reality of the dark room, though this music sounded broken, sad, slow. It made everything a bit more eerie.
“Ah, another buried mansion,” Lourne said. He stepped into a hallway, holding his short sword at the ready. The others followed, and so did Entin, clearly not having a choice in the matter.
Painted canvases took up the bulk of the high walls in myriad sizes, puzzled to fit together. Each depicted different Lands: a black swamp, crystal cave, giant trees that poked through clouds . . . all unique in some way. There were animals and monsters, but the cracked paint obscured their details.
Every dozen or so feet, polished bowls of metal were pressed into the stonework between canvases. Little living orbs of fire hovered within those bowls, seemingly trapped by an invisible barrier. They had black attentive eyes that watched Entin as he return their bewildered stares.
A squishing noise came from down the hallway. It was a green cube about five feet tall. It jiggled translucent flesh and oozed slime. The red rug it had plonked on, darkened to black, then dissolved into streams of pixels.
Lourne didn’t wait. He charged the monster and sliced his short-sword—the blade trailing a line of white at the tip—through the monster’s gelatinous body. A pink slash revealed the cut, dealing 182 damage in red text.
He jumped back and padded the air with an open hand at the others. “Wait, wait. It’s going to duplicate.” And, sure enough, the cube popped! into two smaller cubes.
A brown loot sack—bulging from the unknown items it held within and tied off at the top—materialized. It hovered in the air, a single white line anchoring it to the floor.
Jantonon spun his polearm over his head and brought the blunt side of it down against one of the new slimes. It popped, duplicating into two smaller variants of itself, releasing another sack.
Ruben nocked an arrow, drew, and released. As soon as he did, a second arrow materialized at his fingertips, and he fired it immediately. Both arrows pierced the two newest cubes, which fizzled into green pixels and dispersed.
More loot sacks—these ones noticeably smaller—appeared in the air and rotated slowly.
Entin, so engaged in the action, forgot his primary job. Stupid, get the loot! He stepped forward, but Ruben caught his shoulder.
“Gotta wait until they’re all dead,” Ruben said. “Loot’s not going anywhere, man. The dungeon won’t reclaim it for an hour.”
Lourne sidestepped a flying square blob. His short sword shifted into a reverse grip, and he spun, jabbing the tip of his blade into the mob. Instead of duplicating like the others, something inside it cracked, and the blob pixelated, dropping a slightly larger sack.
The man laughed. “I love these loot slimes!”
Now that the monsters were dead, Entin tapped the closest loot sack. Five sacks opened at the same time, each with a bit of money totaling . . . 37 chyps! In less than two minutes, they had managed to find half as much as he could possibly hope for as a Runner working all day long.
And that wasn’t all the loot had been. He paused at the various odd items. “What items should I be grabbing?” he asked, eyeing chipped bones in one slot and a shriveled eye in another. The smallest bag had a single worn shoe.
“Hard to tell what’s valuable,” Lourne said. “Sometimes it’s the oddest things.”
“Oh-ho!” Ruben yelled. “You all remember that rotten hide? It stunk something fierce, but guess it’s used in fertilizer or such-en-such. Got a bit more than two scyl from it!”
Lourne furrowed his brow. “You said you got one scyl. . . .”
“I . . . I did? You know what, that’s right! One scyl. Totally one scyl.” Ruben nudged Entin. “Boss is a sharp one, that’s for sure.”
Lourne shook his head. “Entin, just grab everything. We’ll sort it out later. And if you run out of inventory slots, we can share the load.”
Entin nodded and selected all of the sacks. He swiped his index and middle finger to the left, and the contents shifted into his inventory, taking up three slot. Each of the sacks pixelated and dispersed the same way the green slimes had.
They continued down the hallway, which opened into a massive room with high arched ceilings connected to stone pillars. One wall at the front had a series of stained glass windows—most broken—revealing dirt behind them. Tiny blue lights fluttered around the decorated glass fragments like magical fireflies.
Everyone paused for a moment at the top of a rounded balcony that overlooked the room. Marble balusters held up a bronze railing that circled the space large enough for a band of musicians.
It wasn’t hard to imagine them playing their melodies at some elegant—and long-forgotten—ball, the people below, dressed in brilliant colors, socializing around drinks and desserts while others took to the dance floor.
The colony ship in the real world had a similar place, a majestic room of finery. If the world wasn’t stolen from them, Entin would have gone to his first matchmaking ball around now, expected to do his duty in choosing a possible match that the geneticists could approve.
Stupid. . . . That world was gone, and no thinking about it would bring it back. It only held the shadows of nightmares, of lost family and friends and passions.
Entin shook his head. He needed to focus on the here and now, on this important job that could solve the problems of this world, not the last.
Either end of the balcony was joined with a set of stairs. They curved along the walls and met directly below at the center of the room. There were circular tables—some tipped on their sides, some broken—and chairs scattered about, their cushions lying in puddles.
Among the disarray, and probably the most noteworthy to anyone here in the living, were the piles . . . heaping piles of bones.
“Maybe . . .” Ruben said, trailing off as he scanned the room with emerald glowing eyes. “Okay, hear me out guys. Maybe we . . . don’t go looking for the dungeon boss, eh?”
“It’s just thematic detail,” Lourne said. “The boss isn’t anywhere near here.”
“That’s what you said last—”
“Yeah, well, that was a freak occurrence. We’ll get our loot and head out. Any sign of a boss, we’re gone. Alright? Besides!” he said and motioned to Entin and grinned, “we’ve got our Runner.”
Ruben nodded slowly, then let out a breath before following Lourne down the steps. At the base, the bones began to shake and snap together.
Ruben muttered, “Thematic detail, pfft.”
The hollow eye sockets of skulls lit up like the orbs of fire in the walls. Dry, hollow knocking filled the room, followed by a sort of hissing sound, a constant intake of breath and no lungs to hold it.
Jantonon took the lead. His polearm swooshed through the air and shattered a raising stack of bones before it could form into anything.
A loot sack materialized, and as soon as the others moved forward enough, Entin rushed to it.
» 18 chyps
No items in this one, but 18 chyps from one weak monster? He should have been adventuring this entire time!
He waited in the back, keeping an eye on all the little shadows nearby just in case something decided to slip out and attack. The walls down here were covered in plants and vines. Besides the sounds of bones scratching the floor and shattering, water trickled nearby.
Ruben swore and nocked another arrow. His last arrow struck a bone and chipped it. “I hate skeletons. Gimme something that bleeds!”
“Aim for the head,” Lourne said.
Lourne waved to get Entin’s attention, then pointed to the base of a pillar next to the wall. “Grab that chest.”
Chest? His interest was immediately piqued. Loot was definitely fun. Of course, he didn’t have to fight, so all he got were the upsides of this adventure.
Sitting next to the pillar was an old wooden chest with a single white circle carved into its front.
Entin ran up to the chest and slid to a knee. The chest opened like any loot sack would, revealing the contents within an inventory screen.
- 1x Leather Gloves
- 3x Mushrooms
- 2x Empty Vials
He deposited the items and stood, taking note of the ongoing fight and . . . something else.
He hadn’t seen it from across the room, but here, there was a small passage, hidden between the overgrowth of plants. Little white flowers glowed along vines that encased the floor. When he stepped closer, their petals spun together and went dark.
The passage actually wasn’t small at all. It opened to a large sunlit garden of flowers that would have stunned Bailey to silence.
At the center of it all were stone tables covered in coins! It also had a bit of a stench to it, something rotten or dead, but there had to be enough money shimmering in the sunlight to give them all nice banquet dinners for weeks.
The ground squished underfoot.
Something grabbed his arm from behind and pulled him back.
“Alright,” Ruben said. “So personal experiences may vary here, though vine demons are none-too fun and should be avoided.”
“A what?” Entin asked, trying to shake away from Ruben to show what he had found.
“Hold on, man. They’re harmless buggers if you don’t go walkin’ into their mouths.”
Entin turned back to the opening and instead of the sunlit, glimmering piles of coins, a dark hole lay open in the wall, filled with thorny vines and a green mist.
Ruben laughed. “Need to tie a rope around this one, keep him out of trouble!”
Entin sighed. Why was he so determined to make every newb mistake? It was embarrassing, and if not for Ruben, he’d probably be dead. . . .
“Jokin’, man. You’re doin’ fine,” Ruben said and slapped Entin on the back. “You’re our lucky Runner. I feel it! Just you wait, you’re gonna be heaps helpful.”