|Fiction: Dungeon Crawl
||[Jan. 2nd, 2010|08:53 am]
You go to a tavern to meet a wizard, who hires you to enter a dungeon.|
"That's how it's done," said Mum. "It's not a skilled trade but the coopers aren't taking anyone now, and they'll not have you as a hand at Nykmore's place after your misadventure with his Maevy."
"All right, Mum."
"And take your brother."
"What? He can get his own job!"
"Oi! You're not the only one who needs a trickle of bob to beat the winter, Hedge Verkson!"
* * *
"They built the Geovoric Phyle in 11,200s," said the wizard. "Those golems never stopped digging, not till they fell into the fires below the world. They ate rock and shat magic before our race split off from the trolls."
She scratched under the strap holding her beard in place, knocking it askew. Dahara was an Adept of the Third Entombed Senate's magic, so she needed to wear it as part of the job, the Third Deads being notorious patriarchs. She smoked a pipe too but didn't seem to mind that as much, though the barman wrinkled his nose at her whenever the air stirred.
She bought beer for Vrake and I. That was a fair sign we had the job.
"Uh, did the True Ancients ever, ah, move in?" Vrake smiled and leaned in. Apparently her beard was no obstacle to his imagination.
"No no. They were already in decline by then. The Outer Gaunts claimed the upper levels, but the Erlkon knocked them lower, past the generators on the 29th. Demon Birthers. I'll show you the wreckage on the way down. Humans didn't get there till the Fifteenth Eon. First Heroic Age, don't you know? You pay the bard's due when he comes around, so he'll sing it. Shit lads, I just need you to clean out some generators in the West Gallery. You don't need the tell of it to work. It's just like moving hay -- same pitchforks, even."
* * *
Past the old falling false ceiling called Curiosity's Bane we strolled, then through the Blaspheming Mouth, long locked in place by an old Half-Erlkon sorcerer: my times-nine granddad, according to Mum (who said the Mouth told dirty jokes, and I'd learn them when I got married). The secret doors were thrown open, marked with knife scratches. Formerly sequestered by false walls, gears lay tumbled and stretched into the halls, unrusted thanks to sorcery but oddly curved, like a man relaxed too long in hay, so that it cradles and clutches him.
As I stepped over the Mouth's lower lip Dahara said, "Even if you avoided its bite to walk through, the death ray would get you, the lift would drop you past a Trickster's hoop and the the floor would roll you into an unholy room at the bottom. By the time your mates met you again you'd be a shambler with new eyes, hair, even sex. They'd chop you up, thinking you were a threat from the lower levels. That way, your priest couldn't bring you back. They can't resurrect little chunks of a man."
But the black nullenergy crystal was shattered, the hoop (harvested from god's bone) cracked and tossed askew, and the lift would leave us in a re-blessed shrine. I snatched a sliver of grey bone as the lift descended. "Why so bloody elaborate? Killing you, just to plot that you'd stay dead?"
"Aye." We slid forward when the lift's floor turned into a ramp -- the only working part of the trap besides the lift itself. "Remember, these places had mad minds of their own, even whispered to each other through vibrations in the rock. They knew nothing but their halls, the intruders who dared them and the maintenance organs and materials they used to repair and repel. I suppose as they saw invaders dream up new strategies, mock the old pits and springs, they developed more elaborate responses. It was their sole mental exercise: all the games they could play."
* * *
The Demon Birthers were brass blocks as high as two men. Their oval bone doors were covered with carved squiggly lines. "Runes," said Dahara. "I don't know what they mean."
She tapped a door open with her walking stick and we saw the pile of half-formed bones inside. Hell-essence, she said, drawn from the Academic Realms and shaped into demons that burst out such doors to do battle, still covered in their birthing ichor. The golems dropped generators on every level. These had long since exhausted their capacity. "It'd be beyond you anyway," she said. "Professionals finished them with slayswords and wyckbolts and Demon Smiting Boxing. Like the sagas."
We were in for a simpler job: three nearly-spent Koboldic Ireshunts: waist-high spheres of filthy silver. "Probably designed to make servants." We posted our pitchforks in front of us and waited for the signal: a banelight or other trivial spell to arouse the sensor and send them spewing out. Then it was five bob a head.
She took her place and cast. Blue light and a few sparks.
We saw the first ones drop from an unwinding orifice with steaming wet skin and the small screams of newborns, hoarse with monstrosity and warped jaws. Soft horns deformed against the old stone. We turned our pitchforks over to thrust and thrust as all the evil congealed and shambled forth, and we kept a steady, stomping beat like working men.