My freakout at the idea of Herbie introducing networking to a world without computers was interrupted by a Delver entering. Normally this was unworthy of comment even for one that turned aside two of Bonehead's skeletons. Bonehead shrugged as Keystone grumbled about it needing to be important if I was getting yanked away from their meeting.

Considering the book this halfling, and it had to be this guy in particular, took from me? Yes. It was very important. He looked much the same as before. Rune covered staff. Robes. Looked somewhere between grandfatherly, and Yoda. Yet none of my minions had even the slightest want to hurt him as he inspected the place.

"Seems you have been busy." The old halfling stopped at the threshold to Nyx's chapel. There she floated just behind the pulpit, arms extended out in an A pose as her robes ruffled. Her new staff, complete with purple gemstone, held before her, either by its own power or through some other arcane means. Her hood rustled, revealing golden glowing eyes lit by an internal fire that stared into the Delver's soul.

A smile from the elderly halfling as he approached. "Very busy indeed." The light was sucked from the room as he crossed the threshold. A single bell tolled through the dungeon.

Briefly, I spared awareness enough to see delvers gathering in the adjoining room to take bets and to spectate. It was not that they were barred. It was apparently a matter of etiquette that they not get involved once battle was started, though there were probably exemptions to this gentleman's rule if the monster was going to truly murder rather than incapacitate..

"The Book." Nyx whispered. her voice seemingly formed from wind blowing through dead trees and crunch of leaves than a human throat. One of her hands extended, palm open and upraised. "You took it from us."

The halfling held firm as etherial winds blew. "I have." His voice strong, a resolute ironwood bending in the gale but refusing to break from the unnatural fear Nyx sought to inspire. His staff raised, casting light in the dark, only for it to be stripped away with a flick of Nyx's left hand.

"I am Nyx. Bride of Darkness. Mother of Monsters. You have stolen from this place." The rasp of her voice rough as she pronounced the Delver's crime. "Return it to Me." Her hands open, still outstretched in an A pose. Arcane force caused her staff to move, first to strike the halfling. When that strike was blocked, the darkness in the room condensed, pooling at the delver's feet while forming shadowed clawed hands to hold him there.

Yet he was still able to form a shield that deflected the ice shards that flew at him. "It was gained through battle and guile!" His voice held firm and clear as he countered her claim of theft. "Thus ownership was fairly won!" A gout of flame shot from his staff towards Nyx.

Her staff moved, twirling as it it shielded Nyx from the flames. Shadowed talons let go of the halfling's legs as the room once more was plunged into darkness. "Deception and Deceit!" She hissed as she swooped towards her prey. "You believe this is a fair way to gain your prize?"

"I do." The halfling rolled to avoid another ice shard, yet Nyx still scored a tear in his robes. When he got to his feet he looked about, unable to see far into the black. Even when he created light, the darkness pressed against it, making it next to ineffective.

"Then you won't mind losing it in the same way!" Nyx briefly was visible at the center of the room before her robes fell to the ground. Her staff floated on the spot, slowly turning. All that could be seen of the specter were faint traces of her eyes as she attacked. Insubstantial hands grabbed at the Halfling, attempting to wrench the staff from his hands. "Sleep now." Her voice crooned in his ear. "Sleep. Forever."

The runes lining the delver's staff flared.

Yet Nyx laughed as she let her quarry go.

Robes filled out. Her staff resumed its place floating before her as Nyx held a leather bound book.

The halfling's expression flickered to a frown before he started laughing. "Your master has grown fairly and well. Still a babe, but I acknowledge your skill." He rapped the butt of his staff against stone. "I yield."

Just like that, the encounter ended. The room resumed its normal brightness and Nyx gave a small bow to the man. "I am new to this post. I do not wish to be unkind, but I must ensure delvers are worthy."

The Halfling smiled, returning the bow with one of his own. "I am Renaldo. Mage and Scholar in service to the Keep of Four Worlds." There was a formality to the title and Name. "Does your master truly harbor ill sentiment for my actions?

"No, Renaldo of the Four Worlds." Nyx's voice softened, more the sound of wind through medow now. "He had worry over your health and the health of any who saw such book as it caused him pain when he tried reading it." Her staff lowered as she floated towards Renaldo. "If anything there is gladness in his heart and mine that you are well."

The mage snorted, "Given some of the texts we have been tasked to keep and catalogue. The accounts of another world, even one as unlike ours as where the animus for this dungeon comes is nothing." There was a smile as offered his hand, which Nyx clasped firmly in greeting. "It is well that he has concern."

Oh? Also, way to go Nyx. I'm genuinely in love with how you're both being outright Mean, but not being unfair in your fight.

A head-tilt from Nyx with the obvious question unsaid.

"There is no knowledge that is inherently dangerous contained." Renaldo reassured, "However the way this Fuzen operated. this Shadowed Void he came from. It speaks of the same evil that corrupted Damala."

Damala. The Dungeon that occupied this place before me.

Nyx stiffened, the lights of her eyes brightening.

"Yes, it seems you understand the potential for mischief." Renaldo was approached by Laginn, and after some finger snaps and gesturing, got the hint to follow my right hand to the impromptu war council that was growing by a rather alarming amount.

Keystone motioned for Renaldo to find a chair, which was offered by Bonehead as he took a place near to the table but far enough away so that the delvers would have room to operate. "The dungeon says you have information." He pointed to a scrawled note likely written by Bonehead.

"I shall not bore you with details of the dungeon animus's prior life." Renaldo very pointedly looked to Bonehead, "Though the garb he wears looks to be a near perfect mate to what was worn in the battles that were recorded."

While Renaldo spoke I briefly gave command to Laginn, then to Nyx. then reassured Nyx I knew what I was doing.

As that happened I listened to the mage talk:

He told of what Fuzen was. A man of some power, not a Greater light, but not a mortal ember. He was a candle in the dark. Maybe the first step was accident. Maybe intentional study. However the steps taken after into opening himself to the Void were wholly deliberate.

The kingdom he had been part of fell. As did the other space-faring kingdoms of that age. Time passed. Souls were reincarnated. Fuzen emerged from the void just as magic came to the world, but was only in the hands of a bare handful, and those wished it kept largely to themselves. I had always assumed selfishness, but it may have been to limit how many hands could press the Armageddon button.

These Great Lights. People who were gifted with Ancient knowledge and responsibility stood against the dark. Protected people like me. For whatever reason I was one of those that refused to look away, pretend it didn't happen, file it as someone else's problem.

I encountered Fuzen when he hoped to eat the soul of one of these Greater Lights. I encountered him again, and again... and again. And each time the group I had tasked myself with helping grew more selfish, more inward focused, more unharmonized.

Had they remained as they were before they would have felt the slow corruption, noticed what it did to their own. yet they were always distracted. Always subjected to traumas. Always another monster. Another would be tyrant. Another eldritch horror.

All while Fuzen played the omnipotent fool who gamed as often as he showed his teeth.

Maybe it was because I wasn't part of their group proper. Maybe it was a gift given to me by one well meaning and hoping I would survive impossible odds. I like to think it was a curse. I saw what was happening, but the more I struggled to keep it from happening, the less well regarded I was. Even when I drove him away I was kept on more to keep an eye on me than out of genuine respect.

They then broke ties with me when I refused orders, went with my gut.... and while I was correct. I had no standing left to make my case.

Fuzen had won and only tipped his hand later. I was little more than a restless specter, only able to watch, occasionally able to whisper. He had feigned reform. Causing Ami to declare all kneel to him and give forgiveness. I saw the darkness in her eyes.

So did Ishida. Who was punished harshly. I saw her scourged in standing and in duty. I saw her subjected to Ami's abuses. Witness to the moments where corruption became overt, and then disbelieved with cries that she was bitter and hateful and thus was to be shunned.

I was there when she stood against Ami openly when she sought to undo Creation.

My awareness spiraled away from the discussion at that point. Bonehead had long since left. He had resumed his post by the stairs to the second level.

I was there when Laginn had carried the book to Kronos's border and scurried away. I saw Ishida pick it up.

She looked at me, eyebrow raised. Yet she stood there reading. Just outside of Kronos's territory. Then, when there was the sound of others coming, I saw her tuck the book away behind a pile of bones.

Was I Mad for thinking it would do anything? Perhaps yes, but this was another world, where anything was possible. Even if I could not gain my friend back. Even if Kronos would never let her go.

I had to try.


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