A new delver approached my entrance. Laginn rode on Bonehead's shoulder as my guard captain stepped out to greet them. Even by dwarven standards, the lady was short, her build slight, almost Leifallin rather than Dwarven. Yet I recognized the clothes. Her hair was the same shade as Keystone's, but tied in a messy bun. Her gear was far less bulky, cloth and leather with only sewn metal here and there to guard the important bits.
Briefly, I wondered if it was worth introducing the concept of plate carriers instead of sewn-in metal bits, then was brought my attention back to the moment by Laginn's finger snap just in time to see her and Bonehead exchange bows.
"I am Stone Soup." Her voice a melodic Alto to contrast with Keystone's Baritone. Her voice official as she spoke. "The Dungeoneer Confederacy has asked that I inspect this dungeon as well as the two others that participated in the destruction of the murderous dungeon Kronos for the purposes of suitability for delver activities."
Bonehead nodded once before pointing to the banner. Charlotte woved from the top of the carefully crafted web, rightly proud of the effort.
'Stroadsborg's Dungeon Corps'
'Welcomes its new Inspector'
The dwarf raised an eyebrow before looking to Bonehead, "Best take yer place lad. I do be here on official business so I need th'full gauntlet."
A shrug from my guard captain before he trotted off, downstairs and to his arena.
I watched Stone Soup catalog my new drops and resource nodes in this first room; noting the change from fungal growths to a mix of small fungoid creatures, piles of dried wood, cast-off robes and other 'mundane' clothes, and the like. There was a distinctive slant towards mundane utility here now with the odd pile of coin tossed in. As the room was a delver's first taste I had left the encounters fairly basic; a few skeletons, tarantulas, and the odd crumbled stone trap that had a chance to be a tripping hazard in a fight.
"Aye, first room is definitely on par with the two other dungeons in this necropolis. Suitable for newbie to beginners." One of the skeletons waved as she made her way upstairs. As she walked she made the same two-finger side-of-the-head gesture her brother would make when taking notes or possibly talking to a partner with a rescue team in case she got in over her head.
"Western chapel is-" Her breath caught. "Correction. Western chapel is now a memorial site with an actively maintained non-combat flag for the entire area." Where the pulpit had been was a life-sized stone statue of Keystone in his inspector's gear leaning on his mace. At the base of the statue was a simple placard in etched bronze.
'His life was taken in the line of duty giving voice to those who often have none. He was our friend, and he is missed.'
Gone were the pews, the book stands, and the religious ornamentation. There was a small simi-circle of benches in front of the statue, with the rest of the space given over to a series of tables at the edges of the room, and a wide open area along the room's long axis. These tables were less booth-style like one might eat at, instead having outward-facing curved benches encouraging everyone to look away from their group to the rest of the room. A place fit for meeting and discussion, or a quiet place to rest.
"Exiting the western memorial hall. Plan on going to the eastern chapel on re-entering dungeon." Stone Soup would take one last look at the statue of her brother before exiting through what had once been a crypt. Now the room was lined with delvers names and accomplishments. It contained spaces for everything from 'fastest clear time of 'the bone Zone,' to those that managed to solo Nyx at her most intense, and even one for 'largest fish caught.' All these and more, including a wall of shame for less well-behaved and outright unwelcome delvers. each name attached to a piece of gear these offenders were relieved of on their way out.
A hearty chuckle from the inspector, "Dungeon has plans to foster healthy competition as well as a means to permanently flag and shame delvers that act unruly."
When she got to the eastern chapel, there was an eyebrow raised at the renovations I had made to the place. "Eastern chapel has been reconfigured into a..." There were goblins everywhere in rough-sewn work clothes standing at attention. the goblin at the counter waved Stone Soup over to the countertop before pointing to the chalkboard that showcased the day's meal rotation and prices. "Dungeon has made a space for adventurers to purchase meals. Room contains layout similar to memorial hall, clear lanes of traffic. Central clear space for entertainment or other activities."
Her eye was drawn to the wall opposite the register. As she approached she saw a series of notes posted to a corkboard. "Dungeon has constructed simple bulletin board for announcements and, presumably, a place to hand out quests." An eyebrow raise as she read one of the notes, "Several of these quests involve raiding local ally dungeons and bringing supplies here."
Then she used a stepladder I had left for shorter delvers to make use of to look at the 'Future Plans' section. "He wants to create an inter-dungeon postal system with the ability to accept mail and parcels for delvers. Not yet implemented."
Her mouth worked for a time. Words not coming out for several minutes before verbalizing, presumably, a question I had no real answer to since i hadn't really thought past 'what I wanted if I were here for awhile doing murderhobo things.' "Is this thing trying t'be a dungeon, or a bloody functional township?"
I outright started cackling when she got to what had been the room I was born into this world. The Urns, Coffins, and all were gone. After the inquisitorial inspection finished I'd made sure they came back with a pile-on of padres to, respectfully, remove the dead from not just my walls, but the entire necropolis. the structures couldn't really be as easily changed about, so it still had this creepy sudo-gothic vibe going on, but I felt better for the dead having somewhere quiet to rest.
Plus I don't think they would have appreciated the fact I turned that initial crypt into a gift shop. It had all sorts of silly nick knacks, but they trended towards 'actually useful' more than 'provides two minutes of entertainment.' Even with that attempt at simi practicality, the joke seemed to be lost on the poor dwarf who picked up a black t-shirt portraying a cartoonish imp holding up a sign. 'I went through the Lonely Hill Dungeon and the only loot I got was this t-shirt.'
The poor Dwarf's only comment was made while she held up the garment. "What's a T-Shirt?"
Well. I thought it was funny.
Things got more serious after that point. I simply figured if people are leaving they do need a chance to sit down to rest, eat, maybe pick up a souvenir if they had a particularly lousy run, or wanted tabletop figures for planning encounter strategies. Plus everyone needs the odd laugh, even me.
"I swear by th'Rider if the next floor down is something silly I'm writing this place off as a toybox." Stone Soup's exasperation was something I could empathize with. She's trying to do a job after all, but no worries. From here on it was fairly 'Normal' as far as these things went.
My second-floor training area remained largely the same. Bonehead's arena, a training space for the skeletons, though now there were goblins and the odd imp thrown in for flavor. The guardpost was gone as there was no need. instead, I'd designated that as a 'safe' area for Delvers. A place my creatures couldn't attack them in normally, though if a delver kept popping in and out of that spot to take potshots at creatures only to hide behind the line I had a contingency in place to encourage them to leave.
Stone Soup smiled when she saw the note I'd left as a warning. "'Abuse my good will at your own risk. Hint: it involves spiders." She smirked as she put that to the test. I get she likely was doing it as part of her job to make sure I wasn't going to respond to delvers getting cute by dropping anvils, but I still felt bad after the fifth baiting attempt earning her several dozen tarantulas, orb weavers, and even a few ogre faced spiders dropping on her from cracks in the ceiling that all immediately scattered rather than attack. that was a very deliberate choice on my part. Lowbies attacked by that many spiders would get knocked out, or potentially killed if allergies were a thing here. Even mid-level delvers could have their runs cut short when all I really wanted was to encourage them to stop horsing around.
A second note appeared. 'Told You. :)' This earned a headshake from the inspector. "So y'did."
From here things got less playful. the top part of things were explicitly for lowbies and new folk to cut their teeth on. this floor is where Erebus patrolled. While I had wanted to make him just as potent as Nyx, I hadn't the resources just yet. One could argue I burned resources needlessly with the eatery and gift shops, but I felt social spaces were as important to draw Delvers in as monsters and loot.
So, at least for now, Erebus had to be content with being at best a mid-level encounter. Still. Like all of my more notable creatures, and even many of the less noteworthy ones, I rotated him out and am quite happy that he and Nyx do get along quite well when their rotations let them be in eachother's company..
When he was rotated out I had Good Neighbor's goblin champion fill in as patrolling thing to be looked out for. Fine I had to split mana gained pretty heavily toward them, but Variety kept things interesting. The rest of the floor included those shadow creature things that Bonehead and the rest from my prong of the big attack got stuck on. They cheeped, hopped around, and honestly were kinda cute for pitbull-sized beings of shadow.
The next three floors were similar in form. A roving creature that acted as a way to keep delvers from simply camp-farming, loot that would reflect the group comp, and zones of explicit safety for groups to have a chance to recharge stamina and mana. I was not at all a fan of dungeons that demanded a gauntlet run with no places to stop, and that was when I could put a controller down and stretch. Here? These were living breathing people. I especially wanted ways for them to quickly call time out if they got in over their heads.
The floor my Core now resided on down? That was where it was time to start treating Delvers like they were Big Boys. Mixed unit groups, always with a couple of status spreaders. Nyx occasionally teleport from shadow to shadow stalking groups and initiating encounters against the unwary. Walls that would rearrange themselves by way of either Putty monsters, or moving stone walls.
All of this glossed things over like specific craft and workstation rooms I'd left to fit the flavor of the floor or to give Delvers a way to make use of the stuff they just farmed. As soon as Herbie got the details ironed out I'd even have a per adventurer storage system in place they could draw from, but considering making something to interface with people who had never seen any sort of computers along with all the backend problems? That was filed under 'long term projects.'
The cherry on top was where the dressed stone stopped and things lead to a cave system beneath the town. Here had many natural creatures, or at least encounters that weren't mine. The fishing in the underground pond was surprisingly nice, and the bioluminescence fungal growths and bugs did give just enough room to navigate by if they lost their lights.
Here though was where my heart lay. Set perfectly in the undressed limestone was a circle of black marble carved with arcane symbols and runes, traced over with carved lines inscribing a perfect circle a good twenty yards across.
By the time Stone Soup got to this level she had to make several trips up, oft accompanied by monsters designated as Mercy Escorts to help delvers get up and out of the trouble they'd gotten themselves into. her ego was bruised. Her pride wounded. By the time she made it to the cavern it had been with not just a party of three, but two other parties of three for immediate backup.
She was there when Ishida's respawn timer went off. Bonehead had been told of this and was already waiting, a wide canvas folding chair open and ready, which Ishida seemed glad for as she faced the inspection parties.
"Considering my last memories were bailing this yutz out from Kronos trying to eat him and take over his core?" She jerked a thumb in the general direction my awareness was centered at, "Do we have to do this now Ma'am?"
Bonehead gestured to Ishida as if saying, 'What she said. Cut the lady some slack."
There was a slow head shake from Stone Soup. "'Fraid not ma'am. Skipping over one of Lonely Hill's strongest minions, and one who's origins lay with a corrupt dungeon I am obliged and required to face you to assess your strength and intent in combat."
"I was afraid of that." Ishida stretched, circling her arms about, flexing her legs and back. "Well, you heard the lady."
Bonehead gave one of those impossible grins of his as he held a fist out, which Ishida rapped knuckles with. The moment he stepped from the undressed stone of the cave onto the marble of the arena a rapid change occurred. Seniew, Muscle, Skin, all of the trappings of Life built around his bones until, in this one place and for this one purpose, he was once again the man he was.
Dark and deep brown eyes looked out at the groups that had stepped into this arena. Stone Soup would see a lank man, all sinew and hard edges. He flexed, looking at his new flesh in wonder and surprise. "This." He breathed quietly, voice recognizable from the other times he has spoken and yet containing a warmth that hadn't been there before. "This is going to take some getting used to."
Ishida grinned, lightly punching his shoulder to get his attention. "You can stare at your meat later. We've got to entertain company now."
"Awww. They're interrupting the good part, but I guess I can show it off." There was mock hurt in the man's voice. He grinned as he stretched then took a wide stance beside her. Then he winked as he looked her way, "So long as you're comfortable with an audience watching that is."
Stone Soup stared as the pair started laughing and buried her face in her hands. A long deep breath before her group formally stepped into the arena of dressed stone.
Then the music started. Mostly because the MAFIAA wasn't here to tell me to stop, and I thought it was both rather appropriate for the pair and while I'm sure my memories were mashing up several versions,. It felt right.
Plus the lyrics would give a hint on how to prevent the fight from getting truly nasty. I was cheating and burning far more mana than a dungeon my size should have, but this moment? I had my friend back. If you thought about it, Bonehead very much is the me that fought side by side with her before. So, to have that again? I went all out. Slow-rolling music. The runes of the arena faintly glowed when all three groups stepped into the arena.
Stone Soup squinted as she looked at the pair.
SEPERATE WAYS (Worlds Apart)
Ishida: Mythic Light of Bygone Age.
Kamio: He Who Held Back the Dark.
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