This was not long and winding travel. Not at first. Four people. Four packs. They left with the rising sun and the gates snapped shut behind them. They literally saw their destination on the other side of the road, a cluster of buildings surrounding a tower. If it were not for the reason for their travel each might have felt joy at the idea of exploration. As it stood?
Ally walked behind the other three. Her green eyes focused less on her companions and more to where the road was leading. "Why not just hop the fence? I've seen what you two can do, and I know Campbell isn't going to let a little wall get in her way."
Ishida exchanged looks with Bonehead as the pair walked, flanking Stone Soup. Bonehead gave an audible sigh. "We do not know anything of who owns this place. Your people, near as we can tell, mostly focused on the throne-heart Damala had and the complex there, rather than worry about the surrounding city."
Ally frowned. Both because they had decided the detail was both glaringly obvious and because it was important enough that the goon with no vocal cords had to expend the effort to say it.
Instead of chiding the mage, Bonehead continued his explanation. "It's supposed to be a library, and whomever controls the land has at least not crossed the road to meet Our territory. This tells me that they are more interested in holding what they have rather than risk seeming overly aggressive. Hence we will try the front door."
Stone soup grumbled as they walked. "Dunna worry Sparkles, I'm feeling just as dense right about now."
Then Ally's attention turned to bow at Bonehead's back along with a bulky quiver. "Huh, even going full on raid boss you never brought that thing out. What gives?" There was a pause and then she spoke a word in the spidery language of magic. 'We can understand you now as you are more comfortable speaking. I know vocalizing is taxing.'
'Thank you miss Starsong.' Bonehead's voice, or what passed for it in this state, was polite. 'Nothing survived the last age save for memory and spirits to shape that memory. This armor. This coat. This sword. All recreations of what was. I argued long with Lonely Hill over my sword. It was my grandfather's blade carried with him into a great war. I refused anything less than a perfect replica, imperfections and all.'
This caused Ishida to speak up, "But... you are a recreation of... Isn't Your- Our dungeon...?" She trailed off in confusion.
Only for Bonehead to understand, and continue. 'Isn't it my next reincarnation and I'm a shadow of an old life spun back out? All I know is I feel like my own person. Besides, how often have you argued with yourself on something?'
"Gonna admit the whole mess sounds right daft t'me," Stone Soup commented, "But what is, frankly, is what we have. Other than Ishida I frankly remember next to nothing of my last life. However I do remember you were a right stubborn git, but yer heart was always in th'right place."
Which caused Bonehead to snort, though before he could respond a pair of wrought iron gates caught his attention. "Seems like a promising place to announce ourselves."
Very carefully the quartet walked up to the gates, but did not cross the threshold. The gates, rather than swinging, were mounted on rails bolted into the stonework of the parameter wall of the property. There was a plaque announcing what the place was. Ally blinked slowly as she read it aloud. "Woon ani nin te ju te tapa e sita. O lo milen ke jan ne."
She paused, and frowned in obvious confusion. "Sounds like what the goblins your dungeons employ uses."
'Woon Estate Library.' Bonehead spoke, translating the text, 'Come in Peace, all Who Seek Knowledge.' A pause before tilting his head, 'Though...' His mouth opened as if to say something. Then closed again. 'Huh, really does remind me of my folks arguing with a bunch of other language nuts over extensions to Toki Poni so it would be a proper second language. Curious that survived the spinning out of a new age. I kinda like it.'
This got three sets of eyes staring at him, which caused the skeleton to shrug. "What?"
"Nothing," Ishida shook her head slowly before setting foot across the threshold. "Huh, that's weird."
Bonehead stepped across the threshold just after her, paused, stepped back. Then crossed the threshold again.
"What is it?" Ally extended her senses, mundane and arcane, outward.
"Nothing," Ishida repeated.
Then Bonehead elaborated, 'There is no Dungeon here."
"Excuse me what?" Stone Soup asked, surprise coloring her voice. "Oneof the last reports my brother made indicated a dungeon was here, very deliberately intent on keeping everyone out of the library. It canna fallen, na w'out th'land transferring t'some other dungeon."
This had the group's attention as they continued along the main road.
'We are being watched.' Bonehead's voice a careful neutral calm.
"Aye," Stone Soup's voice held the same careful calm. "Hands out and open. We just onna wee walk. Nah need t'alarm th'locals."
the group nodded. Ally letting out a soft whistle. "Beartrap?" Ishida and Bonehead shrugged at their own non-comprehension.
"Nah," Stone Soup commented, "Silk snare." Then when she saw the two other party members lackof comprhension. "Beartrap is when th'trap is sudden, swift, and ugly. Silk Snare is when th'trap has technically sprung long affore y'realize it, an'tryin t'escape will jus tighten it worse."
'Still seeing nothing of the locals.' Bonehead's calm was more brittle now with the news they probably already were snared. Yet he kept that outward calm from before. 'What do you think Ishida, Fuzen's Mirage, or Day of Black Sun?"
It was Ally and Stone Soup's turn to be confused, prompting Ishida to explain. "Fuzen liked to use shadow to either hide in, or to appear from. The Black Sun was when, for a time, anyone not protected had turned into trees until the enchantment got untangled. If you're asking, Bonebag? I'd have to put money on Fantasia." Beat. "Warlock animated half the stuff at college to be shock troops."
"O-oh...." Ally's voice was soft.
Stone Soup grumbled, "I hate na'rememberin these things."
Ishida gave the dwarven woman a reassuring pat on the shoulder. "We'll just have to make new memories."
"Aye." Was the only response the dungeoneer gave.
The path they walked was flanked by decorative trees. Broad branches ending abruptly rather than tapering made Ally tilt her head. "Well, there's obviously someone home, or the grounds wouldn't have been kept up." She gestured to the lack of leaves, or dead branches, or any other blown in detritus visible from their path.
Bonehead nodded, but otherwise said nothing as they passed several house sized buildings. "Hrm. That look normal to either of you?"
Stone Soup's head shook. "Feels almost like a campus. Sancrest is big, but it's more trade hub than university town, and th'lonely mountain goes more fer puttin' everythin' underground."
A nod from Ally, "We're definitely being watched." A gesture towards ravens across several structures in unison tracking the small group.
"By standards of everything I've fought it's being downright polite." Ishida commented. "Normally the only warning you get is when it all goes cackling mad."
"Wish you were here Ami," Bonehead declared as they finally came to the doors to the largest building, a several story tall affair that seemed as much European Castle as library.
"Yea." Both Stone Soup and Ishida said softly.
Then at Ally's visible confusion Ishida elaborated, "Most bookish one of our group, least before things got bad."
Ally bit back what she was going to ask when a pair of plate armored figures stepped from alcoves flanking the main door to approach. Both were armed, but made no move to draw their weapons. Both were helmeted but made no move to lift their visors. When one spoke, its voice rang metallic and hollow. "We thank you for both taking the main entry way, and for making no overt hostile actions against our watchers. It is for that reason alone that we have not considered two Dwellers on this soil an act of war."
The group let that sink in for several long moments before Bonehead stepped forward and gave the armored figure a small bow. 'I am Bonehead. Guard Captain for the Lonely Hill dungeon. That is Ishida, also of Lonely Hill."
The pair of armors stood there motionless as the second suit asked, "For what purpose have you come here dungeon dwellers?"
Both Bonehead and Ishida looked to Stone Soup. "A pack of creatures attacked the caravan that has come to do business with the dungeon coalition that has taken over and remodeled the cemetary complex this place is near to."
The armors remain still, yet both speak. "We had sighted Dwellers sneaking through our lands. Until now we had thought they were like others, hoping to gain information about us in preparation for an attack. This is why we would have responded violently if you had tried to sneak through."
Ally gave a slow nod at this information. "I see. The third member of our party, a Goblin fighter, was poisoned by one of these creatures and we were hoping either for information on whoever sent these creatures, or information on the poison that is now either killing him, or turning him into their master's thrall."
Both armors now looked directly at Ally, their postures stiffening, a slight rattle of plate as each made it very clear that she had their full attention. Then there was a pause as the armor to the left of the door entered the building, leaving the remaining armor with the group. "Explain."
This was not a request.
Bonehead nodded once before elaborating. 'We believe whatever has infected Lutz is fungal in nature and, due to the overall raggedness of the attackers, their regenerative abilities, yet retaining higher capacity for thought than mindless undead,'
He paused and snorted, seeing amusement in a literally brainless skeleton giving this explanation. 'It is the belief of the coalition that these creatures were either free agents, or belonged to a dungeon and were themselves infected, and now that this poison has been shown to work, their master is making a strike against my home.'
"Elaborate." Again, there was no hint of this being a request.
Ishida's eyes closed, and she took a breath. Stone body moving in an impossibly organic manner, mimicking living flesh in the process. "It is likely under the belief that my former master, Kronos, is an imminent threat rather than having been subsumed."
The armor stood still as it faced the pair. There was not even the slight shift and rustle of plate to indicate it was anything other than an empty suit of metal sat there as a scarecrow. Stone Soup took a step towards it, but stopped when the doors to the library opened. A vaguely humanoid shaped wooden automita looked out at the group. Gears spun with audible wirring with each stilted movement. "You may enter."
What must have been its head, though it lacked even the suggestion of a face, tilted as if looking at something in particular about the group. "Leave your weapons as you come in. The Library will not tolerate violence within its walls."
Dungeon Corps Main Story Index
Book Two Index