From the fourth wall and looking in, we can see there’s an office with a distinguished Lawyer and his client.
Even on distant approach, it’s obvious to us: they’re quite animated. Wide motions, exaggerated gestures, but thankfully both their mouths and the words they’re pretending to say are completely imaginary.
Yes, so it is.
The hero of this scene is sitting at the table wearing thick spectacles. With a well-cut suit, he’s crossing his imaginary hands. Clearly, he is a lawyer, and looks the part while he’s settled in behind his desk. If there’s anything else worth mentioning, I’d say that it’s probably the look of someone prepared to fight a long battle using only their wits and intellect.
He speaks with a tone of confidence.
“Thirty slithers at an angle of about forty-five degrees down a spooky staircase to this room: that’s not deep enough. Absolutely not deep enough to reach the dungeon.” The lawyer says. “As such, I believe your concerns to be excessive.”
Well said indeed for someone who doesn’t exist.
If we peer closer to the imaginary name-plate sitting atop imaginary mahogany, we can make out the perfect letters which read “Human-side.”
Ah, but of course! Of course it does- who else would be capable of such dignified composure?
Yet, we can see that he’s not alone in this scene. No, for across the table, his client is far from pleased. “DANGEEEEEEER!” With a wail of shaking hands in the air, they shout to the heavens! “DANGER! DANGER! DANGER!”
Like a caged animal with some sort of mental disorder, there is little articulation beyond snarls and aggressive movements. Shouting and gesturing madly as they pace about the room, we can easily come to recognize this is no ordinary client.
This is barely a step away from a feral beast.
“Instinct, please stay calm. I assure you that we’re perfectly safe here.”
Ah, and there it is: the client is Instinct, the primal force of survival itself. Paranoid and irrational as it might be, this is a client with great influence.
“NOT SAFE! DANGER! DANGER EVERYWHERE!” The shouting continues. Far from the distinguished posture of Human-side, Instinct isn’t even wearing a suit. If we squint through the imaginary pixels trying to hide its body like something on late night-television, it’s completely naked.
If imaginary smells are to be believed, it may have also peed itself a little bit.
“Now now, let us take a moment to think this through. Logic is on our side for this one.” Clever, human-side attempts to rein them in. “Clearly, we can see that this is a perfectly safe environment. Look here-” Reasoning with their client, imaginary hands go about lifting an imaginary folder of imaginary papers. “These mentally recorded documents say the Tiny Snake God is likely involved with this situation.”
“WE’RE IN GRAVE DANGER!”
“We know the Tiny Snake God would never steer us wrong.”
“It also says here that Eveth, one of the humans chosen by the Tiny Snake God, is thought to possess a high degree of intelligence. By that logic, it’s unlikely she would intentionally take us into an area of high-risk. Look there, see? Eveth is resting on a stool. People don't do that if they're concerned about immediate danger.”
Dashing the imaginary papers to the air: Instinct has seized the desk as a platform!
“NOOOOO! NOT SAFE!” They’re howling, leaping up and down atop the imaginary desk: smacking the contents about! “DEATH! DANGER! FEAR! FLEE!”
“We’re safe.” Ever the professional: Human-side ignores the imaginary spittle with a level of class. Casually rightening its imaginary spectacles without further reaction. Not even as instinct comes closer, crouching down to break any sense of personal boundary one might have possessed. “Very safe.” They reply.
“Not safe.” The client is still not convinced, and is now only growing more hostile by the moment. Instinct leans in closer, only a hair away from his face, feral as they come. “Daaaaaaaaangeeeeeeeeer.”
“Completely safe.” Human-side repeats, frowning. “Absolutely nothing to worry about.”
“We’re going to die.”
Eyes are rolling around, horrific enough to allow the mental censorship pixels to advance and cover them. This is not something to be watched, yet human-side doesn’t flinch.
“I find that highly unlikely.”
“Death is all around us.” It points, breaking the fourth wall with ease. “Everywhere.”
“No: those are books.” Human-side does the same. “Books.” He emphasizes. “For reading.”
“We will be eaten alive soon, by some monster we didn’t notice.”
“There are no monsters. Those are books. Books, and trinkets of varying capacity.”
“They might summon a monster.”
“Highly unlikely, especially based on how we’ve seen magic function thus-far.”
“There’s a chance.”
“Small enough chance to disregard.”
“A chance.” The mass of pixels known as instinct turns, pointing again. “There… there’s something huge under a blanket over in the corner of the room. It’s probably a monster.”
The camera turns, now pointed blatantly off set.
Instinct isn’t wrong, there is something under thick cloth sheeting. It’s seated in the far corner of the room.
“That’s clearly not a monster.” Human-side stands their ground.
“It’s a giant centipede. Has to be.”
“No, it’s obviously not.”
“There’s no other explanation.”
“I’d say it almost looks like it might be a statue of some kind. Or maybe just a pile of books Eveth didn’t want to get dusty.”
“You don’t know that.”
“I can assume.”
“It’s a giant centipede.”
“It’s finally found us again, come to eat the meal that got away.”
“Again, highly unlikely-”
“There’s a chance.”
“A very small chance, which we can safely ignore.”
“We’re going to die.”
You get the idea, I think.
There’s an intense battle is being waged up there.
Anyways, hello again imaginary and scaled flock of mine. Ye’ believers of all that is mighty and just. Long live our faith in the Tiny Snake God, protector of our life and sanity, for it’s that time once more.
The time of which I will ramble on in my head, and no one will listen.
Steadfast and pure is this pillar of the Tiny Snake Church, the foundation of which my mental instability seems to be built.
Right now, as you might have noticed, the two major forces in my mind are at war with one another. The logical assessment of what I’m seeing is battling with a more basic instinctive force that comes with a monster’s innate sense of danger. My sixth or seventh sense, as it were.
The reason is complicated, but the present situation seems to feel a lot like I’m back in the dungeon… without being in the dungeon.
Yes, this is what we might have to define a “technicality.”
Having crawled my way out from thousands of feet beneath the ground, I’m sure the dungeon is somewhere underneath me, still. In the back of my mind, something confirms that knowledge. No matter where I go in this world, I’m sure that if I dig deep enough I’ll find myself in the dungeon.
How deep is “enough?”
I find myself unable to answer this with any degree of accuracy, but I can tell you what my gut is feeling. Right now, we’re more than deep enough for instinct’s liking, and in response it’s gone rummaging through my vault of repressed memories.
Tossing flashbacks back to winding tunnels and caverns over its shoulder. Reaching for visions of a dark and horrible maze leading down farther than anyone should ever be tempted to go: where monsters are waiting to pounce at every turn, that awful night at prom…
It seems my stash of PTSD memories aren’t very organized, but they are quite effective.
Without human-side keeping things under control, there’s a fair chance I’d be slithering back up the stairs and melting an exit out of this place.
But, that would be an over-reaction.
No need for that.
Like I said, it’s just a gut feeling. An urge, endorsed strongly by Instinct, that’s been completely vetoed.
Human-side is still in control because we’re not in the dungeon.
Instead, we’re in a room.
Anticlimactic, oh- I know.
Trust me, I know.
On the way down here I was ready for hell itself to swallow us up, but that’s the truth of it.
This is a really normal looking of study room, ignoring the fact it’s twenty feet or so underground. Rectangular, four walls, a ceiling and a floor. Not that big, not that small: best guess it’s about ten slithers by fifteen slithers, with maybe nine of so slithers for height. A reasonable set of dimensions if you ask me. I’m sitting on a table that’s dead-center in the middle of it, as I have finally relinquished my duty as neck noodle.
Taking a breather, while Eveth has been left to her own devices.
Mostly, that seems to mean she’s sitting on a stone stool beside me with her head in her hands. She’s not crying or anything, but I’d take a guess that this has apparently been a trying day for her as well.
I’m giving her a few minutes.
Problem is that doesn’t leave me with much to do.
Obviously, I can tinker with Water magic, but I’ve been pretty good about keeping that going anyways. That’s pretty much on autopilot.
Productive things I can be doing are limited.
“… [Spirit Attendant #1, #2] report in?”
... anyone there?
… hmm. Well, nothing happened.
Nothing happened, but I won’t say that’s the whole story.
On the way down here, I had a thought.
There are obviously different varieties of "nothing" out there, and I think this “nothing” isn't quite like [Voice of Gaia] “nothing.”
Going deeper into the ground, heading back towards the Dungeon, I wondered if maybe this might help somehow.
I’ve got a lot of questions, but when I try to communicate with either of my [Spirit Attendant] I almost feels like I’m hailing on a radio with poor signal.
As in, the line’s "open" but not completely gone.
We're underground here, so, maybe picking up a signal might be easier?
I hoped that could play a role… possibly.
Doesn’t seem to have helped much, but it was worth a shot.
“This is Snake hailing [Spirit Attendants #1, #2] if you can hear me. Snake hailing all [Spirit Attendants] fit for service.”
“If you can get to me, try. In the meantime, keep doing the Tiny Snake God’s work. Snake out.”
… still “nothing.”
I tried, so that’ll do for now.
Anyways, back to the room.
Eveth seems to have worked with natural materials, so it’s got a utilitarian feel. Plain rocks, mostly. Just molded stone with the occasional board of wood, or that stuff that looks like wood, but isn’t.
Stone-strand, if I remember the name right.
The entry tunnel down here is to my arbitrary South, which is mostly empty. There’s a rack for Eveth’s staff, and a hanger for her cloak, but there’s not much else. To the arbitrary North, there are some shelves and a desk- also made from stone. On that same way there’s a workbench too. Large flat surface, some odd-looking tools hung over top that, but the entire thing is (you guessed it) stone.
Pretty bare, but not much space has been left out.
The Eastern and Western walls are a bit different though, in that they’re downright crowded. Those are absolutely packed. To the brim, they’ve been filled with things: books, trinkets, rolled up paper scrolls, object that don’t fall into easily listed categories… does that count as an easily listed category?
Anyways, on the desk area in the far corner to my left, there are some open books, and some writing utensils. It looks like this world’s technology is somewhere between a feather quill, and a ball-point. Clumsy looking pens, but still probably better than pencils, Eveth’s clearly been using those to write down research or notes over there.
Good vision or no, I have no idea what her notes say. They look like gibberish.
I’d blame a cipher, but I think all the books look like gibberish. Even the ones on the table next to me. There are a couple sitting around, few of which are opened to specific pages. There’s no making head or tail of the squiggles and dashes, but that’s not to say I haven’t been trying.
I’m glad [Language Comprehension] stuck around, but it’s not exactly earning its keep in this department. Apparently if I want to read something, I’m going to have to learn from scratch.
Thanks [Voice of Gaia]
There’s a lot more than just books around me, though. The center table here is actually crowded with a bunch of weird stuff. Some copper-like pedestals holding some small bits of mana crystal, some odd mechanical devices, jars of powers and dried bits of… something, set next to a bunch of wooden mugs.
I don’t know all that much about what any of it does, but ignoring the mugs, this is all clearly related to mage-craft in one way or another. Ingredients and items that seem pretty similar to the store Eveth ducked into on the way over here.
There’s also a keg.
A tapped keg, next to the table.
I feel that I should probably mention that.
That, and maybe emphasize the apparent fact that there seem to be a lot of empties stacked around here and there. I count about half a dozen of them just on the table alone.
It speaks of a dedicated life-style.
Not to say that we’re not without our vices, but I’m not sure how someone Eveth's size could take this many down by herself. I mean, there’s a stack of five of them leaning up against a shelf, to my right.
Somehow those are resisting gravity, like it tried to fall, then somehow ended up leaning out- then leaning back in.
Bowed out, not actually touching the shelf, but almost touching it.
A work of art like that can’t be created by just anyone.
Not that I’m in a real position to judge or anything, but there’s no denying the evidence: Eveth’s probably been working through some issues down here. Some serious issu-
She just took a swig from one of the mugs at the table.
More than a swig. Wow, she crushed that. Didn’t even check the contents.
There’s a brand.
Almost jealous, honestly.
Nobody wants to have their life threatened and their home burned to the ground before lunch. Pretty solid argument to say it’s five o’clock somewhere. If not here in this reality, then some other reality that has clocks.
Somewhere, it’s five o’clock on a sundial… or something.
My wild upbringing still has me sort of grasping for straws when it comes to the basics.
I guess that’s just another thing to put at the bottom of the to-do list. Before that though, I’m way more interested in this stuff on the table.
No, not the books.
I’m pretty much fed up with the books. Been trying to read them. Read a lot of books as a human with no problems, but it’s obviously not working now.
Zip. Zero. Nada.
Sort of pisses me off.
I don’t know what I was expecting. Of course, of course I wouldn’t be able to read.
I mean, nothing on those pages makes any sense.
All of the characters are attached, like cursive only stupider looking. I’ve been staring at this one page for maybe five minutes, and no secrets have been revealed. Starting to wonder if it’s possible that this is upside down.
Humiliating, on top of inconvenient, but I’m clearly illiterate.
But the brightside of things.
I know that I said this was a mundane sort of study room. That wasn’t a lie, because it is, but if we put it into context…
Start the drumroll…
Think this is a place we can only properly describe as…
Keep the drumroll going…
This is surprisingly hard to do without hands…
Eveth’s looking up, finally. Giving me a funny expression, so that means its time for the imaginary cymbal crash- annnnnnd:
We’re in a real, live [Wizard’s Secret Lair]
Hell yes: suddenly, this room is a whole lot more awesome.
That’s right Eveth. Stare all you want, because I’m talking to you. This is absolutely a top secret, mage-cave. Bringing me down here was a good choice, makes up for all the awful shit you’ve recently put me through.
Consider us even.
Now sure, I could argue the technicalities of whatever title we want to throw on this.
Wizard usually seems to be associated with male, and Eveth, well… no, she’s most definitely not a man by any stretch of the imagination, so maybe I should be calling this a “Magician’s Secret Lair” or a “Sorcerer’s Secret Lair.” But those also sort of suggest a male might be behind their creation- and I don’t think Eveth would like me calling her a witch.
Negative sort of associations on that one.
Yeah, I don’t know.
There’s no skulls or Frankenstein monsters in-progress, but there’s still something hidden under a blanket over there in the North-Western corner for a sense of mystery.
I’m going to just stick with Wizard.
Wizard’s Secret Lair.
Or maybe just “Eveth’s Secret Workshop.”
Not important what we call it, because we know what this is a classic that no fantasy world should ever be without. The rules are clear: if there’s magic, there’s got to be at least one secret magic room.
That’s 100% a thing, I know it.
Eveth’s really looking at me funny now. What? Never seen someone talk to themselves? What sheltered environment have you been living in? Got news for you: the world’s a real bitch Eveth, it doesn’t like me. But right here? This here is a no judgement zone. Follow the tail, say it with me: no judgement zone.
Now, start explaining some of this stuff.
This right here- what is it? Or this? Look, pointing.
I see weird things, odd things, shiny things. Take what’s directly in front of me, for example. Look, this thing. What is this thing?
Ah, there we go. You’re getting there Eveth.
Look at my tail: I’m pointing, your eyes are following… I see those dots connecting-
“I know Imra probably plays these sorts of games, but I’ve got no idea what you’re doing.”
Okay, well we can start here. I’ve got your attention, and that’s good enough.
Okay, I’m taking your beer Eveth.
Dungeon Stale Ale is going to some real purpose here because I’m going to need more than water vapor for this one: see this ice sculpture?
Looking right at it, good-good: looks an awful lot like a hand, doesn’t it?
One that’s pointing at something?
“Is this some sort of signal?”
No, this weird thing here: look! Pointing! I want you to talk about it. Tell me what it is.
Here, now there are two hands.
“How the hell are you so detailed with elemental manipulation? I don’t even see you applying much Soul to it…”
Wrong question Eveth, wrong question. For someone who’s probably fairly smart, you’re being pretty dumb right now.
You know… maybe I’m being dumb.
Here, how about this. Water manipulation, secret technique: “[WHAT IS THIS THING]”
“Are those… symbols? What language is that?”
Oh, come on!
What the hell is [Language Comprehension] good for anyways?
Holy shit, this is so frustrating.
If I ever get my hands on [Voice of Gaia] again, I’m going to throttle that bastard.
One of my ice-hands is flipping the bird, yet she’s still just looking at this like some sort of puzzle.
Damn it all.
You’re seriously going to make me toast my mana reserves for this? You making me go there Eveth?
“It’s none of the common texts, clearly… but it’s not Dwarven, and it’s not Ancient either…”
I have my answer. I see how it is.
I get it.
You know what?
That mana crystal right there? That one that’s sitting on the pedestal as if maybe it’s important? We’re doing this.
Behold my power Eveth.
Staring at the unfamiliar symbols, Eveth found her attention drifting, slowly.
There was clearly a language she didn’t know, and it was inscribed in ice on the table’s surface. Staring at it, the script seemed unfamiliar in a way she’d never seen before: as if completely alien.
Still, fascinated as she was, her eyes were drawn to the noise.
There was a peculiar nature about the quiet sound. Soft enough to almost miss, but odd enough to make her notice anyways.
Recognition dawned on her.
This was the sound a basilisk makes when it’s trying to swallow something that it’s not supposed to.
For someone who normally reacts to crisis, Eveth found she could only watch on dumbfounded.
It had unhinged its jaws. The snake’s eyes were bulging: clearly, it was struggling. Not only struggling- but battling for its very life. Dedicated to the task of inhaling the uncooperative shape, of which was already beginning to disappear- now more than halfway swallowed.
“Oh.” From her voice, the sound of recognition. “Oh no.” She managed to raise a protest, mental puzzle-pieces assembling.
“No, you little blue bastard!” Her shout of protest fell upon a deaf lack of ears, as more and more of the mana crystal slipped further out of sight.
“Spit it out!”
Her command was ignored.
“I said spit it out!” Eveth repeated. “Spit it out right now!”
She was shouting, she realized.
Anger? Yes, that was getting the better of her. It had been a tremendously shitty couple of days and maybe things had finally gotten under her skin, but Eveth recognized she was fuming. She had to be, on account that she’d lunged across the table her hands wrapped around the creature’s throat.
As she lifted up from the table, it looked back at her with astonishment: small portion of the crystal sticking out of its mouth.
“Cough it out or gods help me: I’m going to reach in there and take it myself.”
They stared at one another. Human and serpent, locked in a battle of wills until…
The serpent redoubled its efforts with renewed intensity.
“Don’t you dare! I earned that on my first Dungeon dive- had to fight off half a flock of blood lizards and a fucking ghoul for that crystal!” The fear Eveth once felt for the basalisk had been replaced by cold rage. “I’ll strangle you! You hear me? I’ll strangle you!”
She wrestled with the serpent, and found to her surprise she wasn’t winning. The blue scales of its body felt like a coil of threaded steel, and they resisted her in much the same way. Still, Eveth didn’t give up.
“Cough that out right now!”
Eyes still bulging, jaws stretched wide- the snake’s only reply was one final noise.
“Gulp.” Its jaws closed with finality.
Eveth watched in vain, utterly incapable of stopping a fair portion of her net worth from slipping down the monster’s gullet.
The deed was done.
“I can’t believe you just did that.” Eveth spoke in a low tone, reserved only for moments of pure hatred. “I seriously can’t.”
Two eyes stared back: unblinking, unconcerned.
“Are you even listening to me?” She shook the creature with anger, but the snake’s expression seemed almost at peace. Completely indifferent to the violence being thrust upon it. Settling herself down, she lowered it back to her face. “I need you to nod if you can understand me.”
“Ssss.” It flicked her tongue and bobbed its head.
“You can… was that a nod?”
It bobbed its head again.
“Alright… okay, listen. You need to spit that crystal out, right now. This isn’t a joke. You need to throw up.”
“Ssss.” The snake flicked its tongue as if signaling disappointment. Slowly it rolled its head back in an exaggerated motion, as if mocking her.
Eveth was sure that’s what it was doing.
“Listen, you.” Eveth brought it up to her face as the words seethed. “Do you have any idea what you just swallowed? Do you even understand the consequences for your actions?”
“Ssss.” That earned her a nod.
“No.” Eveth shook it aggressively. “No, you clearly don’t.”
“Ssss.” The snake nodded again, a bit more irritated. “Ssssss.” It repeated, sending a puff of green smoke at her. For some reason, that only made her even more angry.
“Was that a threat? Did you just threaten me?” Eveth pulled the snake closer. “Listen here you little worm. You just sucked down a chunk of mana crystal shard worth at least thirty gold pieces.” Eveth’s growl turned into a snarl. “What’s more, is if you don’t spit that out right this instant-”
The snake made a motion, swallowing further, and Eveth watched as the lump in its neck working slowly down: a clear signal that it was utterly committed to the stupidest form of suicide Eveth could imagine. Under her fingers, those blue scales, what had once been almost cool to the touch had already started to warm.
The crystal was already starting to dissolve.
“If you don’t cough that back onto the table, in this city, there’s probably only two or three healers capable of saving a person who’s stupid enough to do what you just did. What’s more, is I’d bet they’re all serving in the bloody palace, so none of them are going to come and help- no matter how nicely we ask. Do you understand me?”
“Sss.” It seemed to understand, but it didn’t seem to care.
“So, you understand, that in about five minutes time, you’re going to either combust into fucking flame, or you’re going to die a slow a horribly painful death.” Eveth throttled the creature. “Which means you need to throw that back up, right now.”
“Sss.” The few inches of neck it had beneath its head twisted, as if it might try and bite her. Eveth adjusted, hand choking it until the serpent’s eyes were bulging again.
“I’m not joking, and I’m entirely convinced you’re intelligent enough to understand me.”
“Ssss.” A tingle of healing magic flushed along its body, feeling of pins and needles running up her fingers. “You can’t be serious.” Eveth shook it again. “You’re not healing though this, I don’t care if you’re the head of the fucking church! Spit it out!”
“Ssss.” Another bout of healing, stronger than the last one. Rapidly, the glow of healing magic rippled across the serpent’s scales, swarming down through her arms in a rush to escape.
“_____ ____ _____”
Eveth blinked as it reached her, disoriented. Her ears were ringing, and for a second the basilisk seemed to double in her vision as the rush of mana soaking into her skin made Eveth’s balance falter.
“What the hell did you just do?” Stumbling forward, she fell towards the table, catching herself painfully with her elbows “What the fuck was that?”
“____ ___ ___ ”
Another wave of mana ran down its scales. Blurry as her sight was, Eveth could see it as a flood, glow clearly defined as the magic leaked out in an unorganized wave. To the air, to her hands: it was venting out any direction it could.
Already in the air around them, there were dozens of water magic patterns forming. With quiet "tinks" and "tacks" ice was dropping to the table like tiny pieces of hail.
The ringing in her ears worsened as the glow of healing happened again, stronger still than the previous.
“Se_u_ly _et go”
“Who the hell just…” The vision spinning came back with a vengeance, only this time Eveth’s head smacked the table as a result, hard. Eyes refocusing with a flash of pain just as the magic faded. Somehow her hands were still clutching the serpent.
“S_r_o_sly! L_t _o!”
In her head, it sounded like a distorted shout coming from all directions, her ears’ ringing intensifying to the point of a thunderous crash. The serpent began to struggle as it glow again- the overwhelming surge of mana rushed down her arms.
“What?” The voice hit her so hard that Eveth’s head hit the table a second time, stars in her eyes the overlapping image of blue scales. It was getting worse: there was too much mana for her to even see straight, much less hold organized thought. “Is that… you?”
“Wait, can you hear me? Now you can hear me?” Echoing in her skull, the voice rumbled. “Seriously?”
Her hands went limp, table circling in her vision as vertigo took full control. “What the hell?” Eveth managed to ask, just before her face met the table a third and final time. “Ah… crap.”
“If I’d known it was this simple… this whole time…”
Eveth heard the words as she slipped out of consciousness.
“… I won’t say I told you so, but I definitely told you so.”