“So.” All around Eveth, the early-risers of the group stood in quiet contemplation.
“So…” Alem rubbed his chin, eyeing the opening.
“…” Tuth did the same
“Ssss.” The Basilisk bobbed its head.
In front of them, a deep crevasse into the earth drafted, with the heavy scent of mana. The Dungeon entrance waited with a cool but steady breeze.
“No one is going to ask?” Eveth asked, glancing about the small gathering.
“Well… it’s just…” Alem scratched at his chin. “You know?”
“…” Tuth shrugged.
“Sss.” The snake added.
“Fine, I’ll do it.” Eveth crossed her arms. “Where’s the boulder?”
“…” Tuth turned to Alem to make a more complicate gesture.
“The boulder, Tuth.” Eveth repeated. “You’re back, the boulder’s missing. That’s a coincidence?”
He stared at her, expression uncertain.
“She means the rock.” Alem said.
“…” Tuth gestured rapidly.
“What do you mean? She’s asking about the giant rock that was here yesterday.”
Tuth shook his head.
“Fairly sure Tuth says that he doesn’t remember a rock.” Alem explained.
“I gathered.” Eveth sighed, rubbing her eyes. “Fine then, he doesn’t remember- but we do. Right?”
“So, where did it go?”
“Didn’t fall. Opening isn’t that large.”
“Ssss.” The snake bobbed its head.
“Thank you for the obvious.”
“No, really. Thank you, I never would have been able to make such an astute observation on my own.”
“Someone woke up on the wrong side of the tent.”
“I’m just a bit concerned that a massive boulder right next to our camp disappeared mysteriously over night.” Closed her eyes, Eveth took a deep breath. “We’re left with some ancient illusion rune worth more gold than all our heads in a sack, or… what? It just got up and walked away?”
“What’s he saying?” Alem asked. “I think he’s saying something.”
“I don’t speak snake.” Eveth glanced at it.
“Sssss.” The Basilisk looked towards her, contemplative. “Ssss?”
“I’d rather not right now.” Eveth replied, stepping away from the serpent. “We’ll talk plenty later, I’m sure.”
“Sss.” The Basilisk bobbed its head, before it slithered off. As it left, it flicked its tail in her direction, with a very distinctive gesture.
“Moody little thing.” Alem mumbled, as they watched the snake go, heading back towards the camp.
“Any other ideas?” Eveth asked. “Aside from the ones I’ve listed.”
“You might be onto something with it walking away.”
“Mimic jokes are for rookies only.”
“No, not a mimic.” Alem raised a hand. “But, close.”
“Well, it might have been a Stone Crab.”
“The size of a building?” Eveth shook her head. "Come on now."
“No need for that.” Alem frowned. “It’s just a possibility.”
“Can they even get that big?”
“Not… normally, but there are always exceptions when it comes to monsters.” Alem replied. “Every so often you can find one that doesn’t fit the normal profile. Contracts often come out on the worst of those.”
“Fine, wouldn’t you have sensed that? Better yet: wouldn’t we be missing someone, and finding parts of them scattered about?”
“Typically, I’d say yes, but [Intuition] only works well when there’s an active threat. There’s a decent chance we took the creature by surprise, and it left once we settled down.”
“Without eating anyone.” Eveth insisted. “The building-sized monster just left.”
“Well, a small building, and…” Alem glanced back towards camp. Feet sticking out from his bed roll, Dren was still sleeping under the tent. By the fire, Imra was just beginning to stir from her meditation, as the Basilisk settled on her lap. “Apparently so.”
“…” Tuth picked up a pebble, dropping it down.
They all listened as an impact echoed up several seconds later. Nothing else made a sound.
“Alright.” Eveth shook her head, surveying the surrounding distance. There were rocks and stones aplenty, but nothing nearly large enough to match what she was looking for. “Fine, so it wandered off. Doesn’t explain why it didn’t attack us.”
“Maybe it wasn’t hungry.” Alem crouched down, pushing sand away to uncover a thick line of rope. He stopped, breathing deep. “Tuth, do you smell that?”
“Mana?” Eveth asked.
“No, not mana.”
“…” Tuth crouched down beside Alem, pointing to the rope.
There was a stain, of reddish-brown.
“It did attack.” Alem muttered. “Just not us.”
“Light.” Eveth squinted, trying to see further down through the darkness. “You don’t think it got Varar, do you?”
“Got him? I’d find it hard to believe. Wounded... maybe.” Alem said, dusting off his hands. “All the more reason to get moving, though. Let’s gather up the gear, get ready for a descent.”
“What do we tell Dren? He’s going to have some questions one way or another, and I’d rather not send him into a panic.”
“Mmm… think he’ll believe you managed to pull off some Mage trick? Magic, or the sort?”
“He’s a kid, not an idiot.”
“Ah, well.” Alem sighed. “Let’s just stick with mimic, for now.”
“Mimic it is.”
Mister Boulder was technically a mimic, in some sense. I guess that’s true, if mimics always look like rocks, one hundred percent of the time.
And were, you know: were real.
I don’t think mimics are real.
Hopefully not real.
I think I lucked out by being an only child. At the very least, I got to miss being the butt of a lot of jokes.
Not the jokes thing, I know that’s true. What’s bothering me is just…
Well, I was an only child, right?
I was. I’m pretty sure.
Okay, that’s not good.
I’ll blame this on the lack of sleep.
That way, I don’t freak out.
Can’t freak out.
Ssss… well, I can freak out a little.
Truthfully, I didn’t really get much in the way of shut-eye last night. I was busy, riding off towards the horizon, like one of the great pioneers. My fearful steed, galloping with its many legs across the dusty plains…
Mister Boulder and I came to something of an understanding, in the end there. He swore fealty, I didn’t melt him to a puddle.
It was a pretty fair deal.
After we’d gone far enough, though, I sent him on his way. After which, I had to slither back on my belly for an inordinate amount of time. Tiny Snake God be praised, but one of the disadvantages of being small is that I can’t cover great distances very quickly.
It took me awhile.
I’ve found that I seem to be much better suited for short “sprints” but cross-country marathons don’t seem to be my strong point, and my sidewinder secret tiny snake technique is not yet up to par.
Keeping up a quick pace for miles is like… awful.
Thus: almost no sleep.
Maybe an hour or two.
Hard to get some shut eye when you’ve got sand burn on the belly.
I mean, I healed through it, but still.
Middle of nowhere, no landmarks, perspective only a few inches off the ground… normally I would have been turned around in no time. Everything sort of just looks the same out here, but luckily enough, Imra’s a lot like a mental compass. Always sort of know where she’s at, give or take.
Didn’t feel particularly worried about getting lost.
It was a long stretch of time on my own. No humans, no city, no other monsters, no Imra… Haven’t really had much of that recently.
Stuck in my own head, trying to distract myself with anything I could.
Earth Magic, mostly.
I tried everything.
Tested it aplenty last night, slithering through the fields, trying to trick things into working. I can’t replicate what Eveth did, though. No matter how hard I try, it just doesn’t “click.”
“Filled it in.” Is what she called it. “Layering magic so it connected.”
I’ve made my attempt.
Still, the sooner I can get my magic patched back up, the sooner I could start making a Tiny Snake-Mobile. I remember what Eveth showed me with her [Create Golem] spell. I could absolutely make something like that carry me around, never need to slither long-distance again.
Would not be an understatement if I said I’d really like my magic back.
Best guess, this is just like the Air magic I’ve seen Eveth using. Magic falls under a different branch that I don’t have. Once again proving to me that humans are OP, they can do things I can’t.
What makes them so special?
I’m not jealous, so much as I’m concerned.
I mean, I’ve got all these questions, and to add to the stress- I swear for a second, when I woke up this morning, I saw some really weird messages…
[Enemy of the World]
… and something about some sort of status ailment?
I swear, these things have been happening every time I wake up, but they leave so quickly I don’t get to read-
What’s going on?
“I cannot join you.”
I know, it’s fine. We went over this already. Just guard the entrance so nothing can sneak up on us.
“With my life and spear, none will enter until you return.”
No need to be so serious. I’m pretty sure anyone else who knew about this place was eaten already.
“It is my purpose to be of use. I have a debt to repay.”
Fine, but if Mister Boulder comes back, just back off and tell him I’ll turn his shell into a crockpot. Don’t try and deal with him yourself.
I’m serious. You’re not allowed to get eaten.
“As you command.”
And if anyone else shows up, just tell them this is Tiny Snake property. No trespassing.
“No trespassing… understood.”
Good, good… Imra, one more thing.
“Yes, Great One?”
Whatever happens: if the boulder comes back, or people show up… just be careful, alright?
“I am honored by your concern, Great One.”
I’m serious. Don’t do anything reckless. When we come back up here, I want you in one piece.
“You have my word.”
Imra is all set.
This should be a nice vacation for her, although I know she’s a bit stressed out by the situation. Pretty clear she would much rather escort me into the Dungeon instead of trusting a bunch of humans to take her place.
In a weird way, I’m the opposite.
I like it better this way.
Imra staying on the surface means she’s not going to be in danger. Unlike the Guild, she’s got no true reason to go, either. She doesn’t care about money, it’s just misplaced loyalty that has her convinced she should be here.
So, it’s better she guards the entrance and takes a break.
I’m okay with it.
Everyone else here is going regardless. Keeps my conscience clear.
But, before we go down there, I do have someone else I need to speak with.
Almost guaranteed to be a waste of my time, but...
I’ve got a hunch the other guy might know something.
Just a hunch.
You know, because he just won’t shut the hell-
Sss… so you’ve been saying.
Yeah, yeah… muttering nonsense. If you know anything relevant, spit it out now.
I pretty much got that after the first hundred times you repeated it. Potentially nothing, but certainly ominous.
I got that. Listen, we’ve come all the way out here without much concrete evidence and I haven’t seen a Frog in long awhile. If you know something, I’d like to hear it before we go into the Dungeon.
THE SIGNS HAVE LEAD US HERE...
Uh… Alright? That’s actually kind of reassuring.
You’re working with me. Said something different this time, so you’ve got my attention.
I HEAR THE VOICE, WAITING AS INTENDED… IT WAITS…
Uh, yeah. Go back to that other thing you said?
And… they’re back to muttering about nonsense.
I don’t know why I bothered.
Really bugs me that they seem to know things I don’t.
If this voice is some sort of unpleasant mental break, you’d think it might only be able to know what I know. Yet, it goes and says things that make me wonder.
Ever since the Dungeon was spotted, they seem to be particularly active.
Leaning over the edge of the entrance, earlier, I could hear it muttering. Like a creepy old record, skipping over and over.
But I’ll get to the bottom of this soon.
Tiny Snake God, I’m sure what you wanted me to find is just ahead.