Antios sat with his back to the cold stone wall, sharpening his sword. The sputtering from the tar-soaked torches in their sconces was an almost serene distraction from the clicking and muttering that emanated from Havia, hunched over in front of the chest on the far side of the chamber.
“Can you just open the fucking thing please?” He called, accenting his frustration with a rather loud push on the whetstone.
“We need to get going if we’re going to find somewhere safe to rest for the evening.”
Havia stood, making no noise, and, despite holding several lock picks she managed to flick Antios a rather rude gesture.
“There were three traps in the corridor outside this room! I only caught two of them, if it wasn’t for Utig you would be toast right now!” She pointed at Utig, who raised his hand in a mock salute above his head. The barbarian had laid down in the middle of the chamber, his furs still smoked a little and it was agreed by all that he should rest. The rather large barbarian looked up at his hand, noticing a patch of fur still smouldering and patted it out.
“I think a little more caution will pay off, and I’ve already disarmed the traps. Just this bloody lock to crack.” Havia continued, casting another baleful stare at Antios as she shook her hands out and returned to crouch before her latest challenge.
“What kind of dungeon has this many traps on the first bloody level anyway?” She fumed. Antios had to admit Havia had been busy throughout most of this floor, it was rare for almost every corridor and room on a first floor to be trapped this heavily.
“And this chest is much more complex than you usually find on the first few levels of a crawl.” She banged frustratedly against the lid, receiving a dull thud as her reward before sliding her picks back into the keyhole, turning them slowly, adjusting the length and angle of them as she went.
“Quink, where did you hear about this place again?” She asked over her shoulder as the chest gave an ominous click.
Quink was on watch leaning in the doorway. At the sound of her name being called she turned and walked towards the backpacks near Utig, fetching out a water skin before replying.
“Some guy in the Severed Hand, he said it was not long unearthed, we might be one of the first groups in.” She took a deep drink Kneeling down next to Utig and incanting under her breath to give him another dose of healing.
“I think you’re nearly back to full health, want to take a turn on watch?” She asked as the ethereal glow of magic emanated from her hands, a purple, star-filled aura that reached out to cover the barbarian for the briefest of moments.
He let out a long sigh and grinned, sitting upright and patting Quink on the shoulder.
“You know, you’re pretty good for a street mage, how’d you get healing magic anyway?” He stood up and took her place in the doorway, filling most of it.
“Here and there, met a priest who gave me some tips back in O’mehong. Found that a little faith doesn’t hurt when your bending reality to your will.” She grinned mischievously as she sat down next to Antios.
“Oh, Degrius, that was the guy’s name. Bit of a sleaze bag but his info has always been bang-on the money before.”
Antios slapped his forehead. The other three turned to Quink in unison.
Quink looked sheepishly from face to face.
“What, so he’s a bad fence, but he used to be a crawler. His info has saved me many times, I think the old guy has a soft spot for me.” She smiled her most disarming smile. Quink was pretty, pretty ruthless, pretty damn dangerous and pretty manipulative when it came to anything that fancied her.
“He wouldn’t steer little old me wrong.” She even fluttered her eyelashes this time, Antios rolled his eyes.
“Does he know you’re in a party with us?” He asked as he stood to put away his whetstone. He glanced over at Utig who was smiling towards Quink.
“And does he know you and Utig here are a thing?” He pointed his sword at the mage before sheathing it dramatically.
“Well, no. I never tell anyone who I’m partying with, or sleeping with. Its none of their business.” Quink’s eyes flashed a bright blue as she flexed her magical muscle.
“We’re a thing?” Utig asked from the doorway, if he sounded any more like a smitten six year old, Antios was going to break out laughing.
“Yeah, I think our relationship can be loosely described as ‘A thing’ honey.” Quink stood and walked over to him, giving him a hug before planting a playful kiss on his cheek.
“We can see where this ‘thing’ goes, no rush to label it yet ok.” She patted him on the rear and sauntered over to her bag.
Antios chuckled, she was a little under five foot, Utig was just over seven. Oddly, they were a perfect match. The barbarian was naive, trusting, and honest to a fault. Quink, was dubious, dishonest and so street savvy they nearly didn’t let her join up for fear she was scamming them. That was a year, and three dungeon crawls ago. If she was pulling the long-con, well, it was a bloody long con.
“Take that you piece of fucking shit” Havia shouted form the chest. The lid slowly creaking open an inch on.
Everyone stepped closer. Utig left his post at the door to crane his head over the group as Havia waited to open the chest.
It had been a tougher than expected fight into the dungeon, they were all a bit tense and needed to see a glimmer of hope, a reward for their labours.
“Guys, you know the rules. Ten-foot radius while I open the lid with the hand.” Havia was all business with chests. They had lost their last mage to a chest trap.
Jung was eager to get rich, and yet owed everyone money. He’d rushed into a room and opened an unlocked chest.
Five-foot spike trap and a low health mage equals funeral pyre.
Everyone took a few steps back nearer the wall. Havia concentrated, holding her hand out before her briefly. There was a shimmer of purple emanating from the bracer on her wrist, it flowed forward, quickly covering her hand from wrist to fingertip. As she lowered her hand an after image of it remained, floating, like an echo in a mirror. The spectral hand floated forward towards the chest as they all held their breath.
The fingers reached underneath the lid and slowly opened it with an ominous creak.
“So, no trap?” Utig said, as he turned to peer out into the corridor.
“And no creatures being summoned.”
Havia smiled, Quink giggled impishly and Antios stepped forward.
“Let’s see what all that bullshit we just went through got us.” He said as Havia and Quink stepped to his side. Utig stayed near the door.
As they peered in, they couldn’t help but be disappointed.
The chest was mostly empty, a scroll stood on its end in the corner, propped up by what was hopefully a small bag of coin. A leather cuirass filled up most of the chest, neatly folded and freshly oiled. Next to it, on the opposite side to the scroll, were a few potion bottles. It was a standard first level haul.
Quink reached in and picked up the bag of coin, jingling it as she did.
“At a guess, two hundred gold, maybe a bit more?” She peered inside and nodded her head.
“So far that’s three hundred in total on this level, so we’ve covered our basic expenses if we do another two levels.” She opened a small pouch at her waist and the larger bag of coins seemed to be sucked into it, disappearing with a whup.
Havia reached in and picked up the cuirass, holding it up to her chest to check the size, whilst Antios grabbed the scroll.
“This is good quality, might be magical, Quink, can you check it out when we rest later?” Quink nodded and Havia went to her backpack, strapping the armour to it.
An inspection of the scroll proved fruitless, despite having a bit of weight, it wasn’t sealed, and it didn’t look magical. Antios started unfolding it when something small fell out of it into the chest, it made an echoey thunk as it hit the bottom.
Havia returned to his side, a curious expression on her face, as the three of them stared at the sliver of metal that had fallen into the chest.
“Is that what I think it is?” Antios asked while Quink retrieved the potions.
“Well, fuck, this just got interesting.” She said, as she was unstopping and sniffing the potions.
“Emigran?” Havia asked as she crouched and picked up the sliver of soft white metal. A little over four inches long, you couldn’t call it an ingot. No one could afford an ingot of emigran! It was the toughest, rarest, most magically compatible metal on the continent. This was the largest amount of it any of them had seen in one place. Havia handed the sliver up to Quink, to stash in her bag of holding.
“Payday?” Quink muttered, as she balanced the sliver on her fingers before letting it follow the potions into her bag.
“We got another health potion, and what I think is a speed potion, what does the scroll say?” She asked, grinning impishly.
Antios cleared his throat and began to read.
“To whom it may concern, I bequeath upon you a challenge.”
They all looked at each other, rolling their eyes.
“Standard dungeon-lord bullshit?” Havia muttered, she was crouched down to the now empty chest, pulling out a dagger to tap surreptitiously at the wooden sides while Antios continued.
“Welcome to my dungeon, I’m hoping this will be the most challenging and rewarding you have ever known.” Antios laughed, Quink couldn’t help but join in.
“The balls on this one.” She said as Antios cleared his throat.
“The challenge is not only to stay alive, but also to become more than you were when you entered.
I challenge you to learn from my creation, the dying essence of all my magic has made this place, I wish upon you trials and tribulations that will test you to your very limit. Good luck and good fortune.” Antios stopped.
Havia glance up, the seriousness with which he now looked at them all was scaring her.
“What’s the issue, you ok there Antios? That’s standard dungeon bravado.”
“It’s signed.” he muttered; he had gone pale as a ghost.
“It’s signed, Meridiath.” He said holding the scroll out for them all to see.
At the bottom in bold flowing script, the signature of the God killer mage, Meridiath Lankruign.
Silence filled the chamber; they were all digesting the implications. Meridiath had led the war against the gods of chaos. He was a hero, a legend, and, more importantly, one of the most powerful mages in history. When a powerful magic user dies, be that a warrior, wizard, sorcerer or even a god, If they have used magic to bend reality there is a payoff, when you die all the magic you have ever used is funnelled into creating a dungeon, randomly, somewhere in the world.
No one knows why, no one asks why. Dungeons are beneficial, places to train and places to make a name for yourself, as well as to make a lot of coin.
The wars were long over, tourneys and dungeon crawls were used to settle disputes between kingdoms. Rumour was that Meridiath’s started it all, his would be the greatest, the toughest.
“What the actual fuck.” Havia stood up, waving over to Utig.
“Get over here shit kicker, we need to discuss this.” Utig nodded and walked over.
“What’s going on?” He clearly hadn’t heard Antios read the scroll.
“Well, we have started the oldest, hardest, most legendary bad ass of dungeon crawls. Meridiath’s. And we need to decide if we keep going or not.”
She looked around at the others, all nodding in unison.
“This shit is going to get worse the deeper we go, and it might be a long one.” Havia pulled no punches, they were all worried about the implications.
“Are we, are we good enough to do this?” Quink asked, a rare show of humility from the usually overconfident magical femme fatal.
“I think so, but this isn’t going to be like the other dungeons we’ve done.” Antios rolled up the scroll and put it in his backpack.
“Ok, we’ve got to vote, and I won’t hold it against any of you if we bail and head out, that sliver of emigran is worth more than we have earned in the last year, hell, probably more than we could earn in three years. So, we’re winning already.” He looked at them all, one by one. Keeping eye contact and nodding to make sure they knew he wasn’t jesting. He was the leader of their party making the tough calls when they couldn’t decide. Which, admittedly, was often just about which Inn to drink in.
“It’s a vote to continue, and we need to be unanimous. We risk death every time we do a quest or a dungeon, but this, this just changed the game. We beat this and we hit legend status. This dungeon will make or break us, and we can walk away now, or roll the dice.”
He put his hand in the air, smiling warmly at his friends, shaking off the seriousness of the situation.
“I for one think it’s going to be a fuck load of fun.”
Quink looked at Utig, reaching out nervously to squeeze his hand. She glanced down at Havia, smiling coyly as she raised her free hand in to the air.
“I’ve not been with you guys all that long, but you might just be crazy enough to pull this off, and you won’t get anywhere without a bit of arcane assistance.”
Utig grinned, his hand shooting up instantly.
“Live for the challenge, die for the glory.” He bellowed, then remembered they were in a dungeon possibly teeming with monsters and looked over his shoulder nervously.
Antios laughed as he looked down at Havia, cautiously tapping the sides of the chest.
“Havia, we carrying on? No one will think any less of you if you want us to head back?” He was being honest, they were all eager to prove themselves, you didn’t become an adventure without a certain healthy lack of respect for your own well-being.
She glanced up, a devilish smile on her face.
“Well, shit. I can’t say no to you fucking idiots can I. Especially when I think I’ve found a shortcut to the next floor.”
She stabbed her dagger into the base of the chest, grunting slightly as she prized up the wooden bottom to reveal a hole beneath. Carved steps disappeared down into the darkness, Utig was already picking up the bags, Antios and Quink were grabbing torches from off the wall as Havia stepped into the chest, checking for yet more traps.