They heard them entering through the west walk, a lone corridor leading to the sealed ways. Iki knew they should report the invasion to the clan elder, but watched and waited instead, fascinated by the monsters walking past their hiding place.
“You still haven’t spent your ether? Are you mad?” The blonde one with the pointy ears was obviously the leader, probably female, who knows how monsters work. She was leading the others slowly down the corridor, there was one other small monster, obviously a magic user of some kind, these were powerful monsters indeed to venture in such a small group. Their leader was concentrating on the floors and walls, sparing a look back at the one with the chest plate now and then, probably a male, his face was red, most likely embarrassed from being scolded by the leader. Iki knew the feeling.
“If you leave it too long you might get ether poisoning. Then you’re fucked.” The leader was angry, but kept her voice low, not letting it carry too far. Iki had to keep close to pick up the rest of the conversation.
“They say if you get it bad enough you lose all ability to gain ether. Your adventuring days would be over.” She had bent to disarm one of Iki’s traps. It was one of her best and Iki was a little upset at how quickly it was rendered useless. She would have to hide them better next time.
Tail twitching in frustration they shrank deeper into the shadows, being this close to monsters was scary. Iki liked setting the traps for the bone things, the dead didn’t even search for them. They just walked right into trip wires and pit falls. Iki had to do a regular circuit of their territory, checking her traps and dispatching any of the dead stuck in the pits with a practiced blow to the skull. Her spear had seen to the end of more undead than most of the warriors of the tribe. Resetting her traps and making note of which ones were not effective or needed improving was her daily routine. Until now.
Nothing had entered from the west walk for as long as the tribe could remember, but it was a standing order to trap the corridor just in case. Lucky for them that they did. Monsters were now in their territory.
Iki followed them for quite a while, noting that they did not attack the kobolds repairing the barricade in the chamber leading to the lower floor. Maybe these monsters were not the blood thirsty creatures told of in the legends? The leader was sharp eyed, easily stepping around and disarming Iki’s best traps. It was an admirable show of skill, also irritating. Iki made sure to reset the traps as they passed.
The monsters stumbled across a small patrol, the fighting that followed was fierce, fast, and final. Iki knew they would meet more of her kind, that the larger kobolds would attack any intruders on sight, as ordered, and thusly die. A plan started forming, Iki was good at plans. Leaving the monsters as they met another patrol, they took a more direct route, through one of her hidden paths towards the elder. Jiaunta would see the truth of what Iki proposed. They would see the benefit of using these monsters for the tribe’s wellbeing.
It had gone better than they had hoped, Iki sat in a small tunnel just off from Jiaunta’s chambers. The elder talked with the monsters, bargained, and finally won them to the tribe’s cause.
Then the elder beckoned Iki to enter, which was not a part of the plan.
“This one is Iki, their name is yours to use. Iki this is Antioshhhh the leader of this group, they will require a guide. You shall fulfil this duty!” The elder gestured form her heart to her head. The will of the tribe spoke through her. The honour was immense, but it meant going down into the nest of the dead. Iki bowed, stammering as they fought to get their words out.
“Elder, would not a warrior be of better use to these monsters, or one of those able to cast spells?” Iki asked in their own tongue, giving the group the side-eye as they fidgeted from foot to foot.
“They are plenty strong enough and have their own magic wielder. No, you are most suited for this, odd-ling.” The elder used the term affectionately, but Iki knew they had proven themselves too different to the others, easily distracted with exploring outside the tribe’s territory. Focusing on her traps instead of practicing magic, never coming into a season.
“Perhaps it will help you assert yourself, find a new path for the tribe?” The elder smiled, but it was that smile which told Iki there was no point in arguing. The elder was wise, and fair. Iki had skirted duty enough times to go off explore the caves, corridors and tunnels that surrounded their home. The time had come to do as told, it helped that the monsters piqued their curiosity.
“They need a guide, someone who knows the traps leading to the lower floor, this is you. Iki.” The elder asserted, turning back to the monsters, bowing low before gesturing around the chamber. They spoke clearly in the common tongue.
“Make yourselves comfortable, we shall have a meal before Iki leads you down to the nest of death.” Iki swallowed loudly and bowed towards the four creatures that had arranged themselves around the fire. The one Iki had considered the leader smiled, gesturing towards the tool belt across their chest.
“You are good with traps, and staying out of sight? Although I think I spotted you when we first entered this floor.” They put a hand to their chest.
“My name is Havia, I er, give you my name to use.” It was awkward, but Iki tried to smile back. The dread of what they were about to do was sinking in, but this one was being friendly, Iki would make the effort to return the favour.
“Thank you, yes, I maintain the traps in the walk, where I first saw you.” It was hard, getting her jaw around their words. All the smaller kobolds were gifted the common tongue, although they rarely had need of it. The words felt oddly shaped in her mouth.
“I know the less used tunnels, down to where the death comes from. The bones do not think so well, and my ways are hidden.” They were proud, and it helped lessen the dread that had crept in. Yes, Iki would guide them down and they would put an end to the death. Iki would be a hero to the tribe.
They ate a briach stew, the spell caster seemed to dislike the taste, maybe she didn’t like rat meat and mushrooms? The others ate all that was offered while the small robed one consumed some kind of bread from her pack. Once they had been fed the elder ordered a large chest of gathered treasures to be bought forward. The monsters seemed very pleased with the offering and somehow emptied the treasure into several small bags. Iki’s curiosity got the better of her when the treasures sliding into the bags greatly exceeded their apparent size.
“What magic’s are cast on these bags?” They asked of the blonde one, Havia.
“Oh, the void bags, they are expensive, magically crafted bags. Something to do with dimension magic. Quink can explain it better.” She gestured to the robed one who did not like rat meat. They were depositing small pouches of the silver bars, emigran they had called it, the kobolds had little use for it although the monsters were very pleased with the small bags they had found amongst the treasures.
“I just know I can put a lot of stuff in here,” Havia continued.
“I don’t need to worry about its weight, as long as it fits in through the top.” She demonstrated by putting her arm in the bag, up to the shoulder. It was very disconcerting to watch her arm disappear into the shallow bag. Iki couldn’t help but swish her tail in both curiosity and anxiety.
“If you ask Quink while we’re travelling together, I’m sure she will be happy to explain how they work.” The blonde one smiled and touched Iki on the shoulder, it was a friendly gesture, marred slightly by the fact her other arm was still deep in the bag. Iki had to concentrate to stop her tail swishing more.
“I shall ask, thank you.” They replied, watching with growing amazement as Havia removed her hand from the bag and pulled its fastening tight and attached it to her belt.
“No worries, it’s a shame food still spoils in them, but they make it a lot easier to delve deep dungeons, taking home more loot.” They looked guilty for a moment, and then smiled wide. Turning to the armoured one, who Iki now knew was the leader.
“Antios, do dungeon denizens know why we delve?” She asked, looking over at the leader and then back at Iki. The leader was tying their own ‘void bag’ to their pack, a small affair with a bed roll and water skin hanging from it already.
“I’m not sure, I don’t think we can treat the residents of this dungeon like any others, they have lived uninterrupted for a lot longer, establishing themselves a lot more. Developing their own ideologies, society etc.” looking up at Iki, Antios scrutinised them as they finished tying the leather cords.
“Iki, do you know why adventurers enter dungeons? Why normally we would be fighting anyone who live here?” They seemed genuinely curios, a motivation Iki could get behind, a longing to know why things work the way they do.
“I know only what was supposed to happen, what we have been told from the cracking of the shell.” Iki paused as the others turned to listen, they were paying her attention, considering her words with merit. Unlike those of her nest who considered her a failure, an outcast, the odd-ling.
“They will come, to take that which is guarded, and all will be reborn in that eternal struggle.” The words were recited by all kobolds. Some saw it as their duty to protect the treasures of the dungeon, others as prophecy, that any who fall in their duty will be hatched anew, for the next fight. Iki had their own theory. That they were like the teeth of the cogs in some of the machines she had found. Together they made a device work, fitting into the design effortlessly, moving the parts that were needed, removing the parts that were broken and replacing them with new ones. It wasn’t a perfect theory, but something about it rang true. The dungeon within which they lived was a giant machine, they were all just parts. They had personally witnessed when furniture had been taken from a chamber, to be used as firewood or for the barricades. Only to re appear within a day or two, immaculate and in the same place. It was the same for the dead, down below. No matter how many they destroyed, they kept coming, a relentless stream of bone and dead flesh. Iki thought that before they were animated, they were treated like furniture, like objects. Then something was giving them life.
“Well, yeah, that fits with what Dath was saying, that when cleared a floor will reset, or the whole dungeon can reset.” The fighter turned to his companions; they were ready to move out.
“We can talk with him about it when we find the nexus. Iki, if you wouldn’t mind showing us the way.” Without hesitation Iki led them off down the tunnels, winding their way past numerous inhabited chambers and freshly dug tunnels where the Kobolds had built their home.
“What happens to all this, when we clear the dungeon?” The caster asked quietly from the middle of the group. The biggest one, Utig, sniffed loudly and placed a hand against the carved tunnel wall.
“Maybe it will survive, because its outside the corridors?” Iki didn’t like the sound of that. What did they mean by survive? These monsters required more study, Iki needed to know more.