Paste Search Dynamic
I've Been Reborn as a Dungeon
  1.  
  2. Waking up and opening your eyes is a strange sensation when you don't have eyes... and clearly weren't asleep.
  3.  
  4. The sheer alien reality I found myself in took a good minute to process purely because I didn't understand how I was processing it.
  5.  
  6. The first thing I tried to do was blink to mixed results. It wasn't gradual from the top and bottom of my vision like I expected- instead it was a flat on/off almost like hitting a light switch. I was surprised and did so again and again to try and figure out what was wrong.
  7.  
  8. That's... weird.
  9.  
  10. I didn't know where I was either. I could see walls of natural rock around me but didn't recognize them at all. I could feel the cold stone underneath me.
  11.  
  12. The next thing I tried to do was stand up. I felt my arms move, I felt the floor beneath them, but I didn't rise from my position in the slightest. There was no feeling of weakness or inability to move- I just hadn't done so. I tried lifting my arm in front of my face to look at it but failed to do so.
  13.  
  14. Am I paralyzed?!
  15.  
  16. No- no I could move and feel. I could feel the changes in the floor beneath my hand when I moved my palm over it. The arm and hand were moving and touching- they just couldn't move my body. What about my head then?
  17.  
  18. Surprisingly it worked fine. I turned it and saw the rocky ground I was lying on. And that's when reality hit me with a cruel, cruel clarity.
  19.  
  20. I was a shadow. No metaphor or analogy- there was a shadow on the ground that had an outstretched arm and its movements matched my own: I closed my fist and the shadow did the same, I opened it up and waved and it did likewise.
  21.  
  22. But there was nobody to cast the shadow! Either I was invisible or I wasn't there at all. I watched the shadow arm intently and moved it so that it could touch my chest.
  23.  
  24. I felt nothing. The stone beneath me yes, but no flesh, no clothing, no muscle or even any heat. I'd say the experience left me lightheaded but I couldn't really feel my head anymore either.
  25.  
  26. [Tee hee, lightheaded]
  27.  
  28. Strangely, I wasn't all that panicked about this new state of existence. I could feel the anxiety building up but there was some... calming factor pushing it back down and holding it back. That same force then totally failed to hold back the wave of raw fear that came instead.
  29.  
  30. I GOTTA MOVE!
  31.  
  32. Without thinking about it- the World around me spun round and round. Rock and stone whirled around me before I managed to control myself. Even my wildest dreams had never been like this! The sensations were as clear as if I were awake but everything felt detached too in a way I couldn't describe.
  33.  
  34. I don't know how long it took me to calm down enough to really hammer out this new... I'd call it a body out of lacking a proper word but it felt wrong. I couldn't be sure how long it took me to figure out moving either. It hadn't seemed all that long to me but I couldn't trust my own senses anymore. The trick was to think like a shadow. When I thought of it as walking along the floor rather than atop it- I could move. When I wanted to turn my head I could do so but only a bit above whatever surface I was on.
  35.  
  36. The calming presence had vanished over this time but I was starting to enjoy this even without it. If this was a dream then it was one I was learning to control. If it wasn't a dream... I'd put that off to think of another time.
  37.  
  38. With actual mobility now mine to command- I... I wondered what word I would use for this? I suppose it was a slide? Could I still call it a walk? It felt like walking even though it wasn't. I slid along the floor through the cavern hoping to find something, anything, to clue me in to what was going on.
  39.  
  40. It was a nice cave I guess. I didn't see a bunch of dead animals in it or anything. It would be roomy enough if I were myself- it was a good ten feet wide from what I could judge and a bit shorter than that in height... assuming I knew up from down.
  41.  
  42. I was fairly certain I was moving along the floor and I was validated when I came across a small hole in the walls of the cavern. It looked to be maybe four feet tall or so. I slid through it and shortly after popped out the other side to come face-to-face with a wolf.
  43.  
  44. Or at least, I would've if I weren't a shadow. It was really weird but I felt like one of those cameras you could stick on a toy car and send it- my 'sight' hung around whatever surface I was on. Because I was on the floor I was technically looking 'up' at the wolf.
  45.  
  46. I could keep such calm because the wolf clearly paid no attention to me whatsoever. He was a big guy- and he was definitely a 'he'. Bigger than any wolf I'd ever seen in the zoo for sure. But even in the zoo they at least somewhat acknowledged someone looking at them- this wolf wasn't interested in me at all. From just looking at him I thought he'd be something like four feet tall at the shoulder, the same as the hole, but I wasn't sure how good my perspective was anymore.
  47.  
  48. The room seemed lit from above by some sort of orb and I didn't dare go near it- who knew what would happen to a shadow that approached a light source? I was more concerned with his shadow. I tried to touch it and felt nothing- or rather no resistance. It was no different then touching the floor. The shadow stuck with its physical body and the wolf walked over through the cave to a sort of bed that seemed constructed of ripped up leather, fur, capes, and other soft medieval junk. There were three other big wolves in here. Two of them were a bit smaller and lighter in color, females I would guess. The other big one was clearly really old, I could see the grey and even scattered white hairs covering his once-black pelt and the guy's eyes were all cloudy- I bet he couldn't see well.
  49.  
  50. There was also a group of pup wolves! for a moment I forgot my own problems as I watched the three or four smaller versions all rolling around, nipping at one another and playing, it was one of the cutest things I'd ever seen and it wasn't a video or picture- I was here!
  51.  
  52. I'm... here...
  53.  
  54. It wasn't a dream. I couldn't figure it out but somehow I wasn't me anymore. I watched the pups for a while and tried to touch them and to my surprise and joy found that I could do so. Their fur was quite soft but I realized I couldn't flatten it or move it in any fashion. The paradox of it flummoxed me as I could distinctively feel the given hairs under my hand but couldn't interact with them.
  55.  
  56. This would take some getting used to.
  57.  
  58. Aside from a small stream that the wolves drank from there was nothing else in the room and there was no additional route to follow. It was basically a dead-end the wolves had made their own. I retreated back out of the small hole and continued along my way until I came to a larger room with a flickering light that I realized meant fire. I also heard a sort of chanting! I sped into the room and quickly tried to find the source.
  59.  
  60. Goblins- or so I decided to call them. They were little green people with sharp teeth, thin fingers, pointed ears with bits of fur growing out of them. I think they probably stood all of two feet tall with their slouching posture, maybe they could work up to two and a half walking totally straight. There were roughly a dozen of them that I had difficulty telling apart. Their clothing was stitched together so crudely that flaps kept flying open before they growled and punched them back into place.
  61.  
  62. I kinda thought the wolves were ultimately cleaner too- the room the Goblins had made their camp would've been pretty cramped for the same number of humans and the Goblins hadn't made that any better by seemingly throwing discarded bits of cutlery, plates, and bones around it. The center of the room housed a roaring fire with a pot bubbling away on top of it and every now and then the biggest Goblin would reach up a big wooden spoon to taste it before gibbering something and sending all the Goblins maniacally jumping and tumbling around like some sort of lunatic clowns.
  63.  
  64. I tried to speak with them, "Hello?" But they didn't acknowledge me anymore than the wolves had. I raised my voice and repeated myself to the same result.
  65.  
  66. Calm fled me once again as I screamed as loudly as I could, "Where am I?! Can you hear me?!"
  67.  
  68. Nothing. The big Goblin pulled a hunk of what looked like meat from the pot and bit into it before growling and throwing it back in the pot. The rest of the group paid me no attention. One slugged another between the legs and the group burst into a hooting laughter as the injured one writhed around briefly before tackling his assailant into a third Goblin.
  69.  
  70. Three became five and soon the entire crew was brawling and biting at one another. I stood by the wall and tried to make sense of this strange new World I found myself in and why, why, WHY I was in it.
  71.  
  72. The combined weight of three Goblins slammed into the pot and sent its contents spilling across the floor to me. I learned two things from this. The first was that boiling and bubbling water didn't hurt me.
  73.  
  74. The second was one of the bits of meat they were cooking was a human hand.
  75.  
  76. I screamed and scrambled to back away from it as the Goblins yipped and cried at the scalding water.
  77.  
  78. "Quiet!" A voice boomed through the chamber and I spun around to see a robed figure enter the room from the same entrance I had.
  79.  
  80. He stood as tall as a human and his robes seemed to exude a dark smoke with bits of emerald flame sparking to life inside the vapor. I couldn't see a face or really much of anything underneath the robe and the smoke but twin horns came out from the sides of the hood and the green fires crawled along them as well. The clothing itself looked clean but I felt a bit sick looking at it, the smoke seemed to almost be a moving image along the robe before it emerged into a true shape beyond it. A similarly smoking gloved hand emerged from beneath the robe and pointed at the Goblins with a single downwards finger.
  81.  
  82. The Goblins unanimously fell to their knees and the biggest one hurriedly dove into a pile of fabric before pulling out what looked like a full rib-cage of a human being and a bag. I couldn't understand a word of what he said but he more or less skipped his way to the being to hand the two over to the robed entity.
  83.  
  84. Without a further word the mysterious figure took the bones and left the room. The Goblins cheered and started grabbing the bits of discarded meat from the floor and tearing into them.
  85.  
  86. I fled the room and found myself trailing just behind the robed figure. He walked until he rounded a curve in the cavern that would hide him from the Goblin den and immediately dropped to his knees. I wondered at his intent before he pulled out a bowl and started breaking the bones apart and crushing them in his fingers before sprinkling the now-fine pieces into the bowl.
  87.  
  88. "Are you going to stand there or do you want to ask questions from me?"
  89.  
  90. It took a moment for me to work out tone, everything sounded weird to me now, and it took a good second or so longer before I realized I was being addressed.
  91.  
  92. "Me?"
  93.  
  94. "Yes, you. The Shadow. I find myself in a generous mood at the moment and you are new. Do not take this opportunity lightly."
  95.  
  96. My mind raced over the wolves and Goblins and my own state.
  97.  
  98. "How did I get here?"
  99.  
  100. "You died." The dust shimmered upon contact with the bowl before burning away in a silver haze. "Your Soul was released from your normal Body and so it was seized like many others and put under my power. I then placed it within a Shadow- it is how all denizens of the Spiral Dungeon live."
  101.  
  102. “How come I’m still me then? Why are the rest of them so… different?” I couldn't believe the Goblins were people like me- or I didn't want to. 'Could' was rapidly becoming a luxury I didn't have. Anything seemed possible now.
  103.  
  104. “A simple matter.” The cowled mage continued pulverizing the bones into dust, “You are a Shadow. The Body you inhabit has no brain or physical form and so it had a very simple Spirit- simple enough that your Spirit, your personality and will among other things, could overpower it. The others however have gone to Bodies that think and have Spirits of their own and so the two clash. Most of the time the native Spirit wins and so the Soul I’ve stuck in there is consumed for raw power while the monster’s Spirit stays in control.”
  105.  
  106. I didn’t get any of that. Their Souls are consumed? Is that going to happen to me?
  107.  
  108. “Unlikely.”
  109.  
  110. Can he read my mind?
  111.  
  112. “Of course.” He carefully selected a new bone and began the process again, “You’re a Minion I created in a stronghold I have dominion over, the Spiral Dungeon. Your thoughts and speech are always visible to me in your Status Window and the Dungeon Log.” A snap of his fingers produced a scroll in a flash of light and he spread the paper over the haze to absorb it before snapping his fingers again to make it vanish.
  113.  
  114. So everyone seems to adapt but me… wait- Status Window?
  115.  
  116. The magician might be able to see my thoughts but I don’t think he got context, “Normal adventurers wouldn’t be able to see it so they can’t use the information against you. And even if they did have some manner of seeing it like the ‘Scan’ spell- your Stats, Skills, and Abilities in particular will be dark for them until they experience them.”
  117.  
  118. He paused his work and even though I couldn’t see his eyes I could tell he was looking at me from the depths of the robe, “Do you not know your own Skills? Are you not using your Abilities?”
  119.  
  120. I don’t even know what Abilities are! I mean sure I understand the word but I can’t do anything to anyone here. I can’t talk to people- I can’t be seen by people- I can’t touch people-
  121.  
  122. “Right, wrong, and only mostly wrong.”
  123.  
  124. “Well there wasn’t a manual for being a monster.” I grumble back in my defense. Is there any real difference between me ‘talking’ and just thinking?
  125.  
  126. “Not from you to me no. And a manual is not necessary because the Minions already know how to use their Abilities with their Bodies and Spirits. Apparently a Shadow like you doesn’t have enough Spirit to retain anything but the basics of being a lack of light- albeit a sentient one.”
  127.  
  128. So I can learn to talk and stuff like that?
  129.  
  130. “You can’t talk- you don’t have a mouth or vocal cords.” He reached into the fine dust in the bowl and with two fingers plucked out what looked like a shard of bloody metal to examine before tossing it away in annoyance, “Try thinking something like, ‘I want to see my Status’ and see if that works for you. If it doesn’t then you’re going to be very bored until you die.”
  131.  
  132. I did as he said. I want to see my Status.
  133.  
  134. I blinked, or well my Shadow equivalent of blinking since I didn’t really have eyes, as information started filling my mind.
  135.  
  136. It's like a game? Am I in a game?
  137.  
  138.  
  139. Minion Race: Shadow
  140. Minion Allegiance: Keeper of the Spiral Dungeon
  141.  
  142. Minion Level: 1
  143. Minion Stats:
  144. HP - 1
  145. AP - 5
  146. Atk - 0
  147. Def - 0
  148. Abi - 5
  149. Res - 5
  150.  
  151. Minion Skills:
  152. Immaterial
  153. Darkened
  154.  
  155. Minion Abilities:
  156. Shadow Strike
  157. I have one HP?!
  158.  
  159. “You’re on the 1st Floor of my dungeon and can’t be hit by anything other than magic- what did you expect? You’d gain more if you ever leveled up.” He’d apparently gathered enough bone dust and was now searching through the fallen adventurer packs. “But I receive all the experience from my Minion kills and from that pool I level some of you up at my discretion. You’ve yet to do anything to make me believe you’re worth the investment. The higher your level- the more experience the adventurers get for killing you when they trying clearing the dungeon. Though I’d also move you deeper down- ooh-” He plucked out a gem that pulsed with light and I felt myself pushed away.
  160.  
  161. Hey! Hey! Stop that!
  162.  
  163. “Ah yes I, the Keeper of this dungeon, am going to take orders from a Minion that cannot even use its Abilities.”
  164.  
  165. Please- stop!
  166.  
  167. I was being pushed farther down the cavern walls. Normal light didn’t do that but apparently magical light did. I’d never felt any such force from regular torches. It didn’t hurt but it was like a strong wind pushing against every inch of my body- and I didn’t even have a body!
  168.  
  169. “I’d just give up if you can’t fight.” The Keeper’s voice had been hard to make sense of before and now it was getting even harder with distance. “do a dance on the wall and see if some magic-user puts you out of your misery. They won’t hesitate to kill something pathetic like you.”
  170.  
  171. And something snapped. Some instinct within me, maybe the Shadow’s Spirit itself, sensed that light that was affecting me so adversely; and it lashed out at it. Of its own accord I felt my arm moving.
  172.  
  173. _Shadow Strike_
  174.  
  175. And I struck the jewel out of the Keeper’s hand and shattered it. The light vanished and silence filled the cave as I trembled in place.
  176.  
  177. I did it! I touched something!
  178.  
  179. “Of course you did. You used Shadow Strike.” He seemed unconcerned as he continued rummaging through the bag. “It’s your only method of dealing damage at your level. Luckily it was a weak gem with most of its magic expended. At your level you’d have an issue destroying anything of value.” His tone became annoyed, “Which they had none but that. No wonder they died all the way up here to the Goblins.”
  180.  
  181. The looted bag struck the section of wall I was standing on and I instinctively flinched before realizing it couldn’t touch me.
  182.  
  183. So I can touch things with Shadow Strike?
  184.  
  185. “Focus on the Ability in your Status Window. It will tell you more.” The dungeon master clapped his hands twice to get the majority of the dust off of them before gathering up the bowl and other items he wanted. “I’ve no use for a Minion that provides no service. I won’t destroy you out of spite but expect nothing else from me. Prove your worth, Shadow.”
  186.  
  187. Without another word he vanished and left me alone in the cave. I paced back and forth in the dark in panic as I tried to calm down and collect myself.
  188.  
  189. This isn’t as bad as it was five minutes ago.
  190.  
  191. Around the tenth time I repeated it to myself I had sufficiently calmed down and started believing it. I decided I should actually check out what this 'Shadow' could do. I opened my Status Window again.
  192.  
  193. Minion Race: Shadow
  194. Minion Allegiance: Keeper of the Spiral Dungeon
  195.  
  196. Minion Level: 1
  197. Minion Stats:
  198. HP - 1
  199. AP - 1/5
  200. Atk - 0
  201. Def - 0
  202. Abi - 5
  203. Res - 5
  204.  
  205. Minion Skills:
  206. Immaterial
  207. Darkened
  208.  
  209. Minion Abilities:
  210. Shadow Strike​
  211.  
  212. I noticed there was only one Ability Point left now. That didn’t seem good. By the looks of it that meant I only had one shot before I couldn’t do anything at all. I assumed there was a method for recovering AP but I’d have to wait and see about that.
  213.  
  214. I focused on my Immaterial Skill first. That was probably why I couldn’t touch anything and I needed to know how it worked. At my focus the Skill highlighted itself in my mind [the irony] and from the light new text emerged.
  215.  
  216. _Immaterial_
  217. The being that possesses this Skill is unable to be harmed by physical force and can move in an unconventional manner but is unable to exert any physical force of its own either. Only magic that can interact with Immaterial beings can inflict damage or enact most other interactions.
  218. Shadow Subtype: Magical light repulses Shadows but does not cause harm unless the light can deal damage. Non-magical light does not share this quality.​
  219.  
  220. Well that did sound kind of cool but… not being able to touch anything or even make a sound really sucked. The other Minions ignored me and the only person who’d ever reacted to my presence just told me they weren’t going to have anything to do with me unless I became stronger.
  221.  
  222. I remembered him mentioning that my Status Window wouldn’t work for adventurers and I guessed that would be the Darkened Skill so I didn’t worry about that at the moment. I checked Shadow Strike next since that looked like it would be my next… everything for the foreseeable future.
  223.  
  224. _Shadow Strike_
  225. Ability Type: Damage Ability
  226. Damage Potential: Low
  227. Damage Type: Physical
  228. Range: Melee reach
  229. Cost: 5 AP
  230.  
  231. The Shadow can reach beyond the plane it is attached to and attack a physical object.​
  232.  
  233. Huh, so it cost all of my Ability Points to use it and I had one point now? That meant I regained an Ability Point roughly every minute then. That limited me pretty hardcore to only one chance every five minutes to inflict damage on someone or something.
  234.  
  235. Still… I definitely could learn a lot just from studying this one Ability. This was pretty different from the typical games I’d played back when I was… me. I’d have to grasp this new game-like World quickly. The Dungeon Keeper had pointed out only magical damage could hurt me and that would presumably be the damage type, physical vs magical. The range was self explanatory and so was the ability type- the only thing that wasn’t immediately obvious was the potential. What else was there besides low? What was low?
  236.  
  237. The only way to find out would be to use it on someone. The thing was- I really didn’t want to do that. I suppose it would seem cowardly but my initial instinct really wasn’t to go find an enemy to attack and kill to test out an Ability. I’d played more than a few games in my time and almost all of them shared one thing in common. Some enemies could be dispatched far easier than others.
  238.  
  239. I only had one health point. And I was very unfamiliar with what I could face in combat. This previous group had been low-level according to the Keeper but that didn’t mean every group would be so weak. I had no idea what adventurers were capable of and almost no clue of how this new World functioned. Caution would be called for.
  240.  
  241. [if he only knew]
  242.  
  243.     #6
  244.  
  245. By my estimate it had been a full week since I’d spoken to the Keeper of Spiral Dungeon. At least I thought it had been that long. I didn’t get hungry anymore and didn’t need to sleep so keeping track of time wasn’t the easiest thing to do. Mainly I spent it checking out the 1st Floor of the dungeon.
  246.  
  247. In a word, simple.
  248.  
  249. I was pretty sure there was some sort of trick to get in because both ends of the dungeon ended in empty rooms. There were two big rooms with nothing in them of interest and connecting them was a curving passage with two smaller rooms in it- the wolf and Goblin dens. One of those larger rooms I had to imagine would be the entrance and the other the exit.
  250.  
  251. I figured out how to tell days apart after watching my fellow Minions for a while. The Goblins were erratic and could go from a sound sleep to a riot of screaming and smacking within seconds so their schedule left something to be desired. But the wolves were much more normal and slept for hours in a single go. Keeping track of time was difficult but not impossible so long as I counted ‘aloud’ and moved my non-existent lips. I once read that wolves sleep for up to 12 hours and I thought that was accurate to these guys as well.
  252.  
  253. When they weren’t sleeping they would pace around their cave and just… wait. Sometimes the three larger adults would seemingly play-fight complete with bared fangs and nipping at each other but I never caught sight of blood.
  254.  
  255. What I didn’t understand was I never saw any of them eat.
  256.  
  257. I mean I’d seen the Goblins and their pot but the wolves had gone to sleep seven times since then and I hadn’t seen them with scrap of food in all that time. I couldn’t bring myself to check the Goblins but I never saw them messing with the pot again.
  258.  
  259. They still loved their fire though. The thing seemingly never went out and they’d dance around it all day, every day. It was thanks to that fire that I’d actually had limited success in communicating with them.
  260.  
  261. I’d reasoned that since normal light didn’t affect me then I should be able to be recognizable if I were to stand in a place light would normally prevent a shadow from forming. It took a good few hours of trying but eventually a Goblin clearly saw my outline waving my arms on the cavern wall.
  262.  
  263. And then he looked away. I’d held his attention for all of three seconds. My other attempts went even worse. At one point I became certain they actively ignored me.
  264.  
  265. I couldn’t even commit suicide. Shadow Strike was physical damage and I couldn’t take injury from that. That was a level of depression that I had never actually thought about before. It was pretty pathetic in a funny way.
  266.  
  267. But I honestly didn’t want to die. Instead there was a certain growing curiosity about how my Soul had been locked in the Shadow in the first place. All the Keeper had said was my Soul had been ‘released’ and then shoved in here.
  268.  
  269. for all I knew I hadn’t even properly died! The Keeper had barely taken note of this fact that should be extremely important to me. Had it been a natural death? Was I hit by a truck? I couldn’t remember dying. I couldn’t remember a lot of things and it was worrying me a lot. Details of my life weren’t fading so much as pulling away from me.
  270.  
  271. I could remember having a family: a mother, a father, siblings. I had a cousin who was expecting her second child and a brother who had joined the military. But I couldn’t remember what they called me. Any memory I tried bringing up of them speaking to me had the words escaping my notice no matter how hard I tried to think of them. Any picture I tried visualizing in my mind inevitably failed to let me see myself.
  272.  
  273. It felt like the only thing I was losing was me.
  274.  
  275. It wasn’t all bad though. I think that was the only reason I hadn’t gone totally insane- I hadn’t only figured out how to communicate with the Goblins- I knew how to play with the wolves now.
  276.  
  277. The adults didn’t pay me much mind. They watched me when they were awake and weren’t seemingly training but they didn’t do anything about it- the alpha male did try to mark me but it failed and he knew it. I had the oddest feeling he smiled about it before going back to sleep that day. It was company, albeit a very passive one, better than the Goblins for sure.
  278.  
  279. The pups though- I loved those pups.
  280.  
  281. I’d used a laser pointer on cats and dogs before. Wolf pups didn’t seem to be all that different. Once they realized one particular shadow could chase them they made the most wonderful noises as they tripped and scampered over one another trying to catch me or run from me. if I encircled them in my arms then they’d roll over and seemingly give up. if they managed to catch up to me and plant a paw on me I would freeze and spread all my limbs out until another pup tackled another one and the game started all over again.
  282.  
  283. What my life, such as it was, would’ve been like without the wolves I didn’t know. The ‘Shadow’s Spirit' or whatever that was didn’t seem capable of overpowering me and just by existing I seemed to be in control without any issue.
  284.  
  285. When I wasn’t watching for adventurers or playing with the wolves- I was testing out my lone Ability and checking my Skills.
  286.  
  287. I had not noticed it before but my human hand distorted whenever I used Shadow Strike and seemed to look larger and even sharper just before it landed- like a claw. I very seriously had wondered if I headbutted someone with it- could I speak when doing so? But unfortunately it didn’t seem like I could successfully use anything but my hands with it- which was something of a bummer.
  288.  
  289. The attack didn’t seem all that powerful and I didn’t think I was all that much faster than I’d been in life- though it was difficult to compare. I felt faster but I didn’t know if I was faster.
  290.  
  291. At one point out of boredom I checked Darkened just to see the exact wording of it.
  292.  
  293. _Darkened_
  294. The Shadow being that possesses this Skill can prevent others from gaining information on it when they use Abilities, Skills, and Equipment.
  295. But once an opponent witnesses an Ability or Skill in-action such methods will succeed where formerly they failed.​
  296.  
  297. If this was a game, or a World similar to one, it seemed the Shadow was more of a stealth unit. I could hide quite easily and apparently it was hard to find out stuff about me but I couldn’t imagine a scenario where I’d win a straight fight outside of someone not having the right damage type.
  298.  
  299. How common was magical damage? No idea. What even was magical damage? No idea. Could I dodge it like an action game or was this World more like older games where I’d take the hit no matter what? I just had so little to go on… I thought the Spirit of this Shadow was supposed to already know this stuff?!
  300.  
  301. [Unless it died]
  302.  
  303. Unless it died? That might explain this- if a Shadow was so easy to kill then would it know all that much about this World? It had not occurred to me the Shadow might be every bit as new to this as I was- or even younger. It was a sobering thought. It was entirely possible I was piloting some sort of Shadow baby.
  304.  
  305. This latest train of thought was interrupted as I heard a sound I’d simultaneously dreaded and hoped to hear on the 1st Floor. I heard wind.
  306.  
  307. There was a fairly deep crack in the side of the cavern near one of the ‘starting rooms’ as I called them. It was super thin- I don’t think I could’ve fit a pencil in there if I had one. But I could fold my entire body into it and get… comfortable seemed to be the right word. I could look out into the tunnel without a problem and so far as I knew- nobody could see me in there. This was where I spent time waiting and watching for these ‘adventurers’ to come through.
  308.  
  309. I didn’t know what I would do when it happened and still hadn’t come to a decision about it. How could you make that decision? Could I kill another person? Another living being? In the week I’d spent on the 1st Floor I had never found any such determination. I privately hoped if the Goblins killed them that it would somehow still count for me. It was a sick thought but this seemed to be the World I lived in.
  310.  
  311. When I heard the wind I immediately glanced into the hall and saw what had to be the entrance opening. A series of glowing lights and connected lines appeared on the far wall and separated in a pattern along the stones to reveal a pair of metal doors that could not have been taller.
  312.  
  313. I had thought they’d open up and show me the outside- maybe even offer a way out. Instead all I could see was a kaleidoscope of shifting colors: mainly different hues of blue, green, and white, and three darker shapes steadily growing inside of it. At first they were small and rippled like everything else but as they grew larger they solidified until the adventurers stepped free of the portal.
  314.  
  315. There wasn’t even a chance to really sneak past. No sooner had they finished entering the dungeon then the doors closed and vanished with a different light sequence. So when opening the lights formed a large six-pointed star that then shifted and shrank to become a smaller one. I knew a five-sided star was a pentagram… what did that make a six-sided one? A hexagram?
  316.  
  317. At least I’d seen the entrance. That was a start. And now I could get a good look at the adventurers too. They were about what I expected- but it was good to have that happen for once this week!
  318.  
  319. For starters they were wearing fantasy gear. Only one of the two guys had armor and it seemed to be made of golden rings woven together but it was still definitely chainmail. He had a drawn sword of what I assumed was steel in one hand and a torch in the other to help light up the cavern.
  320.  
  321. His guy partner was jacked. His arm muscles were thicker than my head- or well the human one. The guy had no shirt and displayed his torso for all to see. But no matter how I looked I didn’t see a weapon on him. Presumably he fought with his fists?
  322.  
  323. But my attention wasn’t on the guys of the three- my focus almost immediately centered on the woman of the group. She had on robes of a bright green hue and in her hands she had a wooden staff as tall as she was that had a twisting cone towards the bottom.
  324.  
  325. Magic. It had to be. Not for the first time I wondered just how potent Shadow Strike would be in a fight. ‘Damage potential: Low’ did not provide confidence.
  326.  
  327. Any thoughts I might’ve had about trying to mess with them came to an immediate halt as the swordsman pointed his sword forwards- down the cave.
  328.  
  329. “Let’s go.”
  330.  
  331. The muscled man started to take off but the swordsman held him back with the flat of his blade, “Wait- Terren. Smarter- not stronger.” He tilted his head towards the female of the group, “Wait for the caster.”
  332.  
  333. The girl nodded and planted her staff on the ground. I watched with an intensity based on the very real possibility of my death standing less than twenty feet away as she began an incantation.
  334.  
  335. “Veil our sound-” I didn’t hear another word even though her lips kept moving. Was she using magic to make herself harder to hear? It must’ve extended to her allies too because the bare-chested guy clapped his hands in total silence when she stopped speaking. I’d thought it would involve more flashing lights judging by the dungeon entrance. Guess that assumption could be safely put to rest.
  336.  
  337. Without a word, at least any I could hear, the trio broke into a brisk jog as they proceeded along the 1st Floor. I waited for them to get a good bit ahead of me before creeping from my hidden niche and following them.
  338.  
  339. What am I going to do?
  340.  
  341. [Kill, hide, or die]
  342.  
  343. After half a minute or so I realized I heard something again- the Goblins. But it wasn’t the hooting and hollering I’d become so familiar with over the past week. They were screaming.
  344.  
  345. I put on a burst of speed and rounded the corner to see the Goblin Den. Whatever spell had silenced them before had faded. I could hear the adventurers just fine as they grunted and yelled in their combat. And just as quickly I heard them grow quiet.
  346.  
  347. The battle had lasted seconds at best. The swordsman cleanly bisected any Goblin his blade touched and the fist-fighter punched the biggest one hard enough that its limbs all detached in a spray of blood, the smaller ones were obliterated outright. The girl’s staff pulsed with green light and each time a sphere of liquid acid shot from it and hit a Goblin- every shot melted the flesh and bone away until a hole was burned cleanly through them.
  348.  
  349. The swordsman had noticed this and scoffed, “Leave the fodder to me and our new Monk. AP is precious and doesn’t come back all that fast at your level.”
  350.  
  351. The girl scowled and said nothing as she booted the smoldering remains of a Goblin into the fire. I circled around them so that I could beat them into the following hallway while they tossed aside the various humps and mounds of Goblin-trash in search of what I could only imagine was treasure.
  352.  
  353. It would be a sad search. The most valuable thing I’d ever seen in that room was the cooking pot. The daggers the Goblins had were rusty and dull and I didn’t think adventurers had the same use for discarded bones that the dungeon’s Keeper did.
  354.  
  355. The group shared similar sentiments as they left the Den. The swordsman didn’t seem all that put out about it, “This is only the beginning. The deeper we delve the better the experience and loot. Those are the rules. Call em as you see em.”
  356.  
  357. I had, for the briefest moment, a hope that these humans might; just might- be able and willing to help me. A stupid hope maybe but one I couldn’t shake. This hope caused me to hesitate rather than hide.
  358.  
  359. The bare-handed man smirked when he saw my still form highlighted against the wall by the torch, “Another enemy on the south wall.”
  360.  
  361. His party didn’t seem interested. The girl caster ignored him entirely while the swordsman shrugged, “Take it down and let’s keep going.”
  362.  
  363. The Monk slapped the knuckles of either hand lightly before drawing them back for a punch. I yelped and tried to move out of the way but his fists became a set of blurs as he rushed me.
  364.  
  365. The combined force of a dozen punches struck the wall I was on and I felt it split and crack cleanly from top to bottom with the very first strike. The rest of the twelve obliterated the stone around me a foot at a time until I stood in a newly made alcove more than ten feet deep. I was surprised to find myself fine- albeit I had slid under the newly made rubble as the Monk stepped into the new hall.
  366.  
  367. “I didn’t get any experience. Did I not kill it? I hit him dead-on.”
  368.  
  369. I didn’t dare move as I processed the events. Clearly he’d not used a damage type that could harm me because he sure wasn’t wrong- every hit had been right in my center. I didn’t know the classes of the other two but they still didn’t really care about me and I aimed to keep it that way.
  370.  
  371. “It’s not attacking either. Are you sure it’s an enemy? Not some visual trick?” The swordsman clearly wanted to get a move on.
  372.  
  373. “I’m sure!” The Monk was indignant, “It definitely tried getting away from my Pulverizing Palms. Have Ingritte look for it.” He reached both of his arms out to their full extent and placed a hand on either newly-made wall as though hoping he would feel me on them. Then again I didn’t know what a Monk could do- for all I knew he could. I can’t take these things for granted.
  374.  
  375. [He’s learning]
  376.  
  377. Ingritte seemed to dislike that idea, “I used a decent hunk of my AP already. I’m not wasting it on a Scan Spell for you to find one enemy that isn’t even attacking.” She raised a questioning hand to the remaining member of their party to catch his eye.
  378.  
  379. The swordsman idly drew a line in the rocky ground with his planted sword- the weapon seemed to glide through the stone like it was no barrier at all despite at least a foot of the blade being embedded in it. “It’s an Immaterial. My sword doesn’t have the right enchantment and Terren’s not high enough level for his fists to hurt everything. If Ingritte doesn’t want to use the AP then we’re going on anyways. It cost us too much gold to get here and try to beat the dungeon and I’m not surrendering the initiative to whatever dangers this place has before we get anywhere worthwhile.”
  380.  
  381. Dangers? Suddenly my mind was racing as I realized that if they continued forwards they would find the wolves and their pups. The destroyed bodies of the Goblins bothered me a bit- they were nasty and violent little guys that ate humans but they were no threat to these guys. But the wolves so far as I could tell were just animals- the pups couldn’t even hunt!
  382.  
  383. In a black blur I shot from the stones and fled along the cave bottom. I went right through the sword and noted that it was still covered in the blood of Goblins as I passed. From behind me I could hear the adventurers call out but I didn’t slow down or pay them any attention.
  384.  
  385. I had to warn the wolves.
  386.  
  387. I rounded the curves with practiced ease and found the cave they used as a den. The parents were fast asleep and the pups were rolling around and playing. Nonononono! Of the four adults only the oldest was awake- his half-blind eyes would make seeing me very difficult. And he didn’t look all that alert either because he was lying down exactly like the other grown wolves.
  388.  
  389. What could I do? Before all I’d done was chase the pups around and they’d played with me even though they couldn’t touch me. But that wouldn’t help wake the sleeping adults. I still had my Shadow Strike but smacking them awake would deal damage to them and I didn’t dare do it.
  390.  
  391. I frantically weaved between the pups and tried to startle them but it didn’t work. All they did was make the same yipping noises as before and try catching me. The elder wolf perked up an ear but otherwise didn’t move. Why should he? I’d spent a generous portion of the week playing with the pups by now and the wolves were quite used to me.
  392.  
  393. This wasn’t good. I knew the adventurers had a spell that made them silent when they walked- it’s how they crept up on the Goblins. For all I knew it worked on their scent too. The wolves might be all sorts of capable in combat but I didn’t know if they would have enough warning to get up and fight when the adventurers dove in.
  394.  
  395. My heart, or the feeling of it at least, sank as I remembered the Monk smashing his way into a solid stone wall and the swordsman cleaving through the stone like it was butter. The wolves would never win that fight. Whatever level these guys were- it was beyond that of the 1st Floor.
  396.  
  397. I could already see it happening: the Monk happily punching them into pieces, the swordsman slicing them apart, the caster throwing bolts of acid to melt them- and I didn’t think for a moment my intervention in the melee would change that.
  398.  
  399. And then I reached a decision. I had to keep them from fighting the wolves. I regretted my wavering will for the Goblins to an extent but in the future how could I just stand by and let them be killed? Nobody deserved to die just for being there. Not even Goblins.
  400.  
  401. I abandoned the pups and flitted back into the main dungeon tunnel. Sure enough I couldn’t hear the adventurers but I could see them as I approached. Their torch illuminated the ground around them but not very far- I crept along just outside the range of the light.
  402.  
  403. The swordsman was leading with the torch while the Monk followed and the girl with magic was bringing up the back ranks with her staff clutched in both hands. I matched their pace as a plan began to form.
  404.  
  405. They slowed and halted as they found the opening to the wolf den. The swordsman drew back his arm and gestured for the Monk to come forwards. The Monk, Terren he’d been called, took three steps forward and prepared to shatter the small opening to emerge into the larger cavern proper. I’d seen those fists at work already and knew they would, without a doubt, break through with ease.
  406.  
  407. And so I struck. I raced into the circle of light and rushed not at the Monk or swordsman- but the magic-user, Ingritte.
  408.  
  409. _Shadow Strike_
  410.  
  411. It was the first time I’d ever used it against a living being. I’d never really tried to attack someone like this in my life, as a Shadow or before. As such I was fairly uncertain to what extent I’d hurt her. Time seemed to almost slow to a crawl as I struck.
  412.  
  413. My clawed hand raked up from the floor and swiped at her shin- splitting the length of her robe and the trousers beneath it and the skin beneath that. Blood spurted from her leg ever so briefly before she screamed. Unlike her haughty tone from before- this was the shrill shriek I’d expect from a horror movie.
  414.  
  415. “It hit me!”
  416.  
  417. I immediately fled towards the swordsman who glowered in my direction but otherwise did nothing. His calm expression shifted into disbelief as I carefully raised either hand and, with his complete attention and light illuminating me, raised two middle fingers. I was both elated and scared beyond belief at what followed.
  418.  
  419. “Ingritte- kill it.”
  420.  
  421. And I was off. I fled down the cave and was rewarded by the sounds of pursuit. One of the perks of this form was I could ‘look’ in any direction without slowing because I wasn’t really moving and looking to begin with. So it wasn’t all that hard to watch my back so to speak.
  422.  
  423. They were all following me. Ingritte was being hauled forwards in the Monk’s arms while the swordsman kept pace with the lit torch in one hand and the sword drawn in the other. In my current state of flowing onwards while still being able to watch them with ease I noticed the injury on her leg was already healing. What had formerly been a set of cuts that I estimated had been at least an inch deep were now looking far more shallow and bleeding noticeably less.
  424.  
  425. That might be how HP worked in this world. So long as you had ‘health’ left your wounds would recover extremely quickly? I didn’t know and didn’t care to test the idea. Or rather I couldn’t- with only 1 HP there’d be no healing on my end if that was the case.
  426.  
  427. The Monk was gaining on me. I could see a sort of blur starting to form on his legs and he was in danger of outpacing the swordsman’s light. Their magic user raised her staff and pointed it towards me.
  428.  
  429. The splash of acid shot forwards and I juked to the left as it splattered along the stone floor. The rock bubbled and melted away a hole deep enough someone could plant a closed fist into it.
  430.  
  431. I had another idea and slid around until I was on the ceiling. The swordsman’s light was still close enough that I could be seen as a distinct shape but far enough away that the roof around me was growing dark. Ingritte’s wound looked raw but was no longer bleeding and she fired at me again.
  432.  
  433. This time I lunged to the right and was rewarded with the acid biting into the ceiling and dripping towards the ground ten feet beneath me. Terren and his magic artillery ran past without concern while the swordsman slowed slightly to avoid the spray.
  434.  
  435. There were some amazing perks to this Immaterial thing. I definitely appreciated now why I had so little HP or defense values. Not only was I tremendously free beyond the normal limits of a body, nothing physical could really impede my movement and I wasn’t getting tired at all.
  436.  
  437. However that didn’t mean I could see in all directions at once. I discovered this when I abruptly found myself snapping around the edge of a doorway as I reached a much larger cave that I had spent little time in. The unexpected change from a horizontal to vertical plane disoriented me for a moment. Luckily this confusion took place at an angle where I was nearly impossible to attack from directly below. I caught my bearings and noted we'd reached my goal.
  438.  
  439. The biggest room. I felt an instinctual knowledge reach me for the first time since I’d activated Shadow Strike against the Keeper. Boss Room. A room with an enemy that would only spawn when adventurers entered it.
  440.  
  441. I’d never really hung around in here much because it was empty. It was a big enough room I guess- I could easily park three school buses lengthwise in here without them touching and maybe half that in width. The ceiling, as I rapidly found out, was twice as high as the cavern we’d just come out of. But inside it was a flat expanse of rock- or so it had seemed whenever I came in here.
  442.  
  443. Now though- a circle of magic had appeared and was glowing in the center. The adventurers had reached the entrance and seen it as well. Ingritte’s leg looked fine and she pointed at the center of the room and announced the obvious.
  444.  
  445. “Get ready! This might be a real fight!”
  446.  
  447. Terren punched both his fists together knuckle-first and took up a position in front of her. The swordsman meanwhile tossed his torch aside and gripped his weapon in both hands and stepped forwards in turn- the room was well-lit enough by the circle that the torch was pointless.
  448.  
  449. I genuinely had no idea what would happen next. They clearly could defeat the Goblins and wolves with ease, and it suddenly registered that I wouldn’t be able to inflict lasting harm either, but I’d never seen a Minion or a supposed Boss in this part of the dungeon. It could be anything. I’d learned to conjure up only specific sections of my Status Window and took the chance to check while they were distracted.
  450.  
  451. Minion Stats:
  452. HP - 1
  453. AP - 0/5
  454.  
  455. Zero? Geez- it had felt like they’d been chasing me forever but apparently it hadn’t even been a full minute yet!
  456.  
  457. The circle completed and with a pulse of light it vanished and left the Boss of this level in its place. I had no idea what it was. The wolves and Goblins were creatures I knew of in theory if not practice but this was new to me.
  458.  
  459. It looked like a really big worm. I estimated it was taller than two humans stacked atop one another and it was thick as a human torso the whole length of it. It didn’t have any noticeable features either- it was smooth from the front to the back. Its skin was covered in a weird sheen that reminded me of sunlight reflecting off of oil.
  460.  
  461. It also dove into the ground with a sound that I could only describe as, ‘Slurrrrp’. In the blink of an eye the entire length of the thing disappeared into the ground without even leaving a hole behind.
  462.  
  463. The trio spread out slowly as they waited for it to return. Ten seconds passed and they crept further and further apart. The swordsman went left around the wall and the Monk went to the right. Ingritte took smaller and more ginger steps and so stayed relatively near the entrance.
  464.  
  465. Is the thing going to fight?
  466.  
  467. ‘Slurrrp!’
  468.  
  469. From beneath Terran the worm shot straight up. His fists blurred and he let off a series of punches but only one connected before he’d been pushed too far through the air to land the rest.
  470.  
  471. Ingritte didn’t attempt to shoot the worm and for good reason. It was falling through the air directly towards her. She gave a shriek and dove for the door in time to avoid it as it vanished into the ground again without a trace.
  472.  
  473. I felt somewhat upstaged- this thing could swim through rocks while my greatest trick was crawling on a wall. I giggled at the idea but it’s not quite the same when it doesn't involve noise.
  474.  
  475. Ingritte regained her feet and yelled across the room, “How can I shoot it underground?”
  476.  
  477. Terren punched the floor and just as before broke a section of stone out of it with the single blow, “If I break enough of it then it’ll come out!”
  478.  
  479. That sounds… not entirely stupid.
  480.  
  481. The worm didn’t disagree with him either. It popped up right behind the group’s mage and slammed into her side. Ingritte went sprawling and I heard a cracking sound when she landed on her arm. I didn’t think elbows bent backwards naturally- how hard could this thing hit?
  482.  
  483. But more alarming than her fall was the effect on her staff and robe. Wherever the worm had touched it had left that slick and said slick was causing the equipment to turn to dust! I was stunned as her staff in less than a second had dwindled to a stick shorter than my forearm and an entire section of her robe around her midriff had disappeared.
  484.  
  485. The worm immediately resurfaced near Terran and the two were trading hits- I could almost feel the impacts as the Monk punched the Boss and it in turn fought by hurling its mass into him.
  486.  
  487. I saw the swordsman heft his blade and move in. I still didn’t have enough AP but I figured I had another trick I could pull. I rushed straight down the wall at him from an angle so I could ensure he saw the motion in his peripheral vision.
  488.  
  489. Sure enough he immediately checked himself and backed away from me as he waited for an attack that never came. I had nothing left. He didn’t know that.
  490.  
  491. The Monk shouted across the room but it was too late. The worm hadn’t even hidden in the ground but instead thrown itself through the air to crush the swordsman beneath its bulk. I had only one last glimpse of his eyes and snarling face burning themselves into my memory before he had a massive moving oil slick crush him into the ground.
  492.  
  493. The good news, for him, was he lived through it. The oily worm dove back into the ground and left a man-sized outline about half an inch in the rock. The bad news was the worm destroyed his sword and armor. Small golden rings scattered across the floor and all he had left of his weapon was the hilt.
  494.  
  495. I found the battle hard to watch at that point but couldn’t look away in a morbid fascination and even need. Information about the ‘game’ was no longer a luxury for me- it was survival. I had to know how death worked- for everyone.
  496.  
  497. The Monk died first- the worm steadfastly ignored the other two and only fought him until his fists slowed and he eventually fell to the ground and moved no more. Unlike the equipment it dealt with earlier- the worm’s colorful juices didn’t do anything to bare skin that I could tell.
  498.  
  499. The disarmed swordsman had fled the room while Ingritte seemed unable to inflict any meaningful harm to the worm with her bare hands- though I suppose to her credit she was trying even with one arm broken. It had visibly recoiled whenever Terren struck it- it did no such thing for her. It almost lovingly seemed to curl around her and lift her from the ground as it squeezed her similar to a python.
  500.  
  501. I heard howling from beyond the room along with a blessedly brief scream of pain and realized the wolves had seemingly awoken and begun their hunt. Without a weapon I strongly doubted the swordsman had survived the encounter. I'd check on them to be sure but if I had anyone to make the bet with- I'd definitely wager on the side of the wolves eating tonight even if they didn't need to.
  502.  
  503. Eventually Ingritte stopped struggling and I couldn’t see any of her from beneath the worm but a single bared foot. It convulsed once or twice before being sucked underneath the coils and I closed my eyes as a different sort of cracking noise reached me. I’d seen a lot of things today- a giant worm eating someone didn’t need to be added to that list.
  504.  
  505. A cough reached me and I opened my ‘eyes’ to behold the Keeper standing in front of me with his arms crossed.
  506.  
  507. “At least you tried to be a Minion. It’s progress. The wolves would probably be quite thankful if they knew what you did. Strategy has its own place alongside strength.”
  508.  
  509. I… I don’t want to hurt people.
  510.  
  511. “This is a dungeon. Adventurers come here specifically to kill Minions like you. Drop the cowardice unless you want to end up like the Goblins. There’s a time and place for your talents and I expect you to work on finding them.”
  512.  
  513. The worm drifted over halfway submerged in the ground. I didn’t see either of the two adventurers anymore. I initially worried but its touch did nothing to the Keeper and it nudged his leg like a begging dog.
  514.  
  515. I had to get more information out of him! But of all the questions perhaps one of the most stupid jumped to the top of my mind before I could stop it.
  516.  
  517. I don’t get it- why is the 1st Floor Boss so hard? The worm had seemingly been able to deal with all three adventurers with ease but I had a hard time believing any one of them would’ve had all that much trouble taking out the entire floor aside from the Boss.
  518.  
  519. “Because it’s efficient. Adventurers that don’t bring spare equipment or items for repairing and protecting it or reliable methods for gauging their enemies suffer drastically if the Ruin Worm manages to touch them. In addition it’s invaluable against a party that cannot work well together. if they cooperated then all they would need is one party member to survive the initial assault and then attack it with their combined might before it escapes.”
  520.  
  521. I believed I understood the principle the Dungeon Keeper was talking about. Even though the three of them traveled and fought with one another- they didn’t actually exercise teamwork all that well beyond that sneaking spell. They’d not attempted to do anything but stand apart and fight.
  522.  
  523. “There’s hope for you yet.” He raised a hand and gave the worm a few friendly pats before it vanished in a reversed circle of magic similar to when it had appeared. “There’s more to being a team than fighting in proximity to one another against the same enemy. if they wanted to fight separately then they could die the same way.”
  524.  
  525. I didn’t talk or think back immediately. I felt… heavier. for the first time since learning how to move- I didn’t feel weightless at all.
  526.  
  527. I wasn’t happy with my reaction to the deaths of the party- or the lack thereof. They could’ve been entirely nice people outside of attacking the dungeon but I’d decided the wolves deserved to live more. Who was I to make that decision? I never even learned the swordsman’s name but I had tricked him to his death.
  528.  
  529. “You’re whining more than I require.” The Dungeon Keeper shook his cowled head back and forth slowly, with each movement the green flames swayed with him. “Nobody forces these adventurers to come here. They come of their own volition and know the risks. This is why the contract of the dungeon exists.”
  530.  
  531. There’s a contract? Like something they sign?
  532.  
  533. It was still quite hard to get things like a voice’s tone and pitch when I heard them but I thought I detected a sigh, “It’s not a written contract but a rule of magic backed by the World this dungeon exists in. Because they enter under their own power and with the full understanding of what the dungeon entails- they agree to the conditions and are bound by certain rules.”
  534.  
  535. So if they didn’t accept…
  536.  
  537. “The first tunnel they enter would be a dead-end without doors. No Goblins, no wolves, and no Shadows.” The Dungeon Keeper brought either hand together as though he intended to drink from them and I saw for but a moment a glimpse of multi-colored lights before a bunch of them sped off down the tunnel and the vision vanished. “Your Goblin friends will be back soon. if you’re so keen on only the wolves then you can keep protecting them as you please- the Goblins won’t care that you fled. They’d have done the same if you swapped places.”
  538.  
  539. I focused my thoughts to make sure the Dungeon Keeper could see them clearly. What happens to them when they die? To the Soul you used for them?
  540.  
  541. “The Soul is consumed for them to be reformed in the first place. Even your Soul sitting in that Shadow is slowly being utilized for energy. When they die their Soul goes on and I must use another. That is the source of Spiral Dungeon’s power. That is what happens when a Minion dies.”
  542.  
  543. Why? I thought more to myself than in attempted conversation to the Dungeon Keeper. Why do the Minions need Souls of people from other Worlds? Are Souls that integral to them? And what happened to their Souls in the first place to need replacements?
  544.  
  545. By the time I looked up from my inner thoughts the Dungeon Keeper had vanished. There had been no answer. I made my way to the Goblin den and came upon them happily hooting and hollering as they tumbled about like children across their blankets. I couldn’t properly feel hot and cold anymore but a chill still crept into my chest as I looked upon what was almost certainly a dozen new Souls ripped from another place and time and shoved into the Goblins… all to die again if the next group of adventurers were remotely competent.
  546.  
  547. I fled to my little crack in the wall and curled into as small a shape I could. The last thing I saw before I shut my ‘eyes’ tight was my Status Window informing me I had reached level 2.
  548.  
  549.     #18
  550.  
  551. It wasn’t easy keeping track of time as a Shadow. Even less so when you’re hiding in a hole with your eyes closed.
  552.  
  553. But it turned out walls of roaring fire grabbed your attention just as easily as a Shadow. Had I not been compacted so small in the crack I’d taken to calling my home- I would’ve been struck with a rippling flame that almost deafened me as it ripped past.
  554.  
  555. I couldn’t even see for all the smoke that remained behind it. The sound of armored footfalls reached me but I didn’t dare leave my refuge to investigate until they were long gone. Once I was certain they’d progressed I left the shelter and looked into Floor 1 properly.
  556.  
  557. It was black. Almost every inch of stone was scorched to a darkness similar to my own. My mind initially rebelled at the thought. The previous adventurers hadn’t been nearly capable of this!
  558.  
  559. I followed the cavern to check on the Goblins, though I held little hope of them surviving. Luckily the sense of smell was something I could sort of ‘turn off’ as a Shadow along with the others because there was no doubt in my mind the smell of burned Goblin would be the stuff of vomit-inducing.
  560.  
  561. Though come to think of it- I couldn’t vomit anymore.
  562.  
  563. for once my expectations matched my new reality perfectly. When I arrived at the Goblin Den I found nothing more than charred bones and a few burning fragments of leather and canvas. Even their precious pot that two Goblins could’ve comfortably fit in had been melted into a pool of molten metal, copper from what I knew of such things, though it was starting to solidify again.
  564.  
  565. I sped along on my way and dreaded what I would find waiting for me. Simultaneously it took forever to reach the hole in the wall for the wolves but I saw it all too soon when it was clear that the inferno had not spared their home. I listened at the entrance for anything: scratches, yips, howls, barks, even whimpers… nothing. I heard nothing at all.
  566.  
  567. It wasn’t fair. How could they have even tried to survive this? Was this really the life of such a weak Minion? Endlessly oneshot by adventurers that came rolling through?
  568.  
  569. There was an anger growing in me. It was terrifying in the respect that I knew it wasn’t just mine, the Shadow was enraged as well, there was a certain unison of anger between us and a fused purpose emerged.
  570.  
  571. Adventurers need to die.
  572.  
  573. In a silent wrath I zipped down the hall until I came to the Ruin Worm’s room. while it was burned black like the rest of the 1st Floor- the worm itself bore no burn marks whatsoever. It had instead been sliced cleanly in half from end to end.
  574.  
  575. In the center of the chamber I saw a hole in the ground that had not been there before. That must be the exit to get to the 2nd Floor.
  576.  
  577. Could I go down it? Was it possible for me to follow them? My caution was still standing strong and so I didn’t immediately descend but circled the hole twice as I listened. No sound reached me of panted breathing or orders or spells so I took the metaphorical plunge and slid down the sides of the hole.
  578.  
  579. The drop was longer than I had imagined. I probably dipped a good 50 feet downwards before reaching the ‘ground’.
  580.  
  581. No longer was I in a cavern. When I looked up I oddly couldn’t see any sort of roof or ceiling. It was dark yes but not the grey of dimly-lit rock that I was familiar with. It looked like… the night sky.
  582.  
  583. What sort of magic fuckery is this? 50 feet up should be stone- not sky!
  584.  
  585. But there would be time for that later. I had adventurers to find.
  586.  
  587. Soon I saw green and momentarily shied away before spotting trees too. Actual trees underground! I slid over the grassy ground and wondered where the adventurers must’ve gone and what they fought down here. I didn’t see any bodies or signs of battle.
  588.  
  589. The trees looked similar to the ones I remembered being in the wooded area behind Drew’s home- I even saw the odd evergreen growing with needles and pine cones all over the ground.
  590.  
  591. There was a beaten path between the trees and I followed it. I remembered Drew had warned us about getting lost in his woods. “Look for the sun or familiar landmarks. if you get lost then stay still so I can find you.” The memory even as I thought about it pulled away from me.
  592.  
  593. Drew was still there, his goofy grin and poorly-maintained stubble was there, his wooden house with a functional chimney complete with smoke coming out was still there… but I wasn’t. I didn’t know why he was telling me those things. Was he my friend? A friend of the family? A neighbor?
  594.  
  595. What was worse, if I could say that, was that I couldn’t actually feel upset about it. I knew it wasn’t reality as I remembered it but that was the extent of the worry. I couldn’t process it.
  596.  
  597. “What’s the matter, Shadow? Lost?”
  598.  
  599. I came to a dead halt and spun my sight around to try and find the source of the voice. The woods were no more lit than the caverns of Floor 1, lighter than an overcast night but not by much, and I could see nobody around me.
  600.  
  601. An odd notion of being a Shadow is that you can’t really crouch or attempt to make yourself smaller. You can curl in on yourself like if you had a real body but the best you could do was minimize your profile.
  602.  
  603. I didn’t return to a fetal position but I did tighten up my shoulders before taking shelter near the bottom of a tree. I saw what looked like weird white needles the length of my finger sticking out of it and took care not to touch them as I kept the wooden barrier to my back while eyeing my surroundings. I had no idea what could be down here.
  604.  
  605. “Awww is he scared?”
  606.  
  607. “He shouldn’t be- we can’t hurt him.”
  608.  
  609. “Lucky for him.”
  610.  
  611. There were three voices. Pitch and the like was difficult to ‘hear’ as a Shadow but I felt I was improving at it. How they spoke also differed though I was pretty sure they were female.
  612.  
  613. “Silly. Don’t you know what we do?” The highest pitch also seemed to be either a child or else an adult that was talking down to me. I wasn’t sure which would be worse.
  614.  
  615. The middling pitch seemed to be interested in helping me, “We can’t read minds so if you can’t speak to us then it’ll be hard to communicate. But we can see in the dark so you’re not actually hidden down there.”
  616.  
  617. Down meant they were above me. Either in the tree or flying. However I still couldn’t see them.
  618.  
  619. “He clearly doesn’t, you can feel how confused he is.” The lowest voice was the calmest and least interested in me as she responded to the highest pitch. Frankly, I was fine with that.
  620.  
  621. I was confused yes, they said they couldn’t read minds but they knew how I felt, how did that work?
  622.  
  623. “We’ll tell youuuuuuu.” The highest voice drew out the last word, “But first you’ll have to do something for us.”
  624.  
  625. To say I was desperate would be stretching it. I actually felt better than I had in quite some time and the idea of ignoring them and going on out of spite was growing on me.
  626.  
  627. I acted on this impulse. Without further contemplation I started moving along the path past where I heard the voices. I’d have smiled if I had lips when I heard a decidedly frantic bunch of gasps and curses before the voices caught up to me.
  628.  
  629. “Alright, alright, you want to talk right? We’d like to chat too! We can make everyone happy!” High Pitch seemed easiest to provoke and the most chatty of the group.
  630.  
  631. I helpfully crawled up a tree and placed my hands behind my head as if reclining against it. Maybe not everything down here was as complex as I thought.
  632.  
  633. I couldn’t see the voices but they sounded closer. Low Pitch spoke first.
  634.  
  635. “We’re Pixies. One of our Skills is we can see into people’s hearts.”
  636.  
  637. Middle Pitch broke in, “Not literal hearts or else we wouldn’t get anything out of an Immaterial like you. Think of your memories and feelings as one thing, a Spirit. It’s got other parts too but we mostly just get the feelings.”
  638.  
  639. “So we knew you were confused!” I had a distinct feeling if I still had ears, the highest pitch would’ve caused me a headache. “So if you want to chat we can! Just don’t ignore us like the adventurers did! It makes me so mad!”
  640.  
  641. I didn’t know how to make ‘encouragement’ a feeling so I stayed still and tried to think to myself about how I wanted to hear about the adventurers. What was the worst that could happen? That my Spirit felt clueless?
  642.  
  643. Either it worked or they didn’t need anything from me to keep talking. Middle Pitch was back in the lead, “Our arrows just bounced right off of their armors and shields. The most they did was look down to see what hit them and then they just continued on their way! It was rather unfair.”
  644.  
  645. I remembered the small white needles I’d seen in a tree. Arrows perhaps? if so Pixies in this world were pretty small to fire such tiny weapons. I’d bet that good enough armor would totally block them and this suspicion seemed confirmed judging by their frustrations.
  646.  
  647. But that puzzled me to some extent. I wasn’t the greatest historical expert but I knew about avoiding armor. I carefully took both hands and pointed at my head. I even turned profile so I could indicate my eyes specifically.
  648.  
  649. “He must be new.” Low Pitch sounded disappointed, “Listen, if they’ve got armor then they’ve got helmets too, you just can’t always see them. It’s one of the Spiral Dungeon rules.”
  650.  
  651. That… wasn’t actually the most surprising thing I’d heard since entering this new World. Oh it made all sorts of nonsense when I thought hard about it but in the sense that this place clearly to some degree acted like a game- I could well imagine helmets being both there and just invisible or the like.
  652.  
  653. However I needed to learn and my methods of communicating were few. Even if I knew sign language, and I didn’t, it wouldn’t be helpful if the other Minions didn’t know it. Frustrating pitches or not- the idea of actually having a group I could converse with had substantially lifted my hopes of being stuck in this World.
  654.  
  655. How to do it…
  656.  
  657. They could see me- I’d have to work with that. Carefully and precisely I pointed at myself and then raised a single finger. One.
  658.  
  659. I followed this with pointing upwards, in the direction I supposed they would be in, and raised two more fingers. Three.
  660.  
  661. Finally I pointed down the path with one hand while making a ‘walking’ motion with two fingers of the other before raising both hands in a shrug.
  662.  
  663. I’m one. You’re three. How many walked past?
  664.  
  665. The Pitches had a whispered conversation that I couldn’t quite hear. Seconds passed before they grew louder and I realized they’d likely been flying away from me to keep the conversation secret.
  666.  
  667. Middle Pitch seemed the leader, or at least the designated speaker regarding me, “We counted six adventurers that ran past. Once they leave the wooded area we don’t follow them- our powers fade the farther from the forest we are.”
  668.  
  669. Now that was interesting. Some Minions needed certain environments to be at their best? I’d never felt anything like that as a Shadow but this was, and would continue to be, a new World that I didn’t understand.
  670.  
  671. Low Pitch sounded amused, “He’s working his way through it. Best leave him on his way if he’s interested in chasing them. if he lives he knows where to find us.”
  672.  
  673. I nodded to myself and the movement somewhat startled me as High Pitch laughed in response. I’d grown too used to being ignored.
  674.  
  675. “Okay then- bye!”
  676.  
  677. “It was nice meeting you.”
  678.  
  679. “So long.”
  680.  
  681. And then they were gone, theoretically at least. Pixies must be pretty uppity to show up and rapid-fire question and answer before speeding off. It would fit with what I knew of small creatures though. The smallest dogs always seemed to be hysterical little bundles of energy compared to the bigger ones.
  682.  
  683. They hadn’t mentioned any other Minions though or a Boss. Though admittedly I didn’t have the chance to ask. But the sheer fact that I’d successfully communicated with someone did absolute wonders for me.
  684.  
  685. I could move through the dungeon. I could converse with people. I almost wanted to thank the adventurers for helping me figure this out. Right before I ensured their deaths.
  686.  
  687. [Such bloodlust]
  688.  
  689. Absent the Pixies- I continued along the path in the woods. Soon enough the trees vanished and the grass gave way to rock… black rock. Dark and jagged rocks. These weren’t stones like I had on Floor 1.
  690.  
  691. Walls had returned too- made of the same material. A ceiling too. I wondered if magic was responsible for this sort of thing or my attention was becoming too focused on the adventurers.
  692.  
  693. I took a moment to stop and collect myself. I was here, on the 2nd Floor. Adventurers had torched the 1st Floor in one go. Such power was likely enough to destroy me easily- I needed to be careful. Almost immediately I began to feel calmer and the World around me seemed to grow a bit more solid as I did so. The tension started to leave me, insofar as a Shadow could have tension I guess, and I stretched my arms and body in different directions before continuing on my way.
  694.  
  695. The rocky hall was too round and uniform to be natural. Minus the jagged edges- it looked to be a straight line too. An open invitation to proceed.
  696.  
  697. Eventually I came to an open room that matched the dimensions of Ruin Worm’s Boss chamber on the 1st Floor. There was another hole in the center just as before- the adventurers had already gone on.
  698.  
  699. Next to the hole was a bright-red body. I’d call it a demon by any of my existing standards. Its skin was red save the center of the chest where a hole had been blown straight through it, it had clawed black fingers, a pair of tiny and ripped wings, and even a pair of thin horns just above its eyes.
  700.  
  701. The last part took a moment longer to check because the head was a good fifteen feet away from the body. The Boss of the 2nd Floor had been killed already. The trail of blood that covered the entire distance between the body and severed skull wasn’t as bright as the skin but was darker and if I strained I thought I could detect the slightest ripples above them- like air on a hot day.
  702.  
  703. The fact that the head rolled over and spoke to me after I’d confirmed his death proved that this world still had plenty left to scare me with.
  704.  
  705. “Apologies for the mess.”
  706.  
  707. “AAAAAAAAH!”
  708.  
  709. “Oh don’t scream, it’s unbecoming of a Shadow, save that act for the Banshees and Sirens.” The head began rolling back to the body and reattached itself without issue. The demon climbed to his feet and brushed at his chest- the hole in it vanished and scraped off like it was nothing more than dirt.
  710.  
  711. “Demons heal like that?”
  712.  
  713. “Daemon, not demon, use your own Skills to find things out and stop being rude.”
  714.  
  715. My Skills- wait that’s right I’d gained a Level. Had that given me a new Skill? I checked my Status Window and the Skill section.
  716.  
  717. Sure enough- Level 2 had given me a new Skill.
  718.  
  719. _Shadow Read_
  720. The being that possesses this Skill can see the Status Window of those it observes the shadow of. Those without shadows such as Immaterials cannot be seen in this manner.​
  721.  
  722. How did it work though? It wasn’t an Ability so I didn’t activate it. I glanced at his shadow and thought to myself, ‘Status?’
  723.  
  724. Sure enough, a Status Window popped up but for him, not me.
  725.  
  726. Boss Race: Daemon
  727. Boss Allegiance: Keeper of the Spiral Dungeon
  728.  
  729. Boss Level: 8
  730. Boss Stats:
  731. HP - 0/50
  732. AP - 50/75
  733. Atk - 15
  734. Def - 15
  735. Abi - 30
  736. Res - 35
  737.  
  738. Boss Skills:
  739. Blood Priest
  740. Burning Body
  741.  
  742. Boss Abilities:
  743. Flaming Blast​
  744.  
  745. He's got no HP left- but he's fine? How's that work?
  746.  
  747. He’d fixed his body and looked towards the entrance of the room and the shadows on the walls that I’d hidden in.
  748.  
  749. “Shadows gain Shadow Read at Level 2. You would not be able to reach this Floor if you didn’t have the level.”
  750.  
  751. I had to be sure of something given the recent Pixie chat. Questions about Skills and Abilities- and HP because I was very interested about that- would have to wait.
  752.  
  753. “But you can talk to me? And hear me?” I’d work out how awesome Shadow Read was later- this Floor had people I could talk to! I wondered if I could simply stay down here? I’d miss the wolves but being able to talk to other people would be a very worthy exchange.
  754.  
  755. “I can speak with any who spill blood.” The demon- Daemon- responded. “Though yours is admittedly one of the faintest voices I have yet heard. So… innocent.”
  756.  
  757. I didn’t like the way he said that last word. Though my worry of his choice of tone and grammar was dwarfed by the radical changes going through his body as I watched him.
  758.  
  759. When I had first met him he’d been rather small- the size of a ten year-old or so. His wings were small enough that he could hide them behind his back and his overall physique had been thin and without muscle.
  760.  
  761. Now though? He was swelling before my eyes in every dimension. The slim spikes on his head had gone from a pair to an entire set of horns ringing his crown- each thicker by itself than a human skull. His height had grown to match- he was probably ten feet tall or more even without the horns. With a clap of what sounded like thunder tinged with what I swear were human screams his wings stretched and thickened until each was wider than he was tall- and they looked to be far sturdier, almost armored, compared to their thin membranes from prior. The same armored scaling reached the extremes of his clawed hands and feet too along with spreading across his torso.
  762.  
  763. “I will give you one warning and one only. Trust me not- nor any other Boss or Minion you find. The Spiral Dungeon is not so simple as enemies and allies.”
  764.  
  765. He clenched his fist several times as though testing it and I watched the blood-red muscles bulging in the limb from the efforts. Even his voice had deepened and there was an undercurrent of crackling flames I could hear- even see with short gusts of fire emerging from his mouth as he chuckled.
  766.  
  767. “Do not worry, small Shadow. They’re strong and armed themselves well- I expect them to reach the 25th Floor. There is nothing to gain in me fighting you.”
  768.  
  769. I kept to the dark parts of the room as my Shadow Read Skill allowed me to read his rapidly rising Level.
  770.  
  771.  
  772. Boss Race: Daemon
  773. Boss Allegiance: Keeper of the Spiral Dungeon
  774.  
  775. Boss Level: 30
  776. Boss Stats:
  777. HP - 500
  778. AP - 1,000
  779. Atk - 50
  780. Def - 50
  781. Abi - 85
  782. Res - 75
  783.  
  784. Boss Skills:
  785. Blood Priest
  786. Blazing Body
  787. Crossbreed Commander
  788.  
  789. Boss Abilities:
  790. Teleport Glyph
  791. Flaming Barrage
  792. Blood Boil
  793. Telekinesis​
  794.  
  795. He’d more than doubled his Stats! This seemed like information I didn’t dare pass up the chance to learn. Was it a Boss perk? Or was it something even I could do? But how to phrase it… he’d openly warned me not to trust him but was that something that made him honest or a warning that he’d backstab me without hesitation?
  796.  
  797. I missed worrying about homework. I really did.
  798.  
  799. The Boss seemed happy with his new form and a red glyph of magic appeared in the air behind him. That must be his teleporting ability- I couldn’t let him leave yet! Planning a more sophisticated question fell by the wayside as I blurted out the words.
  800.  
  801. “Wait- how did you get stronger?”
  802.  
  803. Embers and sparks fell from his grinning mouth as he looked to the dark corner I had hidden myself in. This Daemon might not know exactly where I was but he had an idea. One of his clawed hands pointed downwards to the rest of the Spiral Dungeon below.
  804.  
  805. “My true strength is that of a Boss for Floors in the 20s. However I was challenged by another for my domain and so was pushed deeper into the Spiral Dungeon. My opponent consolidated his power too quickly, damned raven, and I cannot defeat him.”
  806.  
  807. “Being on a lower Floor doesn’t make you stronger than him?”
  808.  
  809. The Boss of Floor 2- and apparently another besides- snarled. White-hot streams of what I assumed were spit hit the ground and hissed, “Strength is not without counter. One can be stronger yet also weaker.”
  810.  
  811. My mind raced at this new information, “I can’t follow those adventurers then? My job is done?” On the whole it made sense but it still seemed surreal. If they got past me I basically just gave up? Sometimes I'd just have no real influence on them?
  812.  
  813. “I give you my name,” the Daemon grinned, “Abyssen. Seek me out later and I can teach you much about the dungeon. Till then sit still and wait to see if the adventurers end this World or not.”
  814.  
  815. He vanished through the glyph without another word. There was a flash of light that repelled me and forced me into the wall and then that too had vanished.
  816.  
  817. Well this was exciting and terrifying at the same time. I could go to the 2nd floor and talk to Pixies and Daemons- what was the difference between Demon and Daemon anyways? Not to mention he'd kinda turned the entire game on its head so to speak. Zero HP and he was fine- even boosting his Level from it! I had a lot of opportunity to learn in my future it seemed. He even made it sound like he would get another chance to fight the adventurers.
  818.  
  819.    #20
  820.  
  821. It had not occurred to me in my previous life just how much time the Minions and Bosses in a dungeon would spend just waiting.
  822.  
  823. Of course it made sense when I thought about it. This World was basically a dungeon simulator complete with living beings. If adventurers only came through once in a week then the Minions apparently just sat around and did nothing.
  824.  
  825. But what of this new Boss? This Daemon? Bosses weren’t always present on the Floors like Minions seemed to be so did that mean they had somewhere else to be? Abyssen had implied another Boss had literally kicked him out of his original position and that, presumably, had not happened with adventurers present.
  826.  
  827. One thing was for sure- I’d have my thoughts in order when he returned. Understandably I’d been flustered the last time and it was a mistake I couldn’t keep making. The rage I’d felt earlier was not far from my mind either- I’d never felt such a raw fury like that before. It wasn’t the heated anger of the moment but colder, meaner, darker… like a Shadow.
  828.  
  829. I didn’t like that thought. I didn’t like that thought at all. That last mention of the World ending didn’t sound very appealing either.
  830.  
  831. Luckily, or perhaps not, it was not long before the burning glyph appeared and Abyssen returned. He’d shed the massive form I’d seen him depart as and returned to his smaller, weaker, body.
  832.  
  833. He immediately turned in my direction even though I’d taken care to move to another darkened area of the room. Aside from minor trickles of lava going through it- there was no light source and so plenty of shadows to hide in. Apparently this didn’t bother him.
  834.  
  835. “Still here are you?”
  836.  
  837. I nodded, “You said you could teach me about the Spiral Dungeon.”
  838.  
  839. “And so I can… for a price.”
  840.  
  841. That silenced me. What could I possibly offer him? I couldn’t pick up a single coin if I wanted to!
  842.  
  843. My only recourse was to ask, “What could I give you? There’s nothing I can touch.”
  844.  
  845. Surprisingly, Abyssen laughed, “Possessions are shallow affairs of the Spirit.” His tiny wings flapped behind his back to create just enough lift for his feet to leave the floor before settling down upon it with his legs crossed beneath him. “Surely there is something you can give one such as me?”
  846.  
  847. I rubbed my head in worried confusion, “I mean- there’s nothing. Absolutely nothing.”
  848.  
  849. The Daemon shrugged, “Then I suppose I can only give you nothing in return. Farewell…” A flaming circle started to grow around him and he closed his eyes so as to no longer see me.
  850.  
  851. “Wait- anything!” I desperately called out, “Whatever you need!”
  852.  
  853. The circle vanished and his eyes opened in a flash of glowing light, “Whatever I need…” a smile slid into place on his face. “I need blood.”
  854.  
  855. “I can’t bleed!” My objection was half revulsion but also mixed with practicality- I had no blood whatsoever within me. If there even was an ‘in’ for me to begin with.
  856.  
  857. “You mistake me.” Abyssen responded, “You’ve drawn blood in battle before when you wanted to protect something.” His yellow eyes narrowed, “Gift me blood drawn in cold and practical act- for you and nobody else. I do not need to collect it- simply do so in my name.”
  858.  
  859. I sensed there had to be some hidden challenge or element to this deal but I didn’t know how or why. “You want me to hurt adventurers out of my own self interest.”
  860.  
  861. “It need not be an adventurer.” Abyssen’s smile pierced into me and made me feel sick, “Though what else have you?”
  862.  
  863. The burning circle erupted into flame again and soon the Daemon was lost to my sight as little more than a black blur in the center of a fiery column. Try as I might- he would not respond to me any further.
  864.  
  865. Some time later I gave up on contacting him and made my way back through the forest where the Pixies had been. I couldn’t see or hear them and despite an attempt at pushing myself to a ‘communicate’ sort of mood they didn’t appear.
  866.  
  867. I came to a halt as I realized I didn’t know how to return to the 1st Floor. Above me were the limbs and leaves of trees and what looked to be the night sky- not a ceiling for a cave. I couldn’t identify the specific tree I had crawled down when first arriving on this floor either.
  868.  
  869. Left and right. Up the path and down it. I could find no end to the forest. Yet no matter how far away I traveled either along the path or away from it- always I would find myself approaching Abyssen’s lair with three minute’s walking speed.
  870.  
  871. This was just irritating. On the one hand I certainly understood the idea that anything was possible with magic. On the other hand why did the 2nd Floor have to be like this? Was there even a good reason or was it some sort of stupid whim on the part of the Dungeon’s Keeper? I never found the Pixies and neither Abyssen’s cave or the forest changed over time.
  872.  
  873. How long will it take for adventurers to pass through?
  874.  
  875. It wasn’t an idle question. Thus far there’d been some frequency about it but for all I knew weeks or even months could pass before a party entered the dungeon.
  876.  
  877. However it turned out to be slightly less than thirty minutes judging by my experiments in walking to and from Abyssen's chamber. I hadn't seen them arrive but on one of my loops I spotted three humans approaching and hid in a patch of darkness as I peered around the tree.
  878.  
  879. Their leader had a mess of hair that went down to his waist and had twigs and bits of bone either woven into it or stuck in it. His chest was bared but had a riot of tattoos crossing back and forth over it while beneath it a pair of mundane pants and leather boots completed the outfit. His spear looked to be made of both bone and wood and he held it in both hands and kept it always on the move. Behind him stood an older man in robes with no visible weapon and a female in leather armor wielding a pair of short knives.
  880.  
  881. These adventurers were clearly not as strong as the last group and hesitated a lot more. The wild-haired spearman kept poking the ground in front of him like he was worried for a trap.
  882.  
  883. Skkt. Skkt. Skkt.
  884.  
  885. Meanwhile the others kept looking over their shoulders at the forest around them. I wasn’t sure how much armor had been needed to defeat the Pixie arrows the last time but this time I spied a few tiny needles sticking out of bits of the leather armor of the shifty-looking girl with cropped brown hair and the beard of the older gentlemen was tinged red along with the grey and looked to be missing a chunk. The Warrior seemed untouched.
  886.  
  887. Not a lot of damage from what I can tell… what will Shadow Read tell me?
  888.  
  889. As it turned out- quite a bit. Their Classes and Stats were clear to me as were their Abilities and Skills.
  890.  
  891.  
  892. Adventurer Race: Human
  893. Adventurer Class: Warrior
  894.  
  895. Adventurer Level: 4
  896. Adventurer Stats:
  897. HP - 50
  898. AP - 10
  899. Atk - 15
  900. Def - 13
  901. Abi - 5
  902. Res - 10
  903.  
  904. Adventurer Skills:
  905. Endurance
  906.  
  907. Adventurer Abilities:
  908. Blinding Strike
  909.  
  910.  
  911. Adventurer Race: Human
  912. Adventurer Class: Sage
  913.  
  914. Adventurer Level:2
  915. Adventurer Stats:
  916. HP - 10/20
  917. AP - 35/40
  918. Atk - 5
  919. Def - 3
  920. Abi - 20
  921. Res - 15
  922.  
  923. Adventurer Skills:
  924. Learned Eye
  925.  
  926. Adventurer Abilities:
  927. Reveal
  928. Enchant
  929.  
  930.  
  931. Adventurer Race: Human
  932. Adventurer Class: Thief
  933.  
  934. Adventurer Level: 2
  935. Adventurer Stats:
  936. HP - 15/20
  937. AP - 15
  938. Atk - 10
  939. Def - 5
  940. Abi - 10
  941. Res - 5
  942.  
  943. Adventurer Skills:
  944. Fast Hands
  945.  
  946. Adventurer Abilities:
  947. Steal
  948.  
  949. The party collectively was no stronger than Level 4 and both of the others were Level 2.
  950.  
  951. Interestingly the Sage and Thief had similar maximum HP values: 20. The Warrior meanwhile had 50 HP. The Sage had only 10 HP remaining while the Thief was still well into her teens. What that meant- I could not be sure. Seeing the Stats of others was new to me and with my 1 HP I had no frame of reference.
  952.  
  953. However one thing was clear- they’d never finish the entire Spiral Dungeon. Abyssen might even be capable of defeating them on his own before they advanced to the 3rd Floor.
  954.  
  955. Was this it then? Either I would attack them for no real gain on my part save Abyssen’s favor or they’d die without me lifting a metaphorical finger?
  956.  
  957. It wasn’t an easy decision to make. I wanted to live and a growing desire in me wished to see more of this World- yet I also didn’t want to hurt people…
  958.  
  959. The decision became easier as I realized the Pixies weren’t finished with this party. A pair of needles struck the Sage in the small of his back and solicited a squawk of pain as he spun around with both hands extended.
  960.  
  961. “By my art- Reveal!”
  962.  
  963. A pair of the Pixies suddenly could be seen floating in the air mere feet from the party. They looked like small humans but with armor resembling stylized leaves and a pair of beating dragonfly wings each. I caught a brief glimpse of eyes colored the sparkling blue of clear water and wondered if the ‘no visible helmet’ rule applied to Minions as well?
  964.  
  965. I didn’t get a better look because the second they were visible the Warrior struck. In a single blow he’d slashed through both of them without slowing. A splatter of bright red blood struck a nearby tree and two sets of wings tumbled through the air. Of the Pixies themselves I saw nothing.
  966.  
  967. The decision was easier but still mine to make. I guess that’s what Abyssen had wanted. There was a convenient branch just behind the Sage’s head and I curled along it before acting.
  968.  
  969. _Shadow Strike_
  970.  
  971. Once more my human arm became a monstrous claw and lifted free of my flat form. The sharpened ends of my fingers lanced downwards and with a detachment I found unsettling I noted I had gashed nearly twice as far into his head as I had Ingritte’s leg, what felt like an eternity ago.
  972.  
  973. The Sage fell. The cry that had begun to emerge from his throat was cut short and he made no noise after that. Shadow Read didn’t stop enabling me to see his Stats either.
  974.  
  975. HP: 0/20​
  976.  
  977. That was it then. He was dead. The Warrior and Thief both clearly didn’t have magical weapons because they attacked the branch I was stuck to and cleaved it into pieces. Even as the wood separated I found my body pulling itself to one single shard and waited for it to hit the ground before walking away from them.
  978.  
  979. The two scowled after me and briefly attempted to heal the Sage but it was of no use. Healing herbs of some kind offered no benefit and neither did the potion they tried to make him drink. The girl cried and punched the ground till her hands bled but the remaining man eventually pulled her up and hugged her close before pulling out a blue crystal.
  980.  
  981. A pentagram of bright green light appeared beneath them and both the Warrior and Thief turned transparent and then into beams of light themselves before shooting upwards through the ceiling.
  982.  
  983. I’d won. They’d lost.
  984.  
  985. Victory didn’t feel all that good. I set off down the path to meet with the Daemon.
  986.  
  987. Abyssen’s cave seemed to emerge from nowhere as always. One second it wouldn’t be there and then a tree would cross your field of vision and there it would be. Move backwards and the same tree would make it vanish yet it was never the same tree twice.
  988.  
  989. I wondered at the science of it, if there was such, and what it could be called. Non-Euclidean? Was that the word for geometry that didn’t work properly? Walking downhill to arrive uphill and four rooms you could walk into in a three room house?
  990.  
  991. Either way- Abyssen was waiting. No sooner had I crossed the threshold to his chamber proper then the fire circle vanished to unveil him standing upright and applauding.
  992.  
  993. “Well done! A killing blow too- not just drawn blood!”
  994.  
  995. “Yeah… lucky shot I guess.”
  996.  
  997. “Regret it all you like. It makes no difference to me.” Abyssen’s clapping stopped with both palms pressed together, “Now then, you drew blood once and so one question of yours I will answer.”
  998.  
  999. I was ready and calm- a combination I’d possessed all too rarely since arriving in this World. There were many things I wanted to ask but I had to focus on me first. In particular how to stay alive long enough to ask more questions.
  1000.  
  1001. “How did you survive at 0 HP?”
  1002.  
  1003. Abyssen sneered, “Looking to get past your own mortality? Predictable starting question and the answer should’ve been obvious to you. What enables you to do anything at all in the Spiral Dungeon?”
  1004.  
  1005. I felt sick, “Abilities and Skills.” Was he going to provide no information at all?
  1006.  
  1007. Luckily he was willing to elaborate, “A simplified version is that HP is the energy available to your given Body. And if you were to separate your maximum HP between two different ones you could be reduced to 0 and yet live as you’ve more HP elsewhere.”
  1008.  
  1009. “And I cannot do this.” It wasn’t a question on my end, a tactic I hoped would provoke him into telling me more without asking. The gambit seemed to work as he nodded in response.
  1010.  
  1011. “You will not find many capable of this below the 20th Floor. That said…” his teeth were black as coal but the embers behind them provided a fearsome backlight as he made a massive smile, “Do you have any more blood to offer?”
  1012.  
  1013. “That’s a question… what do I get for answering it?” It had been little more than a spiteful answer on my part but Abyssen appeared quite startled and his wings flared outwards briefly before he settled himself back into position.
  1014.  
  1015. “As you were then, Shadow.” His burning circle didn’t slowly grow into place like last time so much as burst into being in the blink of a human eye.
  1016.  
  1017. Mystified, I returned to the forest and waited for more adventurers to arrive.
  1018.  
  1019. I eventually found my way back to the tree where the Pixies had been killed and slid up the trunk to once again sit on a branch. Surprisingly I actually felt a pair of tiny, invisible, feet standing on me and the recipient shrieked and jumped off. I recognized it as Mid Pitch.
  1020.  
  1021. There was a slight dampness on the branch that had not been here before. Minute splotches smaller than a thumbnail. Some part of my concern must've made its way into my Spirit enough for the Pixie to pick up because I heard her voice.
  1022.  
  1023. "Sorry, I'll just get out of your way." There was a pain in her voice I hadn't expected. Had she been crying?
  1024.  
  1025. Two blurs of multicolored lights zipped past me and I heard cries of joy as presumably the two fallen Pixies had reunited. They were not so far away that I couldn't hear them converse with the other one.
  1026.  
  1027. "Yo!" High Pitch's voice as always was pumped full of enthusiasm. "Who are you?"
  1028.  
  1029. My hypothetical eyes tightened a bit at the thought and the concern was validated when Low Pitch broke in, "And why is there a Shadow on the tree? Shadows spawn on the 1st Floor."
  1030.  
  1031. They'd lost their memories when they died and were born again. But they'd seemingly respawned with instinctive knowledge of their Skills and Abilities.
  1032.  
  1033. Life wasn't fair sometimes. I settled in my branch and waited for my next victim to appear.
  1034.  
  1035.     #30
  1036.  
  1037. It felt like a few hours had passed since my chat with Abyssen. I had taken up a position atop the branch I’d last encountered the Pixies at and adopted the Shadow equivalent of lounging on it. From here I could see the path clearly and if I slid around to the bottom of the branch I would be able to Shadow Strike at a similar height to that of an average human’s face. It wouldn't make me a good sport and wasn't fighting fair but this didn't seem the sort of World for that and I definitely didn't seem to be a Minion built for that.
  1038.  
  1039. I didn’t sleep anymore but I certainly could lapse in how much attention I was paying to the World around me. This became evident when I realized one of the Pixies had returned and was sitting on the same branch as me. In fact she was only a few inches away from the edge of my form- which I could tell because she wasn’t invisible for once.
  1040.  
  1041. My glimpse earlier of the other two had been incredibly brief such that I couldn’t identify them if my life depended on it but I’d bet every non-existent coin I had that this was Mid Pitch. Now that she wasn’t concealed behind whatever Ability cloaked the Pixies- I could get a proper look at her.
  1042.  
  1043. As before I noted the green armor represented stylized overlapping leaves but up close and with her sitting still I was amazed at the sheer detail worked into such small pieces. I could see every vein the leaf would’ve had if it were real for every single part. The armament itself looked to be in several separate pieces: the largest section covered the torso, a smaller section hung over the hips, a pair of what I believe were called bracers coated her forearms but left her hands bare and a similar set could be found around her legs. The entire ensemble looked… well- cute.
  1044.  
  1045. Like the other Pixies- Mid Pitch’s eyes were a bright blue that reminded me of the waters you saw in vacation spots. And I found myself somewhat relieved to see she had five fingers and toes just like me. Her hair was a startling pink that hung to the base of her neck but other than the color looked fairly typical- same with the skin though I thought she was a bit warmer in tone than I'd been in life though it was harder to remember. Aside from her size and the dragonfly wings on her back she looked practically normal.
  1046.  
  1047. I really needed some normal in the Spiral Dungeon.
  1048.  
  1049. Mid Pitch for her part seemed like she needed something too- but I wasn’t sure what. She was just… sitting there. Her legs were stretched out in front of her and her arms were crossed over her knees as she silently waited for something. Adventurers perhaps?
  1050.  
  1051. She didn’t speak to me and I couldn’t speak to her. Time passed and we both waited in silence. I experimentally shifted and aside from noticing a slight movement from her eye to note it- there was no reaction.
  1052.  
  1053. I worked up a bit of courage and moved closer, not so close as to touch her, but close enough that if she reached out a hand I would be within reach. Mid Pitch turned her head at the movement to watch me and nodded before she dropped her gaze between her knees.
  1054.  
  1055. No words passed and I was never the best at reading people but I think I appreciated the idea well enough. Mid Pitch didn’t want to speak with me, not really, she only wanted a companion to spend time with. Regardless of whether the Minion had required someone else’s Soul in order to exist- right now all she desired was simply someone who knew how she felt. The two other Pixies had returned no worse the wear for their deaths- Mid Pitch had not died and so had no such benefit.
  1056.  
  1057. This Spirit business was tricky, but I guessed the understanding carried over from my metaphorical ‘heart’ because a moment later I could’ve sworn I heard a quiet, “Thank you” from Mid Pitch. When I looked over I saw her blue eyes peeking over her folded arms at the path below. She said nothing else and I didn't move from my new position. And that was enough for the both of us.
  1058.  
  1059. for the first time since entering the Spiral Dungeon, I sat next to my friend and waited to see what the day would bring. In all honesty that made the future feel all the brighter- no matter how dark it seemed to be.
  1060.  
  1061.     #31
  1062.  
  1063. My arm was covered in blood. At least momentarily after cutting down another adventurer- what happened to the stuff when I returned to being a Shadow- I had no idea. It wouldn’t be there when my arm turned physical again.
  1064.  
  1065. But the Daemonic deal had to be upheld. Abyssen would only answer questions asked with blood and so blood was the currency I needed to possess.
  1066.  
  1067. Five times now I’d hurt adventurers in three different parties to earn the privilege of his knowledge. I’d gained another level in doing so too- enabling me to use Shadow Strike twice before running out of AP. Additionally I had acquired another single point of health which left me at a whopping two out of two.
  1068.  
  1069. So on the good side, I did gain HP, I would not be stuck at a single HP forever. On the bad side the gains were not uniform and not at all large. It was for this reason I had always without question targeted the weakest members of the groups I could manage.
  1070.  
  1071. The Priest I’d been fighting staggered backwards with half his face missing from my last attack. I estimated my claws could dig a full three inches into a human body now unless they were extremely durable like a Warrior or Monk or, apparently, had protective equipment or spells since the first hit had bounced off a flash of white light.
  1072.  
  1073. His eye had been caught in the second attack but he still had HP and so the ruined organ was rapidly repairing itself. I slid around to his now blind side and predictably he spun around to keep me in his sight. The speed of regeneration increased with higher levels but it wasn't instant. He had to turn an extra distance to maintain visual contact on me with the working eye.
  1074.  
  1075. The Pixies took their opportunity and opened fire. While they could remain invisible seemingly indefinitely- their arrows became visible the moment they fully left the bow. Three thin and pale needles sank deep into the Priest’s back until they were as invisible as they’d been before being fired. The man collapsed to his knees from the impacts and his breathing sounded tremendously difficult. My Shadow Read informed me he had only a single point of health remaining.
  1076.  
  1077. That seemed to be a relatively constant thing. Once an adventurer reached one HP they would begin suffering massive penalties to their movements and actions. It seemed that it was a ‘near death’ state where their body would struggle to continue functioning but still could do so- albeit not much else.
  1078.  
  1079. The Priest’s defensive barrier had taken a hit from me prior to the second strike that opened up his face so I had nothing left to deal with him. I retreated rapidly up a tree and waited for the Pixies to fire on him again.
  1080.  
  1081. Most adventuring parties came in groups of anywhere from three to six or so it seemed. However their group dynamics could be anything. You could have a set of people that wouldn’t move more than a few feet from one another and constantly kept checking on their companions or you could have a group like this party that had outright abandoned the Priest once he admitted he had no more AP to spend after he’d made his personal barrier.
  1082.  
  1083. I felt bad for him. But even if I did- nothing else here would. My Shadow Strike hit harder than the Pixie arrows so my choices were either hit him fast and hard to lessen the time he would suffer or let him be slowly pricked to death. But I didn't gain anything from the latter.
  1084.  
  1085. I heard all three Pixies cheer as their opponent stopped moving and decided to make my way to Abyssen again. Armed with five blood offerings- I intended to get some real answers from the Daemon this time around.
  1086.  
  1087. The Priest had been a far lower level than the rest of his party, having apparently lied to them when being recruited, so I wasn’t surprised to see Abyssen had been killed by the remaining members. They’d been rather sadistic about it judging by how scattered the pieces of his corpse were- which I wasn’t entirely sure was undeserved.
  1088.  
  1089. Adventurers could leave the Spiral Dungeon after all. That meant there was surely a chance that someone had encountered Abyssen and later spread the tale about how he would appear twice. I certainly could envision someone holding a grudge over that.
  1090.  
  1091. But regardless in this case I had to wait for his scattered organs to successfully reassemble inside his torso before he would speak with me. The Daemon clicked his tongue against the top of his mouth twice as his skull fit back together before he broached the topic of blood.
  1092.  
  1093. “You’ve been busy, little Shadow.”
  1094.  
  1095. I nodded in response. I didn’t try hiding in the dark since he could clearly sense me and so positioned myself just above a stream of glowing magma so he could see me better. “I have five questions for you.”
  1096.  
  1097. Abyssen spat a mouthful of glowing white liquids and it struck a patch of ground and sizzled against the black stones, “Ask your questions, they are too weak to make it to my true Body, there is nothing left to do for me.”
  1098.  
  1099. I kept a careful eye on his Status Window before I gave my first, calculated, question, “How did the Raven beat you?”
  1100.  
  1101. The Daemon’s eyes narrowed until they were slits of glowing light, “Ware the fires, Shadow, you walk dangerous ground.”
  1102.  
  1103. That was incredibly clear to me but it was also why I had not come to ask questions of him until I had encountered a party that could plausibly defeat him and also was not likely to get so far down he would need to leave the 2nd Floor. I'd seen him in combat a few times now and seen him transform twice more. His attacks at this level were slow and telegraphed and it took him some time in order to reach his greater strength. He would definitely have the advantage if we were to fight as equals.
  1104.  
  1105. But I had the position of power at the moment and I pushed it, “If you don’t wish to answer I might allow you to provide a different service.”
  1106.  
  1107. “I will answer your question.” Abyssen smiled, though the expression did not promise much in the way of laughter, “You’ll never be able to do the same.”
  1108.  
  1109. “The Raven challenged me to claim the 22nd Floor as his Dominion. He proposed a contest of battle between us and our respective styles of combat. He with his legions of undead and I with my experiments. I accepted his wager.”
  1110.  
  1111. Abyssen fell silent and I prodded him, “Which you lost.”
  1112.  
  1113. The Daemon’s body actually started to ignite as, presumably, his anger got his blood pumping and boiling. “I will remember the humiliation! My creations are works of art- each and every one!” The flames died down as Abyssen controlled himself, “But not him- he throws each and every body fallen at you without care. Wave after wave of the dead that do not tire. My forces were overrun and so I took to the field myself to stem the tide for the next batch to grow and my current roster to recover.”
  1114.  
  1115. I could see it already- in theory at least if not in exact practice. The Raven, whoever he was, had constantly kept Abyssen’s groups battling and unable to break off and rest. Abyssen’s attachment to them had prompted him to join the battle in an attempt to save his creations.
  1116.  
  1117. The Daemon’s voice had grown so bitter I swear I saw actual ashes emerge from his mouth, “It was what the Raven was waiting for. In a direct confrontation I could best him in short order. But with the time needed for his power to grow and my own strength being forced to destroy his forces- he overtook me and slew me surrounded by his silent masses.”
  1118.  
  1119. I struck with my second question, pressing my advantage, “But if you died then, how do you still remember?” That was the true question I wanted an answer to. Abyssen clearly held a grudge- Abyssen clearly remembered his defeat. How?
  1120.  
  1121. The Daemon for some reason laughed, a genuine chuckle as though I amused him.
  1122.  
  1123. “That is simple. A Boss does not suffer the same laws as a Minion. Our Spirits are too formidable to vanish so quickly when defeated."
  1124.  
  1125. So that was it then- the World simply gave Bosses different rules compared to Minions. I already suspected that Bosses generally played by different rules and Abyssen was confirming that suspicion with every answer.
  1126.  
  1127. "What of the Soul needed to respawn you?"
  1128.  
  1129. Abyssen raised a clawed hand to his chest, "I provide my own Souls as I respawn twice. Some Bosses instead respawn just as Minions do. Some do not traditionally die in the same sense to begin with." The Daemon shrugged his thin shoulders, "I am not all-knowing. Ask ten Bosses the same question and you may well face ten different answers."
  1130.  
  1131. Privately, I was elated. So far as I knew my 'voice' as a Shadow was received in the same manner I 'heard' people. Tone was hard to read. So while I imagined I didn't sound any different to Abyssen when I spoke, inwardly I rejoiced.
  1132.  
  1133. I'm learning.
  1134.  
  1135. After so much guessing and confusion- a picture was forming that I could make sense of. This World was a puzzle and I was going to put it together piece by bloody piece.
  1136.  
  1137. "I have more questions."
  1138.  
  1139. "Ask away." Abyssen absentmindedly waved his clawed hand. "I have no work to return to for adventurers that cannot reach it. Relieve my boredom."
  1140.  
  1141. "How many floors down does the Spiral Dungeon go?"
  1142.  
  1143. The Daemon smirked, "A wasted question and one I could not answer in the slightest without cheating our deal and our traded debt. The Spiral Dungeon does not go down but up."
  1144.  
  1145. I didn't dare waste another question on the topic after a warning like that but that didn't mean I wasn't confused.
  1146.  
  1147. I went down to go up? Is he just screwing with me? He openly admitted he could decide not to answer without cheating… but the physics of this place are messy so I can’t rule it out.
  1148.  
  1149. "My last question then-"
  1150.  
  1151. Abyssen and I both jerked our heads to the entrance of his cave as we heard the unmistakable sound of the Spiral Dungeon's doors closing. The great CLAP echoed through the dungeon's many floors but only, as I had learned, in chambers related to Bosses. Minions got no such warning. Such were the perks of being a Boss I guess. My attention snapped to a sudden movement from the nearby Daemon.
  1152.  
  1153. Abyssen's clawed hands formed a cupped shape just as I had seen the Keeper of the Spiral Dungeon do what felt like a long, long time ago. Before my hypothetical eyes I saw blood fill the space between them and drip through the gaps in his fingers to the black rock below.
  1154.  
  1155. Unlike the shifting colors I had seen for the Minions, a monochromatic blood-red smear of light emerged from this small pool in Abyssen's hands. The glow spread to cloak Abyssen in his entirety very briefly before fading away. My Shadow Read told me the rest.
  1156.  
  1157. His HP and AP was restored. He'd just consumed a Soul.
  1158.  
  1159. And so I acted. Not in self-defense for me or others, not out of anger, not out of fear, but for the benefit of me, myself, and I. Which was to say- I was attempting to alter the deal.
  1160.  
  1161. _Shadow Strike_
  1162.  
  1163. Abyssen had clearly not been expecting it. My clawed hand did not inflict nearly as much damage on him as a normal bared human chest but I still achieved my goal.
  1164.  
  1165. I drew boiling red blood from the Daemon as I left four thin lines on his chest.
  1166.  
  1167. I raised my hand above my head and voiced my last question, "So what can I do with this blood?"
  1168.  
  1169.    #36
  1170.  
  1171. Abyssen stood perfectly still as the wounds on his chest healed over. The Daemon Boss stared at me in silence and I in turn grimly awaited his answer.
  1172.  
  1173. Attacking and drawing his blood had been a powerful move- this was clear. If it had been pointless or ineffective he almost certainly would’ve told me so. Fire was literally coming out of his eyes so he was angry- yet either he wasn’t so furious he would attack me or his wrath was being tempered by something else.
  1174.  
  1175. I had expected many things- a smile was not one of them.
  1176.  
  1177. “A bold strategy, Shadow.” Abyssen’s expression didn’t change but I was concerned at his relative lack of reaction. “Now witness mine.”
  1178.  
  1179. Abyssen snapped his fingers and I heard cries from outside the cave- of three distinct pitches.
  1180.  
  1181. The Pixies!?
  1182.  
  1183. His bared teeth glistened in the ever-present blaze that inhabited his mouth. “Ask about my blood or their pain- make your choice.”
  1184.  
  1185. “You bastard!” I yelled, or whatever Shadow equivalent that he could apparently hear would be called. “They have nothing to do with us!”
  1186.  
  1187. “Your. Choice.” Abyssen deliberately paused between the words so I could hear a fresh round of screams.
  1188.  
  1189. I didn’t owe them anything. The Pixies hadn’t ever saved me from anyone else. They’d barely helped me and mocked me all the while. They’d all collectively respawn if they died. Mid Pitch wouldn’t even be sad- they’d all be starting fresh to some unknown extent.
  1190.  
  1191. She wouldn’t be sad because they’d all forget one another…
  1192.  
  1193. [Sad…]
  1194.  
  1195. Damn him!
  1196.  
  1197. “Stop hurting them!” I screamed and no sooner had I done so then their cries abruptly stopped. Abyssen gave me a mocking bow.
  1198.  
  1199. “To answer your question, if you draw my blood while in a contract with me then you are able to issue a command I must obey.” He returned to his upright stance and folded his arms. “And now we find ourselves as equals. My debt to you is paid and yours to mine is completed.”
  1200.  
  1201. “You said not to trust you.” I’m quite sure if tone came across as a Shadow but if it did I would be positively bitter, “And here I thought you were threatening me.”
  1202.  
  1203. One of Abyssen’s clawed hands opened and I witnessed three drops of blood fall from it before vanishing. “There are many debts to be found in the Spiral Dungeon. A debt unknown is worth little- a debt acknowledged is far more powerful. If you wish to remain free of it- question me no more.”
  1204.  
  1205. I locked eyes with Abyssen, “Watch your back, demon.”
  1206.  
  1207. His traditional circle of fire obscured him slowly. The rising flames eclipsed Abyssen’s face as his final words echoed in the chamber, “A threat with no fire in it. The next time you cross me- you will burn.”
  1208.  
  1209. Without wasting another second I fled the chamber and raced along the path hoping to find the Pixies still alive. I slid up every tree and stretched across every connecting branch I could in a mad rush as I desperately tried to locate them. Shouting was useless but I did it anyways in hopes that it would influence my Spirit enough for them to receive it.
  1210.  
  1211. “Where are you? Are you hurt? Can you hear me?!”
  1212.  
  1213. No answer came.
  1214.  
  1215. I did eventually find all three of them. The Pixies were still invisible but the steam rising from their bodies was not.
  1216.  
  1217. They were alive. When my form stretched over the branch they were laying upon I could feel minute movements as they trembled and twitched and I could hear whimpers of pain- but they wouldn’t- or couldn’t- answer me.
  1218.  
  1219. This was bad. It was probably the one HP problem the Priest had only recently suffered. That meant any damage whatsoever would kill them dead if it was true. Even worse- I didn’t know if HP was restored over time like AP. If it didn’t come back save with the Dungeon Keeper restoring it via Souls- they might never heal.
  1220.  
  1221. Briefly, I considered whether the Dungeon Keeper allowed this sort of thing, and just as quickly I dismissed the idea. Nothing I’d come across thus far led me to believe the Dungeon Keeper would intervene in a dispute between Minions and Bosses. Certainly Abyssen had made no mention of it happening with his battle against the Raven.
  1222.  
  1223. That left only me to help them. But how? I couldn’t restore HP in any fashion to them. For a brief and unexpected moment of cold-hearted clarity the thought reached me that Mid Pitch was the only one that needed to live- drawing blood from the other two would enable me to deal with Abyssen again.
  1224.  
  1225. No. Out of the question. I pushed the idea away and resolved that I had to find a way to protect and restore all three of them. Mid Pitch was always the most responsible of them and she might well have faced a similar trap in the past to save the other two and fallen for it to put her in Abyssen’s debt in the first place. If it was a problem now- nothing indicated it couldn’t have been a similar obstacle in the past.
  1226.  
  1227. There wasn’t time for a plotting party. Adventurers could be here any second and the steam coming off the fallen Pixies wasn’t stopping or thinning. I either needed a way to hide the Pixies or lure any hostile forces away from them. The first option was beyond me. Minus an outright attack with Shadow Strike- I couldn’t interact with anything physically.
  1228.  
  1229. That left keeping adventurers away. It was my only hope- or rather the Pixies’ only hope. I returned to the path that would take adventurers past and was startled to see a lone swordsman already walking down it.
  1230.  
  1231. The man had dark metal armor of some kind, it looked like what I believed was called full plate, and a pair of twin swords that were so black they appeared almost flat. They were shorter than I expected- each blade was only as long as the guy’s forearms and the hilt to them was almost the same length. The armor was extremely quiet as well and I realized I didn’t hear a single thing about it as he walked. No rustling of chain, no clanking of plates hitting one another, nothing at all.
  1232.  
  1233. His eyes were attentive and darting in all directions as he walked down the path in a manner that I would describe as halfway between strutting and stalking. Each step was precise and the man was clearly light on his feet and ready to go at the slightest need- but every stride was accompanied by an exaggerated motion to his shoulders that I could only imagine was based on extreme self-confidence.
  1234.  
  1235. I had never seen someone attempting the Spiral Dungeon on their own. I wasn’t even sure if that was possible to do. All it would take was one trap that no amount of martial skill could deal with and the guy would run into a brick wall. But was his plan instead to sneak around?
  1236.  
  1237. Shadow Read had no issue finding his Abilities and Skills and so I gave them a quick look to assess my plausible opponent. He was a Warrior but unlike the others he did not have any Abilities- only Skills.
  1238.  
  1239. Adventurer Skills:
  1240. Endurance
  1241. Alert
  1242. Still Form​
  1243.  
  1244. I already knew adventurers didn't gain Stats uniformly. Skills and Abilities seemed to be in the same bucket. if this World was based on a game, or a game-like structure, then Minions like me seemed locked into what we could learn while adventurers could customize to some degree. Maybe by training?
  1245.  
  1246. The specifics of how or why he only had Skills became irrelevant as the adventurer turned his head in a sharp movement to look in the direction of the Pixies and coincidentally, me. The irises of his eyes were just as black as his armor and his short, shaggy, hair and he made one deliberate step off the path and towards their tree before I acted.
  1247.  
  1248. _Shadow Strike_
  1249.  
  1250. In a black blur I spend along a tree and took a swipe at his shoulder. His armor withstood almost the full impact of the hit without issue- I don't think I even drew blood from him.
  1251.  
  1252. The adventurer's returning strike scared me half to death, literally, as he twisted and swung faster than I would've thought a normal human could react to an unexpected attack. A sliver of his sword's edge caught my form and I felt a bolt of pain shock me from top to bottom as I realize that inch or so of black metal that had hit my fleeing leg was magical and took a single HP away from me- leaving me with only one left.
  1253.  
  1254. He had magical weapons! I was so screwed!
  1255.  
  1256. I felt a lure to try my luck, to attack him again to see if I could draw blood and thus trade it with Abyssen, but I squashed that impulse and fled along the path with all the speed I could muster.
  1257.  
  1258. The dark warrior gave chase and I realize he had a rather frightening running speed. I wasn't sure how speed worked as it wasn't a stat but he was not falling behind me at all and I swear was even gaining on me.
  1259.  
  1260. Badbadbadbadbad!
  1261.  
  1262. I sped along the path and for the first time ever wished with all my might for Abyssen's cave to show up earlier and not later. With every passing second the guy was closing in on me and if he caught me I was going to die.
  1263.  
  1264. [Run my Shadow!]
  1265.  
  1266. And again it happened- I slid around a tree and saw the entrance to the cave. Without pausing to wonder how it would look for an adventurer that had not yet passed that same tree I slid into the cave and immediately crept to the ceiling where no lava glowed to reveal me. Less than a second later the adventurer entered hot on my trail and stopped as he warily assessed the situation.
  1267.  
  1268. While I didn't breath anymore I still took a moment to get my metaphorical shit together and take a breather as the adventurer slowly advanced down the tunnel. An idea struck me and I silently, as always, crept along the walls until I actually stood underneath him.
  1269.  
  1270. The adventurer was none the wiser about my presence. I deeply wanted to look at his Skills with Shadow Read but also wanted my full and undivided attention on him and his eventual meeting with Abyssen. A plan was forming and I could only hope it would be good enough.
  1271.  
  1272. The dark warrior found his way to the central chamber and for the first time I got to see Abyssen meet with someone that wasn't a Minion. It was quite a show.
  1273.  
  1274. The flaming barrier slowly lowered to reveal the Daemon floating in midair. His feet touched the ground and either clawed hand spread from being crossed over his chest to extended outwards in a greeting, "Who are you that would face me-"
  1275.  
  1276. The dark warrior ran forwards and slashed him twice with full strikes using either blade. Abyssen screamed and conjured up a burst of flame directly in front of him to force the adventurer, and me hiding in his shadow, back. I saw the wounds on Abyssen and realized that the adventurer would never know what value they had as he entered no bargain with Abyssen to capitalize on it. Truly ignorance cost much in the Spiral Dungeon.
  1277.  
  1278. Abyssen held up a hand and called out, "Wait- there is information you need to know!"
  1279.  
  1280. The dark warrior hesitated but kept the tips of his swords pointed firmly at Abyssen. He wasn't letting his guard down. I wasn't going to lie to myself or anyone else- I was incredibly happy to see Abyssen getting his ass kicked. Those two shots had taken almost all of his HP. My champion was Level 8 so peer to Abyssen- and it looked like a straight fight wouldn't go the Daemon's way at all.
  1281.  
  1282. But he didn't want a straight fight. "You have come so soon and I might enlighten you. Were you lured here by a Shadow that struck you then fled?"
  1283.  
  1284. Fuck.
  1285.  
  1286. The dark warrior said nothing in response though he did nod. Abyssen sneered, "He is a Minion whose job is to lure you straight to me."
  1287.  
  1288. The adventurer spoke, his voice was harsher than I had thought it would be, his face looked too young to have such a jaded tone to him, "Liar." He'd seen straight through the Daemon's deception!
  1289.  
  1290. Abyssen shrugged with his claws upturned, "It is not his duty but nonetheless what occurred. But if you can tell truth from fiction then know my words: you were led here to avoid clearing the 2nd Floor in its entirety. Rewards still exist that he seeks to deny you. Back to the woods and seek out the Pixies and you will find an advantage not easily matched awaits."
  1291.  
  1292. I didn't understand Abyssen's wordplay but the adventurer considered it carefully. The two both stood in the center of the arena but before my hypothetical eyes the adventurer took a step back as though he would leave, carefully with his eyes still on Abyssen, but leave nonetheless. He would go to find the Pixies!
  1293.  
  1294. Abyssen's smile was full of a victor's confidence and I enacted the second half of my plan. I raced out from under the adventurer and charged my hated Daemon partner.
  1295.  
  1296. His flaming eyes had only a fraction of a second to widen in shock before he found a claw black as night sweeping towards his face.
  1297.  
  1298. _Shadow Strike_
  1299.  
  1300. At such low HP as the dark warrior had left him- even I could kill Abyssen. The Daemon collapsed in a shower of blood and beneath him, the adventurer, and myself- a hole opened to the next floor.
  1301.  
  1302. Abyssen's body burst into flames and disappeared before falling through the newly created shaft- the adventurer and myself tumbled through.
  1303.  
  1304. Down we fell- I glanced upwards and saw the light above vanish from sheer distance. Soon there was no light to be found at all yet I could still see the World around me with ease. I didn't entirely realize how I, restricted to sitting on something else as I was, could 'fall' until I noticed I was stuck to the adventurer himself; particularly his back.
  1305.  
  1306. On the plus side I was extremely sure falling damage would be physical and so unable to hurt me. On the other side there was some sort of magic involved in moving between floors and it might not harm the adventurer anymore than me.
  1307.  
  1308. Eventually we fell into a new cavern. I could not see much of it but this was not due to a lack of light but rather because it was so large that I could see no end to it. Stone spires stuck from every wall and it was on one of these that we landed and separated. The adventurer slowed down just before impact and I slid off him as rapidly as possible.
  1309.  
  1310. It was no lighter in here than in the hole we'd fallen down. It was an utter void that had no glow, shine, or any source of illumination in it whatsoever.
  1311.  
  1312. Well, Shadows could see in the dark. Who knew?
  1313.  
  1314. The dark warrior and his jet-black blades didn’t have an issue seeing either. The second we both hit the ground the things were moving in a blur and trying to stab me again.
  1315.  
  1316. I slid up the nearby wall hoping to evade him and redoubled my efforts when he ran straight up the wall without hesitation. Each swing of his missed me by inches and sliced through the stone while barely slowing- though there was the slightest of resistances. If it wasn’t for that and his need to pay at least minimal attention to his footing he might well have overtaken and killed me then and there because I was not expanding the gap in any way and had not expected him to so easily transition to another dimension of combat.
  1317.  
  1318. Up the wall and across the ceiling we went- me in frantic retreat and him in hot pursuit. Stalactites formed temporary barriers and I extended the distance between us such that he now had to aim carefully to slash through the rocks to clear a path and keep on me.
  1319.  
  1320. How is he doing this?
  1321.  
  1322. In the darkness that filled the entire cavern everything was a shadow and so it was easy to see his Status Window. He had no Abilities or Skills that looked like they had anything to do with running on walls. I knew from experience Endurance wasn't based on mobility at all- it just meant Warriors didn't stop until you got them down to zero HP instead of one. I'd never seen Alert or Still Form but they sure didn't sound like they'd let him run on a ceiling against gravity!
  1323.  
  1324. [if it isn’t an Ability or Skill and you saw no magic cast on him then there is only one thing it can be one thing. Equipment.]
  1325.  
  1326. I didn’t know how he was keeping up but regardless of how well he could stick to the roof- he still had to move in a different plane than I did. for me to slide between two stalactites took no more effort or attention than moving in any other direction. for him- he had to pick his steps carefully or else carve a path through them.
  1327.  
  1328. The gap between us extended to perhaps half a foot and then tripled and tripled again until I had a good three foot lead between the tips of his swords and the edges of my form. if I could keep this up then I’d get enough AP restored to take a proper swing at him-
  1329.  
  1330. Something else is down here!
  1331.  
  1332. My assailant realized it at the same time as we both came to a sudden halt. In a pitch-black darkness that had no light whatsoever we both could sense some other entity moving.
  1333.  
  1334. Immaterial that I was- I could spin my non-existent eyes in any direction without actually moving my form. It was through this perk that I saw one had to be one of the biggest hands I’d ever seen clasp a nearby stalactite followed by a rather large arm.
  1335.  
  1336. It was smaller than Abyssen’s empowered form but not by much- whatever ‘it’ was because I’d absolutely never seen something like it before.
  1337.  
  1338. The hand was wide enough to envelop a human face and had four digits, not five, with each of the three fingers plus the thicker thumb ending in what I could only call a suction cup similar to a frog. I couldn’t see colors with whatever senses the Shadow used to see without light but the skin seemed almost an odd mix between slime and stone. Solid and rigid but also shifting and giving far more than it had any right to. The creature’s head rounded the jagged rock next.
  1339.  
  1340. It had no eyes, nose, or ears. The thing’s face was featureless in its entirety except for one thing- a mouth full of teeth. if you’d have asked me to guess about a monster I would’ve without question assumed sharp teeth like a predator but this thing had uniformly flat teeth from what I could see. Its head likewise was much more squat than I would’ve expected- wider than it was tall.
  1341.  
  1342. My adversary and myself continued our motionless vigil as the rest of the creature emerged into our sight. New facts clicked into place as I analyzed it. It had absolutely no neck to properly speak of- almost like the head grew directly from the top of the body. Two round spines emerged from the thing’s back- one significantly longer than the other- and beneath them a thick tail could be seen hanging in the air as it crept around the side of the stalactite in total silence.
  1343.  
  1344. Not three feet away I noted my combative companion had ceased all movement and was holding his breath as well. One of his Skills was Still Form and I took a moment to check it out given it was the most likely candidate for his current actions or lack thereof.
  1345.  
  1346. _Still Form_
  1347. This Skill enables the user to evade the five senses so long as they do not move their limbs nor do they release or draw breath. It cannot make the user invisible but causes the eye to slip past them without lingering and removes all traces of the user such as scent and prevents even the air itself from being disturbed by their presence.
  1348. Sudden Still Form Release: This Skill is upgraded such that the longer it is held, the greater the burst of available speed and strength will be when the user moves again.
  1349. Interesting- Skills could be upgraded? Still Form wasn’t working on me so did that mean I didn’t work off the traditional five sense?
  1350.  
  1351. I filed both of these useful bits of information away as the creature came within arms’ reach of us both. At least its arms’ reach anyways. The thing looked like it would stand almost eight feet tall when erect.
  1352.  
  1353. Is this how it feels to face me?
  1354.  
  1355. The thing had no features you could see, no real tell for what it was thinking, it was moving in a manner alien to me in an environment I wasn’t used to, and I didn’t know what it could do.
  1356.  
  1357. But I would. In the blink of an eye two things happened.
  1358.  
  1359. The first was that I used Shadow Read to get a look at the thing’s Status Window.
  1360.  
  1361. Minion Race: Troglodyte
  1362. Minion Allegiance: Keeper of the Spiral Dungeon
  1363.  
  1364. Minion Level: 5
  1365. Minion Stats:
  1366. HP - 100
  1367. AP - 5
  1368. Atk - 10
  1369. Def - 25
  1370. Abi - 0
  1371. Res - 15
  1372.  
  1373. Minion Skills:
  1374. Trog Sight
  1375. Abnormal Biology
  1376.  
  1377. Minion Abilities:
  1378. Consume​
  1379.  
  1380. The second was that it clearly saw me do so. The Troglodyte in a blur of motion swept one hand out to me and another to the adventurer while remaining attached to the stalactite using only its feet to propel itself higher.
  1381.  
  1382. In the hypothetical heartbeat before contact I came to the combined realizations that this thing likely weighed over a thousand pounds judging by its height and thickness and that if it could not only support all of that weight on one or even two of those limbs and suction cups- but hurl the entire mass around- they probably were very, very strong.
  1383.  
  1384. Luckily- they were still physical appendages and dealt physical damage. The Troglodyte’s hand came away empty for me.
  1385.  
  1386. The adventurer was not so lucky. The Trog’s hand spread across the front of his breastplate and without hesitation the adventurer lashed out with his swords to draw twin bloody gashes open on its arm while his booted feet stuck to the ceiling.
  1387.  
  1388. In complete silence the Trog ripped its hand from his chest, and with it, a generous chunk of said chest. The sudden noise seemed almost deafening as it broke the quiet that had suffused the cavern.
  1389.  
  1390. Time seemed to slow as I stumbled to process the event. The armor had not broken apart at the buckles but instead the front plate itself had torn along the edges closest to the Troglodyte’s hand.
  1391.  
  1392. I didn’t think metal could tear!?
  1393.  
  1394. Yet it had. In a clenched fist the Troglodyte held crumpled metal, some sort of leather, and a good chunk of flesh and muscle; I think there might even have been a heart.
  1395.  
  1396. The adventurer’s burst of speed and strength had clearly kicked in even as his chest was ripped open. A series of cut lines spread down the Troglodyte’s arm and towards its head as he cut and hacked at it at speeds I could barely follow. The creature opened its mouth and I saw I had made an error in my previous assessment.
  1397.  
  1398. It did have flat teeth, yes, but it had three sets of them, each set in a different position in the mouth on some sort of separate jaw section. When the mouth was closed only the outermost set of teeth could be seen.
  1399.  
  1400. Now opened one and all- the sets of teeth together bit down on both swords mid-thrust.
  1401.  
  1402. The Trog’s AP descended to zero and I knew it used Consume. The blades, which had been carving through stone without slowing, dulling, or any other sign of stress- both snapped in half just beyond the reach of the teeth.
  1403.  
  1404. The adventurer probably thought to run at that point. I would’ve in his shoes. The problem with that was the Troglodyte had two hands.
  1405.  
  1406. The other one, bereft of latching onto me, shot upwards and caught at the adventures’ own hand before he could recover from the thrust.
  1407.  
  1408. In addition to the uproar of ripping and shattering metal- the shrieks of a man who knew his life was about to end joined the sounds echoing through the cavern. The echoes lasted longer than the man did as the Troglodyte fed on him.
  1409.  
  1410. An unexpected giggle came to my mind.
  1411.  
  1412. How many licks does it take to get to the center of an adventurer?
  1413.  
  1414. [...What?]
  1415.  
  1416. At least I was free from danger. It would take only a few seconds to find my way back to the hole and leave. I abandoned the adventurer’s remains to their fate and climbed up to the ceiling to find the entrance.
  1417.  
  1418. Several minutes later I had still not succeeded. Aside from the center-most pillar in the cavern- which dwarfed any skyscraper I had ever seen in my life a dozen times over in every dimension- every other inch of this cave looked like any other inch. Damp stone with stalactites or stalagmites depending on which way was up.
  1419.  
  1420. I knew the problem and I hated the damned dungeon because of it. The different floors all had passages down/up (how the hell did that work?) but they were sealed between adventuring parties. Meaning any Minion would be stuck on the other side until someone beat a Boss to open up the next portal.
  1421.  
  1422. That meant the stone ceiling would remain shut for now. I irritably turned my gaze around and found myself face-to-face with the grinning Troglodyte.
  1423.  
  1424. At least I think it was grinning. The outermost layer of teeth didn’t really have skin that could cover them or anything so it was stuck permanently exposing its teeth.
  1425.  
  1426. The thing wasn’t attacking me as of yet but to follow along so closely around the cave, even without considering the total lack of light, wasn’t the easiest thing to do. How good was this Trog Sight? His shadow would tell- what the hell?
  1427.  
  1428. _Trog Sight_
  1429. Troglodytes do not use conventional senses to observe the World around them. Instead they possess an innate, though weak, Power of Knowing manifestation that creates knowledge of any and all entities nearby and any activation and/or maintenance of Abilities and Skills without regard to cause and effect. ​
  1430.  
  1431. That was so unexpected that I read it twice and then a third time. What sort of nonsense was this? Everything else thus far had been relatively straightforward- and then quite possibly the crudest being I had found had the most complex Skill?
  1432.  
  1433. [The Power of Knowing… even such a trifling manifestation serves its purpose so well.]
  1434.  
  1435. It seemed like the Trog sort of automatically knew when someone was around and what they were doing. But the way it was phrased made me think there was something bigger it was a part of that I simply didn’t have the potential to fully grasp as of yet.
  1436.  
  1437. The Troglodyte, seemingly right in line with the Skill, kept looking right at me- assuming you referred to its exposed teeth as its ‘face’. I experimentally moved to the left and it followed the motion without error. I went back to the right and again it was clear the Trog knew my location.
  1438.  
  1439. Eventually I gave up and slid up a stalagmite while the thing just stood there, waiting, just as I was.
  1440.  
  1441. Oh the irony. A Shadow was stuck waiting in the dark.
  1442.  
  1443.     #48
  1444.  
  1445. Something that hadn’t changed a bit since I’d become a Shadow was how being by myself in the dark always could lead to some introspective thinking.
  1446.  
  1447. Specifically how I was different than my Troglodyte pal- who had continued following me as I crept about the 3rd Floor.
  1448.  
  1449. At least I kept telling myself I was different.
  1450.  
  1451. Both of us clearly couldn’t communicate. The Troglodyte had yet to make the slightest noise to indicate he could speak and I don’t entirely think I’d ever seen a tongue when its mouth had been open. The guy had not responded to any gesture-based language I’d attempted either.
  1452.  
  1453. He might not be a he. I was willing to take that chance and not reflect further on it. My Shadow form had nothing that marked me as a ‘he’ either.
  1454.  
  1455. The two of us shared a biology, or lack thereof in my case, that made no sense. The Troglodyte had a Skill that outright stated it.
  1456.  
  1457. _Abnormal Biology_
  1458. The biology of the entity possessing this Skill does not follow the rules of natural formation, growth, and sustain traditionally found in Creation.
  1459. Troglodyte Subtype: Troglodytes do not possess any internal organs save a stomach and a network that links the stomach’s contents to the rest of the body.​
  1460.  
  1461. I had no idea how that supposedly worked but then again food seemed either optional or unnecessary in the Spiral Dungeon. I assumed it was linked to Consume but I wasn’t brave enough to try and Shadow Read that.
  1462.  
  1463. Namely because I was afraid of what it might tell me. My newest companion creeped me out in a manner nothing else I’d encountered had. It didn’t do anything but stay near me. if I stopped and sat still then it would too. When I started moving again it would follow- the thing was deceptively slow when it started moving but once it got up to speed it could haul ass and keep up with me extremely well.
  1464.  
  1465. Our most recent chase, out of boredom if nothing else, gave me a better chance to really look over the 3rd Floor.
  1466.  
  1467. The first thing that anyone would notice was it was black in here. Not dim, not dark, not dusky- black. I dunno how far that hole went but it definitely sealed up from this end once adventurers were finished off because there was not the slightest light to be found in the entire area.
  1468.  
  1469. But, assuming you could still see without any light at all, the next thing you’d see would be the giant rock that took up the center-most area of the cavern. I’d never actually been in a skyscraper but I’d seen the massive buildings a few times in the city- this was bigger- by a substantial margin. It took me over an hour to get all the way around the enormous column and it was easily ten times taller than it was wide.
  1470.  
  1471. And here there was a difference between what you would notice next. Some people would not actually approach the monolith itself and so the next thing they would see would be the various spires of stone and mineral that could be found from the ceiling and floor of the cavern. They’d feel dampness in certain spots and encounter the creatures known as Dredge Skeletons that seemed to be stereotypical human skeletons- they just seemed to have a convenient set of Skills that enabled them to always slide across slick or unstable surfaces to advantageous positions and force their remains to scatter in a manner that would mess with enemies.
  1472.  
  1473. Now if you approached the colossal hunk of stone in the cavern? And were capable of sight? You’d find something far more interesting than skeletons.
  1474.  
  1475. It was covered in writing. All of it- at least all of it that I’d seen thus far. The fascinating part was that I could feel the words carved into the structure even though I couldn’t touch them. It was, without question, not English or any other language I knew. And yet was not at all difficult for me to understand exactly what it said.
  1476.  
  1477. [Is that not how it normally works?]
  1478.  
  1479. It was a history. The entire rock from top to bottom had symbols engraved into it a uniform distance in- it felt like the length of my longest finger though they could be chiseled deeper and it wouldn’t surprise me. Getting those sorts of details as a Shadow felt weird to me still. Unusually, to me at least, it was also clearly meant to be read going upwards and to the left rather than downwards and to the right like I was used to.
  1480.  
  1481. Left alone for all practical purposes in the cavern- I picked a section and started to read. My Troglodyte follower kept pace behind me as I traced the message left here.
  1482.  
  1483. The earth is unyielding and the stone is strong. Our hands cannot break the rock. Our minds cannot pierce the dirt. Our fate is to be buried alive unless a magic can be found to free us from this tomb.
  1484.  
  1485. Well- if nothing else I could identify with being imprisoned. The mention of magic breaking free intrigued me no small bit so I followed this particular passage until I found a symbol that translated oddly to me. I knew what it said but not necessarily what it meant.
  1486.  
  1487. Comforting Self Gale continues to provide us with life beneath the surface. Truly nothing provokes a fearsome surge of intellect like impending suffocation. To hear Trr’kt speak of it- the most difficult part was forcing the spent air to vanish. Yet despite our improvements to the air, food, and water we are no closing to escaping this prison.
  1488.  
  1489. Admittedly I was pretty rude for flitting further upwards instead of trying to figure out why whoever these people were had been imprisoned. But this was a really big pillar and I wanted to know if they’d found a way out or not. Had they been imprisoned in the Spiral Dungeon itself? I knew, or at least thought I knew, how I had come to be here- but what of the Minions themselves? I skipped around, sliding up the rock as I looked for something more concrete.
  1490.  
  1491. My teachers would’ve been appalled at this level of skimming. But even with freely sliding past a recorded history that likely crossed months if not years- it still took several hours to get closer to the ceiling than the floor. And then at last it seemed I had found it- the Troglodyte’s birth.
  1492.  
  1493. The Earth-Eaters have matured enough to be put to work. while before we could only scrape upon stone with our bared hands and what crude tools we could devise- now they can Consume the very rock and grow all the stronger for it.
  1494.  
  1495. They are the perfect tool for defeating our curse. They need no air, water, nor food and their jaws enable them to eat Body, Spirit, and Soul equally as well. Any and all excessive organs have been removed to make way only for raw strength and digestive power.
  1496.  
  1497. It is an amusing irony that these creatures- forged of magic and the same stone that imprisons us- might soon become our salvation.
  1498.  
  1499. Body, Spirit, and Soul… I shot a shady glance at the Troglodyte and its endless smile. So the Troglodytes hadn’t been sealed in- but whoever made them had been. But I still didn’t have an answer for whether it was the Spiral Dungeon or not.
  1500.  
  1501. [At least he’s learning of ways to fill the wait.]
  1502.  
  1503. Unfortunately the Earth-Eaters are not without flaw. They are single-minded in their purpose and do not feel pain or any other sensation. This makes them liable to take damage and do nothing differently because of it. Nor can they seemingly communicate either between themselves or their creators- each seems unobservant to the World around them.
  1504.  
  1505. Well it wasn’t talking about a way out as of yet but this was interesting in its own right. To boot I was close to the top of the pillar- one way or another this seemed to be closer to the end. Had they escaped? Or had they failed? And how were the Trogs unable to figure out their surroundings when they clearly had some Power of Knowing thing now?
  1506.  
  1507. In the midst of my continued search I noticed something- or rather a lack of it.
  1508.  
  1509. Where the hell did the Troglodyte go?!
  1510.  
  1511. My attention had become so focused on tracing the history that the Trog had disappeared and I hadn’t even seen it go. Or heard it.
  1512.  
  1513. I did, however, now hear something else entirely- the clash of metal and screams of men and women engaged in battle. I scanned the far spires and was treated to a crack of lightning that made it abundantly clear where the fighting was taking place.
  1514.  
  1515. The exit back to the 2nd Floor interested me more than any ancient history. And so long as Abyssen died fighting adventurers nothing actually would stop me from returning and continuing my research. It was a rough going but at last a sort of niche was beginning to develop for me to work in. The writing had also given me an idea for communicating with the Pixies but in order to do so I had to get out.
  1516.  
  1517. Follow the bloody- screaming- road.
  1518.  
  1519. I reached the ceiling in only minutes and with all haste sped off towards the horizontal stone spire I’d seen the lightning on. As I drew closer figures began to gain definition: from dots, to moving shapes, to men and women surrounded by skeletons and Trogs.
  1520.  
  1521. It didn’t look pretty. The Dredge Skeletons were individually weak but their Skills enabled them to be far more threatening than they had any right to be. Should one fall its slimy bones would scatter and attempt to trip up an adventurer. Meanwhile the skeletons that still fought could and did find themselves stepping on a bone and sliding just enough to dodge a swing or two from an adventurer or alternatively even landing a hit of their own.
  1522.  
  1523. The Troglodytes were only two in number and seemed to be focusing on a female glowing with white magic. They both hung off either edge of the spire with only a single arm and their toothy smiles peeking up over the edge at her. The magic was so radiant that I could see no shadow beneath her to read- though I didn’t believe that was the sole purpose because the Dredge Skeletons exposed to that light turned to ash in short order.
  1524.  
  1525. Well, I wanted nothing to do with that. During my crude search of the pillar I’d noticed my HP had returned to its whopping maximum of two and I was in no hurry to test my luck again. That was almost certainly magical light and it looked to be doing damage too. This was presumably a Priest- er- Priestess that knew what she was doing.
  1526.  
  1527. The three men surrounding her all had similar jawlines and fought with spears- which seemed like a mistake to me. The spears- not the jawline. The skeletons had no vitals and so the piercing attacks weren’t as effective as they would be against a living opponent. The guys had been reduced to using them more like staffs instead and repeatedly hammering any undead that came within reach with either end.
  1528.  
  1529. Another clap of lightning lit up the World around them and I saw one of the spears crackling with energy as the skeleton it had struck shattered into a hundred pieces. So it had not been the Priestess responsible for that- but the men that I assumed were Warriors judging by their non-existent armor. There had not been any shout or particular technique that I saw which led me to believe the spears themselves were magical and zapped someone every so often. How that worked underground I had no idea because the lightning had shot down from the ceiling into said spear.
  1530.  
  1531. The Troglodytes had both turned their heads towards the spear that let off a burst of lightning and a crack of thunder. In that brief reprieve the Priestess spun in a circle with her staff held as far out from her as possible. A ring of silver fire appeared and surged outwards to ignite either Trog as well as half a dozen skeletons within a good fifteen feet of her staff’s end. Her companions, who seemed to share her hair color and facial structure as if this was a family or clan of some sort, were unaffected by the holy flames.
  1532.  
  1533. while the Troglodytes had been seemingly content to wait- the fire caused them to take action. To say they jumped or burst into motion would be very wrong- the Troglodytes when at rest didn't move at all. When they started moving it was not a sudden acceleration but a slow one where they gradually ramped up their speed and mobility. The ending result however was a slow and steady race to speeds that were very unsettling for the sheer size of them. I'd been able to see the battle from a hundred feet away but now I drew close enough that I could see individual flecks of matter sliding off the Troglodyte's teeth as both lunged at the Priestess.
  1534.  
  1535. One of the Warriors threw himself backwards to intercept a Trog and successfully caught the beast on his spear's end. A blast of lightning shot from the ceiling and into the spear from the same motion to shock the abnormal creature. I thought I detected an expression of confident joy in the Warrior's face in the lightning's brief flash of light. That joy turned to horror as the Troglodyte continued forwards and slid along the length of the spear until either hand could reach the spear's holder. Having witnessed the Trog rip a chunk out of a breastplate- I was not in the least surprised when the man's torso split as the half with the spine attached went one way and the other half went another.
  1536.  
  1537. The other two Warriors had attempted to back up but each suffered their own difficulty. One had found his footing compromised from slime-covered bones falling in just such a way that he fell to one knee to keep from being laid out entirely and the other's spear had been successfully seized by the Dredge Skeletons and he now was attempting to pull the weapon free of several of the undead all grabbing either it or one another to slow him down.
  1538.  
  1539. The Priestess was alone. She struck the stone beneath her and a continuous stream of what looked like water shot from the impact in a wave that caught the shocked Troglodyte and pushed it more than twenty feet backwards to force it from the spire itself.
  1540.  
  1541. But there were two Troglodytes. The other caught her up by the waist and brought her up to its mouth as I could see not one, but three sets of teeth open wide. For the first time ever I found myself thankful that I had so little HP. Because despite chomping down hard enough for blood to violently spurt across the spire's length- her legs still kicked and lashed out as the Priestess screamed and tried to break free. Her radiant light gave the Troglodyte's shadow a painful and dark outline and so I looked into its Ability that it had not yet used judging by its AP. The words I'd read on the pillar haunted me as the Ability became clear.
  1542.  
  1543. _Consume_
  1544. Ability Type: Damage Ability
  1545. Damage Potential: High
  1546. Damage Type: Physical, Magical, Spiritual
  1547. Range: Melee reach
  1548. Cost: 5 AP
  1549.  
  1550. The Troglodyte's jaws bite and tear at the Body, Spirit, and Soul of what they touch- enabling the Trog to potentially eat and devour anything in Creation.
  1551. This was made all the worse when I realized I heard the Priestess' scream not once, but overlaid with itself three times as she struggled to break free. How much HP she had I didn't know- but the Troglodyte's AP was reduced to zero and, with a final pitched shriek and a snapping noise that echoed in the silence afterwords, the Priestess' legs gave a final jerk and then fell limp as the Troglodyte slowly and meticulously finished eating her.
  1552.  
  1553. The two remaining Warriors were besieged and looked to be out of luck. I didn't know how many Dredge Skeletons had attacked them originally but less than a dozen remained. But the Troglodyte began advancing towards the conflict as another bolt of lightning cracked into being and the one that had been hurled from the spire emerged from the edge it had fallen from: smoking, burning, but still alive.
  1554.  
  1555. I saw the entrance above them- the black void that the adventurers had fallen down. Without hesitation I fled up its lengths as I left the 3rd Floor behind me. I'd seen quite enough death for one day and now that my HP had regenerated I felt confident the Pixies would've been fixed. I hadn't seen any needles sticking out of this group and I told myself that meant the Pixies had not encountered them.
  1556.  
  1557. The Pixies are okay.
  1558.  
  1559. It was a phrase I repeated to myself the entire trip up the lightless shaft. It was the mantra I continuously intoned as a light finally appeared and rapidly grew as I approached. I told myself again and again they should be alright as I emerged into Abyssen's lair and noted the Daemon himself was not present.
  1560.  
  1561. I shot off into the woods, seeking out the Pixies and trying my hardest to listen for any of the Pitches to reach my... well not ears but however Shadows apparently made sense of sound. Around a bend in the path I went and stopped short as I beheld a tree, burned black and shattered, lying across the path. It was familiar to me- this was the forest perch Mid Pitch and I had sat on after her friends' respawned. Small bits of fire, both of natural hue and silver, still crackled along a few spots on it.
  1562.  
  1563. "Pixies! Can you hear me? Pixies!"
  1564.  
  1565. I circled the tree three times in rapid succession but heard nothing. No laughter, no panting, no Pitches either Low, Mid, or High. Nor did I find bodies that I could feel.
  1566.  
  1567. The flames had extinguished and I propped myself against the fallen tree and morosely looked at the ground, "Answer me... don't be gone..."
  1568.  
  1569. A minute passed before I realized that if the flames had gone out then that meant the growing sound of buzzing wasn't burning wood but instead-
  1570.  
  1571. "Shadow!"
  1572.  
  1573. By far the strangest thing I had ever faced in the Spiral Dungeon was the feeling of a small pair of hands, invisible, hugging my flat face as Mid Pitch's wings made a small breeze.
  1574.  
  1575. "Oh wow- he came back?"
  1576.  
  1577. "Of course he did."
  1578.  
  1579. High and Low Pitch had returned as well and seemingly recognized me. In fact they all must've been quite happy to see me as well as the three Pixies all turned visible to hug me in turn. The former babbled about lightning crashing through the woods while the
  1580. latter gave a cool summary that they'd hidden from the Warriors once they'd all struck a tree in unison and shattered the trunk with a combined shot of lightning followed by the Priestess hurling sacred fire at it.
  1581.  
  1582. I eventually broke free, though it wasn't difficult, and began rapidly waving my hands to get their attention. The Pitches hung in the air as I made a stabbing gesture with my hand.
  1583.  
  1584. Mid Pitch pulled a Pixie-sized knife from its sheath at her side and flew closer with a confused look on her face. I eventually persuaded her to begin scratching several lines into the tree as she followed an extended finger of mine.
  1585.  
  1586. The design was simple but one I hoped would work. If I could understand the symbols explaining the Troglodytes without being able to actually read it- it followed the Pixies could as well. So if I made a symbol all my own then they should be able to read it!
  1587.  
  1588. I held my metaphorical breath as Mid Pitch completed the design. It wasn't terribly unique but I hoped it would function. It was basically an upper-case M but with three circles above it and a line underneath it. I focused all my being on determining this was the symbol to mean what I wanted it to mean: Minions, the three of them as circles, and the line representing me. I wanted the Pixies to understand it was the symbol that meant, 'us'. I don't think I had ever wanted anything so badly in all my time in the Spiral Dungeon.
  1589.  
  1590. The three Pitches gathered close when the symbol was finished and a seeming eternity passed before High Pitch spun around with confusion clear on her face, "Us?"
  1591.  
  1592. I cheered so loudly, in theory I guess, that the Pixies began rubbing their eyes at how pronounced my Spirit had been. But they smiled all the same and- though none could see it- I was as well.
  1593.  
  1594. We could communicate! Me and my friends could, in a fashion, talk to one another! I don't think I'd ever been so happy.
  1595.  
  1596.    #62
  1597.  
  1598. As it turns out, a language barrier is a formidable thing. But despite the difficulties we faced- my new system of symbols was expanding by the hour. Originally I had struggled somewhat but adding circles and lines to the English alphabet actually seemed to be working rather well. I couldn’t exactly write an essay but certain concepts were easy to establish.
  1599.  
  1600. Thus far we had reached twelve symbols: us, Pixies, Shadow, magic, adventurers, Abyssen, hide, attack, danger, where, explain further, and repeat.
  1601.  
  1602.  
  1603.  
  1604. It wasn’t a new language really- but just a way to convey ideas on my end. The Pixies could talk as much as they wanted after all. But I could point to the symbols and the various Pitches could then talk about what the symbol represented. Mid Pitch had suggested the Pixies carve the symbols on several trees so no matter where we were- I could always point to the ones I needed.
  1605.  
  1606. High Pitch tended to get side-tracked which was why I created ‘repeat’ so she’d go over the relevant bits again. Low Pitch would give important information but with so little context or explanation that I often needed to use ‘explain further’ on her.
  1607.  
  1608. I planned to use this system on the next group of adventurers. It had occurred to me that if Sage’s had a Reveal spell at such a low level then the Pixie’s invisibility, or indeed any invisibility, was liable to be crushed in short order. I however was not invisible but merely subtle- and I could see Classes and Levels while the Pixies could not.
  1609.  
  1610. In fact now, more than ever, I fully believed the Shadow Minions were geared towards if not being assassins then perhaps a debuff-based stealth class. I’d reached Level 4 since the last time I’d checked my Status Window and gained a new Skill.
  1611.  
  1612. _Shadow Degradation_
  1613. The holder of this Skill can damage the HP of an enemy when hiding in their shadow. This damage causes no pain or injury and cannot be noticed by looking at the Status Window. This Skill cannot kill an enemy- only reduce them to a single point of HP.​
  1614.  
  1615. That’s… interesting.
  1616.  
  1617. “Isn’t it?”
  1618.  
  1619. To say I jumped out of my skin would be wrong in so many ways- but conveying the sheer surprise I felt at a voice that wasn’t a Pixie sounding off just behind me was difficult. I certainly spun my sight around as rapidly as I could while backing away with just as much urgency but slowed when I noticed who had spoken.
  1620.  
  1621. The Keeper to Spiral Dungeon was standing atop the same branch I was- emerald flames and all. His arms were crossed over his chest and while voices were still difficult I was quite certain he sounded relaxed. That seemed like a good omen, surely?
  1622.  
  1623. The Pixies seemed all too happy to greet him. They each became visible and flew up to exchange fist-bumps as I looked on enviously. It was such a simple thing but still beyond what I was remotely capable of- at times it felt like the only interaction I could have with someone was fighting.
  1624.  
  1625. “About that- I want to speak with you, Shadow.”
  1626.  
  1627. Right. Mind reader.
  1628.  
  1629. “Among other things.” The Keeper pointed at the Knight. The fallen adventurer’s armor turned transparent and a medallion from around his neck slid free and drifted through the armor and into a waiting gloved hand before disappearing in a burst of green fire.
  1630.  
  1631. I decided the best bet was to stay nearby and quiet as the Keeper snapped his fingers and caused each body, armor and all, to disperse into dust and fade from sight. Magic seemed all sorts of weird in this World- some needed words while the Keeper only ever used gestures.
  1632.  
  1633. “It’s a matter of technique. You can increase how powerful a spell is by using the full chant and casting ritual or you can use the minimal form by just pointing or even with no motion at all.”
  1634.  
  1635. Dumbass. He can read your mind.
  1636.  
  1637. “I wouldn’t worry about it.” The Keeper waved the Pixies off and beckoned me closer with his hand. “You are presenting something of a problem for me for an entirely different reason.”
  1638.  
  1639. “I am?” I didn’t like the sound of that at all. It certainly hadn’t been deliberate on my part.
  1640.  
  1641. “Moreso Abyssen. He has refused to return to this floor under its current condition.”
  1642.  
  1643. It took me a moment to process that. “He won’t come back?” That sounded too good to be true. I had no doubt in my mind the Daemon could hold a grudge but it hadn’t occurred to me he would be so petty about it.
  1644.  
  1645. “He will not so long as you remain on the same floor.” The Keeper shook his head. The movement caused emerald flames to burst into being and scatter along his horns. “That is why you cannot stay here.”
  1646.  
  1647. “But…” I was making so much progress! The Pixies and I could communicate and I had even found projects to occupy my time like developing our symbols and even possibly sneaking down to read up on the Troglodytes!
  1648.  
  1649. The Keeper was silent as he no doubt read through my thoughts as easily as I could voice them. After a moment he tilted his head, “You very much enjoy guarding the 2nd Floor then?”
  1650.  
  1651. “I just don’t want them to forget about me.” I lamented. “Or one another.” I frankly couldn’t care less about actually beating adventurers. If they all ran past without fighting it wouldn’t bother me in the least. My concerns were on my fellow Minions- not the invaders or even the Bosses.
  1652.  
  1653. “The Pixies?” The Keeper sounded surprised, “They’ll always find one another and rekindle their friendships. What is the harm if they briefly forget one another?”
  1654.  
  1655. “Memories matter!” I shouted, or the Shadow equivalent at least, to my own surprise. I was unsure of where this sudden burst of anger and even sadness had come from. A brief vision reached me of an old man, thin and frail, lying in a hospital bed with a confused face as he looked around the room at the people standing around him, myself included. I couldn’t recall his relation to me but in turn he didn’t seem to recognize anyone else either. “It hurts when one of them is left behind. That pain is real.”
  1656.  
  1657. The Keeper’s flames danced atop his head, “They’re going to die eventually, Shadow. The adventures will not always be so weak that Pixies can survive fighting them. Your struggle is in vain.”
  1658.  
  1659. I felt my Shadow form condensing, tightening, shifting in some manner, as I worked to keep calm. “Why can’t Abyssen just stay wherever the hell he is now?!”
  1660.  
  1661. “Perhaps I should be more blunt.” The Keeper idly lifted a hand and watched one of the green flames dance across it. “Abyssen stated if he returns to this floor that he will kill you and the Pixies every chance he gets. I had imagined you wouldn’t want this to happen.”
  1662.  
  1663. “Of course not.” I grumbled. That dick. “You really won’t stop him?”
  1664.  
  1665. “I can hardly hold offense at the idea of vengeance- you drew first blood.”
  1666.  
  1667. “I did!” The thought energized me and brought a bit of calm. The shivering along my edges had stopped as hope bloomed. “So if he comes back-”
  1668.  
  1669. “You will doubtlessly command him not to fight you. And when the command wears off, and it will, he will then try to kill you all the harder.” The Keeper’s voice was neutral about this impending hatred and ensuing death. No helpful advice was forthcoming.
  1670.  
  1671. “Isn’t there any way?” I wondered at the Keeper. “Could I be the Boss instead of him?”
  1672.  
  1673. “Minions cannot become Bosses.” The Keeper responded so quickly that I wondered if he was lying or it was just so ingrained to him that it was a reflex to answer that question. “That is a decision made when the entity is first entered into the Spiral Dungeon.” The covered hands rose upwards in a slight shrug, “I cannot change the rules- only enforce them. We are all bound by the same contract within the Spiral Dungeon’s walls.”
  1674.  
  1675. “But the Pixies can’t stay here!” I probably would’ve been crying if I possessed actual eyes. “Abyssen will kill them out of spite! What could they do? Where could they go?”
  1676.  
  1677. I was silent as the train of thought carried on. Where could they go? “They can’t go to the 1st Floor because they’ll encounter even more adventurers. They won’t like the 3rd Floor with the black cavern that they cannot see in- but what about lower floors?”
  1678.  
  1679. “Minions are limited to traveling to Floors equal to their level.” The Keeper pointed out, “The only Pixie that can currently follow you even to the 3rd Floor is the one you call Mid Pitch. The others are too weak.”
  1680.  
  1681. “But that would work, right?” I wanted an answer, “If they were strong enough then they’d be able to go to other floors where Abyssen cannot reach?”
  1682.  
  1683. “I would need to replace them with different Minions.” The Keeper’s fingers tapped along the branch of the tree in thought, each releasing a tiny circle of flame around the impact, though they never left a burn. “But yes, theoretically, you could try taking them to another floor.”
  1684.  
  1685. “Alright!” It was a plan, perhaps not the best one, but a plan that I could start working on immediately. I hesitantly voiced another question, “I don’t suppose you feel like bumping everyone up to Level 4?”
  1686.  
  1687. The Keeper mutely stared at me and I gave the Shadow equivalent of a sigh, “So I’m at Level 4, Mid Pitch is Level 3, and the others are Level 2? How can I get them to Level 3 at least?”
  1688.  
  1689. “I would advise killing adventurers myself.” The Keeper vanished from sight as I heard the barest echo of the dungeon doors opening and closing. The Dungeon Keeper must be a Boss then.
  1690.  
  1691. “Wait!” I called out in frustration, “Can’t you help me?”
  1692.  
  1693. The Keeper’s voice reached me, echoing as though it came from far away, “You have all the tools you need. I will speak to Abyssen to delay his return. Perhaps I will offer him another attempt at battling Saxe. After that though I can make no more assurances. You show promise Shadow, let me see what you can do with it.”
  1694.  
  1695. The Pixies returned within an instant of the Keeper departing. I could feel the draft of their invisible wings as they fluttered midair.
  1696.  
  1697. Mid Pitch spoke first, “What’s going on, Shadow?”
  1698.  
  1699. I groaned, “I don’t know… we need to go to another floor.”
  1700.  
  1701. High Pitch piped up, “Why?”
  1702.  
  1703. The 3rd Floor was definitely out of the question, I could already see a Trog mouth opening and the Pixies disappearing inside like a small flailing snack- wait what?
  1704.  
  1705. “You heard me?”
  1706.  
  1707. “Yes.” Low Pitch sounded less than enthusiastic about it. She became visible and pointed downwards. “You’re still glowing.”
  1708.  
  1709. I slid up the tree’s trunk so that I could successfully look down at my body and, sure enough, the shining remnants of a green outline were fading away.
  1710.  
  1711. “I can talk?!” There was, understandably, a certain disbelief regarding this development.
  1712.  
  1713. Mid Pitch became visible and seemed reluctant to explain further, “I think it’s temporary. We must be fast- what did the Keeper say to you?”
  1714.  
  1715. I filled the three of them in as rapidly as possible: Abyssen’s newfound and malicious desires, the deal the Keeper had accepted, and a quick explanation of the floors above and below so far as I knew about them.
  1716.  
  1717. I also made a point to ask them their names.
  1718.  
  1719. Mid Pitch was called Rosemary and was the de facto leader of the trio. Low Pitch lost precious seconds (for all I knew) demanding to know why I wanted to be told but eventually said I was to call her Lavender. High Pitch took up even more time trying to ask me my name first, which hurt no small bit when I couldn’t respond, before she finally was convinced to tell me her name was Buttercup.
  1720.  
  1721. In the midst of this conversation, which kept their attention while they were still visible, even Buttercup, I checked their Status Windows and found that Buttercup and Lavender’s were identical in terms of Skill and Abilities.
  1722.  
  1723. Minion Race: Pixie
  1724. Minion Allegiance: Keeper of the Spiral Dungeon
  1725.  
  1726. Minion Level: 2
  1727. Minion Stats:
  1728. HP - 5
  1729. AP - 0
  1730. Atk - 3
  1731. Def - 1
  1732. Abi - 2
  1733. Res - 3
  1734.  
  1735. Minion Skills:
  1736. Invisibility
  1737. Heart Sight
  1738.  
  1739. Minion Abilities:
  1740. None​
  1741.  
  1742. Rosemary was Level 3 and, aside from a bit more HP at 7 and one more point in Atk, there was no difference between her and the others.
  1743.  
  1744. The glow surrounding my outline had steadily diminished but I estimated it had a few minutes left. I ran through the long list of questions and settled for the two most immediate ones that jumped out at me.
  1745.  
  1746. “What is your debt to Abyssen and is there anything of value on this floor?” Abyssen had mentioned there was something here the adventurer could want and, unlike before, he’d not called Abyssen a liar for it.
  1747.  
  1748. Lavender mutely pointed to their wings while Buttercup, loudly, chirped in, “Well this is actually one of the first floors because that way adventurers can chop up trees for materials later down: ladders, torches, splints, crude backpacks-” she went on naming for quite some time, naming just about anything made of wood. ”They also want our wings.”
  1749.  
  1750. “Your wings?”
  1751.  
  1752. Lavender faded from sight briefly and then reappeared, “If you crush and powder our wings- you can make dust that will make you just as invisible for a few minutes. It’s worth a fair bit of gold.”
  1753.  
  1754. I noticed the third member had been quiet this whole time, “Rosemary?”
  1755.  
  1756. She looked at the ground, “We’re indebted to Abyssen because of me. Lavender and Buttercup died to adventurers and I found Abyssen when he was freshly remaking his body. I asked him to help me, then I pleaded, and then I begged. I didn’t know they’d come back.”
  1757.  
  1758. “And you made a deal.”
  1759.  
  1760. Rosemary nodded, “And I made a deal I thought I could live with. In the end after he resurrected them we would be free from his grasp.”
  1761.  
  1762. A sick feeling hit me, “But… the Keeper brings you back.”
  1763.  
  1764. “Yes.” The word was a whisper. Lavender and Buttercup drifted close to each hold one of Rosemary’s hands. “Our debt lasts until we all die and he brings us back. I promised him with the blood of my sisters on my hands that we would repay him together or never.”
  1765.  
  1766. So that was the story. Rosemary had been just as fresh as I was and made a similar mistake. “But surely the debt fades eventually?”
  1767.  
  1768. “No.” Lavender answered this one, “Our Bodies and Spirits don’t change when respawned. A debt of blood is owed to the Body and acknowledgment of that debt goes to the Spirit. We can never forget it so long as Abyssen himself remembers it.”
  1769.  
  1770. The glow was fading fast, I mentally scrambled to get more use out of it, “Listen, when adventurers do come, let me get in close to check them out so I can figure out who we should attack first. Do you know what Classes can find you?”
  1771.  
  1772. Buttercup burst upwards in a surge of energy, “I do!” I didn’t have a face to drop my jaw and didn’t get a chance to vocalize further before she started rattling them off, “Scouts and Sages get stuff to find us early on. Finding enemies is the core of their Classes. Monks when they level up enough can feel us in the air. Shamans get a debuff that tracks us if they learn the ritual. Warriors can learn a sort of instinct for finding things they can’t see-”
  1773.  
  1774. “Alright!” Buttercup’s eyes widened in shock and I hastily added, “I don’t know what the max level is for adventurers but thus far they’ve been low-level. So I’m not worried about what they can do when they’re a lot stronger. But that means Scouts and Sages get priority followed by any offensive magic Classes.” The glow was also almost gone. “Worst case scenario we can always just hide- right?” The Pixies nodded in unison. “Okay, alright, so once I get you all to Level 3 we’re getting the hell off this floor.”
  1775.  
  1776. “You said the 3rd Floor wouldn’t be better for us to stay on.” Lavender made a rational interjection.
  1777.  
  1778. “It’s not really. But I don’t know how long it will be until Abyssen gets back.” The Keeper had said she might lure him to fight Saxe again- I assumed that was who Abyssen had lost to previously. But if Abyssen turned her down then he’d presumably be headed right for us. “The thing is when he does return we can’t leave until he’s dead. That’s the only way the passage to the next floor opens.”
  1779.  
  1780. “Can we take him?” Rosemary was looking right at the spot my eyes would be located if I had them, “Do you think we can fight him and win?”
  1781.  
  1782. “No.” I really didn’t. Once maybe, if he didn’t expect it, but Abyssen had shown he was capable of healing and restoring himself in an instant entirely separately from the Spiral Dungeon’s mechanics. At a minimum we had to kill him twice before he killed us once. At a maximum, if he felt like he needed to punish us beyond the normal cost? There was no knowing. Bosses had different rules. “Can you Pixies see without light?”
  1783.  
  1784. “Nope.” Buttercup was still cheerful about the impending ordeal. “But we can bring sticks and stuff to make torches and even a campfire. And it’s not like we’ll be there for long.”
  1785.  
  1786. The glow had nearly faded to nothing and I could hear the difference- my words were louder at the start of sentences than the end. I ended up simply trying a given curious syllable, “Eh?”
  1787.  
  1788. She placed either hand behind her shaggy blonde locks and gave me a bright white smile, “If we’re not up here- then the adventurers won’t have anything to weaken them before they fight Abyssen. And he intentionally throws those battles. So they’ll get to the 3rd Floor automatically.”
  1789.  
  1790. I caught a glint of purple from above and saw Lavender’s head pop around the edge of the tree, “They’re here.”
  1791.  
  1792. The glow was so faint I could barely see it but I tried my damnedest to voice my last thought before it could vanish, “I want you all to know I’m sorry for bringing this on you.”
  1793.  
  1794. Rosemary drifted close and laid a bare hand on the tree trunk where my own, considerably larger, hand was depicted. “We’re all sorry for something. All that matters is recognizing it and moving past it.”
  1795.  
  1796. The glow was gone. We had returned to our normal inability to properly communicate. But I was glad there was an understanding between us, however temporary. And I was incredibly happy I’d learned their names.
  1797.  
  1798. Because if they died and I didn’t- I vowed to remember them forever. And not as ‘Pitches’ or ‘Pixies’ but as living, breathing, beings… especially if they came back without remembering me.
  1799.  
  1800. We separated and prepared for the incoming party. It was surprisingly simple to slide up a tree and spy on them. The forest was dark and they carried a single torch between the four of them- which made for easy access to most of their shadows and consequently their Status Windows.
  1801.  
  1802. A Knight, a Shaman, a Scout, and a Warrior. In particular I noted an Ability the Shaman possessed.
  1803.  
  1804. _Earth Bind_
  1805. Ability Type: Control Ability
  1806. Control Potential: Limited
  1807. Control Type: Physical
  1808. Range: 50 feet radius
  1809. Cost: 15 AP
  1810.  
  1811. The caster of this spell forces all hostiles within range to remain bound to the closest earthen surface for up to five seconds. Any enemy not initially grounded in this manner will be forced to the closest viable surface such: as dirt, stone, or vegetation, and remain there. Those afflicted can still move so long as they remain in contact with the earthly element at all times.​
  1812.  
  1813. While not sounding all that bad to me- that was definitely a bad thing for the Pixies and their flight. Luckily it didn’t sound like it would actually reveal them and given they flew- they’d likely be stuck to a tree rather than the actual ground.
  1814.  
  1815. An equal, if more personal, problem was that I learned Shadow Read had a distinct drawback: a faint shadow would be too dim for me to get much out of. I didn’t know what the Scout could do. I could still see his Race and Class even with the bright torch in his hand but everything below that was lost to me.
  1816.  
  1817. He had to go first.
  1818.  
  1819. I knew in theory my Shadow form was not absolute in how it appeared. I’d glimpsed at times my legs in particular merging into a single limb when moving along the ground or ceiling while they returned to their normal paired status when walking on a wall or the like. But I’d never been able to make it grow lighter or otherwise freely change shape.
  1820.  
  1821. Because of this I found it very difficult to approach the group without being seen. Non-magical light didn’t make me any harder to see- effectively it would pick me out twice as well because I would still be black as night. What I needed was a distraction so I could sneak in and use my new Shadow Degradation to hopefully start hurting them without being noticed.
  1822.  
  1823. And the Pixies provided. A branch above the adventurers cracked and shook like a small, invisible, being had just flown into it at high speeds and kicked it. In unison they all looked upwards at it and I took my chance to zip from my branch several feet above their heads, down the tree, and around a dozen feet to curl around the feet of the Scout, all before the Warrior’s head snapped back down to keep an eye on the path.
  1824.  
  1825. I wasn’t sure if the confidence in the plan was my own or some inner prompting from the Shadow’s rudimentary Spirit but it had succeeded. My form found the darkest of shadow the Scout gave off and I found myself adapting to it and matching his movements almost instinctively. It was scary to feel a sort of second control acting but I’d already gone in so there was no helping it.
  1826.  
  1827. A major point in my favor- the Scout was in the center of the group. Seemingly nobody was interested in looking at his feet. The party after a few seconds set off again with a muttered, “Come on” from the Warrior in front.
  1828.  
  1829. And the game began. Regardless of how close I was- the Scout didn’t cast a dark enough shadow for me to see his HP. I could feel on a level that was difficult to describe that my Skill was working but I couldn’t tell how quickly or how long it was going. It was, theoretically, a game of chicken against myself.
  1830.  
  1831. Seconds passed, then minutes, and the party continued down the path without incident. The Pixies were sticking to the plan and waiting for me to disable the Scout and then they’d likely move on to the Shaman immediately afterwards. The strategy was solid- I just needed to make it work.
  1832.  
  1833. I began to get somewhat petty about the Scout’s continued good health around two minutes in. Shadow Degradation didn’t seem to be all that powerful. The Pixies would have shot the guy over a hundred times, each, invisibly, and from further away during this timeframe. The rest of the party was only around Level 3 so it didn't make sense for the Scout to be absurdly beyond them. How much HP could he possibly have?
  1834.  
  1835. It was, of course, during this moment of contemplation that the Scout suddenly gasped and fell to his knees and began coughing up blood. He’d reached a single health point. Three needles immediately hit the back of his neck and he dropped dead on the spot. It might’ve been my imagination but I thought I heard a muttered, “Finally” from somewhere above too. I'd have bet good money it had come from a certain purple-haired Pixie too.
  1836.  
  1837. The other three adventurers leapt into action. The Warrior hefted up a pair of throwing axes and sent them spinning through the air in the direction the arrows had come from while the Knight drew a sword and shield and stood in front of the chanting Shaman. A series of cracks and crashes sounded from the trees as several branches fell through the canopy to the ground below.
  1838.  
  1839. The Shaman had a sort of necklace made of tied-together bones and four different lengths of similar bones fell from the garment and the entire affair rattled as the almost skeleton-thin man began to dance in time with his words before slapping the ground with either palm at the end.
  1840.  
  1841. “I call to leaf, I call to stone, I call to bark, I call to loam- Earth Bind!”
  1842.  
  1843. His words rang out and even though I was as close to the ground as someone could physically be I still felt the effect pass by though I was unhindered by it. The Pixies were still bound to the branches of the trees but their needles soon riddled him and slew him in return- aided by me taking advantage of the displaced attention to slip into the Shaman’s shadow though I had not yet attacked.
  1844.  
  1845. Unfortunately, the spell had not ended with his death and the two others were quick to decipher the whereabouts of the Pixies from the directions of their weapons. I unleashed a precise and swift attack on the back of each of their legs in order to prevent either of them from moving towards my allies.
  1846.  
  1847. _Shadow Strike_
  1848. _Shadow Strike_
  1849.  
  1850. I beat a hasty retreat as their weapons lashed out and left twin slices through the ground where I had been an instant prior. Whether they were magical or not I could not know and so took no undue risks. The Knight had been unharmed beyond a scratch to his armor. The Warrior however had been cut at least two inches deep with each claw. Admittedly I had struck with a great deal more anger against the Warrior- I recognized the fur that made up his cape. At some point in the past he or someone else had killed the wolves on the 1st Floor and skinned them.
  1851.  
  1852. The distraction however was long enough for the Pixies to take to the skies again. The Knight was armored too well and seemingly could not be damaged by them but the Warrior slowed down and eventually fell to the endless onslaught and inability to successfully locate his enemies. When he reached a single hit point he hefted a double-headed battle axe and threw the entire affair up into a tree and cleanly sliced through a living trunk almost two feet thick but the returning three needles that struck him in the chest confirmed my allies’ survival and he collapsed soon after.
  1853.  
  1854. The Knight refused to leave the bodies of his comrades and shouted for quite some time for the Pixies to reveal themselves and fight him. In fact he spent so long doing so that I managed to regain enough AP to use Shadow Strike again- aiming for the same spot on his armored left leg.
  1855.  
  1856. It seemed Equipment didn’t restore over time like HP. With this second blow I succeeded in opening up the armor behind his knee and the Pixies took advantage by forming a sort of triangle. No matter which direction the Knight turned he found two needles being fired at his eyes while a third went for the open spot in his armored leg.
  1857.  
  1858. They were petty wounds but eventually they added up. While I couldn’t see his helmet I did spot a number of needles seemingly bouncing off his bare face. The man would’ve been a model Santa Claus if he had a beard given how red and fat his face was. But there was no jolly to this guy’s mug- only anger and the odd drip of blood from a few needles that found their way through the armor's gaps to hit his eyes or nearby.
  1859.  
  1860. He fell. There was nothing pretty about it. No legendary last stand. Once his HP hit one point the man experienced severe difficulty breathing and no longer were his injuries healing. That seemed particularly bad given at that point he had a good dozen arrows or more the length of a pine needle embedded in the front of his skull. I was no biology major but that didn't sound healthy.
  1861.  
  1862. From there the Pixies all drew rather close from what I could tell because I saw two shots go dead-center into his eyes and I thought I saw a third go between a chink in his armor under the arm. The rest was a sad history.
  1863.  
  1864. The Pixies each reappeared briefly to inform me they were ready to leave and they showed small backpacks formed of interwoven leaves. I could see Buttercup and Lavender had each successfully reached Level 3. I couldn’t imagine what they could have inside the backpacks in any useful quantity but there was no time to waste. We made a mad rush towards Abyssen’s lair and dove through the hole to reach the 3rd Floor. It might've been my over-active imagination but I thought I saw a burst of flame start to appear in the chamber just before we hurtled downwards.
  1865.  
  1866. Darkness awaited us.
  1867.  
  1868.    #78
  1869.  
  1870. Rosemary
  1871. She couldn’t see her hand in front of her face. This was not, technically, unusual as the Pixies spent quite a lot of time in the Spiral Dungeon invisible. However Rosemary turned her Skill on and off with no difference in results.
  1872.  
  1873. This was the 3rd Floor. The Shadow had brought them here to keep them safe from Abyssen. Not a day had gone that Rosemary hadn’t regretted making a deal with that Daemon and now this new being, the human boy whose Spirit she could feel clashing with the more instinctive and hostile Spirit of the Shadow, was suffering and perhaps would soon die on behalf of her and the other Pixies.
  1874.  
  1875. It wasn’t fair. But life hadn’t been fair for quite some time.
  1876.  
  1877. Rosemary felt Buttercup’s hands shaking and quickly reached out to grab one and hold it tight.
  1878.  
  1879. “Don’t worry, we have a guide who’s been down here before.”
  1880.  
  1881. She could feel the boy’s Spirit zipping around on the spire of stone they’d landed on. From left to right he went over, under, over, under- his Spirit radiated concern and that knowledge drove a spike of ice deep into Rosemary’s heart.
  1882.  
  1883. He’s worrying enough for all of us.
  1884.  
  1885. Lavender, practical as always, was still invisible and her Spirit radiated calm. “If we wait here, we’ll be right on top of the adventurers when they show up.”
  1886.  
  1887. Rosemary gave Buttercup’s hand another squeeze, “We’ll only be down here long enough to get to a higher level- then we’re gone.”
  1888.  
  1889. “I don’t like it here. I miss the trees and flowers.” Buttercup’s voice trembled and Rosemary could envision her face perfectly: a slight watering in the eyes, her lips and jaw tightening, and her wings beating even faster in agitation, the unruly mane of hair probably covered a good chunk of her face too.
  1890.  
  1891. “We’ll find them again.” Rosemary assured the youngest of the Pixies. “Somehow.” That was the promise she hoped to keep the most.
  1892.  
  1893. Across the spire she felt their guardian’s Spirit change from concern to confidence. Heart Sight couldn’t detect every slight change in the Spirit so the boy had to feel quite safe indeed to be in such a state. Rosemary gave Buttercup a slight push towards Lavender and flew forwards to speak with the Shadow while the other two remained invisible.
  1894.  
  1895. “We’ll have a hard time communicating without light.” She thought about their situation and what methods she would have for even detecting what he did. “If yes, it’s safe to make a light here, go to my left. If it’s not safe then go to my right instead.”
  1896.  
  1897. The Shadow immediately went to her right without hesitating. Rosemary scratched her head in confusion before turning to face him head-on again, “Is there somewhere here we can make a light? We’ll never be able to fight in the dark like this. Yes and no like before.”
  1898.  
  1899. Their umbral hero this time went around to her left and Rosemary nodded in response. “Alright, lead on.”
  1900.  
  1901. The Pixie leader found herself thankful that Heart Sight was not thwarted by limits of the Body. While Pixies could see quite well in the dark- they still needed some light to see by. In this void bereft of any illumination whatsoever- they could see nothing at all. But Heart Sight could see the Spirit and so the Pixies followed the Shadow’s heart as he led them across the cavern until he came to a halt and began circling a given area.
  1902.  
  1903. Judging by how his Spirit curved- it was a small crease dug into the side of a hanging stone. It wouldn’t be large enough for a human to fit in but none of the four were human. The Pixies each had enough room to comfortably sit apart even with their wings lying on the stone and they could even lie down and sleep- assuming they could see to do so.
  1904.  
  1905. Rosemary had thought ahead for this. The Pixies seldom took spoils from the adventurers they defeated because it was almost never of a size they could work with- although the fact that more often than not the Pixies didn’t kill adventurers but merely dealt a bit of damage didn’t help either- but one thing she’d started collecting was a sort of dust she’d seen them use.
  1906.  
  1907. Lavender insisted it was a weapon but Lavender insisted most things were, should be, or could be, weapons. Buttercup had only found it by mistake when she’d clambered into a sleeping adventurer’s pack and inadvertently set the thing on fire. The dust when rapidly rubbed between two hands created a flame that produced little heat but plentiful light that didn’t fade for days.
  1908.  
  1909. Buttercup had already pulled a Pixie-sized handful out and carefully, for Buttercup anyways, began the process of rapidly rubbing it between her palms. Soon the Pixies could all see one another and the Shadow companion hugging the rock. Rosemary was happy to see the powder did not appear magical in nature or else it would’ve repelled their guide.
  1910.  
  1911. The light was not warm in the sense of heat but being able to see the others, safe, alive, and all remembering one another, was a great relief to Rosemary. With the never-sleeping Shadow keeping guard- a higher level than them even- Rosemary felt for the first time in a long time she could safely rest without worrying about them being slain or hurt because of her or her mistakes.
  1912.  
  1913. A long… long… time…
  1914.  
  1915.  
  1916.  
  1917. Buttercup
  1918. The youngest of the Pixies saw Rosemary fall asleep and, unusually, kept quiet about it. She gently reached into the slumbering Pixie leader’s bag and pulled out a knitted blanket to cover her. It was woven from dozens of threads taken from the odd adventurer cape or tunic until it made a sort of trophy they passed between them. Buttercup had heard Rosemary once surmise it had outlived them all when she explained how the respawning worked.
  1919.  
  1920. Buttercup had always appreciated Rosemary taking the time to fill her and Lavender in on their past whenever they respawned- or at least supposed she had. Lavender didn’t usually seem all that happy about it but Buttercup at least ultimately didn’t blame Rosemary.
  1921.  
  1922. She couldn’t imagine the pressure their leader must’ve been under. They’d just accepted the Keeper’s contract to enter the Spiral Dungeon but the details of how everything worked had never been elaborated on. Rosemary had been alone, in a strange new World, and the only two familiar to her had died. None of them could’ve known the dungeon itself would bring them back or that Abyssen would forge such an unfavorable deal.
  1923.  
  1924. But the Spiral Dungeon did respawn them- but at a loss. The Pixies could remember bits and pieces of their past before entering but names and faces never stuck. It was like whenever they came back they met for the first time all over again. The bonds that tied them together were always being severed. Memories related to the dungeon itself survived though- they had accumulated knowledge of adventurers and the 1st and 2nd Floors after all.
  1925.  
  1926. Lavender had always excelled in that area. Rosemary had focused her efforts on trying to remember their past while Buttercup fully embraced the present- only Lavender’s wish to face the future head-on enabled her to so readily and easily retain the earned experiences of combat. She was always planning on how better to take on the Pixies’ enemies.
  1927.  
  1928. In fact, the purple haired Pixie was even now addressing their new shadowy friend. “Listen here- you’re sloppy about fighting and we look like we’ve a good moment to ourselves. Bring your arm up here where I can see it.”
  1929.  
  1930. Buttercup sensed a good bit of confusion in the boy’s half of the Shadow but he nevertheless obeyed and brought the specified limb to the recess the group was hiding in. Lavender ordered the Shadow to copy her arm movements and began to explain what she called, ‘Fighting fundamentals.’
  1931.  
  1932. “Your Shadow Strike makes your arm physical so you need to minimize the time spent attacking. Watch now-” Lavender demonstrated a few short jabs, “-you see how I extend my arm and put my chest into it all at the same time? Not one and then the other? I know you need to slash with the claws but the principles are similar.”
  1933.  
  1934. The explanation continued and Buttercup curled up next to Rosemary as she watched her sister continue instructing the Shadow in how to strike past his enemies instead of actually aiming at them. If Buttercup didn’t know any better- she’d think Lavender cared about their ally from the 1st Floor.
  1935.  
  1936.  
  1937.  
  1938. Lavender
  1939. If Lavender wasn’t careful- the boy was going to get the impression she cared about him.
  1940.  
  1941. Which wasn’t to say she didn’t, because she did, just not enough to get her hopes up.
  1942.  
  1943. But the boy’s Spirit was actively interfering with the Shadow’s. The two shared a Body but the raw instinct of the Shadow was being tempered to the point where even basic tactics like striking directly upwards from the ground weren’t being attempted.
  1944.  
  1945. In a way it could be thought of as a positive- Shadows generally didn’t attempt long-term planning or exercising caution. It simply wasn't in their nature. But on the other hand it meant the boy inside was actively limiting his potential in combat and Lavender refused to accept that for someone that was supposed to protect her and her sisters. It made him weak and so made the Pixies vulnerable.
  1946.  
  1947. Lavender hated limits. Lavender found she hated a lot of things in the Spiral Dungeon: she hated weakness, she hated adventurers, she hated being vulnerable, she hated relearning what she hated… and she hated Abyssen most of all.
  1948.  
  1949. Abyssen had made her sister cry. Lavender would never forgive him for that. Lavender’s own weakness had put her in a position for Abyssen to take advantage of it- and she wouldn’t forgive herself for that either. No matter how often she respawned Lavender would always come to that conclusion once everything fit back together.
  1950.  
  1951. She put her Shadow ally through the paces again as she remembered he’d stood up to Abyssen and it was him the Daemon wanted to kill most of all. The Shadow needed to be ready.
  1952.  
  1953. Lavender found a hitch in her breathing and ruthlessly squashed it with a deep breath followed by short bursts of air as she demonstrated how to move for the Pixies’ ally. He had to be capable of defending himself and the Pixies to the best of his ability. There was no telling what they might come across as they descended the Spiral Dungeon. If he died then Rosemary might cry again.
  1954.  
  1955. His Spirit was uncertain but she sensed a growing confidence and even a hint of bravery inside of it. A small smile started to creep across her face but was hastily abandoned when she saw Buttercup watching her. Lavender continued watching her student's torso and arm in profile attempting to incorporate her suggestions into his attacks. He was learning well- Buttercup typically needed several lessons to retain this information.
  1956.  
  1957. If Lavender wasn’t careful- she was going to forget she didn’t care about the boy.
  1958.  
  1959.  
  1960.  
  1961. Rosemary
  1962. Seventeen hours passed before an adventuring party made its way to the 3rd Floor. They were not subtle about it. The crash of broken rocks filled the cavern and the young Shadow made his way over to investigate.
  1963.  
  1964. A burst of flame a few hundred feet away lit up the adventurers, a party of four, and Lavender quickly eyed them up before pronouncing what she guessed were their Classes: the old man was a Sage, the one armored head to toe a Knight, the shirtless man with a hammer taller than any of them a Warrior, and the girl with the armored skirt a Monk.
  1965.  
  1966. Whatever doubts Rosemary might have of adventurers or her sisters, she trusted Lavender’s judgement without question. The Shadow that accompanied them might be able to see Classes for sure but Lavender’s guesses were never wrong.
  1967.  
  1968. Said Shadow returned in short order and emphatically waved his arms to get Rosemary to look down at him. The perch was not large enough to fit his entire Body on and so only his arm extended over the edge into their ring of light. He was rapidly raising and lowering fingers and Rosemary kept count. Five, ten, fifteen, twenty?!
  1969.  
  1970. The boy’s confusion was loud and clear in his Spirit while the Shadow itself, as always, simply held hostility. Rosemary actually laid her face on the cold rock so she could whisper as quietly as Pixiely possible. “Higher levels normally use Earth Crystals to skip down far lower. There must be something they want up here.”
  1971.  
  1972. Certainly the 3rd Floor would be no danger to them. After Buttercup smothered their fire the refugees from the 2nd Floor, hidden as they were, had a perfect view of the battle between the adventurers and the Minions native to this area. The flames were not an attack outright but a source of light that needed no hands. The battlefield was thus easy to see and follow for anyone present. A full force from the 3rd Floor assaulted the adventures and that same force might as well have been a group of leaves for all the threat they were.
  1973.  
  1974. The Sage of the group was a man with a beard of purest white. He clenched a fist and rather than a full spell merely intoned two words, “Decay Return”.
  1975.  
  1976. The twenty attacking skeletons in unison vanished- the magics that had preserved their anatomy dispelled. This was no holy magic like that of a Priest but an enchantment powerful enough to overcome the necromancy that would’ve seen the skeletons remain unaging forever and a day. Rosemary had privately always thought Sages were one of the least lethal adventurer Classes- she thought so no longer.
  1977.  
  1978. Three Troglodytes charged towards the group and each of the remaining adventurers destroyed them in their own method of choice.
  1979.  
  1980. The armored Knight bore no weapon and why became clear when he thrust his fist forwards. Bulges on his armor formed and flowed to create a spike to cover his fist before his punch cleanly pierced through each of the Trog’s sets of teeth in a single strike and burst out the back of its skull.
  1981.  
  1982. The shirtless Warrior struck the ground with his hammer and such was the force behind it that the charging Troglodyte was lifted into the air before a following and whirling blow buffeted it cleanly from the spire in a shower of flesh and bone. Rosemary would’ve been stunned if anyone would’ve been able to find a piece larger than a human hand.
  1983.  
  1984. The small Monk waited until her Trog was almost upon her before acting. The outermost layer of teeth was a handbreadth from her neck before she blurred to Rosemary’s sight and each and every tooth was removed from all three sets of its jaws. Three circles of individually plucked teeth appeared at the girl’s feet in the blink of an eye. Toothless gums snapped just above the crouching girl’s head- not yet aware of what had transpired. Her enemy had no time to think of this development because her next blow split the Troglodyte in half from top to bottom with a chop of her open hand.
  1985.  
  1986. Buttercup had only begun to gasp before it was already done from start to finish. The Minions crouched mute, three by choice, one by physical limitation, as the adventurers carefully collected the teeth from the fallen Troglodytes.
  1987.  
  1988. Of course. Materials.
  1989.  
  1990. Rosemary found it a bitter pill to swallow. Adventurers came to the Spiral Dungeon to gain two things- power and money. Materials, looted pieces from Minions and the dungeon itself, could be both in the right hands.
  1991.  
  1992. If they were all Level 20 then it was no contest. Rosemary and her sisters would do no better. The Shadow would do no better and he was better in direct combat than any one of them or, Rosemary privately thought to herself, all three of them together.
  1993.  
  1994. The Pixies were lucky that the boy’s Spirit was so kind.
  1995.  
  1996. The adventurers gathered together as the flames they’d made on their arrival burned lower and lower. The Sage of the group nodded before beginning an incantation, “Stone be bright to please my sight.” He punctuated each of the following words with a strike of his staff, “Light. Light. Light!”
  1997.  
  1998. Radiance burst into being from the rock itself. Not just the spire the adventurers stood upon but it spread throughout the cavern in an instant- not a wave that traveled but an enchantment that spread from each inch of stone in the same timeframe as the last.
  1999.  
  2000. Rosemary could see the floor far below and spotted movement as more Troglodytes and skeletons stirred. She imagined most adventurers intending to clear this floor for the first time would make their way to the centermost pillar and defeat the Boss that was obviously there, somewhere, without waiting or forcing their way through every Minion the 3rd Floor had to offer. Whether this group would do so or not she didn’t know.
  2001.  
  2002. Her imagination, however, was forced elsewhere along with her attention as she heard Buttercup shriek, “Look!”
  2003.  
  2004. Rosemary spun around and realized, to her horror, that the brilliant glow emitting from the stones was truly magical. Their Shadow was seizing from the light. The edges of his form weren’t lining up- one second his shoulder was in place and the next it had distorted to be even with the top of his head before the following moment saw it crushed next to his hip. And he was being compressed all the while- curling into a fetal ball as the magical radiance crushed him from all directions.
  2005.  
  2006. Buttercup covered her eyes with one hand to block out the Spirits of both boy and Shadow as both pulsed with purest pain.
  2007.  
  2008. Lavender stared Rosemary with a look and tone she’d never expected her sister to use for someone that wasn’t a Pixie, “He’s dying- what do we do?!”
  2009.  
  2010. Rosemary felt sick as she looked at what had formerly been a man-sized Shadow had shrunk to perhaps half its size in a twisted dance. What could they do?
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