Dungeon Delving

Discussion in 'Stories & Fan Fiction' started by Lorrelian, Aug 6, 2012.

  1. Lorrelian

    Lorrelian Member

    So, it's a week late but here is the beginning of the last installment of the Dredmor Cycle!

    I have a confession to make. Writers really write stories so we can write forwards. If we could make money just by writing forwards to other people's books and nothing else, I think we'd do it. I know I would. Its fast, easy and intensely ego gratifying. So I'd like to take a moment and say thanks to everyone who reads this. I really appreciate it.

    So why is this the end of the Dredmor novellas? Three reasons.

    1) Humans beings like things in threes. It's a psychological thing. That's why there's so many trilogies out there. Three feels more complete than four. Don't ask me why.

    2) This installment of the story puts a capstone on the narrative and I couldn't go beyond it without opening a whole new can of worms, something I'm loath to do. I'll say more about this in the afterword.

    3) I have other projects, projects I hope to someday soon parley into actual income, which are demanding my attention. It's my hope that, as they come closer to completion, I'll be able to share more about these projects with those of you who read my work. Hopefully you'll enjoy them just as much, if not more, than these little pieces of short fiction.

    So, what about Dungeon Delving? Simply put, this is a coming of age story. It follows a lich we all know and loathe as he comes into his own unholy powers, and learns to be a blight on the cosmos. And it follows a young man named David Lamplighter as he sharpens his skills to destroy that lich. Last, but not least, it focuses on the shapely young diggle that is caught between them, and really just doesn't want his home burned down in the scuffle.

    And it's also very silly, because the last novella didn't have enough of that in it.

    Here's hoping you'll enjoy.
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  2. Lorrelian

    Lorrelian Member

    Dungeon Delving, Part One
    Down the Diggle Hole


    The name echoed around the empty dungeon as Raymond C. Dread picked his way back out of the lair of Philmor Graves. The long, trapstrewn hallway was filled with the broken remains of disabled or triggered traps and the lifeless bodies of things that the made sorcerer had summoned while building his "master slipgate".

    Beyond that was a room with a single statue, an idol of Inconsequentia, which Dread had seen talking just an hour ago but was now lifeless. Beyond that, a half collapsed cavern where he had fought a lich and, apparently, accidentally turned himself into one.

    When he had last visited the room the far end had been full of rubble, the grave site of a mushroom addled boy and the might Fax Celestis. Dread suspected Fax was alive again, but it looked like he was long gone.

    The rubble that had covered him in a mighty heap now lay scattered all over the floor in tiny pieces. Dread stared at in in disgust. "What a mess."

    "Kinda impressive, isn't it?" A dusky red diggle stepped around the far side of the rubble heap, dusting his flippers off as he came. Dread was no expert on Diggle expressions but he thought Skrillinaugh looked both tired and self-satisfied.

    "Did you do this?" He asked.

    "Not me, Skinny," the diggle said, using the nickname he had been given by Dead Head. "Well, I guess I moved things around some, but most of it was Fax Celestis when he got himself out of here."

    "Well, what have you been doing then?" Dread demanded.

    "Just taking care of a little business, following up on a suggestion," Skrillinaugh replied, looking suddenly furtive. "What's it to you? You're leaving right? And this is my home, not yours."

    "Actually," Dread glanced down for a second, then shrugged. "I think I need to dig through Philmore's books some. To... figure a few things out. So I'll be sticking around for a bit. And even if I leave, I don't think Dead Head can."

    The diggle's expression turned grim. "He's not the only one, chief. We're all that's left out of the original six, you know."

    "Actually," Dread thought for a minute, then shrugged. "Maybe you better come see for yourself."

    David Lamplighter hopped off his horse and looked around. His home town had always struck him as the single most drab, boring place in existence. It turned out that assessment was way off base. As boring as it had been, this place was a thousand times worse.

    Rank upon rank of boring, gray stone buildings cluttered the streets. People in worn brown clothes walked from one to another, their eyes cast down and their steps shuffling along. David looked over at his horse. "What did you say this place was called, again?"

    "Sepulcherville," the horse said, it's long face contriving to look annoyed. "And you should not be talking to me in the middle of the street. It will get you in trouble."

    "Trouble I can handle, Bandersnatch" David said. "But this place is pure hopeless."

    "I know," the mare said. "It's the nature of the place, and what the wizard in the nearby mountain did to it. He's gone now, but something worse is rising to take its place."

    David dug into a saddlebag and pulled out two apples, holding one while Bandersnatch ate it and eating the other himself. "It's a strange place. Are you sure we can fix this?"

    "Trust me," the horse replied. "I lived with Raymond before he died. I know what he'll be thinking now."

    "I'll just pretend that statement made sense," David said. "What are we doing here?"

    "Come on. There's somewhere you need to go before we enter Argentum Falls."

    David followed the horse as it wound its way through the dull gray streets. Eventually they came to a stop before the only multistory building in the village. It was three floors tall, and a sign with a three by three grid of pictographs stood over the entrance. David looked at them closely, but none of them were familiar. He glanced at Bandersnatch. "What is this place?"

    "This is the House of Nine Truths," the mare said. "Home of some of the most esoteric fighting methods, magic schools and knavish talents on earth."

    For a moment David just stared at his horse. It occurred to him that he was in the middle of a place he had never heard of before in his life, taking advice from a talking horse. And maybe, just maybe, that was a bad idea. "Why do I need to be here again?"

    "Because Raymond is both cunning and skilled at improvising around the strategies of others." The mare cocked its head to one side and looked at him thoughtfully. "I know that your eating is different than normal, and you take pride in how resilient that makes you. But if you go against Raymond with nothing else out of the common way he will checkmate you in no time at all."

    David raised one of his mighty eyebrows. "So I'm basically hear to learn an obscure sword trick or magic spell and hope that's enough to beat this Raymond guy?"

    "It would be better if you learned two or three tricks or spells, actually."

    David nodded in exasperation. "But that's basically all there is to it?"

    Bandersnatch pulled its lips back into a disturbing approximation of a smile. "Essentially."
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  3. Lorrelian

    Lorrelian Member

    "Dead Head!" Skrillinaugh exclaimed. "You're... you're..."

    "A dead head?" The floating face of old cowboy laughed. "You got it!"

    "But... but... how?!"

    "Dunno, pardner. It's a real brain teaser, ain't it?"

    The diggle threw its flippers up in exasperation. "Why are you so casual about this! Do you realize you're nothing but a floating head?"

    "Yup." Dead Head spun in a circle once or twice to prove it. "Do you realize you're nothing but a drill that grew arms and legs and a bad attitude?"

    Dread chuckled a little as his two friends kept poking at one another. At least things still maintained some semblance of normal. He'd just have to figure out what to do about the phylactery embedded in his body and things should be fine. After all, Fax Celestis managed being undead just fine, right?

    As he thought about it, Dread began to absently twist his mustache in his fingers. Except as he did the whole thing just fell out in his hand. "Kronghammer it!"

    "What?" Both diggle and Dead Head swiveled to look at him.

    Dread dropped the loose stuff and rand his other hand over his head, only to have it come away with another fistful of hair. He held it up in a fist and said, "This. Looks like that phylactery is taking over faster than I thought it would."

    "More'n that, Skinny," Dead Head said. "Feel your forehead."

    So he did, and to his surprise he found that the phylactery, formerly stuck in his left hand, was now embedded in his forehead. "Oh, that's just great," he muttered. "Why don't I just give them a glowing target to shoot at while I'm at it?"

    "You know," Skrillinaugh said. "Maybe you should think about making yourself scarce for a while. I know some diggles, we could make you a nice little bolt hole until you get this worked out."

    "Not a bad idea," Dead head chimed in. "This Graves fella knew a lot. Just grab some of his books. You're a smart one, you can figure out some sort of a work around quick, or I'm a diggle."

    "Which he's not," Skrillinaugh said. "So it's guaranteed, right?"

    "Right," Dread said slowly. "Let's hope so, anyway."

    With that cheerful thought in mind he and the diggle stacked up most of Philmore Grave's library and carted it deeper into the caverns.
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  4. Lorrelian

    Lorrelian Member

    Dungeon Delving, Part Two
    Of Teachers and Doctorates

    Dread hefted another stack of books and stepped carefully around the chessboard, then shoved the
    books onto a shelf, grumbling, "How many books did Philmore have, anyway?"

    "Well, his name was Fillmore," Dead Head said, his words barely intelligible as he clenched a book in his teeth and shoved it into place. "Maybe it was like a compulsion?"

    "Why is it when you two talk, I hear words but they make no sense?" Skrillinaugh waddled in, a stack of books twice as tall as he was balanced on his head.

    "Must be a human-diggle translation thing," Dread said. "Would you stop carrying so much at once? It's no wonder you drop things all the time. What are we supposed to do if you drop one and rip the spine? We'll have to throw the whole thing out!"

    The diggle snorted. "You two hardly count as human any more."

    "Whatever," Dead Head muttered. "Who cares if the books are a little banged up, anyway?"

    "I will not have damaged books in my library!" Dread shouted, slamming his fist down on the chessboard and sending the pieces scattering everywhere. The bishop left a nasty cut on his hand as it bounced away.

    Both diggle and floating head stared at him in disbelief. Finally Dead Head asked, "Are you doin' okay, Skinny? Not like you to worry 'bout the small stuff like that. Never known you for a book lover, neither."

    "Of course not!" Dread yelled, grabbing a book from the top of one of the stacks scattered about the floor of the stone room and shaking it theatrically. "You've never seen me with a mint condition copy of the Folio of Brosmodeus!"

    Skrillinaugh looked between the two undead and said, "Who's Brosmodeus?"

    There was a sudden crack of breaking stone, a sudden overpowering stench of brimstone, then a gruff voice said, "Why he's da master of all shopdemons."

    The three mortals turned and stared at the room's new occupant. He was a rail-thin creature in a black and white checkered suit casually smoking a cigar among the ruins of the chessboard. He looked the three and smiled. "My name's Brax, salesdemon at large. Can I interest ya fine folks in a nice set of demonic Encyclopedias? Full codex of all demons here and below, only 1,450 Zorkmoids. A limited run, too."

    "I don't think so," Dread replied quickly. "Knowing there's such a thing as shopdemons is more than I ever wanted to know already. How did you get here?"

    "Why, you summoned me," Brax said with a smile. "Blood from the left hand of a dead man on a chessboard, followed by speaking the name of Brosmodeus. So, what can I do for ya? I can get ya pretty much anything you want for a price. You want some cheeses? I can get ya whole vending machines. Need weapons? I gotta whole armory in reserve. Just name it, I'll get you set up."

    "What I'd really like is a user's manual for phylacteries," Dread grumbled. "This stupid thing won't come off and it's making me irritable."

    "Oooh..." Brax leaned closer and stared at the forehead decoration that Dread was pointing at. "Nasty bit of work, there. I know just what ya need. I'll pop off and grab one, then get you introduced. We can talk my fee over later."

    "Wait." Skrillinaugh held up a hand. "Get us introduced? What are you popping off to get? You don't introduce someone to a book."

    "Nope," Brax said with a grin. "But ya do with a lich doctor."
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  5. Lorrelian

    Lorrelian Member

    The House of Nine Truths was not what David had been expecting. It wasn't exactly big or impressive on the outside, but he had thought that there might be something a little more grand on the inside. At the least, he had been expecting a collection of students studying or practicing the unorthodox skills Bandersnatch had told him he'd learn inside. Instead, he found a labyrinthine hallway with the walls covered in barely comprehensible writing.

    And by barely comprehensible, he mostly meant the handwriting was bad. He couldn't actually understand anything the words and symbols were trying to tell him, even though he was pretty sure all the letters were arranged to form words he should know.

    Eventually he found himself in a small domed room, maybe ten feet by ten feet. A small man crouched beside one wall there, with a chisel in one hand. He was wrapped in a cloak, and it wasn't possible to tell much about him, other than that he had brilliant pink hair. David thought that was odd, but with his eyebrows, he'd learned not to throw stones.

    "Excuse me," David said cautiously. "I'm looking for the keeper of the House of Nine Truths?"

    "That's me," the man said without turning around. Instead he raised a hammer in his other hand and carefully chiseled a new symbol into the wall. "What do you want?"

    "Uh, I was told I could come here and learn... unorthodox skills?" David looked around at the walls. Unlike most of the rest of the House, the walls of this room were mostly blank. Only about half of the wall the man crouched by had carvings.

    "Who says that?" The man asked.

    "This is going to sound strange..."

    "Look around you boy," the pink haired man said. "Then tell me about strange."

    "Right." Actually, when he put it that way David had to admit it made a great deal of sense. "My horse told me to come here."

    The man paused in the act of raising his hammer again. "Your horse? What horse?"

    "Called itself Bandersnatch, sir," David answered.

    "Well, well, well." The man raised his hammer again, but this time he started banging away without rest. "You have come to the right place, then."

    "Of course," David muttered. "I suppose you'll just teach me how to stonemason evil into dust?"

    "Be careful, boy," the man said, pausing his hammering for just a moment. "The language of creation has great power. We'll make a skill out of scratch, make it just for you. Then, you'll be fit to destroy any evil you find."

    "The language of creation, huh?" David looked away from the madman and at the weird runes on the walls. "I suppose we just write down what I want to do here and all of the sudden I can do it?"

    "It's a bit more complicated," the other man said. Then he raised his hammer and chiseled a final stroke into the walls. There was a rumbling groan, and the house seemed to bend around them until the room they were in had collapsed into a hallway with a door in it. Once blank walls were now filled with line upon line of esoteric text. The man turned to stare at David, his pink curls framing a face grinning in manic glee. "But essentially, yes."
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  6. Lorrelian

    Lorrelian Member

    Dungeon Delving, Part Three
    How To Be Dread

    "Alright, darling, we need to get your name settled before anything. No lich in the history of evilhas been called 'Raymond' and you're not going to start, I just won't have it."

    Dread blinked, staring hard at the nearly expressionless skull that glared back at him. In all the time he'd been thinking about undead, and that was admittedly a very short time, it had never occurred to him that they could be female. When he gave them a gender at all, he tended to think of them as male, but usually the term that he used was it. But there was no doubt in his mind that, if you were to slap all the organs, muscles and skin that filled out a human being, this magically animated skeleton would be obviously female. And she was dead set on making him a creditable lich.

    The lesson here was obviously, be careful what you wish for when dealing with demons. Dread mentally cursed Brax and reminded himself to order Skrillinaugh and his digging teams to drag their feet on finishing his new outlet store they were excavating as payment for being introduced to a lich doctor.

    "Look, uh, Miss Deth-"

    "Just E, darling," she said, waving off Dread's attempts at pleasantries. "I'm E. Deth, and I created the deths, you understand? Old work, but respectable for an early effort, and protecting that kind of claim is one of the things you must learn to do if you want to succeed in evil."

    "Right, E, that's what I'm trying to say." Dread paced his new library, suppressing the urge to pick up his so-called mentor and throw her out of the caverns entirely. He was starting to recognize that that kind of impulse came from his phylactery, not his own emotions. "I'm not exactly big on the whole evil idea. It tends to get you more enemies than its worth."

    "Exactly!" E leapt forward, pointing one finger authoritatively at Dread's chest. He took a step back in surprise. "The great contradiction of lichdom! They phylactery drives you both to evil and achievement, yet it also brings people to destroy you. And what is the solution?"

    "Eternal life?" Dread asked, hoping that that answer would be enough to get her out of his face.

    Fortunately, it was. The skeleton dropped its hands to the belt of its pale lavender robes. "Exactly. We can thwart death if we're clever. But there's a catch." After a moment of rummaging she held up a bottle half full of strange green goo. "Each of us visits the Gates of Death once, and there the nature of our challenge with Death is decided. I can only escape death if I can fill this with the heart of a thousand Others between one destruction and the next."

    Dread repressed the urge to ask what she meant by Other, or how you could fit a thousand of them into one little bottle. "So I have to do something between deaths?"

    "Not always," E replied, putting the bottle away. "If it wasn't clear to you at the Gates then it's likely to be some kind of competition you must win every time you face Death. You might want to put some time into researching that, darling."

    "Right," Dread said dubiously. One hand reached up to absently twirl his mustache, something that, with most of the skin on his face, was now but a memory. The fingernail wound up banging against his teeth and he lowered it with a start and a promise to be more mindful of that in the future. "So back to topic... why do I need a new name?"
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  7. Lorrelian

    Lorrelian Member

    E swiveled on one heel and stalked over to the doorway, then spun to look back at him, one arm resting languidly on the frame as she leaned against it, lit by the glow from the hallway like some sort of bizarre fashion model. "Because your reputation is your greatest weapon, and you must be ready to use it."

    To his surprise, that actually made sense. "If I scare people off there will be less of them to fight."

    "Exactly, darling! Now, you should go by your last name."

    "Dread? Has a nice ring to it..."

    "Except it will make everyone think of a run down cowboy from the south," E said.

    "That's what I am!"

    "It's what you were." E paced through the library. "Where did a fellow like you get all these books, anyway?"

    "I kinda inherited them from Philmore Graves, the guy who collected them."

    E whirled in excitement. "There!" She shouted, pointing her finger at him again. "Dreadmore!" She clenched her fist and shook it. "No longer a cowpoke, you are something more and you must make them feel it in their bones."

    Dread caught himself tapping his teeth again and resolutely jammed his hands into his pockets, scraping a little more skin off of them in the process. "I don't know. That sounds kind of cheesy."

    "Just spell it differently. Dredmor perhaps. People will assume it's something exotic. Now come, come, come. What are you wearing?"

    Before Dread, or he supposed he'd have to start thinking of himself as Dredmor, could object E had grabbed him by the shoulder and was pushing him out of the library. "These are my clothes."

    "Not anymore. You can't have a name like Dredmor and expect to be taken seriously wearing that."

    Feeling like he'd finally had enough, Dredmor dug in his heels and tried to stop their headlong advance. Unfortunately, E was much, much stronger than she looked and he just wound up scuffing the soles off of his boots. At the end of his rope, he said, "No one's gonna take me serious with a name like Dredmor, what's it matter what I dress like?!"

    "Relax, darling," E assured him. "When I am done, you'll look fabulous."
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  8. Lorrelian

    Lorrelian Member

    Dungeon Delving, Part Four
    Apples to Watermelons

    "Wait, you won't even eat cheese?" The pink haired man, whom David had started thinking of as Pinky, paused to look at the chunk of gouda he was holding and quickly shoved it into his pocket. "This vegan thing is very strange."

    "Yeah, I get that a lot," David replied, sitting back in his chair and drumming his fingers on the table in impatience. The House of Nine Truths turned out not to be stone through and through. The kitchen was actually paneled with some sort of warm grained wood and had plush rugs on the floor. It was also full of food that would leave him forsworn if he ever ate it.

    Unfortunate, that.

    "Look, I don't see what my eating habits have to do with it. I can go out into the market and pick up something I can eat later." David stilled his hands and leaned forward a bit. "I need to know what I need to do to formulate a new skill to fight... well, whatever it is I'm supposed to fight!"

    "It's a lich," Pinky mumbled, his attention fixed on a scrap of paper he was scribbling on.

    "How do you know it's a lich?" David demanded.

    "It weighs the same as a duck," Pinky said. "And that's all the more we're saying about that, okay?"

    David sighed. Most of his visit with Pinky had consisted of those kind of non sequiturs and it was getting to be more than a little tiring. "Fine, whatever you say. What do I need to do to get this skill crafting on the road?"

    "The first thing we need is a design document," Pinky said, finishing his writing with a flourish and holding up the scrap of paper. "Erasing code from the walls is almost impossible, so it's important to know what you want to do before you start. And let's not even talk about debugging."

    "Right," David said, hoping that if he stopped questioning Pinky's nonsense the process would go faster.

    "Fortunately, we have a good theme for your skill." Pinky got up and darted over to a cupboard. He never seemed to go anywhere slowly, it was always a burst of motion and then he was there. With the same kind of furious motion he began rummaging around, talking all the while. "You eating habits are something you do already, but by making forswearing yourself something with real consequences-"

    "It already has real consequences!" David protested. "Think of what you do to those poor animals. It's unreal the kinds of viciousness people get away with in treating animals."

    "Of course," Pinky said, his tone implying he didn't understand. "But I mean real consequences for you."

    "You mean besides what it does to my integrity?"

    "Yes." Pinky pulled a platter of fruit out of the cupboard and handed it to David, then scribbled something else on the back of his paper.

    Annoyed at Pinky's flippant attitude, David absently stabbed the apple and began to carve it. "Why consequences for me?"

    "That will let us grant you even more power through the skill itself," Pinky said absently, still writing. "While still keeping the Balance."

    David paused mid-stab. "Balance?"

    "You are trying to come up with a way to defeat an evil that no one has ever seen before." Pinky took an apple and set it on one end of a spoon. Then he reached into his robes and pulled out a watermelon and said, "But what if you give yourself an unfair advantage?"

    He dropped the watermelon on the other end of the spoon and sent both spoon and apple flying into a corner of the kitchen. David gawked as Pinky lectured on. "Why then you will encourage others to seek even greater unfair advantage in retaliation."

    A hammer appeared in Pinky's hands and, without warning, he smashed the watermelon into pulp. "And on and on it goes. Do you understand?"

    David wiped off his face as he thought about that. "So I have to maintain balance and not get power hungry or we're all in a mess?"

    Pinky smiled. "Essentially, yes."
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  9. Lorrelian

    Lorrelian Member

    Dungeon Delving, Part Five
    Down the Rabbit Hole

    There were only three gears left to place, and Dredmor was pretty sure he'd finally have the whole thing in working order, when-

    "Skinny, we got problems!"

    Dead Head had gotten better and better and moving around without banging into things, but that didn't mean Dredmor was happy about it. It often lead to his being surprised when his disembodied friend wandered into the room and started talking while his more corporeal friends were not paying attention.

    Like when they were trying, for the sixth time, to get all the mechanisms in a clockwork powerlimb properly aligned.

    Dredmor jerked in surprise, almost, but not quite, succeeding in restraining the motion before it ruined two hours of work. Unfortunately the gears he had been holding in place with his left hand slipped free and went bouncing all over the floor. Dredmor hissed in irritation, stooping down to pick them up as he said, "This had better be important, Dead Head."

    "Skrillinaugh and his diggles stopped diggin' down on the seventh floor, somethin' about catchin' the flu!" The floating head bobbed back and forth in agitation like a fishing lure that had snagged the Lutefisk god and was trying not to be pulled under. "He says he's not interested in goin' any further even if you come and tell him to yourself."

    Gritting teeth wasn't a good thing for a lich, who couldn't get decent orthodontia work easily, but Dredmor found himself doing it more and more the last few months. E had insisted that every lich needed some sort of major undertaking in hand to satisfy their ever rapacious phylacteries, and digging a dungeon to lair in had seemed like a harmless enough endeavor to do while learning the ropes. Unfortunately, his diggle henchcreatures were becoming more and more resistant to that idea.

    At first, things had gone well enough. With little access to goods from the surface diggles had welcomed the idea that they could get things imported simply by doing what they did best. So Dredmor had brokered a deal between them and Brax. Dredmor would perform ceremonies that placed the shopdemon's stores at various points in the dungeon, and in turn the diggle would do the digging, provided they could shop there at a discount. Brax got sales, the diggles got shops and he got a dungeon.

    Unfortunately, as Brax had gained more and more territory and customers he had gotten more demanding, not to mention gained quite a bit of weight. Now, the diggles found they couldn't afford most of what he had for sale, even with a week's wages, and Dredmor had found the summoning ritual gave him no control over what Brax was willing to sell, just where he appeared.

    It looked like things had finally reached a tipping point. He got up from the bench with a snort and said, "I'd better have a look at it, then."
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  10. Lorrelian

    Lorrelian Member

    Bandersnatch pulled to a stop outside of a dank, narrow looking stairway that led deep into the side of the mountain that loomed over Sepulcherville like a man with a bad back. David looked it over grimly. "Are you sure this is the place?"

    "Quite sure," the horse replied. "Now's not the time to be getting cold feet, David."

    "No, that's likely to come once I've been down there a few hours," he replied. Bandersnatch didn't seem to find that funny and to be honest, he didn't either. When he had left the House of Nine Truths, his new skills in hand and his brows set in determination, he had assumed that the Evil that he'd been going to fight had been relatively new. He had expected a lair like a crypt in a graveyard, or perhaps a small tower. "Where did he get all this from on such short notice?"

    "When I saw him last, he was in the company of a diggle," the horse replied. "Perhaps he bargained with the for some assistance."

    "A diggle?" David racked his brains but couldn't think of what that might be. Then again, he wasn't exactly an expert on subterranean monsters. "Should I be worried about these diggles?"

    "Only if he's managed to secure the aid of muscle diggles." The mare shook her head and snorted. "Since that requires the word of an archdiggle, I find it unlikely."

    "Of course," David muttered, sliding off of the horse. "I don't know if you'll be able to fit down those stairs or not. Should we go back to town and make arrangements to stable you somewhere?"

    "Nay, I will squeeze down the stairs with you."

    David blinked. "What did you say?"

    Bandersnatch looked confused. "I will squeeze down-"

    "Before that."

    "I find it unlikely?"

    David shook his head, doubting his sanity and not for the first time in the last few months. "Never mind. Let's go."

    And with that he started down the stairs.
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  11. Lorrelian

    Lorrelian Member

    Dungeon Delving, Part Six

    The seventh floor zoo looked like a war zone. Dredmor stepped over one diggle who looked like it had collapsed in the middle of the floor, still lying on its stomach and wheezing its breath in and out through fluid filled lungs. The lich tsked at the sight, looking around at the stricken as he moved his way towards a familiar red skinned diggle.

    "Skrillinaugh, what's going on down here? Why aren't your people working?" Dredmor asked as he approached his chief henchcreature.

    The diggle, who looked to be the only one in the area who was still healthy, stood up from the row of other diggles he had been tending. They had been laid out in a series of crude nests with bits of leaves and other rubbish in place of blankets, and they all had snot running from their... noses? Drills? Beaks? Dredmor realized he wasn't really sure what they were called.

    "There you are, Dredmor," the diggle said snippishly. "I was wondering when you'd show up.

    "What seems to be the problem, diggle?" Dredmor asked, examining the stricken diggles with a practiced eye. "Your crews should be working, not sleeping on the job."

    "My crews are sick," Skrillinaugh snapped. "It's cold down here and we can't afford any of the cold weather gear Brax has had for sale on what we're getting paid. Which, I might add, is nothing."

    "You agreed to that when we started," Dredmor pointed out. Dead Head drifted up and bumped him in the elbow. The lich paused to give his friend a glare. Dead Head was getting more and more absent minded recently, flying into things he'd forgotten were there or spinning in circles for hours at a time as he tried to remember what he had been doing in the first place.

    But to Dredmor's surprise, the floating skull didn't look like it was suffering from chronic disorientation this time. "Dredmor. Someone just came down the stairs."

    "What stairs?" Dredmor asked. "There are at least three on each floor now."

    "Four on the ones higher up," Skrillinaugh said, sounding reflexively defensive. "We put them in last week."

    "The stairs from the surface," Dead Head replied. "I can hear 'em comin' down the steps."

    "Oh?" Dredmor tapped his teeth absently. Another new, weird ability among his henchcreatures. "Well, we need to do something about that. This dungeon isn't really ready for visitors. Skrillinaugh, what can you handle right now?"

    "Not much," the diggle said. "Dreadmor, I've told you before but you don't seem to understand. Let me spell it out for you." He took one flipper an pinched the other arm with it. "We diggles have ranks. You can tell just by looking at this. I'm not high enough up to banish exhaustion or motivate diggles when they're sick or tired. You need an archdiggle, someone who's earned a purple hide. I'm just not going to cut it in this situation."

    "You boys work this out," Dead Head muttered, bobbing back and forth frantically. "I'll go try and slow this fella down some."

    "Do that, Dead Head." Dreadmor's finger kept tapping away as the skull turned and faded into the dark quite literally. The lich added teleportation to the ever-growing list of Dead Head's weird abilities. "Skrillinaugh, grab the Fifth Zoo and have them help you evacuate your diggles up to their floor. The library should be warm enough for them to recover to finish the dungeon. And it will be finished, Skrillinaugh, as soon as this is taken care of."

    "Great," the diggle said. "Witchies. You know they don't listen to me."

    "I don't care if you have to steal one of their masks and wear it on your nose to get them to pay attention, just get it done," Dredmor hissed.

    "It's not a nose it's-"

    "And ambiance!"

    Skrillinaugh stopped mid-rant, taken aback by Dredmor's own even more aggrieved shout. "What?"

    "My dungeon has no ambiance." The lich gestured at the still empty floors, covered only with a little stone dust from the construction. "No spiderwebs, no mummified corpses, not even a patch of dirt or two! We can't let heroes see the dungeon like this! We'll be a laughing stock!"

    "Sure thing, Dredmor," Skrillinaugh said, turning back to his diggles and hefting one over his shoulders while he rolled his eyes. "We'll get on that ASAP. Go greet your guest."

    But Dredmor had already left.
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  12. Lorrelian

    Lorrelian Member

    Dungeon Delving, Part Seven
    Memories Before Battle

    David poked through the various wares in the shopdemon's store. He glanced over the stout, checkerboard wearing, cigar smoking creature and raised an eyebrow. "Are you sure this is okay? Don't you work for the lich or something?"

    "Hey, bub, Brosmodeus only has one rule." The demon paused to tap the ashes out of his cigar. "Sell for the biggest profit. Now Dredmor, your lich, he said I could sell stuff in his dungeon as he dug it. He didn't say nothin' about who I could or couldn't sell to. As far as I'm concerned, if you're paying, I'm selling."

    David pause for a moment to poke doubtfully at a suit of armor that looked like it had been dipped in solid cheese. It made him feel vaguely nauseous just looking at it. "Well, I don't know, it's pretty- is that sword stuck in a rock?"

    "Just ignore it, David," Bandersnatch said. "It wasn't meant for you anyway. This, on the other hand..."

    "What is that?" David stared in horror. "Is that...?"

    "Horse armor," Brax said. "It's armor made for horses. You're probably the only person I seen who got a real use for it, but it's kinda expensive. Wanna take it off my hands?"

    David looked at the price tag. "I'm all for helping out my animal friends, but even I've got limits. I can't afford that, and I'm not sure I'd want my horse fighting for me anyways. That just sounds silly."

    The demon and the horse exchanged an amused glance. David ignored it. "I don't think there's anything here for us, really. Let's just move on."

    Inside the dungeon itself, David had been surprised to learn, there was usually plenty of room for both himself and Bandersnatch. The halls were actually quite spacious and, with a few exceptions where David had to poke his nose down narrow hallways or under low ceilings, they were able to proceed together. And while that was comforting, in a way, it wasn't exactly a necessity.

    As nearly as David could tell, there wasn't actually anything dangerous down in the dungeon, at least nothing on the first four floors. Well, other than the stairways, which were narrow, steep and poorly lit. "You know, I was really expecting this heroic deed to require a little more, I don't know, trouble."

    "We've been fortunate," Bandersnatch replied. "So far the lich hasn't been able to recruit too many minions. They all do eventually, and if we can't destroy its phylactery then future champions who face it will have a much-"

    A sudden bang from just down the hall interrupted the mare. Both horse and man froze for a moment, then David readied his ax. They carefully paced down the hall, peering back and forth in the dim lighting. As they inched carefully down the hall a soft glow began to permeate the dark. It resolved into the ghastly outline of a grinning skull, lit from within as if it sat upon a willow-the-whisp, floating down the hall towards them.
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  13. Lorrelian

    Lorrelian Member

    But not floating gently. It bobbed back and forth as if it were the fishing lure of a drunken giant. Every ten feet or so it spun around in a circle, as if to make sure of its location. Sometimes it spun two or three times. And the whole time it mumbled to itself, an endless waterfall of half-heard words bubbling out through cracked and yellow teeth.

    As the skull approached David readied himself, feeling the power of the Vegan coursing through his blood. A pale yellow light suffused his eyes and gleamed along the edge of his ax. He ran his thumb along his eyebrows to make sure they were in place and grinned. "Let's get this show on the road."

    Speaking must have been the trigger the skull was waiting for. Or maybe it just reacted better to noise than sight, it certainly didn't seem to be able to see the walls. Either way, as soon as David spoke it whirled to face him squarely and said, "Howdy, partner. Relax, I'm harmless. Sit a spell, its been ages since I seen a livin' human."

    David froze, the light he had summoned dimming. "I'm sorry?"

    "Nothin' to be sorry about, partner," The skull said, drifting to a stop about ten feet away. "Natural to freak out a bit when you see somethin' like me. I still jump a bit when I look in the mirror."

    "Uh, right." David cautiously lowered his ax a fraction. "So who- or what- are you?"

    "Why I'm..." The fire in the skull's eyes dimmed a bit. In fact, as it hung there in the air the blue glow around it seemed to fade entirely. David glanced over at Bandersnatch, who shook its head in obvious confusion, to the extent a horse could be obviously confused. Suddenly the light flared back up and the skull jumped up in the air about six inches and said, "Dead Head. That's the name. Dead Head."

    "Of course," David said reflexively.

    "Now don't look at me that way," the skull said, laughing. "I know it sounds odd. But I used to be alive, same as you and Skinny- sorry, guess I should call him Dredmor now."

    "Dredmor? You know the lich?"

    "Yes sir. At least I think I do." The fire behind the skull's eye sockets dimmed once more. "It's... hard to remember these days. For both of us. He's got his phylactery distractin' him. I just get... lost without the usual arms and legs. You know?"

    "Sure." David lowered his ax to his side, convinced that the thing was no more threat than a confused bird. "It must be pretty confusing."

    "It kinda is," Dead Head admitted.

    Seeing an opportunity to learn a little more about his adversary, David said, "Talking helps keep the memory fresh. Tell me about it."

    The fire dimmed even more and the skull dropped to hover at waist height. David sat on the floor cross-legged, keeping his ax handy, just in case. "The first thing you have to understand," the skull said, "is that it was a different time..."
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  14. Lorrelian

    Lorrelian Member

    "...leave his damn phylactery alone."

    David rocked back on his haunches, massaging his legs to try and get feeling back in his legs. The floating skull's story had take a lot longer than he had expected, and his legs had fallen asleep while he was sitting on the floor. "Sorry if this sounds like a stupid question, but I've never heard of a lich before. So, what's a phylactery?"

    The skull bobbled in place, a motion David had learned to recognize as the equivalent of a shrug. "Its a thingy that brings you back as a lich whenever you die. Unless you're not dead, in which case it kills you, then brings you back." Dead Head rose a half a foot and the light behind its eyes got brighter. "Dredmor keeps his in the pointy crown-thing he wears these days. E's idea."

    "Who- no, never mind, I don't think I want to know." David struggled to his feet and threw a glance at Bandersnatch. "What do you think?"

    The mare shook its head and snorted. "Whether it will attach itself to one of us or not, we have to do away with Dredmor and find a way to keep him gone or our coming here would have been pointless. We'd need to send someone to fight Dredmor every few weeks if the phylactery isn't dealt with."

    Dead Head laughed. "Not my problem. Not really yours, either."

    As the skull spoke the sound of dozens, perhaps hundreds of heavy feet approaching over the stone floors could be heard rising over his hollow, far-away voice. "You all done sat around too long. Meet the Fourth Zoo, led by the Thirty Second flank of Dreadmor's Own Galumphin' Scissors. Keep 'em busy, boys! Dredmor lives!"

    Bandersnatch leapt forward, hooves thrashing in an attempt to smash the skull but it vanished like a switch was thrown and the horse wound up flailing nothing but air. David snatched up his axe and held it ready. "So," he said casually. "I guess now we fight?"

    "I guess so..."

    Dredmor dropped the last of his important books through the Master Slipgate, trusting that his understanding of its functions was now complete enough that his programming wouldn't go awry. If it did, replacing his entire library would take a long time, and it looked like he was loosing half of it anyway. The lich sighed, a dry, arid sound, then entered one last set of instructions into the control panel. That done, he took up pen and page and wrote a quick note.

    My research shows that's the correct form for your name as an Archdiggle, and I have no doubt that you will be one before I return.
    While I have no doubt that you and your fellows will do everything in you power to keep me from dying, due to the powerful enchantments that I have laid on you and the dungeon, I find it very likely that I will not survive this battle. I simply have not had enough time to prepare.
    I intend to plan as if I will be coming back. Mind the dungeon. See that it is completed. I leave the exact details to you, any adjustments that need be made will be taken care of on my return. Above all else, keep the Slipgate running until I return.

    It took extra care to make sure that he didn't rip the paper as he folded it and propped it on the desk, then took up his staff and started toward the door. Then he paused, remembering that E had mentioned a traditional contest with Death when he next died. Dredmor turned around and grabbed a box off of one of the library shelves. It was labeled "Extinction". E had never said he could pick the game, and it was worth a shot...
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  15. Lorrelian

    Lorrelian Member

    Skrillinaugh huffed his way up the stairs, glancing around the fourth floor as he did. It was loud. In fact, it sounded like someone had dropped a superheated boulder into a thousand gallons of water, there was so much hissing going on. Two feet of steam mixed with foul smelling vapors obscured the floor and beyond it all he could here the sound of weapons and armor clashing together. It sounded like he was late to the party.

    Not that he could help that. Evacuating the seventh floor had taken time, and he still wasn't sure what he could do with the sick diggles and still keep the dungeon excavation on schedule. It may simply be a matter of using them as guards on the first floor and using the diggles that freed up for actual digging.

    But there were bigger concerns at the moment. As he walked through the fog towards the sounds of conflict he spotted a group of diggles clustered at one corner. They were the mustard yellow of your average diggle, far out of depth at this point. Of course, the same was really true of him, as well. Skrillinaugh picked up the pace and called out as he approached, "You there! What's going on?"

    The diggles spun around as one, their drills twitching nervously. One of the apparently recognized him, though, and saluted, saying, "We've trapped a human and a horse around one of those anvils on the little bridges, sir! The zoo is attempting to finish him off!"

    "A horse?" Skrillinaugh cocked his head to one side. That was very odd. "Never mind. Who are you?"

    "The Thirty Second Flank, Dredmor's Own Galumphing Scissors, sir!" The diggle replied. "At your service!"

    "Good," Skrillinaugh said. "Here's the plan..."

    Too Be Concluded...
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  16. Lorrelian

    Lorrelian Member

    Dungeon Delving, Part Eight
    Free Fall
    David and Bandersnatch fell back in front of the seemingly inexhaustible tide of monsters from the Fourth Zoo. Eventually man and horse managed to find an alter of Krong in the middle of a bridge over a long drop. With Bandersnatch on one side and David on the other they managed to hold off the tides for a time.

    Dozens of hulking golems and weird gray men fell under David's ax, the armored crabs ignored him and scuttled after Bandersnatch, only to get trampled under hoof. David took special care to hunt down and kill the abominable pumpkins himself, occasionally even leaving his position at the end of the bridge to make sure they were dead.

    Then, to David's horror, a squad of weird, mustard yellow bird creatures with drills in place of noses charged forward. He jerked back in surprise, saying, "What are those?"

    Bandersnatch glanced over its shoulder and said, "Those would be diggles."

    "Oh." David figured the origin of the name was fairly obvious. "Well, they shouldn't have any problem with-"

    David didn't get a chance to finish as the diggles charged his horse as a unit. He started in surprise and tried to get between the weird little bird things and Bandersnatch, but didn't quite succeed. For a minute, it looked like the mare would be able to fight them off with his hooves and teeth. Then, with the sound of cracking stone the ceiling caved in and a bright red diggle came crashing down onto the horse's back.

    Bandersnatch reared and screamed in surprise, its hooves flailing desperately. With the horse distracted, the other diggles dove into the stone, sending chips of rock everywhere as they burrowed out of sight. The floor groaned for a second, then collapsed carrying horse and diggles with it. As the red diggle vanished David heard him yelling, "Dredmor lives!"

    A quick glance around around the room showed that the handful of monsters that were left were hanging back at the edges of the room, staring at him with nervous and hateful expressions. David inched forward and off of the bridge, cursing quietly to himself and hoping that the ground wouldn't fall apart under him. The creatures watched as he moved but didn't attack.

    As he edged onto solid ground he realized that they were muttering to themselves. It took a moment but he realized they were repeating the words of the red diggle. "Dredmor lives," they muttered. "Dredmor lives? Dredmor lives!"

    David eyed them uneasily, but didn't see any point in fighting them if he didn't have to. He carefully edged around them and toward the room's door. He eased backwards, hoping that whatever quasi-religious sentiment had just come over the local monster population didn't involve sacrificial ceremony. He backed half a step out the door and bumped into something.

    There was just enough time to glance back and see a desiccated skull with burning red eyes staring back. David gave a decidedly unheroic squeak and jumped back towards the platform he had left. "What the hell?"

    The creature sneered and brandished his sinister black staff, then stepped forward, saying, "I am Dredmor. I am dead. And I live."

    David stared at Dredmor for a moment, then said, "Oh. Hi, I'm David Lamplighter." He brandished his ax and felt the power of right eating suffuse his being, surrounding him in a nimbus of light. "I guess it's on, then?"

    Dredmor just waved his hand and sent a shimmering whirlwind of energy at him. Ice coated the floor and David leapt forward, trying to get out the door and into a more open, less occupied area. The lich waved a hand and the door slammed closed. David bounced off the door with a curse and ricocheted back into the lich. The two got tangled up and slipped on the icy floor.

    They crashed to the ground and slid over the edge of the bridge. David made a grab for the edge and got the edge of his ax over it for a better grip. But Dredmor had him by the back of his shirt and raised his staff in his free hand. Thunder crackled and they both fell.
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  17. Lorrelian

    Lorrelian Member

    Freefall was a new sensation, which was saying something seeing as how Dredmor had been a soldier, a cowboy, a sailor, a tinkerer, a wizard and dead. Yet in all that time, he had somehow managed to avoid falling great distances. Naturally, his first experience also involved a raging man with a glowing ax who seemed intent on dismembering him before he could hit the bottom.

    Funny, how he had specified his dungeon should have abyssal pits in random locations but he had forgotten to say how deep they should be. After three seconds, he began to wonder when they would hit the ground.

    Not that he had a whole lot of attention to spare for that. He was still holding David Lamplighter by the shirt, and Lamplighter hand tossed his shield and had grabbed him by the wrist. There was no point in letting go, so they simply beat on each other, barely even bothering to block each other's attacks.

    They were spinning through the air, bouncing off of rough stone walls and tearing huge chunks out of one another. There was a sudden, jarring impact that finally broke them apart. Dredmor reached out with his free hand and found that the bones had been mangled beyond use. With a growl, Dredmor extended his free hand and sent a blast of acid at Lamplighter. The man yelped in pain and yanked a crossbow free from behind his waist then fired it one-handed. As a former expert, Dredmor had to admire the shot even as it dragged him back into melee range.

    Dredmor tried to raise a hand up to block but at that moment they crashed into the ground. The last thing Dredmor saw was David's ax crashing down towards his skull.

    Then he found himself staring at a large flock of shining black butterflies. He stared for a moment, then said, "What is this?

    "I am Death. The death of Obsidian Butterflies." The flock shifted almost as if to get a better look at him. "I have come to take your soul, Dredmor, unless you have the wit to keep it."

    "Right, E mentioned this." Dredmor fished out the little board game and set it on the ground. To his surprise, it quickly changed to an impressive stone set. "I can level a challenge against you, right? Then let's get started..."

    David dragged himself up the stairs and into the light. His ax shaft was splintered, he'd lost his shield and his armor was full of holes but he was alive. But what really bothered him was that he'd never found anything like the phylactery Bandersnatch had mentioned. Which meant Dredmor would be back, and sooner or later someone else would have to go down and fight him. David knew that even if he was in any shape to go fight him on his next appearance, there was no guarantee he'd win and keep winning. And what if he lost next time?

    No, he needed a long term solution. Maybe if he could gather enough adventurers they could hold Dredmor at bay. And there was the House of Nine Truths, maybe Pinky's help could be enlisted.

    But first things first. Using his ax as a crutch, David started the long hike back to the town.

    Skrillinaugh dusted himself off and looked over the huge pile of stone. The other diggles had sifted through it and found no sign of the talking demon horse that had been helping the human intruder in all of the rubble. Finally, one came over and said, "Do you want us to keep looking? There doesn't seem to be anything here."

    He sighed. The beating he'd taken in the fall had bruised him purple and now everyone seemed to think he was in charge. It was proving to be a lot of trouble with little benefit. "Forget it. It's a waste of time. Dead Head says the human left anyway. I'm going up to Dredmor's library and seeing if I can find the plans Dredmor had for the dungeon. We might as well get back to work."

    It was a long, lonely walk back and Skrillinaugh spent a lot of time thinking about whether he even wanted to keep working at this thankless job. Dredmor was an old friend, and he didn't have many of those. And in spite of all his griping, the work was satisfying.

    He hadn't made up his mind when he got back and found the letter from Dredmor. He had just finished reading it when the Slipgate lit up and dumped a pile of junk on the floor. There was another note, shorter and clearly written in haste. It said, "Failsafe in case I lost. My phylactery and staff will always come back here for safekeeping. Mind the fort."

    "Sir?" Skrillinex turned and saw another diggle, looking a touch nervous, who said, "Sir, there's some new diggles down on floor seven. They're offering to help us dig the place out if we'll let them keep food there."

    "Food? Why there?"

    "Because it's cold."

    "Oh." Skrillinex nodded. That actually sounded like a good idea. "Say, do they have any ice cream?
    Dungeon Delving, Fin
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