More Than Feelings (Effin' Dungeons)
by Jonas Fredrikson
Somewhere in Uresia, a young adventurer reflects on the experiences and feelings of his chosen lifestyle while exploring and dealing with the dangers of a dungeon…and what awaits him at the end.
The thought came unbidden, like it always did. He hated being in debt. He hated being ordered arund like someone's lapdog. But above all…
I effin' hate dungeons.
They were dark, smelly, frequently wet, and he did not want to think about the squishy stuff he'd stepped in earlier. Whatever it was, it had made things even smellier. Worse, the smell was quite clearly stuck on his boot.
Gonna take days to get that out…
Putting his hand on the hilt of the sword he always carried at his side – a present from his father on the day he had announced he was leaving to become an adventurer (his mother had been far less enthusiastic about it) – he quietly and carefully rounded a corner in the dungeon, his other hand holding the torch out in front, to illuminate any and all dangers ahead; he had already had to jump over a spiked pit and fight some goblins that had taken up residence near the entrance to the dungeon and had taken offense to his intrusion.
This time, though, the passage was empty. Well, aside from the lichen and fungus that seemed to infest every dungeon he entered.
Huh. I'm almost disappointed.
The passage was long, at least 20 metres or so, and that was just as far as the light of his torch managed to reflect itself off of the puddles of water on the floor.
Great. More water.
Suppressing a sigh, he started off down the passage, hand still on the hilt of his sword, ready to draw it at a moment's notice. He had learned early on in his adventuring career that keeping your sword drawn at all times was sure-fire way to hurt yourself or your comrades if you suddenly needed to run in a tight space like a dungeon passage, while keeping your hand away from it was a sure-fire way to get hurt if you got ambushed. The solution, obviously enough, was to keep the weapon ready-to-draw, but not actually drawn.
He stopped, midstride, the splashing noises he'd been making coming to an end with his steps. Was that a noise he had heard, just now, further down the passage? Or was it his imagination? That was another thing about dungeon-delving – do it long enough, or just expect a high enough level of danger, and you start to hear things, or attribute much more to the things you do hear. Once, he had been certain he'd heard a dragon or similar gigantic beast; it had turned out to be the wind blowing through a hole in the wall, at a point where the dungeon ran close to the face of the mountain it occupied.
He remained still for what seemed like an eternity, but was in reality probably less than a minute. After being satisfied that the noise had probably been either his imagination or some minor bit of rubble coming loose – that happened more often than you'd think, in dungeons, even if there was nothing about to knock it loose (a wizard had once told him it was the weight of the earth and stone above pressing down on the dungeon, causing it slowly collapse over centuries, but a Celari engineer had countered by saying it was earth-spirits moving about in the walls – he wasn't sure which of them to believe, though he had been somewhat amused that the wizard had been the one to opt for the non-magical explanation), he let out a breath he had not realized he'd been holding and continued on.
The passage continued for some time before ending abruptly before a door. It was made of sturdy-looking wood, and the masonry around it seemed to be less worn than that in the rest of the dungeon.
Drawing his sword, he used the tip to feel around the edges of the door. Though he was not versed in trap-disabling or even detection, he'd found over the years that simply springing a trap while keeping a certain amount of distance was often enough to get the job done. Assuming it was a non-magical trap, anyway; those tended to explode. Or cover him in slime. Not to mention the one that teleported him into a nearby lake while he was wearing heavy chainmail; he had since switched to lighter forms of protection.
I hate magical traps. Effin' things…
Luckily, a cursory inspection of the doorway had not revealed any runes or other symbols, so he was fairly certain that any traps the door had were non-magical in nature. And, after poking around with his blade, he was fairly certain there weren't any of those, either.
First bit of luck I've had all week. Still, it's kinda strange that the door's still standing after all this time… Unless someone put it in more recently.
Sheathing his sword, he then put a hand on the door and pushed. Gently at first, then gradually with more and more force, until he was pushing with all the might he was able to bring to bear with just one arm. Satisfied – or rather, annoyed – that the door was indeed quite sturdy, he reached for the handle and turned it.
There was a click, but nothing happened. Somewhat anxiously – given the risk that there was a trap on the other side of the door, connected to the door's locking mechanism – he pushed again. Nothing; the door was just as unyielding as it had been before he turned the handle.
Great, just great. Effin' thing must be locked from the other side. Might even be bolted. So much for my luck changing…
Taking a moment to weigh his options, he finally decided on simply knocking the door down. Putting his torch down – making sure to lean it against the wall, away from the larger puddles – he took a few steps back, to get some running room. Once, very early in his career, an incident involving an egg, a wizard and a satyr (he'd been too afraid to ask where the egg came in) had put him in front of a bedroom door that needed to be forced opened. He'd gone for running at it – much like he was now doing – smacking into it with his shoulder, as the adventurers always did in the stories that the bards told. What the stories never told – and he'd found out the very personal and painful way – was that smacking shoulder-first into a sturdy door was a sure-fire way to break your collarbone. Even with the magical healing provided by the wizard once the incident had been resolved, it had taken him weeks to fully heal.
Yes, that incident had taught him that the way to break down a door – assuming you didn't have a battering ram, of course – was to run at it and use your effin' foot.
There was a loud crash as the bottom of his booted foot impacted the wood. Unfortunately, while the wood did splinter underneath the force of his kick, the door itself remained standing. Also, his foot was stuck.
He took a deep, calming breath, then pulled his leg back hard, attempting to dislodge his foot.
He stumbled and very nearly fell when the door swung open with a mild creaking of its hinges. Apparently, it opened outwards.
The litany of curses that followed – all of them shouted in the aptly named trade language "Merchant Crude" or simply "Slag", naturally – echoed throughout the dungeon.
Jumping on one leg in a fashion that would have seemed quite comical to onlookers, he eventually managed to dislodge his foot from the hole in the door. Gathering what dignity he had left (not much, as there hadn't been all that much to begin with), he picked up his torch and proceeded through the doorway after casting one final, dirty glance at the door.
The room beyond was large. Well, large for a dungeon room, anyway; it was about ten metres wide and easily fifteen metres long, with a high ceiling and another door like the one he'd come through situated in the opposite wall. In the middle of the room was a long, stone table, above which hung an expensive-looking chandelier. The strange thing was, the candles in the chandelier were all lit.
He heard clapping. Somehow, the door on the other side of the room had opened without him noticing while he was staring at the chandelier. Standing there was none other than the merchant to whom he was quite seriously in debt, following his last misadventure, during which he had accidentally gotten one of the man's warehouses burnt down.
Effin' wizards and their effin' balls of fire…
"You made it here in record time," the merchant said, sporting the same annoying grin he'd had when telling him he had to work off his debt to him by going into the dungeon and retrieving the treasure within. "And you're unscathed, too. The last one was nearly dead when he got this far; he hardly provided any sport at all."
"Ah, but you are bemused by all this, aren't you? Allow me to explain…" The merchant flicked his fingers, and into the room strode several other men, all of them armed and grinning. Behind them came several more people – men and women – dressed in fine clothes; merchants and nobles, by the look of them. And they were all looking annoyingly amused.
"You see, I arrange…'entertainment' for some of my wealthier friends every now and then. Perhaps you noticed the puddles of water around select parts of the dungeon? One of my magically-inclined employees uses certain spells to allow my friends and I to observe through them, watching the progression of our contestants. Naturally, I also see to it that the dungeon is well-stocked with goblins and other ilk."
The words stung like insults, and he found his fingers flexing around the hilt of his sword. Not to mention, all these people had apparently seen his little foot-hopping incident, adding to the insult.
Damn it all. Am I just part of the entertainment for these effin' scumbags?
"Naturally, I can't allow my contestants to actually 'win', per se…given that this enterprise is quite illegal. I would not want my friends to get into trouble, after all."
The merchant's grin widened almost impossibly.
"Therefore, I am afraid you will have to die now."
At those words, the armed men strode forward, weapons drawn and wicked grins on their faces.
'ell no! I ain't dyin' in some effin' dungeon!
He turned and ran back whence he had come, ignoring the cat-calls behind him. Once he was through the doorway he slammed the door shut, extinguished his torch in one of the puddles, and jammed one end of the burnt stick against one of the stone tiles on the floor, and the other against the door. It wouldn't hold very long, of course, but it was thick enough to hopefully provide him with a head start, at least. Plus, if the people now chasing him could see through the puddles, at least the darkness would make it harder for them to see what he was doing. Also, he had noticed that none of the armed men had carried torches, likely not expecting their quarry to run back into the dungeon.
Unfortunately, no light makes it harder for me, too…
Still, he started off down the passage at speed, trusting his memory of the dungeon's layout to guide him. Behind him, he heard his pursuers curse at the jammed door, and seconds later he heard a crash as someone rammed into it. The crash was followed by a cry of pain, and he could not help but smile, realizing that one of them had tried to ram it with his shoulder.
Moments later, there was another, louder, crash, this time not followed by any pained cries. Evidently, one of the smarter men chasing him had gotten through the door using a less painful method.
Betcha he didn't get stuck, though. Me and my effin' luck…
Slowing down before where he estimated the bend in the passage was, he turned and successfully rounded the corner without smacking into the dungeon wall. The running steps of his pursuers were getting closer behind him, only to abruptly stop, replaced by the sound of several people slipping in puddles and smacking into walls…and pained cries and gurgles revealing some of them had just gotten seriously injured, perhaps fatally so.
That's why you don't run in tight spaces with weapons drawn, you 'effin fools…
He continued through the winding passages, nearly stumbling when he reached a set of stairs he had climbed on his way through the dungeon. Remembering that the spiked pit was just below, he carefully – very carefully – made his way down the stairs on his hands and knees, searching for the bottom step. Meanwhile, his pursuers had continued their chase – more slowly, judging by the sound of their footsteps – and were closing in again.
Making special note of just where the bottom step was, he ascended the stairs a few steps and then ran back down, building his momentum and then kicking himself off what he hoped was the bottom step. For few brief moments, he floated, his heart in his throat, knowing that this was the moment of truth – of continued life or sudden, spiky death.
The shin of his front leg struck the far edge of the pit, sending a stab of pain through his leg and abruptly altering his course, his body making a close-to-ninety-degree downward turn, sending his face on a collision course with the stone-tiled floor. Reflexively his arms shot out, protecting his face but jarring and likely bruising his hands even through the leather gloves he wore. Meanwhile, his pursuers reached the bottom of the stairs, and not seeing – perhaps not even knowing – the exact location of the spiked pit, several of them stumbled and fell, surprised shouts cut off into gurgles as the spikes below pierced their throats and lungs – and doubtless other organs, as well – leaving them unable to call for help while also dooming them to a painful demise as they slowly suffocated or drowned due to their lungs filling with blood.
He actually felt some small amount of sympathy for them, and briefly considered doing something to end their pain.
Then again, they are trying to kill me…
Pulling himself to his knees and then to his feet, he limped quickly down the passage, trying to put as little weight as possible on his injured leg. Behind him, his pursuers had stopped, panicked exchanges revealing they were torn between trying to cross the pit to continue the pursuit and helping their comrades out of their misery.
That bought me some time. They'll likely still be coming, though…
Hurrying down the passage, he reached the dimly-lit rooms that had been previously inhabited by goblins, but which were now inhabited only by their corpses and their crude torches and campfires. Bending down somewhat painfully, he grabbed one of the torches out of the broken stone tile it had been stuck in and continued on his way, now once again with light to guide him.
Just the one corridor and I'm out!
Alas, it was not to be. Somehow, what remained of his pursuers had crossed the pit and closed the distance between them, for just as he was about to enter the passage ahead, they stormed into the goblins' former home. They were no longer grinning, and drew their swords as soon as they spotted him.
"You're gonna pay for what you've done! Five people are dead, because of you!" one of them shouted, the anger and anguish evident in his voice; apparently, at least some of those people had been his friends.
To be fair, though, they were trying to kill me…
With a smooth, practiced motion, he drew his sword as the two men advanced. Rather than circling him, they walked side-by-side, apparently intending to attack him head-on.
I see. You're ex-army men, aren't you? Fighting like that is all well and good if you're in a formation with a shield, but with only swords, you'd be better off circling me… Not that I'm gonna tell you that.
The men rushed at him, one making a downward slash and the other thrusting. While they were not experienced enough with formationless sword-fighting to try and circle him, they were clearly experienced enough with cooperative formation-fighting to make it as hard as possible for their enemy to avoid their simultaneous attacks.
Of course, that assumed their enemy was also fighting in a formation with nowhere to go but forward.
Sidestepping both attacks, and grimacing slightly as he put weight on his injured leg, he lashed out with his sword in a sideways slash, catching one of the men in the side of his torso, cutting deep through the hardened leather he wore. Knowing that leather, while only of limited defensive capabilities, had a tendency to slow down and even catch blades without enough force behind them, he spun, using the momentum thus garnered to slide his sword through and away from the leather, in so doing dulling his blade somewhat.
I guess I'll have to sharpen it later…
Not slowing down, he spun his blade around and reversed his momentum to catch the already-injured man in the neck, the force of the swing easily cutting the man's spine, but not quite severing his head from his body. With a flick of his sword arm, he freed the blade once more, the man's corpse hitting the floor with a thud.
"You bastard! You killed Kenneth!" the remaining man cried, sword swinging, tears in his eyes.
He killed himself when he came after me…
His blade meeting the man's at an angle, he twisted both it and his body around, keeping the other man's sword at a distance while putting himself in an ideal position to drive the pommel of his sword into his opponent's throat. The man stumbled, gasping and grasping at his throat, trying to breathe through the pain. With the man thus distracted, it was easy to disarm him…literally.
His blade having cut through the man's sword arm, he followed-up with a slash to the man's already-injured throat. The man fell without a noise save a thud and soft gurgle.
And that's that.
Satisfied that all his pursuers had been dealt with, he relieved the two he had just killed of their purses. Judging by the contents, the men had recently been paid, much to his delight. That was the one thing he loved about dungeons; one way or the other, there was always loot to be had.
Speaking of loot, my debt hasn't been paid yet, has it? I owe that merchant a thing or two, and it ain't money. I wonder what the city watch would say about this little 'enterprise' of his…or what his 'friends' would pay for me to keep my mouth shut about it.
Whistling the tune of a song he had heard about a merchant and his purse, he turned and hobbled toward the exit.
I effin' love dungeons!