Prompt alerts flashed gently in the corner of Max’s vision, but he ignored them. He was far too comfortable for that right now. His suit jacket and shirt hung from a nearby broken candelabra. He lay on his back among the silk sheets, with the spider nymph gently resting her head on his chest. Parts of his skin were cut and bloodied from where her claws had dug in just a bit too hard.
Max really didn’t care. His time in Isolation had been far from amazing so far, but in this moment, he could honestly say that perhaps it wasn’t going to be so bad.
Of course, it wasn’t all great. Now that he was far more relaxed and didn’t have the immediate threat of death hanging over him, he was better able to take stock of the deal he’d just cut with the nymph currently using his chest as a pillow.
When he replayed the terms in his head, it occurred to him that his bed partner had absolutely played him. He could have simply accepted the deal she’d offered and then reneged once he was safely out of the dungeon, letting the dice fall where they may. On the other hand, was he the kind of man that would break his word?
He felt strongly that he wasn’t.
True, she’d threatened him with death and torture. Any reasonable court would classify that as being under duress, but still...
He ran an idle hand along the nymph’s smooth curves.
He also couldn’t deny that while the stick may have been harsh, the carrot hadn’t been bad either. And he was getting amber-weave silk into the bargain as well. There would be a price to pay, but he now had an advantage he could work with. His village would be strong, right from the start.
His light touches of the nymph’s skin did not go unnoticed.
She turned her head to look up at him. “I would indulge myself in you some more,” she said in a sultry tone, “but I believe you have prompts you should read.”
Max groaned. She was right, of course, but he’d been hoping for at least a little more time to forget his problems. Laying with a beautiful woman resting on him, he could almost let himself believe that he wasn’t in the middle of a battle-royal for his life.
He reached up to his menu button and accessed the prompts in the order they’d arrived.
— Ping! —
You have entered into a cursed contract
The full terms of the deal can be accessed from your inventory menu.
Be Aware: Failure to honour the terms of your deal will lead to medium consequences.
— Bong! —
You have completed a dungeon!
Through bravery, foolishness, luck, the nose for a deal, and a horny dungeon boss, you have succeeded in—ahem—‘conquering’ the Lair of the Spider Nymph.
Be Aware: By skipping the first three dungeon bosses, you have disqualified yourself from their loot and experience tables. End of dungeon rewards will be scaled down appropriately.
Be Aware: By conquering the dungeon, you may now allow commanders to lead parties into the dungeon on your behalf.
Not bad, Max thought to himself. It was a bit disappointing that he wasn’t going to get the full reward, but he’d take it. Given the slightly dodgy means he’d used to complete the dungeon, getting anything at all was a blessing. He was pretty sure Master Builders weren’t supposed to beat dungeons by sleeping with the end bosses.
What was that old internet joke?
Hero! You were supposed to slay the dragon, not lay the dragon!
Max’s good humour was blown away the moment he read the next prompt.
— Trumpets! —
Master Builders of the Thirteenth Trial by Conquest!
One of your number has achieved a feat never before witnessed in all the trials that came before — conquering an epic-level dungeon before founding their village. For this highly unlikely achievement, they have been awarded the title of ‘Cheater’ for the next three months. So long as the title remains, any who permanently remove him from the Trial him will be granted a boon.
“WHAT?!” Max tried to sit up, but failed.
The nymph hissed and dug her claws into his chest, causing him to gasp. “Do not shout.”
“Sorry.” Max read the prompt again to check he hadn’t misunderstood something. He was being punished for doing what he had to do to save his own skin?! The other guy got a bonus!
“What did you read?” the nymph asked.
Max told her. “And now I have a freak’n bounty on my head!” he finished.
“How interesting.” Her elegant face now sported a thoughtful look. “I suggest you get a move on, then. You will need to develop quickly to avoid being overwhelmed.”
Max shook his head in disbelief and brought up the next prompt.
— Bong! —
You have completed a quest
Know thy-self — Part One
You are currently suffering from amnesia. Such is the status of all who arrive in Isolation, and only by completing key milestones will your memories slowly return.
Objective: Complete a dungeon.
Rewards: Knowledge of yourself. Experience Points.
— Ping! —
For competing the quest Know Thy-Self — Part 1, you have been awarded 60 experience points. You require 40 experience points to reach the next level.
— Ping! —
You have been granted a new spell: Analyse (Species)
You can now analyse beings and creatures the same way you can analyse objects.
Activation method: Mental command.
Fascinated, Max tried to use the spell on the naked woman laying on his chest by giving a mental command. The result made his mouth go dry.
— Whoosh —
Race Level: Epic
The Spider Nymph is an epic-level being, unique in her race, powers, and abilities. Capable of dealing out powerful magical destruction, she easily brings weaker parties to their knees. Tangle with this vicious predator at your own risk, less you become food for her infinite brood.
Be Aware: Races, like objects and dungeons, are categorised by their rarity and power into the following: Mundane, Common, Uncommon, Rare, Epic, and Legendary.
Warning: Your level is not high enough to analyse any of this being’s powers.
Holy hells, the woman he’d just given the old slap and tickle was a monster. Of course, he’d already sort of known that, but it was something else to see it written in front of you. There were still a few prompts to get through, so he could worry about his lover’s homicidal proclivities later. The results of the next prompt, though, brought all other thoughts to a halt.
— Ping! —
You have been granted knowledge of yourself. New information has been unlocked in your menu.
Confused, Max navigated through his menu and saw that the Relationships tab was no longer greyed out. Another menu popped into being in front of him, but most of the newly uncovered options were still greyed out. There was one option that wasn’t, however. Max pressed on the button labelled, [Master Builders].
A massive list of question-marks flooded his screen. There had to be dozens and dozens of them, each one, presumably, the unknown name of one of the other Master Builders. Max imagined that having all these names uncovered would be extremely helpful. Even more so, if they actually gave him information on who he was expected to either ally with or kill.
In the middle of the list, however, there were four names that he now could read. He blinked as the implications of what he was seeing filtered into his brain, and just like that, new knowledge and feelings swept over him.
Master Builders (ALL)
Max still didn’t remember any of his past, nor did he remember anything about these names, apart from the feelings of warmth he associated with them. But he did know one thing. This was no longer just about him. And he had to get stronger now.
Out in the forest, the wolf that had first found Max sniffed around a tree. It was not alone. Behind it, many of its pack followed. The wolf’s ears pricked. Something was going on in the clearing ahead. It edged forward and the sounds of the two-legs filtered through the bushes.
“No! Stop it! Get your hands off me!”
“I’ve got her legs!”
“Tie her wrists! Tie her ankles!”
“Oi, watch out for the change! She almost got me!”
“I swear, I will kill you all!”
“Gag her mouth, too!”
“Don’t you d—MgmmMMMm!!!!”
The wolf stalked closer and saw.
Eyes that embodied the forest itself met its lupin ones, and a single panicked command was given.
The wolf howled.
The wolves howled.
The wolves charged.
Max stared at the mostly hidden list of Master Builders.
There was only one assumption he could draw. He had family in this thing.
Now it was even more important that he get a move on.
There were only two prompts left.
He quickly brought up the next one.
— Bong! —
You have been given a quest
Know Thyself — Part 2
You are still suffering from amnesia, but certain events can now trigger memories. Unlock these events to recover your memories.
1. Find members of your family (0/3).
2. Write and deliver a letter to a being capable of furthering your cause.
3. Build a market place in your settlement.
Reward: Experience, Knowledge of Yourself.
Penalty for failure: Continued Ignorance.
Max nodded. One down, one to go.
— Ping! —
Be Aware: Now that you have completed the dungeon, you will have precisely ten minutes to conclude any business you may have. After that time has elapsed, you will be teleported back to the dungeon entrance and you will not be able to enter again until after the lock-out has reset.
The claws dug into his chest again. “I told you not to shout,” the nymph said.
Max ignored her. He pushed himself up into a sitting position. “What’s the time?” he asked urgently. “How long have we been laying here?”
The nymph gave him an amused look. “Clockwork has only been created four times in all the Trials, and it was always very late into the war. I wouldn’t say no to a water clock if you make one though.”
“Yeah, sure,” Max said absently. “Why didn’t you tell me I was going to get kicked out?”
“You didn’t ask.”
Max cursed. “What about our deal?” he asked, a tone of indignation creeping into his voice. “The stuff you promised? The silk? The artefacts?”
“Tsk Tsk. Calm yourself, Master Builder. A ruler should not get so worked up so easily. That will all be taken care of when you leave. I have no plans to break my end of our bargain.”
Max let out a breath. “That’s good. Thank you. I’m sorry I doubted you.” He smiled down at her. “I guess I should be grateful. I doubt many others get a friend as powerful as you so early on in the Trial.” He grinned. “Or as beautiful.”
The nymph’s facial expression didn’t change. She merely reached down and firmly gripped a part of him that no man should ever have to feel claws wrap around. Max’s breath caught in his throat.
“Do not be mistaken, Master Builder.” the spider nymph said, any playfulness that might have been present now gone from her voice. “I am not your friend. Ours is a relationship of conveyance, nothing more. One in which you serve my whims in exchange for your survival. If you do not hold up your end of our bargain, I will leave my dungeon. I will track you down, out in the over-world. And you will be sorry.”
“Wait, you can do that?!” The tips of her claws were pressing.
The nymph ignored his question. She merely tightened her grip further. “If you want to be anything more than a useful plaything, you must grow strong, understand?”
“Yes,” Max gasped out.
The nymph released her grip, and Max breathed easily again.
The nymph then mimicked inspecting an invisible watch on her wrist. She yawned deeply. “Bye bye, then.”
Max felt a sensation like being squeezed from every angle, and the dungeon around him vanished.
He appeared in front of the entrance to the dungeon, back in the daylight outside, still totally naked.
— Ping! —
You have been removed from the dungeon.
Dungeon lock-out: 1 week.
Son of a bitch!