Max’s good mood lasted the rest of the journey through the forest to the river, helped immensely by the Keg of Wonders, which kept him continuously buzzed.
Eventually, they broke free of the dense foliage, Max gazed upon the land beyond, and instantly fell in love. The wide, gentle slope down to the river was covered in lush grasses. The river water splashed and rushed as it slowly pushed its way downstream. And on the other side, a curved sheer cliff-face rose up high above the trees. Flowers covered the ground. The air felt clean and fresh. For the first time since coming to Isolation, Max felt like he was at peace.
In that moment, Max made his decision. This would be where he’d build his village. Something deep within his soul demanded it. He said as much to Wildflower, who nodded understandingly.
“There is a heavy feeling of life in the air,” she said. “For we who are life-aligned, we cannot help but feel drawn.”
It took a little while for the two of them to find a way to cross the river. Apparently, there were several natural crossing points further upstream, but Max didn’t want to waste time. This resulted in both of them getting wet as they swam across. Interestingly, Wildflower had no problems whatsoever either in seeing Max naked, or in being seen nude herself.
“Like this place, you are blessed with powerful life, Master Builder,” Wildflower replied when Max had brought this up. “But we are not mating,” she continued with a smirk, “so why should I care?”
Odd logic, to be sure, but Max certainly wasn’t complaining.
Finally having someone he could just talk with was amazing.
When both were dressed again, they walked downstream along the river bank until they reached the second reason they’d travelled to this place. Max spotted it first and jogged over. An innocuous cave carved into the cliff-face, covered in a swirling portal. Unlike the other dungeon portals Max had found, this one wasn’t just one colour. Instead, every colour of the rainbow swirled into the centre.
Cautiously, Max approached closer and put his hand near it.
— Ping! —
You have discovered a dungeon
Malachite’s Ludonarrative Echo Chamber
This is a chromatic-level dungeon
Be Aware: Chromatic-level dungeons do not have a set difficulty. Their difficulty varies depending on any number of factors. Proceed with caution.
Do you wish to enter?
[Yes] or [No]
“What’s wrong?” Wildflower asked.
Max told her about the unknown difficulty.
“So that’s what the colours mean,” Wildflower mused. “I always wondered why some dungeon portals were white while others were blue, or green, or even purple.”
“How many dungeons do you know?”
Wildflower looked thoughtful for a moment. “I think, maybe ten or twelve? You’ve already seen three of them though.”
“But not in the forest?”
“No, to the East. I travelled a long way to get to the Amber Vale.”
Max nodded in appreciation. “Good to know.” He turned back to the portal. He really had to make sure Wildflower stayed with him. She was just too good to let slip away.
“You ready for this?”
Wildflower’s voice shifted from her usual playful tone to something more serious. “Yes, I think so. If we die, we just get teleported out, right?”
“That’s right. But we really should try and not die.”
“Of course.” Wildflower clenched her fists.
Max hefted his spear.
“Then let’s do this.”
He hit the [Yes] button.
Before anything else happened, a box appeared asking Max to confirm who he wanted in his party. Apparently, since Wildflower was neither a follower nor an ally, she counted as a mercenary.
The moment he finalised his decision, the prompt box vanished, and the world faded to black.
As expected, it faded back in a second later.
Beside him, Wildflower gasped. “That was—!”
“You get used to it.”
Max looked around. The first thing he noticed was that the cave walls were green. The multi-coloured light from the portal behind them illuminated the passageway, but there was no doubt in Max’s mind what he was seeing. “Malachite,” he whispered. The walls were covered in malachite.
“What’s malachite?” Wildflower asked.
“It’s a kind of low-grade gemstone. It also contains high concentrations of copper, which is why it’s green.”
“It’s a kind of metal.”
“Oh, I’ve heard stories about metal. They say it’s a thousand times stronger than flint.”
This time, Max couldn’t help but turn to look at her. He wondered if the playful girl might be messing with him, but no, she was totally serious. Curious eyes met his.
Max let the pole of his spear slide down his hand until his hand was resting just under the head. “This is steel,” he said. “Steel is a metal.”
“Oh! Is that what that is? I thought it was some kind of magic ice.”
Max shook his head in wonder. As they made their way down the passageway, he reflected that the people of Isolation were about to go through more change than anyone in the history of Earth ever had. The spider nymph had talked about clockwork being a thing towards the end of the Trial. To go from flint tools to cuckoo-clocks was quite the transformation.
While he mused on the nature of deity induced technological evolution, Max kept his eyes out for the big three of any dungeon — traps, treasure, and monsters. The cave passageway was small and only getting smaller. Eventually, the light from the cave mouth faded away, replaced by burning torches in the walls. Although, exactly what they were burning, max could only guess.
He tried taking one out of the wall, but no matter how hard he pulled, the torch wouldn’t budge, much to Wildflower’s curiosity and amusement.
— Ping! —
You are trying to remove a part of the dungeon.
This will not work.
Eventually, the two descended deep enough into the cave to find a door. Max made sure that both he and Wildflower were ready for a fight, then pushed it open. The room on the other side was not what he’d expected. It was completely empty, except for a massive pit in the middle, cutting off one side from the other.
On the far side, there was a plaque above the only door leading onwards.
“Games people play,” Max read. “Come, Master Builders, try your hand. Try your hand to take my treasure. Worthy are the ones that fail. Come within to take your measure.”
As he finished the words, there was a massive grinding sound and several bits of floor on the far side fell away. More grinding vibrated the room and a massive treasure chest swung up into place about 15 feet before the door.
Wildflower’s eyes went wide.
“Worthy are the ones that fail?” Max said out loud. “Is that supposed to be some kind of riddle? Are we supposed to not get over the chasm?” Max peered down into the hole and saw it was filled with nasty-looking spikes. “I’m pretty sure that’s not what it means.”
“What do we do then?” Wildflower asked.
“Well, I have rope,” Max answered, pulling several from his inventory. He’d made sure to bring both the normal type and several lengths of the spider-silk rope that Thorax had with him. “If we could hook it over that chest, we could use it to get across the chasm. It looks like it’s fixed to the floor, but we’d have to be pretty accurate—hey!”
Without even waiting, Wildflower picked up the rope, clenched it in her mouth, ran at the chasm, transformed into her Briar-Wolf form and leapt clear across it.
She transformed back on the other side, looking smug.
Max picked his metaphorical jaw up off the floor. “I was sure there was no way either of us could jump that.”
“Never underestimate a forest nymph!” Wildflower called out to him. “We’re more than just fertility on legs!”
“And what legs!” Max called back.
He picked up his end of the rope and tied it around the base of the nearest torch. If he couldn’t take them with him, then he was damn well going to make use of their stupid dungeon status somehow.
What followed was the most stomach-churning feat of gymnastics that Max could ever remember. Obviously, that memory wasn’t very long, but he highly doubted that his old life had prominently featured dangling from a rope high above a pit filled with spikes.
He was so exhausted when he finally made it over to the other side he collapsed on the floor. “Chest, now.” he wheezed.
What he found inside made it all worthwhile.
— Ding! —
You have found copper coins (x250)
You have found silver coins (x30)
You have found gold coins (x5)
You have found basic agility potion (x1)
Grants +1 agility for the next battle
This is a common item
You have found basic strength potion (x1)
Grants +1 strength for the next battle
This is a common item
You have found basic constitution potion (x1)
Grants +1 constitution for the next battle
This is a common item
Score! If Max had any doubts about the wisdom of choosing the Keg of Wonders as his prize from the spider nymph, they were instantly dispelled. He now had as many basic stat potions as the keg could make! The potion doses were far less than a pint, so he could easily potion up an army of over a thousand! Either that, or dominate the early potions market as far as his grasp could reach. Wars were fought with money just as much as with arms, and his wealth had just soared!
His elation was tempered by the realisation that nothing in the chest was likely to fulfil the quest that Wildflower had given him. If he didn’t get something appropriate soon, he might be in trouble. Not that he was going to admit that.
Max finished putting all the new goodies away in his inventory and stood back up. “Enjoying the adventure?” he asked.
Wildflower smirked. “Yes, but it isn’t much of an adventure so far, is it? All I’ve done is jump over a hole.”
Max grinned. “Then let’s find something to get that little motor in you going a bit harder.” He put his hand on the door handle to the next room. “Ready?”
Wildflower’s eyes narrowed. “Ready.”
Max opened the door.
And they both stepped forward into another world.