“Are we still in the dungeon?” Max wondered out loud. He cautiously took in their surroundings.
“I don’t know,” Wildflower answered. “I don’t know what dungeons are supposed to look like. It is very pretty though.”
Stepping through the door had transported them both into a mist-filled forest glade. Fist-sized green crystals hung from the trees like unripe fruits. Just like outside the dungeon, flowers grew scattered throughout the grasses around their feet.
Max tried pushing through the fog behind, but found it coalescing into something solid enough to block his passage. As he pushed harder, it became like treacle.
There was only one way forward. Forward.
Max led the way through the fog, spear at the ready. Neither he nor Wildflower spoke. Their earlier levity was gone. Even though the glade was beautiful, something about the air felt oppressive.
He eventually got close enough to analyse one of the fruit-like crystals hanging from the trees.
— Ding! —
You have found Immature Life Crystal.
This is an uncommon resource.
Be Aware: This item is part of the dungeon and cannot be removed.
“Spoilsport,” Max muttered.
Suddenly, out of the fog, a booming laugh swept over them.
Wildflower crouched into a combat posture.
“Do you like my fruits, Master Builder?” the voice boomed. “Come then, come to me and let me take your measure.”
Max’s mind immediately raced back to the plaque over the door. “To take your treasure?” Max called out. “Are we going to play a game?”
“Hehehe,” the voice laughed back. “HAHAHA! Oh, I like this one. You are quick to catch on. Yes, a game. We are going to play a game. This is my dungeon, Master Builder. And you are my plaything. Welcome to the Ludonarrative Echo Chamber!”
Suddenly, the fog parted and Wildflower gasped.
The glade led down to a garden, but it was the oddest garden Max had ever seen. There were platforms everywhere, made from what looked like living trees. Some hung in the air, others rested on the ground. Fountains of multiple-coloured liquids gurgled in the spaces between. Bushes, shrubs, and small fruit trees grew in everywhere they could.
And on the central platform stood a being that Max immediately recognised from Greek mythology. It stood two heads taller than Max, with curly horns growing off the side of its head.
Its chest was bare, strong, and masculine, while its lower half was covered in thick brown hair. Its legs were goat-like with cloven hooves. Its matted hair reached its shoulders.
Most importantly though, this being was the source of the oppressive feeling in the glade. It wasn’t nearly as powerful as the feeling of quiet menace given out by the Spider Nymph, but Max’s heart dropped, nonetheless.
He used analyse.
— Whoosh —
Race Type: Rare
Satyrs are highly creative beings who reveal in the arts, poetry, and music, although they will not shy away from violence to protect their territories. Highly secretive and reclusive, the only times satyrs interact with other races, or even their own kind, are to show off their many wondrous creations.
Max barely had time to take all this in before the Satyr held up one large hand and clenched its fist.
There was nothing Max could do.
Quick as a literal flash, a sizzling bolt of lightning shot along the ground, forked barely a foot from where he stood, and raced to either side. The air crackled. Max felt his hair stand on end. A shiver ran up his spine. He stood frozen in place. There had to be over two-hundred feet between them. The satyr might as well have a sniper rifle pointed at them.
Heavy breathing to his side told him Wildflower also hadn’t moved.
They were both frozen in place by the sheer power emanating from the being in front of them.
The satyr beckoned them forward. “Come, Master Builder. Let me take your measure.”
Max had no choice but to comply.
They walked down to the garden.
“You!” The satyr pointed to Wildflower, who flinched. “Over there!” He gestured to one of the many floating platforms. “And you, Master Builder on that one.” He gestured to another.
Max carefully climbed up to the platform and found himself standing next to a table and a chair.
“Sit!” the Satyr commanded.
About thirty feet away, Wildflower sat down at a table just like his. They both waited, muscles tense. Whatever was about to happen was about to happen. Max thought of the riverbank just outside the dungeon where he wanted to start building his village. He thought about all the things he’d need to do to survive the Trial. He thought about the opportunity they’d have wasted if he and Wildflower fell here. This was not what he’d expected when they’d entered the dungeon. But they weren’t dead yet.
The Satyr climbed onto a platform in the middle and turned to them. “We all play games,” he intoned. His voice now took on a far more level tone, but it still carried easily across the space. “The Trial was created by a god as a game for his demigod son. Here in my dungeon, I have created a game of my own. Are you ready to play?” It reached into a bag on the table.
“Hang on!” Max called out across the garden. “What are the rules of this game?”
“Very simple,” the Satyr replied. It took out a set of dice from the bag. “Is this your first dungeon dive?”
“Excellent. Then we can jump straight to the good stuff.” He locked gaze with Max. “Every dungeon is unique — its form and powers determined by its boss, me, in this case. The older and more powerful the dungeon boss, the more they are able to bend the dungeon to their whims. I find my interests pulled towards the magic of dreams, and so it is with dreams that my game is played.”
The Satyr rolled the dice on his table, and Max realised with a jolt of surprise that the dice were on his table too. Their random movements and clinks perfectly mirrored each other. When he tried to poke one, his finger went through the small cube as though it were a ghost.
“Two, One, Four,” the satyr said, reading the die. With each word he uttered, playing cards appeared in the air and circled around him, seven in total.
“Hang on, you still haven’t explained the rules!”
A zap of lightning crackled its way around Max’s table, causing him to freeze.
“Please do not interrupt, Master Builder. I said I will tell you the rules, and I will.” The satyr plucked one of the seven cards circling its head and laid it down on the table. “Mmm? What is this?” Suddenly he looked far more interested. “The Spider Nymph?”
Max’s gaze snapped down to look at his own table. It still mirrored the satyr’s, and yes, the first card did indeed feature a rather erotic depiction of the arachnid queen.
Another card joined the first. Then another. And another.
“And a slave merchant?” The satyr said. “A giant rook? Wolves? The Keg of Wonders!”
He put down the final two, face down. He turned the first card up. It showed an Amber-Weave spider, loaded down with silk.
“But you have not yet founded your village.”
He turned over the final card and a slight smirk spread over his face. It showed the riverbank just outside the dungeon. The satyr put his hands under his chin, leaned on the table, and looked at Max. “You want to build your village outside my dungeon? How fascinating. But we are not here for your story.”
He swept the cards away, vanishing them with a wave of his hand, and scooped up the dice again. “We are here for someone else’s.”
Max’s mind whirled. The sheer ease with which this being had just plucked his journey from thin air like it was nothing boggled him. What other secrets did the satyr hold? Could it tell him about what the other master builders were doing? Could it tell him about his family?!
“The rules are simple,” The satyr said again. “This is a dungeon within a dungeon.” Suddenly, a blinding light flashed from all three tables, and when he’d regained his vision, he found himself looking down at a covered map of Isolation, a covered timeline, and an hourglass. “Make your choices, Master Builder. Win fights, level up, win the game, conquer my dungeon.”
A series of lights appeared before the satyr — grey, white, green, blue, purple, orange. He snatched the grey one from the collection and crushed the light into a supernova. The other lights flared and winked out of existence.
Max stared. He wanted to protest. He wanted to say that those rules told him nothing about how to actually play the game, but apparently the satyr wasn’t interested in explaining more.
Max caught Wildflower’s eyes, who looked just as apprehensive as he felt. Another set of dice were rolled and another flurry of cards appeared.
“Now, Master Builder,” the satyr boomed. “Choose!”
Three cards appeared on his table below the map, but unlike before with the dice, Max could touch them.
— Ding! —
You have found Card of Destiny x3
Relive a memory of the past. Be Aware: This item has been modified by a dungeon boss and may not function exactly as intended.
This is a rare item.
This item is part of the dungeon and cannot be removed.
Max quickly read each of the cards in turn.
— Ambush at Quarry Bay —
??? ??? ???
— The Siege of Athromah —
??? ??? ???
— The Dead of Dead Massacre —
??? ??? ???
No information?! What the hell was he supposed to choose between?
Max looked around the garden, hopeful for any helpful clue, but found none. He inspected his table again. But no, there was just the covered map, the empty timeline, and the hourglass.
Max looked at the cards again. It was a tossup between the ambush and the siege, because no way was he reliving the memory of something called, ‘the dead of dead massacre.’ In the end, he decided to pick up the Siege of Athromah card.
The moment his fingers closed around the card, light from it with a loud boom! Wind whirled around him. He felt himself lifted into the air!
Wildflower cried out in alarm, and Max saw that she too was rising. Light continued to pour from the card, now swirling around both him and Wildflower, almost like something liquid.
Max just had time to see the hourglass turning back, over and over, and the timeline point slowly moving backwards, before the light crashed into his head, and Max blanked out.