Death Cap – Nine – Walking With Confidence that Fools the Self
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Stray Cat Strut (A cyberpunk system apocalypse!) - Ongoing
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Heart of Dorkness (A wholesome progression fantasy) - Ongoing
Dead Tired (A comedy about a Lich in a Wuxia world doing Science!) - Hiatus
Sporemageddon (A fantasy story about a mushroom lover exploding the industrial revolution!) - Ongoing

Death Cap - Nine - Walking With Confidence that Fools the Self

“I’m heading out, mom,” I said.

“Mmm,” was my mom’s reply. She was on the bed, knit blankets pulled all the way up to her chin, body curled up into a ball. She reminded me, in these moments so early in the morning before the world truly awakened, a little of a wounded animal.

Sometimes I’d see her clutching onto one of Dada’s shirts. She’d cry, at night and when she thought I couldn’t hear her.

It was hard to get her to eat.

I... didn’t know what to do about it. To say that seeing her that way made me feel sad would be far too reductivist. I felt something like a wrenching in my gut, a twist around my heart. It was kindling onto the fire burning inside me.

Some asshole had done this to us. The anger, the sadness, the loss, it was all caused by someone’s greed.

I bet they didn’t cry themselves to sleep.

Not yet.

I slipped out of our house and glanced around. The sun wasn’t up yet but it was trying to rise. The slums were a pale blue and wreathed in shadows. In the dawning light of the early morning, a lot of the sins of the slums were masked and hidden away, unseen unless you knew where to look.

I hiked my satchel onto my shoulder until it was nice and snug, then I started my way through the slums.

Today was the day I tackled the Ditz Dungeon. It wouldn’t be easy, but I didn’t expect it to be all that difficult either. The goal was mostly to scope the place out. I didn’t have any delusions that I’d be strong enough to waltz in there and conquer the place on my own.

I’d go in, and then try to see just what sort of growth I needed.

At the moment, I had two open General Skill slots and about... forty skills I could pick up. Most of them were completely useless. I didn’t need [Cooking {Common}] to do my job. Some might be handy. I had acquired [Sneaking {Common}] at some point, and I was tempted to take it.

I could also get rid of some of my other skills. [Knitting {Common}] was still my highest-levelled skill. It was... a bit plebeian, and not exactly helpful for my goals. I mostly kept it because... I don’t know. Sentimentality?

[Running {Common}] and [Basic Poison Resistance {Common}] were both acceptable skills. Running was a bit plain, but really I couldn’t see it not coming in handy. I wasn’t equipped to take on big threats so running away was going to be one of my first options.

I stopped by the husk of that burned down house a block over. It was one of my three extra mushroom-cultivating areas. Places where I could grow things without risking my farm. The house had some plain [Mana-Infused Brown Horse Head]. Those were tasty enough in their raw form, and they provided me with a good boost to my mana. I’d need them just to refill my stores once I got past the mana-sucking surroundings of the dungeon.

I stuffed a dozen or so in my bag and I moved on.

My next stop was in a dirty alley way. A dead-end which led nowhere, and which had a twist at the entrance preventing anyone from seeing inside. It would have been a great hideout for the homeless except for one thing, a large manhole cover with a grill. The stench of passing sewer water was pungent within the enclosed alley. There wasn’t enough wind passing through to wash it away.

Perfect for me.

I tugged the cover off with a length of rope I’d stashed away by tying a quick knot around the bars of the grill. A ladder was bolted to the walls of the shaft. After putting on my new mask, I climbed down carefully, aware of both my new boots (which weren’t as grippy as my bare feet) and the slime that tended to grow on the bars.

Once at the bottom I stayed close to the walls, avoiding the gurgling stream in the middle of the tunnels until I found what I came down there for.

A whole shelf of the sewer wall was knocked out, bricks tossed aside to reveal the dirt behind. That shelf was covered in large balls, about the size of my two fists put together.

[Dead Man’s Cough] my most deadly creation so far. A kind of mushroom that, similar to the puffball that I’d combined to create it, launched its spores as a cloud when its puffy exterior was squished.

Unlike common puffballs, the spores of the [Dead Man’s Cough] were more than just a mild irritant. They were outright deadly.

The poison wasn’t fast-acting, which was a shame. It would take hours, or even days for them to kill a grown adult. More if they had someone to tend to them, I suspected. It was even likely that with proper treatment, they wouldn’t kill at all.

I picked the mushrooms carefully, choosing those that looked ripe to explode at a moment’s notice. I circulated some mana through them, then inspected one of the better-looking samples.

[Dead Man’s Cough] - Rare
A mushroom filled with highly toxic spores. Inhalation of these spores will cause immediate inflammation in the inhaler’s lungs, followed by trance-like hallucinations and internal haemorrhaging, possibly leading to death.

I’d forgotten about the hallucinogenic properties! Right, those might give me something of an edge against certain opponents. Someone who was tripping out wouldn’t be the best in a fight.

Then again, I wasn’t sure what kind of hallucinations these gave. The kind of hallucination different drugs gave people could be vastly different, from hearing and seeing things that weren’t quite there, to having your senses be slightly warped, to falling into full-on dream-like states where your brain failed to process anything correctly.

Any of those would be nice to afflict on an adversary, to be fair.

I tucked the mushrooms into my satchel, careful to keep them separate from the edible mushrooms.

And that was it. I was as ready as I could be on such short notice and with so few resources at my disposal.

I climbed out of the sewer, then pulled the manhole shut with a scrape and clang.

That was it. Time to face the dungeon.

The walk across the city was quick and easy. The sun was still rising as I moved towards Ditz, and while I saw plenty of workers heading off to their early shift, it was still too early for most. As I neared the dungeon I heard a faint clamour in the distance, six tolls of a heavy bell.

The Ditz dungeon was pretty busy, despite the early hour. The dungeon itself--which looked something like a stack of rocks sitting in the middle of a wide clearing where buildings had either been razed or never built in the first place--was surrounded by tents and temporary installations.

Delvers were congregating together off to one side, different groups under their own banners.

I counted maybe fifty of them in all, men and some few women in armour. Mostly breastplates and the occasional shin and arm-guard. I didn’t see any mages, which I took to be a good sign.

Remembering something I’d heard in the before, I walked straight towards the dungeon, neither walking fast nor slow, and keeping my eyes forward. If I looked like I knew what I was doing, and that I definitely belonged here, then no one would stop me.

The plan worked.

There were a few Bullies near the edges of the dungeon compound, but they were enjoying warm tea from a thermos and chattering with each other. Some foremen were standing around near the entrance too, but they were busy yelling at workers or chatting.

I walked right past two men with hard-hats on and they didn’t even spare me a glance.

And then I slipped under the huge D above the entrance to the dungeon. I’d made it.

The moment I slipped into the dungeon I felt a strange tingle pressing down around me. It was like the opposite of what I felt standing outside, where the dungeon slowly seeped away at my mana. The air felt... alive. Every lungful I took felt right in a way that I’d only felt in my farm when everything was in full bloom and Feronie’s blessing was at its fullest.

I shook the feeling off. It was a distraction.

The dungeon’s entrance was a great big room with stone walls to the sides and a slightly uneven floor. Planks that looked like they’d been moved a thousand times were on the ground, acting as levels and ramps deeper into the room. Above, the ceiling was bare stone, with only a few roots poking out.

The space was lit by rows of electric bulbs hanging from wires that were held up by movable poles.

I’d made it in. Now to see what the fuss was about.


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Almost forgot to post this today! Oops! That last chapter of SCS I had to write took a lot out of me.

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