Death Cap – Eleven – Diving Deeper Towards Perils Known
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Stray Cat Strut (A cyberpunk system apocalypse!) - Ongoing
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Lever Action (A fantasy western with mecha!) - Volume One Complete!
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 - Eleven - Diving Deeper Towards Perils Known

I found a bit of cloth at the bottom of my satchel. A knitting project that I hadn’t finished. Using that, I wrapped up the [Blackbottle] I’d found and tucked it in the bottom of the satchel. I was hoping it wouldn’t burst. I’d tugged a fair bit of its mycelium along too, so maybe I could replant it once I got back to my farm.

I didn’t know what I’d use it for, but there was certainly potential there. Anyway, more kinds of mushrooms would mean more potential combinations, which might give me the edge at some point. All I needed was to luck out a few times to get even more useful mushrooms.

“Hey, kid, you done?” the woman delver asked.

I jumped to my feet, nodding already. “Yes, ma’am,” I said. “I’m going to go tell the others now. Thank you!”

With that said, I glanced around the room one more time, then darted away. I paused by the entrance to change back to the delver crew.

“Um. Will the other rooms on the first floor be cleared already?” I asked.

The woman frowned. “No. There’s Lucas’ crew in the forest room. We’ll be moving in deeper once that’s cleared out.”

“Okay, thank you,” I said.

I didn’t stick around to push my luck any more. The delver crew might start asking questions and I didn’t feel like answering them. The spider rat monsters they’d killed were also making me nervous. They were frankly kind of terrifying.

Could I take on a whole nest of those? Maybe, if I tossed in one of my [Dead Man’s Cough]s before the spider-rats could react. They looked sort of mammalian, so clogging up their lungs would probably work to kill them.

Stepping back into the previous room, I glanced around and got my bearings back. The way I’d come from was to my right and the dungeon continued onto my left. Frowning, I stepped to the side and behind a small outcropping of rocks--after checking for spider rats--and pulled out my map again.

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I was... three rooms from the entrance at the top left of the map. The other passage, currently to my left, was a long corridor that led into a room with those big circles. I had no idea what those were meant to symbolise.

I tucked the map away. My plan was to poke my head into the big room, then continue on through the dungeon for a while. If my guess was right, then the Ditz dungeon crews hadn’t scoured the entirety of the first floor yet. There might be more stuff worth finding down here.

My end-goal was to reach the bottom of the dungeon. That was not going to happen in one day. Today was all about getting the lay of the land and learning what I needed to prepare so that next time I’d be able to go in even deeper.

Plus finding cool mushrooms.

That was a nice bonus. I wondered if there were more. The dungeon was supposed to provide a lot of materials to local factories. Wood and coal and iron and... meat. I paused mid-step. Had I been eating spider rats my whole life?

I considered it, then decided to stop thinking about it. Besides, those cans of meat paste were a rare delicacy that we’d only been able to afford a few times.

The long passage leading deeper into the dungeon was bent in the middle, making it impossible to see the far end of it. Just before that bend was a side passage leading off into another room. I could hear water streaming within, but chose not to investigate. I’d be going that way in a moment, but first I wanted to see what was up ahead.

I came around the bend, then slowed down as I heard grunting out ahead and some men talking to each other.

Moving carefully, I made sure not to stomp my boots down onto any loose rocks as I approached the entrance at the end of the tunnel.

The moment I was close enough to see into the room I froze. My eyes widened, and I felt my jaw going slack.

There was a forest.

An entire forest with great big trees rising up above, the canopy of their leaves so thick and vibrant that I couldn’t make out the ceiling above, though there had to be one. There was something bright and blue above and... and no, there was a ceiling, one entirely covered in glowing moss whose colour mimicked a cloudless sky. The moss was way out of reach. The ground was covered in ferns and some jagged boulders around which the trees grew.

I ducked to the side as I saw a group of men walk by. They were carrying something white and bloody between them. Some sort of monster? I couldn’t make out its features other than it had lots of legs. They swung it to the side and onto a pile that I couldn’t quite see from my vantage.

I ignored them as they went back into the brush.

An entire forest! Inside of a cavern! The trees looked like nothing I was familiar with, with gnarled bark on their sides and stout branches pushing out at nearly straight-edged angles. I took a deep breath, then let it all out in a woosh. It smelled nice. Clean and refreshing. I hadn’t smelled anything like this since... before I was reborn.

More voices came from the woods, and I perked up to listen. “--the lumberjack crews over. We’ve cleared the room. Team fourteen can stay behind for a few hours in case anything else shows up.”

“With normal pay?”

“No, the situation’s clear. No combat pay, not unless they get ambushed. And if they do, it’s their own fault for not clearing the room properly.”

“Yes, sir.”

They were heading my way!

I looked at the forest one last time before spinning on my heel and darting back. It sounded as if the delver crew was done with that room, so they’d be heading back. I didn’t want to be caught in their path.

This time, I dipped into the room where I could hear that stream. There was a bit of a tunnel leading into it, but it only ran for a few metres before opening up onto a room that gave me pause.

So far, the tunnels had either been lit by incandescent bulbs strung up on movable platforms, or like the forest had come with their own lighting. This room didn’t have that.

It was dark. Cave dark. I couldn’t see the far end of the room, and only a bit of light came in from behind me, around the bend of the tunnel.

Water was splashing by somewhere ahead of me, but I couldn’t see it.

Carefully, I reached into my satchel and pulled out the sample of [Blue Glow Lichen] I’d harvested earlier. The mossy lichen still had some glow left to it, enough to push back the nearest shadows.

It was supposed to react to mana, so... with a bit of a frown, I twisted my mana around my hand and into the little glass vial I’d placed the lichen into. With [Aura of Growth] triggered, the lichen started to glow much brighter.

It wasn’t a flashlight, but it was something.

With the darkness pushed back I was able to make out more of the room. It was long and narrow, or more narrow the forest room had been, at least. There was a passage off to one side that I could see, and I knew there was one at the far end, but it was obscured by the shadows.

I’d need to get closer to see it, but it was right there on my map, and the map hadn’t been wrong so far.

I raised the lichen vial higher. Maybe I’d bring more of these next time, especially if I intended to dive into parts of the dungeon that hadn’t been explored or cleared yet.

A stream ran through the centre of the room, pouring out of a crack along one wall, then across the uneven floor and down into a pit by the far end. My light didn’t go far into that hole, and I had the impression it was basically endless.

I squinted at the wall next to the stream. Were those things next to the water mushrooms? Feeling rather giddy, I started across the room.

Then the things shifted and lifted their heads, revealing many-eyed faces with mandibles and cruel eyes that glinted in the light from my lichen.

I froze.

The spider rats didn’t.

A dozen of them skittered on eight legs, approaching me even as they moved diagonally across the rocky ground, hissing like alley cats meeting a dog in the night.

“Oh shit,” I swore.

Then I did the sensible thing and tried to run.

That worked for all of a step before I realized that somehow my boots were stuck to the ground. I half-turned, as best I could with my legs stuck, and stared at the incoming swarm. “Oh, shit shit shit!”

***

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