Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/books/entry_id/974461
by Steven
Rated: 13+ · Book · Fantasy · #2211401
Desperately poor, David tries to survive in a world of magic and bloodshed.
#974461 added February 4, 2020 at 2:09pm
Restrictions: None
Baby Steps
This is it. He is in the first level of the dungeon at last. The different floors, or "levels", are numbered by how deep underground they are. David takes his first steps into the cavernous expanse and then goes into a coughing fit, unused to these squalid, cave-like conditions, and the sound echoes through the sprawling corridors of the Fairspring Dungeon. Very faint sounds of scampering little feet are heard in the distance. The air down here is stale and damp and has a distinctly pungent odor about it. The only light source is a sort of glowing purple fungus that grows plentifully in the warm, dark, humid dungeon environment. It was no doubt cultivated here by helpful alchemists. The walls, adorned by various molds and mildews, are drab gray slabs of stone connected by thick mortar. Upon closer inspection, David notices a colony of tiny insects on the wall. It's a complete dungeon ecosystem, he thinks to himself, distracted from his fears momentarily. While fascinating, this is a topic of study for better educated and financed explorers than our dear protagonist, and he moves on after admiring it for a few moments.

With trusty dagger in hand, he presses on, taking a turn to the east wing of the dungeon. It does not take long for him to encounter his first monster, a paunchy, green-skinned humanoid no more than a meter tall, with beady eyes, long pointy ears, very short and silvery gray hair, and a short snout. David recognizes the creature as a goblin. Its ears twitch when it notices his approach, and it lets out a devilish shriek as it rushes to attack! Before he can react, the little rascal's claws tear into his face, leaving nasty marks. David stabs the goblin right in its round belly, then another time in its chest for good measure. Adrenaline surges in David's body, invigorated by the rush of battle. He just killed a creature for the first time, and to his astonishment it feels very good. For a short time, he ponders on the effect this place is having on him, but he disregards the thought when he remembers the famous wealth of the dungeon.

The defeated goblin collapses to the dungeon floor, its crimson blood spilling out over the ground as vital nourishment for the underground ecosystem. "It is merely the circle of life", David reasons to nobody in particular while he loots the goblin's mangled body. He finds several gleaming gold coins and a fabulous pearl necklace in the small knapsack it was wearing. Suddenly, his nostrils are overwhelmed with the stench of death and very old cheese, just seconds after blood soaks into the mushrooms' stalks. Little white flecks deposit on his clothes.a He knows the spores of these mushrooms are harmless, but he can't help vomiting a little in his mouth. He decides that this is a good time to come up for fresh air and heads back up to town. He runs back to the stairs, up to the shady entrance, and out the door as it opens automatically for him. With a loud clang, it shuts behind him. He falls to his knees and takes deep breaths, having never been more grateful for clean air than now. "I'm as free as a bird! No one can stop me now!" David is hysterical. A few nearby citizens stare in unison and slowly back away from the shabby, horribly stinky, cloaked stranger wielding a bloody dagger.

On another trip into the dungeon, David finds the same goblin again, its skeleton picked totally clean by scavengers, insects, and the fungus. The morbid scene is truly a sight to behold. That awful odor from before is mostly gone, but there are new growths and insect colonies in the area. On the surface, among the civilized races, there is a veneer of civility, but down here things work a bit differently. The conqueror feasts upon the conquered, and in death, the dead feed the living. David prays he will never have to try any of the local cuisine or, even worse, become the next meal. Still, he again finds himself fascinated by the dungeon ecosystem. He feels oddly stronger and faster with every kill. It is exhilarating, maybe even addictive. He begins to wonder if anyone is doing any serious study on how the ecosystem of the dungeon works.

After a brief but satisfying nap, it is nearly closing time at the general store when David gets there, or at least it is for Adrienne's general store. David never cared much for any of the other general stores because they lack a feature that he felt no general store should ever go without, Adrienne herself. Triumphantly, he walks over to her market stall and shows her his new loot. She rolls her eyes at him and wearily begins to appraise the items' value. She carefully inspects the pearl necklace and weighs the gold coins on a handy scale. "Congratulations, kid. You can now afford your very own shield. Good job surviving, I guess." She hands him a shiny new steel buckler, an excellent compliment to his dagger. He jumps for joy, jubilant at even the faintest praise from the clerk of his favorite general store.

David could not be happier. For the first time in years, things actually seem to be going his way. Over the course of the next couple of weeks, he makes several repeat visits to the dungeon, slaying plenty more goblins and then purchasing new boots and trousers and boiled leather armor to wear underneath his cloak. Adrienne acts polite towards him now but remains oddly aloof. David is somewhat disheartened by this, but he gives her the benefit of the doubt. After all, we all have struggles. Maybe she is going through some of her own.

With his new equipment, David finally feels confident enough to travel farther from the entrance to the dungeon than he dared go before. The dungeon maze is seemingly endless, stretching on for many kilometers in all directions. He encounters monsters of many different shapes and sizes, ranging from giant spiders to miniature dragons to undead house cats raised by angsty rebellious teenagers. Very light on his feet, he manages to avoid most attacks, and his new armor deflects the rest. He's a killing machine! In fact, his pack is starting to become rather burdensome with all the new wealth he "liberated" from the dungeon's residents. He decides to explore just one more room anyway. What's the worst that could happen?

In this room is a fine tapestry hanging from one wall depicting a grinning orc wearing luxurious red fabric sitting on a throne made roughly of wood and decorated with human skulls. Very large bookshelves are arrayed along the walls. Scattered around the room is a series of bright candles, and at the center of it sits a luminous robed figure, levitating a few centimeters above the ground. Evidently he was deep in thought, and he is not at all pleased with David's intrusion. The sorcerer jumps to his feet and conjures a tiny storm cloud in his hands. "Wait! Please don't kill me; I mean you no harm!" David tries in vain to talk to the mysterious figure. He is struck by a bolt of magical lightning. He goes deaf. He screams in terrible agony. Finally, everything goes dark for poor David. His body limps to the ground, lifeless.
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