“Every step of life shows much caution is required.”
-Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Arriving at the most convenient place to enter the dungeon had taken Zidaun and the others only a few days. He had expected it to take longer, but the dungeon’s resonance was detectable much farther than he expected. Admittedly, riding on the slogi had helped immensely. He would not want to even try making a journey over this much snow without one. After their arrival the slogi had promptly created their own burrow beneath the snow and began the pseudo hibernation that made them such useful transports in freezing weather. They would be ready whenever the team was ready to leave.
Still, arriving with time to spare had its own difficulties. Namely: boredom, anxiety, and the constant cold. Zidaun had been able to excavate a small cave for the team, but even that had taxed his abilities. Outside of a dungeon, they were quite limited. Firi had added a blessing to the cave, but it was still very cold.
And, naturally, Zidaun had spent very little time in the cave enjoying even the relative warmth. He meditated and prayed in quiet contemplation in the area the dungeon would come to. He communed with the voice of the dungeon, echoing it back and hearing the echoes gradually get closer and closer. The dungeon had covered many miles, expanding through the stone to reach them. Considering the distance, it had actually reached them quite quickly. Between the strength of its resonance and the speed at which it approached them, he knew the dungeon was not a simple newborn.
Every Freeze Zidaun missed home. He had even taken the opportunity to return for a few. The Blaze Blossom Swamp took its name from Freeze. Every year, when the water was just about to frost with ice, the blaze blossoms would bloom. And with them came heat. The entire swamp became misty with the steam rising from the water. The starneck trees, with their five long trunks that arched up and then down toward the water, would keep their deep green leaves just above the surface. But the long arches of their necks, which were farther into the air, would freeze with the mist in the air until long curtains of icicles hung down toward the water. And those curtains glimmered with the light of the blaze blossoms all the long freeze. Taking a boat through the swamp in Freeze was like being in another world. All the world was mist and fire reflected above and below the water, and rarely would the sun ever break through.
As he rooted himself to the stone and meditated he thought of home. He did not want to actually be there, he was excited to enter the dungeon, but he was missing the warmth. However, all the waiting was about to end. The dungeon was here. He saw a blank stone façade form in the mountain wall, and called to the others. They all joined him, eager for a break in the monotonous waiting, even if that meant into danger, or perhaps, especially if that meant into danger.
But the dungeon failed to open. Honestly, Zidaun had expected it to open immediately. He had felt the sudden rush of power as a dungeon connected the entrance, but apparently the dungeon wasn’t ready yet. He and the others waited impatiently. At this point, when the dungeon could open at any time, it was dangerous. When a dungeon opened anything could happen. With most, nothing happened, but assuming that was a fool’s game, and few fools survived dungeons.
As the minutes turned to hours they began to wait in shifts. Being so close to the mountains, the sun and the maw had long since set behind the horizon, and the vast glorious face of Yamash cast his pale light upon the world.
Eventually Zidaun could feel something different happening. Behind the blank stone he could feel the stone flowing and shaping. He turned towards the blank entrance, and after a few minutes he saw changes. Pillars grew from the earth rising far overhead until they all ended in a massive stone triangle. The surface of the pillars, snowy white marble with black veins, was ridged with parallel lines reaching upward, and in the triangular face of the enormous cap were recessed figures. Ladies and men with curly hair with draping robes danced, laughed, and reclined in the frieze.
He used his identify skill almost automatically, but it was not particularly helpful. He learned that the style was Greek, whoever the hells that was, and that the entire structure was an imitation of the Parthenon. So overall, he simply learned that the dungeon was imitating art from people he had never heard of. Well, at least that did confirm that the dungeon was not new. It would be up to some scholar to figure out exactly how old the dungeon actually was, for now it was their job to enter.
Entering was a relief after the interminable wait. Zidaun prepared himself and stepped over the border into the dungeon.
He breathed in the rich mana and felt awe and contentment blossom within his chest. He forced the feelings to the side, momentarily rooted to the spot, and then forced his natural impulses to the side. The others were watching over him as he gained control of himself.
“Alright, I’m good,” he said. “It’s a safe zone.”
The others nodded and settled back a bit farther behind him as they relaxed incrementally.
Zidaun used his most powerful ability and connected directly to the dungeon’s aura. Instantly he was aware of everything within fifteen feet. The world became so much more and was almost overwhelming. However, after many years of practice, it was second nature to tune the excess information out.
The pathway was wide and had a slight incline leading deeper into the dungeon. The dungeon pathway was straight and looked to continue on forever. Beneath his feet the stone was textured to allow their boots easy purchase.
Everything was too perfect. The decoration on the wall was another historical style called an “infinity knot,” from the “Celts.” The design appeared to weave and change, interwoven in an ever flowing pattern. The pathway was very wide, and tall, and everything was well lit.
This dungeon was not just a rebirth of something very ancient; it was old itself. Dungeon’s tended not to build with the proper consideration for people. It took them a very long time to understand even the basics of how people thought. Even then, dungeons almost never lost the feel of the uncanny. Proportions that were slightly off. Statues and art that were too perfect or subtly flawed in perspective.
That was not the case here. Everything was perfect for the comfort of the dungeon’s “guests.” The artwork was intricate with many shades of stone interweaving, but the colors complemented each other. The textured floor, the perfect brightness and hue of the lights, the comfortable temperature. It was freaking him out.
The last straw, though, was the bathrooms. There was a simple handle of stone that protruded from the stone a hundred feet into the corridor. The wall looked no different, but the obvious handle made them all cautious. Safe zones could still be dangerous.
When it entered the range of his senses, however, he paused. It was a room. The room had a small curved and hollow stone seat. To one side of the seat was a roll of fine cloth, which appeared to be weakened in some manner so that it was separated into squares. Nearer to the door was a basin with a curved handle of its own above it attached to a protruding stone spout. A towel was neatly hung over a rack to the side of the basin.
Just outside his detection Zidaun saw stone shifting down the tunnel. He could not directly feel it, but he did detect a hint of the mana flowing through the aura.
“Be alert,” he snapped, and turned to face the possible threat.
A form was oozing from the stone wall. It was humanoid, and as it resolved into full focus it became clear that it was human, if cast in stone.
It was a man, the skin was pale lustrous marble, and he was wearing strange clothing. Both his shirt, red with very short sleeves, and his pants, blue with heavier cloth, were made of finely woven linen. His identity skill had called to close a “T-shirt” and “jeans.” The man had been identified as simply a male statue, leaving him with no more information than before.
The statute turned toward them and its eyes were piercing blue; their perfectly uniform irises were uncanny. The statue turned and walked toward the door which caused the whole team to tense and placed their hands on their weapons.
Zidaun could tell that the statue always had a least one bare foot on the ground at all times and he could feel that it was actually connected to the stone beneath it. As it reached the door it raised its right-hand and smoothly turned the handle, opening it. It went through the door into the room and unbuttoned its “jeans” and sat its genderless posterior upon the seat.
“It’s some kind of outhouse,” Inda said, her brows furrowed. The others nodded in agreement.
The statue broke off some squares of cloth from the roll and proceeded to carefully wipe imaginary waste from beneath it. It let the cloth go and it fluttered into the depths below and disappeared. Then it stood up and replaced its displaced clothing. It turned to stand in front of the basin and twisted the handle above it. Clear water emerged and it washed its hands, drying its hands on the cloth afterwards. The statute turned towards them once more and it gave them a soft smile. Then it slowly sank into the floor.
It was the creepiest thing Zidaun had ever seen.
“Well… it is nice to have a place to relieve ourselves,” Gurek said.
“Which is suspicious,” Firi said, “whoever heard of… this in a dungeon.”
“Not to mention that statue,” Zidaun said, “that was… unsettling.”
“I don’t think I’ve seen a dungeon able to manipulate stone like that so close to anyone.” Firi said.
None could disagree. Eventually, Zidaun cautiously edged into the bathroom. His senses detected the hole, and it terminated in solid unbroken stone not far below. There was no sign of the cloth.
It took some time, and much prodding, but they eventually decided that the room was safe. They checked the water for poison, excessive temperature, or anything else but found nothing. Firi’s spells similarly revealed no poisons or contact dangers of any kind on the cloth or stone in the room. They also checked that they could open the door if it was closed.
After that they decided it would be foolish not to use the room for its intended purpose. Who knew how the dungeon would react if they did their business elsewhere after the dungeon being exquisitely obvious about the room’s purpose.
Since Zidaun was not wholly reliant on his own senses it was determined that he should go first, in case of any danger. All went well and nothing unusual occurred. He used the available cloth squares and then washed his hands dried them and left.
After this, the team mostly relaxed. However when Gurek went next they ran into an issue. When he attempted to leave the bathroom he found the door would not open. He immediately pounded on the door alerting the rest of the team. Even as he did so, the handle above the basin turned by itself and water began to pour. It turned out that the bathroom would not allow anyone to leave unless they had washed their hands. Exactly why the dungeon was so insistent on this was a mystery.
Regardless, after this the other two members of their party relieved themselves without incident. They continued their journey along the long tunnel, regularly seeing the handles that protruded from the wall. Each was another bathroom. Eventually, after walking for a few hours, they reached the end of the tunnel.