Giggling at my growling stomach, Bobette explained, “Well, it’s typical that we offer new travelers some delicacy from their old world. Helps them calm down. So, do you know how to make any dishes? Extra points if I’ve never seen it before!”
Thinking a bit, I hesitated. What was something easy to make that she would probably have never eaten before? Then, it hit me. “Well, my world has this sugary treat called ice cream. It’s made from freezing cream or milk from cows that’s sweetened. Does this world have anything like that?”
She frowned before yelling at the bartender to bring some milk. Passing the mug to me, she motioned for me to drink it. She asked, “Is this the milk of your world?”
It tasted cool and creamy, definitely higher in fat then my usual 2%. Nodding, I tried to remember how I had made ice cream back on Earth for a science project. I had mixed milk and sugar… Something seemed off about that. I asked, “Do you have a container or bag?”
She flicked her fingers at an eavesdropping human who jerked upon realizing he’d been caught. I wondered how he had thought in the first place that he could escape the gaze of a nearly omniscient Avatar considering that even I had noticed his blatant intrusion. Handing him a few silver coins, she whispered something in his ear. With a shrug, the human pocketed the coins and went out the door. I tapped my feet waiting for his return.
Bobette glanced at me. “Are you that impatient to try some of your world’s food? You’ve been here, what? A few hours.”
“Nah, I’m just hung-” I cut myself off, remembering the chopped up insects that Bob had claimed were enchanted into food.
Quirking an eyebrow, Bobette smirked. “You’re hung? I’d like to test that out.”
Fortunately, before I could be molested by what I supposed was my inherent superior, the man returned, slightly panting with a woven cloth bag. Bobette inspected it, fingering the cloth. “You got it from Malek’s General Store?”
The man straightened before nodding his head. “Yes, Mistress Avatar.”
“Well, it’s not quite the quality of bag I was hoping to give our new guest…” The man paled.
Shrugging, the woman dressed in blue passed it to me. “Will this suffice?”
I apologized, “Sorry when I said I needed a bag, I meant I needed to pour a liquid mixture into it.” Scowling at the man who quivered beneath her gaze, she tapped her lip. Based on the fear exhibited by the humans surrounding us, I never ever wanted to make Bobette mad at me.
Suddenly, she smiled. “Well, I guess I’ll get to show you another type of magic then!” Clapping her hands, she whispered something beneath her breath, and the bag I was holding suddenly felt like ice. I shifted my grip to hold the top where it hadn’t been frozen over. Taking a glance inside, I realized the bag had been frozen stiff, the inside glazed with frost.
Bobette looked at me expectantly.
“Wow! That’s so cool! How’d you do it?” I wasn’t quite sure whether I said that out of true amazement or a desire to please her.
Preening her nails, Bobette casually remarked, “Oh, it’s just some simple ice magic.”
“Did you remove the heat or did you do something with ice? I’m confused.”
Bobette blankly stared at me. Finally, she seemed to be unable to hold in her curiosity and asked, “What do you mean? Why would I do something that ridiculous? I just summoned ice, and it came.” A frown formed on her lips. “That’s how it always is and always will be. I command the world, and it obeys. It’s that simple, like how the sun returns each morn. Leave such questions for those fool scholars hiding within the Towers of Fyorin who know naught about war.”
I stared blankly at her.
Deciding to leave exploring the physics behind magic on this world for another day in case I activated her ire, I focused on making the ice cream. I poured the mug of milk inside the frozen container before asking for some sugar. She looked at me blankly before asking, “What is this solid sugary thing you speak of? Is it crystallized honey?”
I frowned. Would honey do? Sighing, I mixed in a few teaspoons that the barman handed me. One of the people in finer looking clothes in the back of the room stammered, “Miss Avatar, in my lands, I’ve heard of such a thing.”
We both turned to stare at him in surprise since he was the first of those within the bar that had dared to interrupt our conversation.
Bobette scoffed, “And what would a silly noble know of things from another world?”
Grimacing, the man bowed before saying, “Miss Avatar, I believe some of my servants knew how to turn beets into a type of sugary crystal that could sweeten things.”
“A useful tidbit. You shall be promoted to join my crew. One of my assistants will be along shortly to help you.”
The man practically glowed in joy, getting down on his knees to bow before us.
Ignoring him, Bobette asked, “So your favorite dish tastes of milk and honey?”
I stared blankly at the scene before me of a grown man bowing to this beautiful woman ten years his senior. Then, I hit my forehead. That’s what I had forgotten! “Actually, no, I just remembered it needs flavoring. Do you have any vanilla?”
I hadn’t been a great cook in my homeworld and realized I couldn’t even begin to describe how vanilla tasted. I hesitated. “I think it can be used as a perfume to make things smell good.”
A few minutes later, I held a bottle of what smelled distinctly like lavender. Bobbette apologized, “I suspect that what you’re looking for actually exists according to what I heard from the other humans, but this is the only such thing we have in the Dungeon.”
I shifted gears. “Do you have strawberries? They’re these red cone-shaped sugary things grown on plants.”
She paused. “Are you talking about Tyrosil Berries? Those are poisonous.”
“Uh, no. I’m pretty sure strawberries are safe to eat. Do you have any other tasty berries then?” I figured at this point I would probably end up with a milkshake rather than ice cream, and that was being generous, but Bobette’s expectant look reminded me that I really ought to produce some delicacy or she might become very upset, which was something I was certain I did not want to experience. I did not want to be anywhere near an upset mage with enough power to roast me alive using just one of those fireballs from her earlier display.
A minute later, Bobette had found something or rather several somethings. Sampling each berry, I finally settled on one. Using my hands, I ground the red almost raspberry looking fruits called Polkyfruit that had tasted like a mix between lemons and strawberries. They had been the closest to what I’d expected. Of course, there had been that one group of black berry-like Izmuth fruits that had tasted like chocolate… Pausing to reconsider, I reached out with my sticky, red hands and also grabbed those. I smiled. Now, I could make something reminiscent of chocolate-covered strawberries, a sure pleaser even for the pickiest of eaters. Grinding the two fruits by hand, I poured the juice that I’d gathered into the bag, which had basically solidified into a cylindrical bowl. Vigorously shaking it all together, I eventually reached a light brown consistency that satisfied me.
“Bobette, could you please freeze this enough for water to ice over.”
I shook the bag as it became noticeably colder. After several minutes of periodic stirring, I looked inside the bag and found a purplish creamy substance. It was a bit more liquidy than ice cream but based off memories from eighth grade, I figured it worked. Using a wooden spoon to offer a portion to Bobette, I ate the rest. Her eyes wide in delight, Bobette commented, “It’s so cold… and sweet! That’s so marvelous. I’ll have our chefs start preparing it from now on.” She handed me a menu. “Tell me what else you want to get.”
The menu was covered in weird dishes from hog flies, blue fin jaguars, and Papyrus leaves to Crayton juice. I quickly realized I didn’t recognize any of these dishes although some of them did seem rather interesting…
Noting my confusion, she gestured toward a human waiter picking up orders around the tavern, ordering, “My friend and I would like some of your meat and bread.” She looked apologetically toward me. “I’m not sure what you’d enjoy yet, so I took the liberty of ordering something simple for you. I hope you don’t mind.”
I shrugged. At least, I wouldn’t have to think about it any longer. She continued, “Well then, I guess it’s only fair if I tell you a bit about this world. Welcome to Cespes, but it probably won’t really matter to you. For all intents and purposes, you’ll be living in the Dungeon! Its shape is a square with sides of seven kilostrides.”
I asked, “Whose stride?”
She paused. “Oh, I forgot you wouldn’t know. A stride is the distance left as the legacy of the Elvish Archmage Yuliper. In his honor after winning some battle around ten thousand years ago, they called each of his steps a stride. Anyway, back to where I was. As you’ve probably noted, this Dungeon is pretty organized. The demons guard the area around the Core because they’re the most trusted race.”
Bobette paused as the dishes arrived in wooden bowls. The meat looked a bit like a steak, and there were some dryish, black stalk-like and orange bead-like vegetables along the side. In the center was surprisingly normal bread. Picking up the provided wooden fork and the wicked-looking dagger, I hesitantly stabbed at the steak, queasily remembering the heap of insects I had seen before arriving. Raising a slice to my mouth, I found it tasted reminiscent of a particularly juicy filet mignon.
Pushing the food to the back of my mouth so it wouldn’t be unseemly, I asked, “Why are they more trusted?”
Swallowing her food, Bobette turned to face me and continued, “Demons are the only natural inhabitants of Dungeons. They are the only race with absolutely zero risks, at least pertaining to their loyalty to the Dungeon.”
Made sense. Perhaps I’d see this species later, then again, it’d probably take some time for the Dungeon to let me anywhere near its core. I asked, “So why are the Orcs toward the outside? And why are the denizens split into settlements?”
Bobette laughed. “I believe that was my brother trying to convince you that the Orcs were the best defenders. It seems he has grown more Individual, allowing his race to influence his thoughts. However, no, while he is right in that they guard the outer perimeter of the Dungeon’s core, there are certainly not enough of his race to guard the whole Dungeon border… despite the rather prodigious reproduction rate of his race. Can you imagine living next to those warmongering brutes? The whole race would kill itself off in a decade if it wasn’t for how many of them there were.”
I assumed that had answered my second question. “So which settlements are the real outer settlements?”
“All of them really. If you imagine the Dungeon to be a square, each race occupies a sector attached to the perimeter. Toward the center is where the true defenses and resources lie. The orcs just happen to take up a larger proportion of the perimeter due to how quickly they’ve reproduced.”
“Wait, then what prevents someone from slaughtering all the humans stuck on the perimeter?”
She frowned. “That’s where I disagree with the Dungeon. To the Dungeon, most of the weaker, non-warlike people kept on the outer sectors are useless and anyway replaceable. The Dungeon doesn’t really care about outer sector breaches, so we’re mostly left to fend for ourselves once enemies get past the external defenses. However, anything that can get past the demon settlements outside of here is bound to crush us. Pah! The dungeon just treats us as an early warning radar.”
I avoided her angry glare. It seemed as if I had asked the wrong question. Hurriedly finishing my meal, I was surprised by how decent the food was for a seemingly uncivilized place. As we ate our food in silence, she seemed to slowly brighten. “Still, you were quite enjoyable to talk to. Why don’t I grab you something special?”
I looked up. Was this something special something that I wanted or something that would kill me?
Reaching into a small bag hanging from the rope belt around the waistline of her robes, Bobette pulled out a spear and a buckler. Well, that just broke some laws of physics… Setting aside the plates, she lay both on the table.
Pointing at the spear, she said, “This is a pretty standard third level enhancement of Piercing Cold. It is a bit sharper than your average spear and will leave a slight chill when it strikes something. Most of the enchanted weapons made by Dungeon denizens don’t need mana to work, which makes them quite valuable.” She looked at my arms. “If you get the right amount of force and form, this spear can give a little bit of extra oomph!” She winked. “It’ll take some practice to get that though.”
She picked up the shield. “This is another rank three gear. It’s gifted with deflection and electric jolts that will make anything it touches experience a slight shock. The effect can be quite unexpected in battle. Just saying, this is pretty generous.” She smiled at me. “Most elite soldiers get rank two gear at best.”
I didn’t know what any of that meant, so I nodded my head and expressed my gratitude. She paused, “You know that if you display the necessary loyalty and talent, I might even be able to arrange for you to gain a connection to the Dungeon’s Mana Source.”
“Oh, sorry. I forgot you didn’t know about such things. Basically, you’ll be able to learn magic.”
“Wow! I’d love that. What do you mean by show my loyalty though?”
She patted the sword and shield. “Well… Just because the dungeon is relatively safe, doesn’t mean that we don’t get threatened by some idiots once in a while… Then again, being a mage isn’t safe either, so it’ll be good practice for you to experience some danger.”
I gulped, touching the two pieces of gear. “So you want me to fight? Like up close… against warriors who’ve trained and are similarly armed?”
“Don’t be so panicked. You’re a dungeon denizen. You just have to hang around in the forts a bit and hunt some stray monsters or soldiers. It’ll be easy! ”
I compared myself to Krugrar; I didn’t even bother considering the flame-wielding Bobette. Easy to find my head on the ground…
I bit the sides of my tongue, focusing on the slight pain to prevent myself from panicking. “Do I get training or a suit of armor or something?”
She grinned. It contained a trace of sadism accompanied by the vision of my death. “Nope. You’ll get the hang of it though. In fact, why don’t I take you to your first guard post? It’ll be easy because you’re new. There’s an infestation of Moth Bats in the Library; the stupid cleaners refuse to take care of them, so it’s up to you!”
Moth bats don’t sound too bad. I can take on a bat.
She placed the spear and shield in my hands. “Just don’t let one land on your body for too long. They’ll drill through to your bones and lay their eggs in you. Don’t worry though, you’ll probably notice them when they land on you. It’ll feel like a brick; they’ve got the subtlety of an elephant.” She chuckled. “Actually, that’s my nickname for the buggers, the elephants of the sky.”
I shuddered. Great, parasitic lethal flying elephants. Bobette grabbed my hand. Normally, I’d be a bit surprised, or perhaps pleased, by a strange attractive woman dragging me out of a pub, but all I felt was terror snaking up my spine. I curled my toes as if the sensation of my shoes’ soles could take away my fate.