A Devourer’s Eulogy - hoshi_d - ダンジョン飯 | Dungeon Meshi (2024)

Chapter 1: Episode 1: Hot Pot/Tart

Chapter Text

A Devourer’s Eulogy

Episode One: Hot Pot/Tart

Note: Alekben uses 3rd Edition Pathfinder Spells and Cantrips which are not canonical to Dungeon Meshi.

Alekben had always been a curious man. Never once had he passed the opportunity to chat with passing adventurers, providing them brief tales of those who walked the same path before them, in return for hearing their tales which would later be added into the same cycle. It was his duty as a bard after all!

Occasionally he would be given food for his efforts, maybe a few coins if he were lucky, but more was needed to venture into a nearby village to barter or to purchase anything. The food would get eaten and the coins would be pocketed… and then Alekben would move on to continue strolling throughout the area, strumming his lyre and hoping to come across more travelers.

He had only been walking for a brief moment, clad in light brown trousers, a cream-colored turtleneck, and a dark navy cloak, when he spotted a group of people.

A tallman with blonde hair, yellow eyes, and metal armor. An elf with blonde hair, green eyes, and a staff. Lastly, another half foot like himself, with brown hair, dark brown eyes, and a green scarf. Hiding behind a nearby tree, the bard decided to examine the group before approaching.

The group seemed to be in a daze of sorts. Not quite confused, but panicked in some way. It appeared as if they had not planned on being here at this point.

‘Regardless, they seem like an interesting bunch…’ thought Alekben. ‘Perhaps, I should introduce myself.’

Alekben took a minute to decide his next move, watching as the brown-haired half foot approached the taller two of the group. “I’ve got some bad news for you,” he stated.

“Chilchuck?” asked the blonde tallman.

“Two of our party members just decided to quit,” the half foot, no, Chilchuck informed with sweat beading down his face.

“What?”

Chilchuck provided, “They’ve been getting offers from another party for a while now.”

“Oh, jeez…” said the blonde man exasperated.

Alekben observed as the armored male began pondering, most likely thinking of the logistics of what to do. They were two party members down and it looked like they were lacking in funds and gear… regardless if they sold it, what would they do then?

The bard rose from his position from behind the tree taking a step forward, ignoring their conversation from this point on, when the blonde male questioned: “You can’t come back from being chewed to pieces, right? Wasn’t someone resurrected after being pooped out?”

Steps then turned into a small jog to get over to the small party of three, as the bard was desperate to introduce himself in case they suddenly decided to teleport away. He couldn’t miss this chance, they were just so unlike any group he had ever seen!

Unfortunately for Alekben, despite his small and nimble frame, he is not the most agile of beings. The bard in his fervor tripped over thin air, stumbling downward, landing face-first in front of the group of adventurers. His typically side-swept auburn hair was now thrown in unkempt jagged directions, his satchel had nearly spilled the entirety of its contents including, lyre nearly escaping his grasp, and if Alekben had been wearing any white clothing… they now looked like Picasso decided to have fun with the color grass green all over them.

“Woah–! Are you okay?” Asked the blonde elf first, kneeling, hands hovering over Alekben attempting to assess the situation.

Alekben mumbled into the ground, not attempting to move and instead opting to wallow in his embarrassment for a few minutes more.

“Um…” The elf looked between her two companions, asking wordlessly for help.

The tallman shrugged and looked toward Chilchuck who sighed in displeasure and went to pull Alekben off the ground.

Once he pulled the bard to his feet, Chilchuck asked, “What are you doing here anyway?”

“Mhm mm mhm mhm mm mm–”

“Spit the dirt out of your mouth first idiot!”

After spitting the dirt and grass out of his mouth, Alekben spoke, “Sorry.” He coughed and then continued, “I just happened to be walking through the area when I heard your group talking! It was some pretty interesting stuff, I must say. Especially with what the tallman was saying about resurrection and being chewed up...”

Alekben began trailing off as he noticed the elf and half foot glare at their taller party member.

The tallman started sweating nervously, “Ah, right about that–”

The grass-stained bard shook his hands in front of him, “You don’t have to explain! Your story just sounded so interesting, and you know us bards just love our stories, so I had to come over and see and–” Alekben paused, taking a breath. “Apologies, I got too excited. You three just happen to be the first travelers I’ve come across who have a story that has sparked inspiration in me.”

“Oh, why thank you–” the blonde male started.

Alekben grabbed the male’s hands in his, eyes sparkling yet pleading, “Please let me join your party!”

“I’m sorry we don’t have the funds to–”

“I don’t care about the money! I really just want to tell your story…” the bard’s light brown gaze flicked down to his dusty shoes. “… pl-plus I haven’t traveled with a party in a long time and you lot seem really nice…” he looked up at the blonde once more, “So, please!”

The tallman looked to his companions for approval, to which the elf shrugged and the half foot gave a half-hearted nod.

The tallman grinned, shaking his and Alekben’s already intertwined hands. “I guess that settles it then!”

The bard was elated, “Yes! Thank you, thank you, thank you!”

“Uh,” the other half foot stepped forward, hand raised in a stop motion. “If you’re going to join us, shouldn’t you be introducing yourself?”

Pausing his rejoice, the bard spoke, “Oh, my bad! My name is Alekben Minz. I’m from a small village in the West, though my family migrated a lot so I wouldn’t place it as ‘home.’ I specialize in defensive magic and have extensive knowledge on local songs and folkore!”

The tallman smiled, “I’m Laois Touden,” he pointed to the elf, “That is Marcille Donato our mage,” lastly, he pointed to the other half foot, “And that’s Chilchuck Tims our picklock!”

Alekben nodded very pleased, “I hope to be of service to you!”

Without skipping a beat, Marcille’s stomach gave a loud growl. “On that note, why don’t we find something to eat? We three almost died today ‘cause we were so hungry after all.”

The party unanimously agreed and headed into a nearby town.

-

Casually walking the cobblestone path, Marcille began listing food options as she, Alekben, and Chilchuck followed slightly behind Laois.

“If we want something really cheap, there’s the public dining hall,” She started. “The Laughing Wolf Tavern has bigger portions, so…” Marcille paused, pointing in front of her, “Oh! But that place has a fantastic menu! They make a soup with meat dumplings that’s to die for”

Alekben grinned softly, “That sounds–”

“No.” Laois cut in.

“Huh?” Both Marcille and Alekben questioned in confusion.

“I have to go back to the dungeon,” said Laois not even looking back at the rest of his party.

“But…you need to eat,” insisted Marcille.

Laois turned to face his companions, “Here’s the plan,” he spoke. “I know we just recruited Alekben, but I want you three to leave the party.”
Laois’ party looked back at him surprised.

“What?” exclaimed the other two original members.

Meanwhile, the party’s bard frowned, his eyes downcast. Not a word left his lips but you could feel the disappointment and anger radiating off his small form from a mile away.

Laois continued, “I’ll take your gear and sell it, and raid the dungeon myself.”

The elf interjected, “No! That’s a horrible plan!”

The same occurred with Chilchuck as he stated, “You’ll get killed.”

“Listen,” reassured Laois, raising his index finger in the air, “this way I won’t have to downgrade my armor. And if I’m alone, I can avoid monsters and get back to that floor faster. It’s totally doable.”

Laois lowered his hand, gripping it in front of him with a frown now dawning on his features. “Besides, this was all my fault. I don’t want to risk your lives too…”

Gripping her staff with a reddened expression, Marcille proclaimed, “I’m going back there with you! You’re not the only one who cares about Falin.”

Alekben, despite his gloomy demeanor, listened deeply into the conversation. ‘Who is Falin? Is she the one they were planning to resurrect?’

Marcille continued, “I would do anything to save her.”

“Oh,” mumbled Laois.

The elf gave a determined stare, “I’m not going to slow you down. And a powerful magic user like me will come in handy.”

Chilchuck followed suit reassuring Laois, “My skills are nothing to sneeze at either. You never know when you’ll need a trap disarmed or a door unlocked.”

The bard, now feeling confident, smirked at Laois. “I know you just met me, but if I’ve made it this long adventuring on my own, don’t you think I can handle helping a group of people?” He rubbed his index finger under his nose co*ckily, “And who’s going to keep track of your story up until we get to this ‘Falin,’ huh?”

Laois’ face flushed and a newfound glow of happiness took over his gaze. “You guys are the best.”

….That was until it got very serious.

Lunging at the members, almost touching noses with them, Laois asked very sternly as his eyes bounced between each person, “Are you absolutely, positively sure you want to come? Even though you’ll face death?”

Laois received a resounding murmur of unsure yeah’s, and off the party went to the dungeon.

-

Standing at the entrance to the dungeon, Laois explained the plan going forward.

“We’re going to get all of our food from the dungeon,” He said.

“Huh?” yelled Chilchuck and Marcille.

Alekben stared at Laois with a pale complexion, “Co-Come again?”

Laois further elaborated, “This place is full of monsters, right? So then, the dungeon has to have an ecosystem in it.” He went on, “The carnivorous monsters eat the monsters that are herbivores, and the herbivore monsters eat plants which need water, light, and dirt to grow.”

A stern expression fixed itself along Laois’ looks, “Thus we humanoid can sustain ourselves in the dungeon too!” He then commenced his march down the dungeon steps with his party following suit.

“So, that’s it then?” Questioned Marcille, as she and the other two party members trailed after him. “We’re really eating monsters?

“Yup,” confirmed Laois. “Every meal.”

The tallman furthered his discussion, attempting to convince his companions, “Think about all of our adventures up to now. Some of those monsters were tasty-looking remember?”

Alekben watched as Marcille and Chilchuck’s faces dripped in a cold sweat, clearly not all of those monsters looked tasty, he assumed.

The elf pressed a hand to Laois’ shoulder, her expression disturbed, “No, they weren’t! Are you insane?”

Laois remained firm in his decision. “There are lots of people here who hunt monsters for food,” He claimed.

Marcille refuted, “Sure, and they’re all criminals who’ve been banished down here! They’re always sick from food poisoning and blowing chunks from both ends!”

The bard’s stomach churned from Marcille’s statements. Reaching a hand to lightly cover his mouth, Alekben took a glance at the other half foot of the party.

Chilchuck appeared relaxed on the outside if anything, arms crossed behind his head and leaning back ever-so-slightly. As if he had felt Alekben’s eyes on him, the brunette shifted his body to look at his companion, head tilting to the side as if to ask what was wrong.

Alekben flushed in embarrassment, now it looked like he just got caught staring! Quickly waving his free hand in dismissal, the auburn-haired half foot brought his attention back to Laois and Marcille who were still squabbling to a degree.

The bickering between the two taller party members continued until a scream erupted from the corridor to their left.

Out ran four adventurers, one lugging another on top of his back, with petrified looks on their faces as they sprinted in terror. “Run!” One had yelled at the top of his lungs.

The Touden Party eyed the path, anticipating the monster that would surely follow. To their amusem*nt, a Walking Mushroom lightly padded after the travelers.

Marcille slowly raised her staff and swiftly tapped the Mushroom on its head, rendering it defeated. “Why do they keep letting newbs down here?” She muttered. “If they’re scared of Walking Mushrooms, they should stay out… Oh?”

She paused her murmurs of displeasure at the sight of Laois crouched over the now neutralized monster.

Alekben, with one hand still hovering over his mouth, used his other to lightly tug on Marcille’s cloak, “He’s not doing what I think he is… is he?” The bard quietly asked Marcille.

Before she could respond to the shorter, Laois gripped the Walking Mushroom by one of its legs and turned back to his party. “I think we just found out lunch,” he casually said.

“NO! THAT’S GROSS!” Cried Marcille, proceeding to launch her body toward the stone floor of the dungeon.

Unfortunately, she had not accounted for the bard who still had his grip on her clothes as she took him down with her. However, Marcille may have just not cared as she continued to flail about, refusing to eat the monster and simultaneously crushing Alekben in the process.

“Hey!” cried the auburn-haired half foot, reaching one of his arms out to smack the elf who was still thrashing. “Get off, Marcille!”

Ignoring the chaos beneath them, Chilchuck and Laois continued their conversation.

“How do you even know that thing’s safe for us to eat?” Questioned the brunette.

Laois pulled a worn, dark green book out of his chest plate. “The Dungeon Gourmet Guide says so,” he stated as a matter-of-factly. “It’s a basic ingredient, actually.”

The elf must have still been listening to the conversation as she eventually halted her squirming and stood to look over the guidebook with Chilchuck. Alekben simply chose to once again pat the dirt off his clothing and fix his hair.

Not that he had the time to properly clean his clothing before… just enough to get the caked-on dirt off his clothing, face, and hair. The grass stains would likely remain until the party decided to make camp for the night.

“They’re supposed to be meaty with a mild flavor,” informed Laois while Marcille and Chilchuck read the contents of the book nervously.

“Gourmet Guide?” asked the mage.

“Looks like it’s been read a lot,” pointed out Chilchuck.

Alekben tapped a finger to his chin in thought, “I mean it’s just a big mushroom, right? Can it really be that bad?”

Laois lifted the Walking Mushroom into his arms once more, “Let’s find a more open space and build a fire,” he suggested. “I wish we had more ingredients though…”

As if on cue, a rattling made itself known to the party.

Laois dropped the Mushroom swiftly into the bard’s arms, reaching for his sword and pointing in the direction of the noise. “Hear that scuttling? That’s a Scorpion!”

Upon the tallman’s departure for the Scorpion, Chilchuck uttered, “I think I lost my appetite.”

“Hm,” hummed Alekben in agreement while he softly poked at the monster cradled in his embrace.

Marcille lightly smacked his hand away from the Mushroom. “Hey, leave the poor thing alone!”

The auburn-haired half foot looked at her perplexed, “You were just rolling around saying it was gross, and now you’re calling it a ‘poor thing?’”

Chilchuck took this as an opportunity to join in, “He’s right, Marcille. Suddenly change your mind or something?”

The elven girl stamped her foot on the ground, face beet red and frustrated. “Don’t gang up on me!”

The half foot men laughed together at her reaction.

“You brought this upon yourself,” chuckled Alekben as he wiped a tear from his eye, before looking down at the Walking Mushroom once more with a pout. “But you are right…now it looks kinda cute.”

-

Now in the common area, the Touden Party collected.

Alekben’s eyes twinkled as he scanned the condensed room, eyeing merchants, magicians, and adventurers alike. So many people, so many stories… but his dreamlike daze was cut short when he felt an elbow tap his stomach.

Immediately moving his palms to hold the afflicted area, he looked to the source of his newfound pain and was met with Chilchuck.

“Never seen the catacombs before?” asked the picklock.

Alekben shook his head, “I haven’t gathered the courage to enter the dungeon until now…” A half-hearted smile tugged at his lips. “When you’re a party-less bard it may as well be the same thing as asking for a death wish.”

“Well, you’re with us now,” reassured Chilchuck patting the bard’s shoulder. “So you better get used to it.”

Alekben’s weak smile turned into a genuine beam. “Right.”

It wasn’t long until two sets of footsteps neared the half foot men.

Laois had been gripping the Scorpion he’d heard earlier in a clenched fist while bickering with Marcille on whether it was easier or not to catch the Scorpion or a crayfish.

“Hey,” interjected Chilchuck, grabbing their attention. “Aren’t you a little too into this?”

“You got a weird look in your eye,” Alekben further enforced Chilchuck’s point.

“Is this some kind of weird fantasy of yours?” prodded the brunette once more.

Laois’ pale complexion became rosy as he deflected, “Saving my poor sister is the only thing on my mind.”

“Sure it is…” mumbled Marcille.

Finally caving, Laois said, “Alright, I admit it, I do love monsters. I love how they look, how they sound, how they live, and…” He clenched a fist to his chest. “I always wondered how they’d taste.”

“He’s a psychopath,” bluntly stated Chilchuck, not wasting a second.

-

“You know if we don’t want to cook right here, I can always use my Create Water spell,” stated Alekben as he followed closely behind Chilchuck who was filling and carrying a pot of water back to Marcille and Laois.

Chilchuck shook his head, setting the cooking vessel down in front of the two taller party members. “I will admit, I don’t like people staring. But it would be a waste of your mana, especially when we have access to it right there.”

“That’s true…” acknowledged the bard as he fidgeted with his satchel.

Marcille stared down despairingly at the Scorpion and Walking Mushroom. “Alright, how do we cook it?”

“I was thinking we could boil it,” Laois proposed, moving to slice the Mushroom.

Upon sinking his blade into the monster, Laois gasped earning looks of concern from his companions.

“What happened?” Questioned Marcille.

Laois went on to explain the intricacies of the Walking Mushroom and how cutting it horizontally wouldn’t have any effect on it.

However, vertical cuts provided a smooth slice, and soon enough the monster was diced up.

“It looks more like food now that it’s sliced,” observed Chilchuck grasping a piece of Mushroom.

“See?” Commented Alekben, “Didn’t I say it was just a big mushroom earlier?”

The elf immediately shut them down. “No it doesn’t,” she said to Chilchuck. “And didn’t you also call it cute?” She snipped at Alekben.

Laois continued to drop the monster ingredients into the pot, slowly guiding down the whole Scorpion into the boiling water.

“Uh…hold on!” exclaimed Marcille. “You’re cooking the whole thing? Aren’t they poisonous?”

“The venom from it won’t hurt us if we eat it,” claimed Laois.

Alekben sweatdropped from his position beside the other half foot, hand raised in a stopping motion. “I don’t think that’s how that works–”

Laois dropped the Scorpion in the pot.

“Or just don’t pay attention to me, okay….” sighed the bard in defeat.

The bard, mage, and picklock watched unsurprised as Laois began heaving his stomach contents onto the floor after taking a bite. Marcille lightly rubbed his back while the two half foots stood worriedly waiting.

Amid Laois’ accident, the party heard a new voice approach. “Excuse me, folks.”

“Hm?” Those who were not vomiting glanced up at the new person in front of them.

There stood a dwarf. Axe in hand and pot strapped to his back, he gazed intently at the party.

“A Scorpion Hot Pot, eh?” he hummed. “Can’t say I agree with your method.”

“Who are you?” Asked Marcille, stepping away from the tallman.

However, her question went unanswered as the dwarf continued his escapade.

“These have to be prepared for cooking,” he stated grabbing the Scorpion from the pot and pulling out a cleaver.

“You have to chop off the pincers, head, legs, and tail,” The dwarf informed doing as he listed. “Especially the tail. Gives you the runs or something fierce.”

“But the guide said it was safe to eat…” muttered Laois now recovered from his puking session with Chilchuck offering him a waterskin.

“You won’t die, but it tastes like gas,” offered the dwarf, who persisted in cooking. “Next, you have to slice the sucker up so it heats even and the juices can seep out. This way, you get all the flavor.”

Stepping back, the unknown man showed Laois how he had prepared the Scoprion thus far. “It is easier to eat this way,” he informed. “Then you pull out the innards, like so. They’re bitter and the texture’s all wrong.”

Now the whole party hovered over the man as he displayed his expertise. “As for the Walking Mushroom, skin it and lose the butt, save the feet, and throw ‘em in the pot. They’re delish.”

“The feet taste good, huh?” asked the tallman.

“Yep,” said the dwarf. “Take a whiff.”

Marcille blanched at Laois, while Alekben snickered. ‘Mushroom Foot Sniffer.’ They thought.

Bringing the ingredient over to the Touden cooking station, the dwarf noted, “Sadly, your pot is too small.” Untying his gear from his back, he revealed his much larger pot. “So, we’ll use mine.”

“You’re weirdly prepared,” stated Marcille exasperatedly.

“Maybe cooking monsters is just his job or something?” pondered Alekben.

Staring at the large pot, now filled with water, Scorpion, and Walking Mushroom, the dwarf crossed his arms and spoke aloud, “It will be bland with just a Scorpion and Mushroom,” before moving to gather vines and foliage growing off the walls of the catacombs.

“Add this,” he ordered, showing Laois, Alekben, and Chilchuck a basket of his findings.

The bard’s eyes sparkled in fascination, index fingers poking at the contents of the basket. “Woah, we can eat that fluffy green stuff?” In his mind, it was just a plant, so safety be damned at that point.

“Hold on!” interrupted Marcille, arms in an x-formation. “You can’t put those in!”

“Why not?” asked the stranger.

“There’s no way I’m eating that!” The elf refused. “You see those? Those are corpses! I will eat a monster if I have to, but not plants from a graveyard!”

Alekben took back his hand, wiping it on his cloak. Maybe he wasn’t so excited about plants now after all.

Marcille continued loudly, “Tell ‘em! Tell ‘em it tastes great on its own!”

A gurgle came from the ceiling, prompting the three other party members to look up.

“Marcille!” Laois screamed.

“Up!” Alekben added.

The elf stopped her argument with the dwarf, “Up what?”

Before anyone could respond, green goo began dripping onto her head, covering her face.

“A Slime!” yelled Chilchuck.

Marcille struggled, hands tugging at the blob to no avail.

Alekben clenched his teeth, stepping forward and raising an outstretched hand, readying a spell. ‘I don’t want to hurt her…so one to protect her just in case!’ he thought.

“Resis–” Alekben paused, feeling a tug on his elbow.

Tilting his head back he saw the dwarf, who moved to pat his head heavy-handedly. “Don’t waste your energy, young boy,” He said. “I have it handled.”

All the bard could do was stare, mouth open like a fish, hands sitting atop his head wondering what just happened to him as the dwarf successfully got the Slime off of Marcille.

The elf folded over, coughing.

“Are you okay?” Chilchuck questioned.

“Yes,” reassured Marcille, face covered in goo, mimicking snot. “A little got up my nose though.”

“Use my hanky,” the picklock offered before shifting to his frozen companion. “You alright there, Alekben?”

Removing his hands from his scalp, he reluctantly gave a small “Mhm.”

Laois walked up to the dwarf, “ I didn’t know it was possible to kill a Slime with a knife like that,” he spoke.

“It’s easy if you know how its organs are laid out,” the dwarf provided. “Sure it looks like globby ooze, but it’s actually not that different from a humanoid.”

The dwarf went into detail, explaining how Slimes to were to if someone’s stomach had turned inside out and digestive fluid protected one’s organs. He also informed the party that Slimes senses breath and likes to attack when someone exhales.

“That’s why if you pitch a fit like the young lady here, you get slimed,” the stranger finished, earning a glare from Marcille.

As if the cooking never stopped, the dwarf added another ingredient to the party’s lunch.

“You cannot eat these raw,” he stated referring to the Slime. “You first have to wash it with hot water and a splash of citrus juice. Then you can either pat it dry or rub some salt on it and let it dry in the sun. After that, you got yourself one high-quality ingredient.”

The Touden Party once again watched on as he continued displaying his skill.

“If you can, starve one for two weeks, then dry it. I promise the taste is worth the wait.” Then, the dwarf whipped out a small woven contraption. “By the way, this is a portable Slimer dryer I made myself,” He stated. “Just lock it in like so, and it will dry out nicely as you’re walking around.”

Setting the device aside and pulling out something wrapped delicately in a green lead, the dwarf advised, “It will take a while for that one to be good, but this one’s ready to go.”

Alekben’s eye twitched as he eyed the already prepared slime alongside his other party members. ‘Are his pockets endless? Does he even have pockets?’ He wondered. ‘What the hell is up with this guy anyway?’

Having lost his train of thought, the bard missed a portion of the conversation but managed to center himself once more when the dwarf began discussing his endeavors in the dungeon.

“I’ve been studying the monsters in here and how to cook ‘em up for over ten years now,” The stranger informed.

“Ten years?” asked Laois shocked.

“Has this dungeon been around for that long?” Inquired Chilchuck.

Leaving the party to ponder on his past whereabouts, the dwarf announced, “I will have this ready in a bit,” and continued to prepare the group’s meal.

-

Steam clouded the air as the pot lid was lifted, a delectable aroma trailing not too far behind.

Alekben could feel his mouth water. He could not remember the last time he had a properly cooked meal. Sure, this was made of monsters, but it was hot and not just random pieces of food left behind by random travelers!

He gulped with anticipation once he was handed his share, the Scorpion reminding him more of seafood than anything.

“So Huge Scorpions turn red when boiled,” pointed out Chilchuck.

“This turned out better than the recipe looked in the guide,” said Laois.

The brunette half foot sniffed at his bowl, eyebrows furrowing in confusion. “This shouldn’t smell as good as it does.”

“I was skeptical at first,” Alekben started. “But, I can’t wait to try this!”

“Cook it long enough and the heat shrinks the meat in the shell, makes it easier to pull out,” advised the dwarf.

“You’re right!” said the tallman, taking a piece of meat out of the shell to try. Upon taking his first bite, Laois’ face lit up. “It’s good!”

“I know, isn’t it?” agreed the dwarf, satisfied with the reaction.

“Mmm! You’re right, this is good!” exclaimed Chilchuck, receiving the same remark from the dwarf.

Next was Alekben’s turn to try, he felt the eyes of the dwarf hovering over him as he lifted the bowl to his lips to tap a sip of the broth.

It did not disappoint. The broth was salty and light, nothing too complicated, but still very delicious. It warmed the bard’s stomach as he drank it, providing him nothing short of satisfaction.

Bringing the bowl back down to his lap, Alekben reached for the rest of his utensils to continue eating the meal. With a happy flush adorning his cheeks, he grinned at the stranger, “This is the best meal I’ve had in a long time.”

The dwarf reached for the ladle on the pot, quickly pouring more broth into Alekben’s bowl to top it off. “Then please eat your fill, young man,” He said kindly.

Hearing her party members praise the food in front of them, Marcille soon lost the will to refuse the meal. Stomach growling ferociously, she stuck her hand out in between Laois and the dwarf. “Alright, let me try it!” She yelled.

Once the elf was handed a portion, she was quick to scavenge through it with her chopsticks. “What are these?” She asked, pulling up purple noodle-like ingredients.

“Dried Slime innards,” stated the dwarf.

Though she glared at the innards with a passion, Marcille soon caved and dug in. “So good!” She blurted out.

“I never thought Slime could taste like this,” stated the tallman to the stranger.

“They’re amazing soaked in fruit juice too,” the stranger responded.

“Mm,” cut in Chilchuck, “These roots you put in are nice and fluffy.”

“Technically those aren’t roots,” informed the dwarf. “They’re the steams of a plant that grows upside down in the dungeon.”

“This fuzzy green stuff is soft and delicious too!” Chimed Alekben.

“It’s called algae,” chided Marcille giving the bard a pointed look, before turning and smiling at the dwarf. “But he is right, is this something that also grows here?”

“Nah, that’s just plain old algae. You find it wherever it stank,” put the stranger bluntly, making Marcille’s expression drop into a deadpan.

“Still, all this time and I never knew this dungeon had so much yummy stuff in it,” commented the brunette.

-

“I don’t think I could eat another bite,” huffed Alekben as he lolled slightly backward.

The other half foot groaned in agreeance, “Right? I’m stuffed.”

With full stomachs and a newfound energy, the group began wiping their bowls and utensils clean.

“Perhaps now is a good time for introductions,” offered Laois.

“Yes, of course,” said the dwarf who was scrapping the pot clean. “My name is Senshi. It means ‘seeker’ in Dwarvish.”

“I’m Laois,” introduced the tallman before pointing at his party members. “That’s Marcille, the mage. Chilchuck, the picklock. And lastly, Alekben, the bard.”

Placing down the cooking vessel with a loud clank, Senshi observed, “Something tells me you four are on a mission.”

“Oh well…” started Laois with a grim expression. “On one of the lower levels, a member of our party got eaten by a monster. We have to save her before she gets digested.”

“I’m sorry, that’s horrible,” apologized the dwarf. “But which monsters?”

“A dragon with crimson scales,” said Laois.

“Crimson scales on a lower floor…” hummed Senshi stroking his beard. “That’s a Red Dragon!” He then went on to explain, “I hear dragons mostly sleep ‘cause they’re so big and need to conserve their energy. Their digestion should be slower than other monsters.”

“I hope that’s true,” sighed the blonde, tugging at his pack straps.

“Please,” imposed Senshi. “Would you allow me to join your party?”

Laois turned to fully face the cook. “Sure, if you really want to. You’d actually be a great help to us.”

“I would?” asked Senshi. “Fantastic.”

Lifting to shake hands with the party leader, the dwarf expressed his gratitude. “Thank you. For years, how I’ve dreamed of cooking one of those Red Dragons. I have so many recipes in mind…”

The bard could have sworn Senshi was sparkling as he listed off potential meals to make with the lower-level beast.

“Oh, shabu-shabu would be amazing too,” the dwarf mused walking ahead of the group down the dark pathway. “Or oyakudon as long as we have enough eggs…”

“Pft–” laughed Alekben into his palm before jogging up to match Senshi’s stride. “Has anyone ever told you, you’re weird?” He asked the dwarf playfully, leaning forward to look at the man’s face with his arms crossed behind his back.

Senshi said nothing, just ruffled the bard’s hair, and continued to march down the dungeon arches, earning an annoyed groan from the shorter. “Stop doing that! I’m not a kid, Senshi!”

The rest of the group stood in place, scrutinizing the idea of eating the Dragon. ‘Is it right to eat what ate one of us?’ The thought crossed their minds, but no one had said anything as they soon followed after the cook and bard.

-

It was not long until the party reached the second floor.

Here vistas stretched before them, providing elevated walkways, mostly from wooden rope bridges.

Alekben gripped the rough cable railing of the walkway, staring at the trees above. “Woah…” He gaped in awe.

Chilchuck stood beside him, placing a hand on his back to gain his attention. Once the bard’s light brown irises flicked toward him, he lifted his arm and pointed his index finger to the vanishing point of the foliage. “You know, these trees are so tall, I always wondered how come they don’t poke through the surface?” The picklock wondered aloud.

“You’re right…” acknowledged Alekben, squinting to get a further look into the trees.

“Maybe the curse on this place won’t let ‘em.” Stated Laois.

Just before the auburn-haired half foot could ask any more questions, a shrill cry forced the party to glance back. There, kneeled Marcille on the bridge, who had just caught herself.

“You okay there, Marcille?” asked Chilchuck.

The elf blushed embarrassedly, “Yeah, my foot got stuck on a plank.”

“We have been walking for a while now,” dismissed the tallman, pulling Marcille up. “We should rest. Let’s find a place to set up camp and get some sleep.”

-

Laois turned to Chilchuck and Alekben as the party moved forward through the second floor. “Hey Chilchuck, remember when we spent the night here in one of the hollowed-out trees?” The blonde asked.

Alekben glanced between the two excitedly, “Really? You guys did that?”

Chilchuck nodded, smiling. “Yeah, we did.”

“I made pork soup and got burned so bad,” reminisced the blonde male while the half foot men chuckled.

Behind them, Marcille lifted a finger to her chin, muttering “Soup.”

“Are you hungry?” questioned Senshi. “I got some of that Scorpion broth from lunch if you want.”

“No, thanks.” grumbled the elf turning away from the cook who had lifted a waterskin full of cold broth.

“Oh I know,” spoke Laois pausing his stride. “We should hunt us a monster for our lunch.”

The mage groaned noisily, leaning heavily into her staff.

“What do you want to eat then?” prompted the heavily armored male, “If you’re craving something I’ll try making that.”

“That’s nice of you to offer but…” Marcille spoke, “...it’s gonna have monster in it, right?”

Laois averted his gaze guiltily, earning another groan from the mage.

“As long as it’s edible,” She settled, “I’m fine with whatever.”

“What kind of monsters appeared around here again,” inquired the picklock.

In the same fashion as in the catacombs, the tallman dug his hand into his chest plate, pulling out his dark green guidebook. “Big Bats and Giant Rats,” he read.

“Ha, sounds like a children’s tale,” noted Alekben, while Marcille’s face contorted into disgust.

“There’s no way I’m eating those unhygienic things!” She asserted.

“Forest Goblins,” continued Laois.

The elf’s expression grew nauseated, “Same with demi-humans.”

“Living armor.”

“Metal?” Marcille complained. “That’s it? There’s nothing normal? Aren’t there birds or fruits?”

“Oh my god…” blanched Chilchuck. “First you say, ‘I’m fine with anything,’ then hate whatever we suggest? You’re ‘that’ type.”

Alekben folded his arms, impishly eyeing the mage. “Wow, Marcille. Are you seriously ‘that’ type?” Turning his head up with a huff and a frown, the bard finished, “I thought I knew you.”

“What?” She shouted. “Don’t gang up on me just because I don’t want to eat gross things!”

“There are normal animals here, but they’re docile,” lectured Laois. “We’d have to set up traps and wait. A duck isn’t gonna walk by carrying a green onion.”

“Yeah,” agreed Alekben. “That would be very farfetched.”

“I know. You have a point,” conceded Marcille sadly.

“But… this is a dungeon, so it might have dire ducks with man-eating green onions!” Chimed the tallman exuberantly. “Now there’s something fun and tasty.”

“I don’t share your optimism for it,” huffed the mage.

“Well,” Senshi educated. “This of year, there’s plenty of nuts and fruits around.”

“What? There are?” asked Marcille.

“Mhm,” affirmed Senshi with a thumbs-up.

-

Ginormous plants bearing thick saliva, thorned vines, and sharp teeth displayed themselves proudly to the Touden Party.

“A Man-Eating Fruit Plan!” screamed Marcille in accusation. “I should have known.”

“Actually,” cut in the tallman. “Man-Eating is just a general term for it.”

Laois went on to explain the properties of a Baraselia which used fluid strands to lure in prey as fertilizer since it could not eat them as other Man-Eating Plants would.

“It can use a human for fertilizer too then?” Prompted the mage.

“I thought animal corpses and poop were used for fertilizer regularly, anyway,” Alekben added.

Marcille glowered down at the bard, “Yeah, but I don’t have an issue eating those.”

Chilchuck took an opportunity to pipe up and relieve the situation. “Relax,” he spoke calmly. “We’re on the second floor. A corpse retriever would’ve come and picked up any dead bodies by now.” The brunette raised his arms above his head carefreely. “They check these plants all the time. This ain’t the lower floors, so there’s no way someone was left here for fertilizer.”

“Is that really true?” murmured Alekben, lifting his gaze to the toothed flowers. “It looks like it’ll be really tough to get passed it, nonetheless harvest it.”

“So we’ll just fight it,” stated Senshi readying his axe.

“No,” commanded Marcille. “Step aside, I can defeat them all in one spell.”

The blonde elf took the lead of the group, nearing the plants, chanting “Seprae Yeptum Rufermus. Alamandras Proju.” Winding her staff across her body, she projected, “Nexant Aslam!”

That was until Senshi stopped her, shouting in warning “Stop that, you idiot!”

“What why?” questioned Marcille confused.

“Just don’t move!” advised Alekben eyeing the distance between himself and the mage.

Soon, a resounding strum reached the tips of each party member’s ears, with foreign words trailing not too far behind. “Fragilo!”

A slim, dark green vine tightened itself around Marcille’s waist, pulling her in. “Hey wait a second!” cried the Mage, struggling against the plant not paying attention to the rest of her surroundings, assuming it came from the gigantic flowers above.

“Seriously, Marcille, stop moving! You’re okay!” Said Alekben, breathing a tad unevenly. “You put up one hell of a fight though, damn…”

“Huh?” The blonde girl blinked, seeing the vine around her shriveling away as she slowly stood up.

The bard sheepishly fiddled with the strings of his lyre. “Thorn Whip,” he explained. “If you’re within ten feet of me, I can pull you with it… that’s why I asked you not to move.”

Marcille puffed out her cheeks angrily, bringing the bard into a headlock and rubbing her fist against his skull. “Why did it have to be a vine, huh? Are you trying to mess with me?!”

“H-Hey!” cried Alekben, “Is this any way to treat your savior!”

“Now, now you two. Cut it out before another Man-Eating Plant tries to eat one of you,” admonished Chilchuck who took to prying them off each other.

Once he was freed from the elf’s grasp, Alekben felt his eyes twinge.

“Ugh,” he groaned, pinching the bridge of his nose.

Chilchuck observed his companion with concern, “You doing okay, Alekben?”

The bard let out a deep exhale before slowly nodding. “Yeah, it’s just been a while since I needed to use any mana…”

Not being able to control it, Alekben’s stomach growled, making him flush bright red.

“Aw, one spell and you’re hungry, huh?” Teased Marcille, mockingly.

“Shut it!” yelled the flustered, auburn-haired half foot.

Overhearing the commotion, Senshi turned to Laois. “Well, if the youngins are getting hungry we should begin harvesting while we can.”

“I know just where to attack it,” stated Laois. “It’s root!”

In one fell swoop, the tallman sliced the Man-Eating Plant’s base, rendering it defeated. From there on, the party could collect fruits from it without worry.

-

Picking a hollowed out tree to take shelter in, the party began cooking with the guidance of Senshi.

“First, a light steaming,” the dwarf advised, placing the fruits in the large pot with some water over a hot flame. “Then you cut around the steam like so.”

Once the top of the fruit was indented, Senshi said, “Give it a little twist and pull and the seeds will come right out.”

“Wow,” uttered Laois and Alekeben staring at the seeds that had come out of the fruit while Marcille looked on, probably watching out for if Laois pocketed one.

“Next,” spoke Senshi. “You peel the skin off and pound it till it’s nice and soft, then line the pan with it.”

Stepping away from the lined plan, the dwarf reached for a pot to begin a new mixture.

“Give the unripe fruit a good mashing, add a dash of Slime, and a bit of Scorpion broth, and mix till it’s good and thick.”

‘Scorpion broth, huh?’ thought Alekben. ‘I guess the fruit isn’t sweet then if he’s mixing that in it.’

“Once it is a good consistency,” explained Senshi. “Pour in the rest of the Scorpion broth and a handful of chopped fruit.”

Alekben and Chilchuck watched the dwarf carefully as he poured the mixture into the lined pan, while Marcille and Laois fought over what must have been the Man-Eating Plant Seeds behind them.

“Let it cook for a bit,” finalized Senshi. “And when you see the filling bubbling like that, drop in the rest of the fruit.”

-

“A tart?” questioned the elf as Senshi passed out everyone’s servings.

The dwarf hummed, “Looks like it, but it’s not. The crust keeps it from burning. Don’t eat that part.”

Taking a spoonful of the “tart,” and bringing it to his lips, Alekben beamed taking in the flavor. “You did it again, Senshi,” he complimented, quickly shoving more of the dish into his gullet.

“No need to eat so fast, boy.” Scolded the cook. “There’s plenty more, you’ll only ruin the flavor if you rush yourself.”

“Yes, sir!” The bard enthusiastically saluted, now indulging in the food at a proper pace.

“It’s real salty,” commented the picklock. “I thought it’d taste more sweet.”

“Yeah,” said Laois. “It’s good though.”

The group looked to Marcille who, like during lunch, was taking a good while to touch her meal.

“Go on, try it. I’m pretty sure you’ll like the flavor,” reassured the tallman.

Reluctantly, the elf dipped her spoon into the filling and took a bite. “Wow, this is really good! The fertilizer-type fruit is juicy and sweet, while the digesting type is savory.” She lifted up a piece of sliced fruit to examine it. “I bet animals like these too. Must be hard for the plant to make enough fruit to keep up with demand. What’s the point of making it if it’s just gonna get eaten?”

“Well, it’s a carnivorous plant,” provided Laois. “It makes fruit to attract the animals it eats to survive.”

“Oh, I see.” Marcille brought the spoon to her lips, rambling. “Then…being delicious is part of the plant’s strategy. How clever!”

“Hey, Marcille,” spoke Alekben.

“Hm?” She lightly acknowledged him.

With a small snicker and devilish smirk, the bard continued. “You really aren’t beating the allegations that you’re ‘that’ type.”

The mage gasped and dropped her spoon.

“Now you see the appeal of monsters,” said Laois serenely with a tear in his eye. “Aren't they great?”

“As if!” She hollered in refusal.

-

While commencing their typically post-meal cleanup routine, the bard looked outside the tree’s opening to find a corpse lying on the ground, covered in what could only be plant saliva.

“Hey,” Alekben called his party’s attention over. “What should we do about him?”

“Maybe I can resurrect him with my magic?” offered Marcille.

“Don’t risk it,” denied Laois. “The spell could backfire.”

“If we just leave him where people can see him, he’ll get picked up eventually.” Stated Chilchuck.

“That’s a great idea,” decided the party leader.

-

Soon enough, the corpse was tied to a rope and draped over a large tree branch.

“This works…I think,” said Laois.

The picklock pointed at the corpse with blank eyes, “Kind of reminds you of the gallows, doesn’t it?”

“Creepy…” hissed Alekben under his breath as he and his party walked away from the scene, back to their camp.

That night Marcille would have a nightmare, her tossing and turning providing an interesting ambiance to nightly hours in which Alekben wrote down the party’s adventure thus far.

‘Dungeon food…’ wrote Alekben, pausing as he tried to figure out how to finish his sentence. ‘....surprisingly tasty.’

Chapter 2: Episode 2: Roast Basilisk/Omelet/Kakiage

Summary:

Alekben Minz was a half foot bard who joined the Touden Party free of charge with one hope in mind, to tell their stories. What will become of Alekben’s woven tale as the Touden Party ventures further and further into the dungeon? What good is a bard in a dungeon like this anyway? Can Alekben hold his own or will he too become victim to the depths?

Notes:

Hello! This writing is based purely off the Anime Adaptation of Dungeon Meshi, apologies if any details are left out!

All of Alekben’s spells are written based off 3e Pathfinder!

It has been a while since I have written and this is the first time I will be using the AO3 platform to be posting said work!

Go easy on me, and I hope you enjoy!

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

A Devourer’s Eulogy

Episode Two: Roast Basilisk/Omelet/Kakiage

Note: Alekben uses 3rd Edition Pathfinder Spells and Cantrips which are not canonical to Dungeon Meshi. Translations for said spells may not be accurate as English to Latin translations are hard to come by.

The majority of the Touden Party had awoken, keeping themselves occupied with small tasks while they waited for the last member of their party to greet the day.

Alekben sat, leaning against the wall of the hollowed-out tree beside his fellow half foot, polishing his lyre with care.

“You sure do take care of that thing well,” commented Chilchuck who observed him from above on the tree’s opening, who also appeared to be doing a similar task, cleaning a knife.

The bard raised the silver instrument upward, eyes softening as it glistened under the morning sun’s rays. “What good of a bard would I be if I didn’t take care of my instrument?” Alekben asked rhetorically.

“You know,” hummed the picklock, “you’re kinda quiet for a bard.”

“Really?” asked Alekben raising a brow.

“Yeah,” Chilchuck continued casually. “You haven’t played any songs or told many stories since you’ve been with us, other than that thing you did with that ‘plant rope’ yesterday.”

“Thorn whip,” corrected Alekben with a pout.

“Whatever,” huffed the brunette, crossing his arms.

After a few beats of silence, the bard spoke up. “I must’ve been having too much fun.”

Chilchuck gave him a perplexed look, “Fun?”

“Being around you lot is entertaining enough…” Alekben explained, plucking the strings of his instrument sheepishly. “I guess I haven’t felt the need to perform anything.”

“Is that so…” mumbled Chilchuck.

As someone who always asks for payment in advance, Chilchuck didn’t think too deeply about the prospect of having fun on a mission with the party. However, with their present situation, there could always be a first time for everything.

Gazing at the bard still cradling his lyre, the picklock gave in to his curiosity. “Do you think you could pl–” Chilchuck started before a sharp cry interrupted him.

“AAAH!” Screamed Marcille, body shooting upright from her cot, making her other party members turn to her.

“What’s wrong, Marcille?” asked Laois who sat nearby, peeling a fruit.

“I had a nightmare,” She groaned, rubbing her face with one of her hands before making an exaggerated sniffing noise. “What’s this smell? It’s the same as in my dream,” the mage spoke eyeballing the space around her.

“Another party is making breakfast over there,” informed the brunette half foot, tilting his knife outward to face the other group.

“Yeah,” chimed in Alekben. “I think they were grilling cured pork!”

Marcille stalked the other party with a telescope, gripping it tightly. “I’m so jealous!” She yelled.

“How truly terrible,” sighed Senshi grabbing the three party members’ attention. “It’s just so tragic.”

Speaking with the knowledge of the 100 Person Survey on Dungeon Meals, the dwarf went on to inform the party of the basics of proper nutrition in the dungeon. “When it comes to meals eaten by young adventurers nowadays, they have bread, dried meat, and wine.” Folding his arms, Senshi continued. “To build up stamina for exploring the dungeon, fat from meats is important. But that alone is not enough. Malnutrition is more terrifying than monsters.”

Marcille stared blankly at the cook, seemingly uninterested.

“This may sound like a lecture, but that doesn’t mean our meals are perfect either,” admitted Senshi in a nervous sweat. “The young elven girl says she’s jealous of their pork, but that’s because her body wants fat.”

“I just don’t want to eat monsters!” Marcille refuted.

“You didn’t seem to have a problem with that Man-Eating Fruit Tart yesterday,” taunted the bard, earning a blow to the top of his head. “Ow!”

-

Now packed for the day, the Touden Party exited the hollowed-out tree to begin their trek down deeper into the dungeon.

“We’ll hunt monsters high in fat today,” advised Senshi. “If we can find eggs, that’s even better. Eggs have all the nutrition you need. We should proactively harvest them in the dungeon.”

Laois gasped and leaned down to whisper to the dwarf. “Are you thinking…”

“Yeah, I am,” agreed Senshi.

“What is it?” inquired Chilchuck eyeing the two suspiciously alongside the bard and mage.

Laois turned up the flare and provided a dramatized description of a beast. “The body of a chicken. The tail of a snake. A creature said to possess deadly venom in its fangs and claws,” Laois cleared his throat before finishing. “The Basilisk, king of snakes.”

“Oh, a Basilisk,” sweatdropped Chilchuck, before shifting to Marcille to poke fun. “Isn’t that great, Marcille? You’ll get to eat chicken.”

“I’ve heard some travelers call snake meat a delicacy in certain parts of the world too,” said Alekben placing an index finger to his chin in thought. “Though, they also said it kinda tasted like chicken as well.”

Marcille grabbed the half foots, shaking them back and forth like stuffed toys. “Is that chicken? Does that really count as chicken?” She asked. “Are they going to try to feed me a snake and call it chicken?!”

Meanwhile, Laois smiled with flushed cheeks. “Isn’t it cool?” He asked no one in particular. “I used to think it was cooler when more species are mixed together. But with only two types, they bring out each other’s strengths.”

The tall man gestured his hands excitedly. “I even noticed the beauty of chicken, something I used to only see as poultry. It’s a simple yet profound combination.” Looking to his party, Laois further informed, “By the way, the co*ckatrice that nests deeper inside the dungeon is another kind of snake-tailed animal. I’ve always dreamed of comparing its taste with a Basilisk’s.”

“Why would anyone want that?” Hissed Marcille.

-

Chicken-Snake discourse out of the way, the group began moving once again, only coming to a halt when Senshi raised a hand requesting them to stall.

“That area is a Basilisk nest,” the dwarf stated, pointing to a hole in the cracked stone tower to the party’s left.

Senshi did not hesitate to stroll over to said tower and peer inside. To his delight, inside was a nest of oblong eggs. “There it is,” he spoke. “Looks like they’re freshly laid.”

Stepping down into the hole with his fellow party members following suit, Senshi knelt to gently gather the eggs. “Let’s snatch them up while their mother’s gone.”

“They’re so long and narrow…” observed Marcille, eyes swimming with distrust.

The bard nudged the elf in the side, “What? Can’t handle some weirdly shaped egg–”

Before Alekben could finish his jab at the blonde, Laois swiftly placed a Basilisk egg into his and Marcille’s palms. “Here, hold this,” The party leader commanded, not paying much attention to the half foot or mage.

“....” The bard stared down at his hand, eyes disturbed and unmoving. “...Why’s it soft?”

A loud screech broke Alekben out of his trance, snapping his head upward to meet the noise.

“A Basilisk cry,” stated Laois. “Let’s hurry, Senshi.”

“Wait,” stalled the cook. “We got to wrap this in cloth.”

“Do we have time for that?” cried Alekben, chucking the soft orb in his hand at Senshi, only for it to land softly on the ground with a ‘plop.’

The dwarf tsked, narrowing his eyes and picking up the egg. “That’s it, no sweets after dinner tonight.” He admonished.

The auburn-haired half foot raised his hands to tug at his hair, “There were going to be sweets?!”

Senshi crossed his arms, speaking authoritatively, “Not anymore.”

“Oh, come on—”

“Be quiet and get behind this bush already,” huffed Chilchuck in annoyance as he dragged Alekben backward by the neckline of his cloak.

Soon enough, in came the Basilisk chasing two adventurers.

“It’s the party from earlier,” commented the picklock.

“You’re right…” confirmed the auburn-haired half foot, eyes flicking the area in front of him looking for a solution to the monster problem before he landed on their still outlying mage. “Marcille? Why are you still standing there?” He inquired, projecting in what could only be considered an elevated whisper.

The elven girl gave no reaction, standing still with an egg nestled in her grip, eyeing the Basilisk carefully.

As four out of five members of the Touden crowd clustered behind the foliage, they watched as the beast used its claws to slice through one of the adventurer’s backs.

The man clad in leather armor hunched over in place, likely due to the pain and incoming poison from his wound, while his party member stood pressed against a tree root attempt to remain ‘unseen.’

The beast flicked its head toward Marcille, both sets of eyes locking onto the egg in her hand, before raising its wings and lunging at the blonde woman with its talons.

The mage released a scream, running away from the Basilisk while wailing in fear.

Her other party members observed as she would stumble out of the way, and pause every now and again to take short jabs at the monster with her staff.

Alekben slouched, his chest pressing down onto his lyre. ‘How does she keep getting into these situations?’ He wondered.

“That’s the worst way to run away,” blanched Laois. “She’s basically begging to get her back kicked.”

“Go and save her already!” scolded Chilchuck.

Laois stayed in his current position, contemplating the best course of action.

“I can cast a spell to keep it stuck in place.” Spoke Alekben fiddling with his silver instrument, earning a fascinated look from his other members.

The half foot bard flushed, “I-If that helps, I don’t have to use it of course…”

“No, no,” dismissed Laois. “That will make this a lot easier.”

Standing up to his full height, the tallman instructed. “I’ll go distract it. Alekben, stay along the walls and keep a close eye on Senshi. Senshi, get to its tail.”

“Right,” nodded the bard and cook moving to get into position.

As Marcille’s foot caught on the uplifted terrain, she fell over, head raising slowly to stare as the beast neared her crumpled form.

Just as the Basilisk was about to attack, Laois swooped in. Arms and legs spread wide to make himself appear bigger, squawking noisily. “Spread your arms and legs out to make your body look as big as possible and make loud sounds to intimidate it,” explained the funny-looking tallman. “That’ll stop it from coming any further!” He continued cawing.

“I want to pretend that I’m not associated with him,” expressed Chilchuck, who clearly felt embarrassed as he stood beside the fallen adventurers and an equally as ashamed Marcille.

Keeping to the walls, Alekben ran his hand along his instrument in preparation, gazing intently at Laois and an approaching Senshi.

Senshi moved toward the back end of the Basilisk, garnering its gaze successfully confusing the monster. “Now,” yelled Senshi.

Alekben flicked his fingertips down in a loud strum, he yelled “Umbra Captionem!”

A dark pool of black swirled beneath the monster, only staggering once the bard found focus and continued playing to prolong his spell. “It’s stuck! Go!” hollered the bard, digits shifting every so often to prolong the spell's performance.

The beast continued to jostle around in its limited five-foot cube, heads turning every which way out of confusion until Laois and Senshi gained their attention back.

Baiting the heads in opposite directions while the beast’s shadow was pinned in one location gave the dwarf and tallman the opportunity to attack both heads at once, successfully slaying the Basilisk.

“Phew,” Alekben huffed dropping his lyre to his side and wiping his brow. ‘That took a lot more out of me than I hoped.’ He reflected tiredly, whilst moving toward the rest of his party who were now tending to the fallen travelers. ‘I’m sure I’ll be fine if I eat something…’

“How are his wounds?” asked Laois. “Was he poisoned?”

“Y-Yes,” stuttered the female adventurer.

“Laois,” called Marcille. “Senshi says he has an antidote.”

‘That’s surprisingly convenient,’ thought the auburn-haired half foot.

“Really?” asked Laois as the female adventurer behind him smiled in relief.

Hands gripping his iconic pot, the dwarf deadpanned. “I want to use it in today’s cooking.”

“I knew it was too good to be true,” groaned Alekben, tugging on his locks in frustration once again.

“But this guy is hanging on by a thread,” argued the Touden Party’s mage.

“Instead of taking the antidote alone,” bargained Senshi. “Why not take it in a meal where it will be tastier?”

“Then cook it already,” ordered Marcille.

Not a split second later, Senshi was doing what he does best.

He broke down the chicken body and snake tail from the Basilisk with the utmost skill. The dwarf removed the monster’s tail and feet, moving on to blanch it.

Once blanched, the party collectively plucked the Basilisk’s feathers.

Chilchuck shuddered as he felt something brush lightly against the back of his neck, tickling him. “What the–?” He turned to face his offender, only to be met with Alekben crouched down guiltily holding a freshly plucked feather in his forefingers.

“Okay,” the bard started. “So I know this looks bad, but–” He wasted no second to run off, away from his fellow half foot.

“Oh no you don’t, you bastard!” yelled Chilchuck, jumping up to chase after him.

The rest of the group chuckled amongst themselves watching the two interact.

“Chilchuck seems to be more playful now that Alekben’s joined the party, huh?” prompted Marcille.

“Yeah,” smiled Laois. “It’s only been a few days but they’re practically two peas in a pod.”

“I must agree,” stated Senshi. “It is funny seeing them combine forces to pick on the elven girl.”

“Hey now!” Marcille reprimanded.

-

Eventually, the Basilisk’s body was successfully plucked.

“It looks like chicken now,” blinked the picklock, face still red from chasing around Alekben.

Senshi continued his work. Removing the innards and spicing them thoroughly, before stuffing the body of the Basilisk with vegetables and finely chopped herbs. Lastly, he tied the opening of the body with string, stuck a skewer through the whole length of it, and spin-roasted it over a fire.

“It’s done,” finalized the dwarf.

“Hurry, feed it to him,” commanded Marcille.

Senshi handed her a spoon, allowing Marcille to scoop a bit of the dish up and place it into the afflicted traveler’s mouth.

Face tinted purple, sweat dripping profusely from his pores, he mumbled out. “That meat’s overflowing with juices. It’s delicious.”

“Sorry about that,” Marcille apologized as the female adventurer began crying holding her leather-clad companion.

“You all should eat too,” advised the dwarf.

“I’ve got to cast a healing spell first…” the mage spoke turning toward Senshi, when the dwarf shoved a drumstick in her face.

Slowly, she grabbed the piece of meat and took a bite. “This is so good! I could see this at a restaurant in town.”

“It tastes exactly like chicken,” added Chilchuck.

“I heard snake meat is similar to chicken too,” lightly commented Laois earning a cough from Alekben.

“I said that earlier…” The auburn-haired half foot whined, weakly. “Let the bard have the tale credit, huh?”

“My bad, my bad” laughed Laois awkwardly.

Relishing in the flavor of her meal, Marcille soon realized she had completely forgotten about the two adventurers behind her.

“Sorry,” she sweatdropped, lifting the drumstick like her staff. “I’ll cast my healing spell now… Oops, wrong item.” Upon realizing she was not holding her staff, Marcille swapped the Basilisk leg out for it to perform her healing spell.

-

Once the adventurer recovered, the Touden Party shared a portion of the Basilisk meal with them, and in no time the bones of the beast were scraped clean.

“I’ve never had a proper meal like this before in a dungeon,” commented the traveler dressed in leather, glancing at his party mate who nodded at him to continue.

“Um…” he began a little louder than before, garnering the Touden group’s stares. “It’s been three months since we started challenging this dungeon, but we keep getting wiped out at the same place…” A serious expression painted the male’s face as he leaned forward, eagerly. “How do we become strong enough to cook monsters like you all?”

“Well’s that…” Laois trailed off, looking at his fellow party members for assistance.

Senshi quickly rose to the challenge, stating passionately, “First, improve your diet. Rethink your circadian rhythm. And engage in proper exercise—”

Those around the cook watched in awe as he projected, raising three fingers. “If you pay attention to these three things, your body will naturally get stronger.”

-

After listening to Senshi’s advice, the groups packed their things and parted ways, waving goodbye and wishing each other luck on their trek down the dungeon.

The Touden Party was now settled in the bottom of yet another stone tower, having used a rope to make their way down. Alekben and Marcille were still struggling to make it to the bottom, however…

“Hmm,” droned Laois in disappointment staring down at the map in his hand. “Reaching the third floor today might be impossible.”

“It’s because we took our sweet time on that roast,” supplied Chilchuck with his hands resting on his hips.

The tall man looked down at his companion. “Apparently, the Red Dragon wakes up once a month to go hunting. That was probably when we ran into it the other day.”

“Then he’s sleeping on a full stomach now,” assumed the picklock.

Laois rolled up his map, returning it to its rightful place under his armor. “I’d like to find him before he gets an empty stomach…” Shifting his eyes to the mage and bard hanging off the rope, the party leader directed his words at them. “That’s why, Marcille and Alekben, it’d be great if we could move things along!”

Alekben huffed in exertion, making small steps downward, hands clinging so tightly to the cord that he had the potential to give himself rope burn.

“Ugh,” Marcille groaned making Alekben look up from his spot lower than her.

The mage’s feet shifted in an attempt to regain some traction on the wall, but alas it was no use, as her sandals soon began to slip.

“No, no, no!” panicked the bard trying to scurry down to the floor as fast as possible. Sadly, his attempts were futile. Down went Marcille, and with her, also went Alekben.

Once they hit the floor, Marcille was quick to roll off the half foot.

Alekben whimpered, holding his head as he slowly sat up. “Do you have something against me, Marcille?”

The mage simply kept groaning, kneeling over her staff as she attempted to gain a sense of her surroundings.

Chilchuck took it upon himself to leave the tallman’s side and extend a hand down toward his fellow half foot, “Come on, get up.”

The bard accepted the help gratefully, still appearing to be slightly out of it. Hitting a stone floor back first and ending up being crushed by an elf will do that to you. Not to mention he was getting pretty exhausted.

Blinking slowly, allowing his eyes to readjust to the light at the bottom of the tower for a few minutes, Alekben looked around only to realize he was still holding Chilchuck’s hand. Quickly taking it back, the bard spoke flustered. “S-Sorry!”

The picklock waved him off, though his cheeks adorned a pinkish hue. “Don’t worry about it,” he said looking everywhere but at the other half foot.

Seeing as the mage had yet to get up, Laois spoke, “Won’t be easy at this rate.”

Marcille rapidly bounced out of her painful stupor, reassuring the party leader. “I'm totally fine! I can easily walk more.”

“Don’t push yourself,” the blonde male said. “Let’s rest a bit.”

“I’m not pushing myself!” cried Marcille raising her arms in rebuttal.

Chilchuck sighed, placing a hand at his side, the other pointing at the elf. “Hey, listen. If you try to act tough now, you’ll just hurt yourself and become a burden, got it?”

Marcille gaped in shock, moving to the other side of the area to process what she’d just heard.

“It might be easier to use a different path,” pondered Laois.

“But the Big Bat outside will be in our way,” reminded the picklock.

The mage sprang back over to the group from her sulking corner, “I can use magic on the Big Bats,” she offered.

“No, that’s okay,” shot down Laois.

“What about a secret passageway?” Questioned Chilchuck.

Alekben hummed, liking the idea. “There would be fewer monsters that way, right?”

“Yeah,” the picklock confirmed. “But more traps.”

“I have trap-disarming spells…” said Marcille desperately.

“It’s faster if Chilchuck disarms them,” the tallman reminded.

“We’re taking a path with fewer monsters, huh?” Senshi thought aloud. “We should secure some foodstuffs then.”

“Can’t we get by on today’s leftovers?” asked Laois.

“We only have meat and eggs,” stated the dwarf. “We need vegetables.”

Raising a thumb to point over his shoulder, Senshi provided. “There’s a Mandrake colony near here.”

Marcille gasped in recognition, raising her hand exuberantly. “Me! I know how to harvest Mandrakes! Leave it to me!”

-

The party stood expectantly outside, watching as Marcille displayed her knowledge.

“Mandrakes are fundamental in magic and medicine,” she informed. “In other words, my area of expertise! Everyone listen to me this time!”

Nearing the field of roots, Marcille stopped in the middle of a small patch of Mandrakes buried within the ground. “Mandrakes scream when you pull them from the dirt. It’ll make you go insane or even cause death.” The mage continued speaking to the group of men with her back turned. “We would get wiped out and be one step further from saving Falin. To prevent that…” Marcille brought out her book. “First, we need a string and a well-trained dog.”

“A dog?” Inquired Chilchuck.

“We’ll tie the Mandrake to the dog’s collar and call the dog over from a distance,” explained Marcille.

“So what’ll happen to the dog?” asked Alekben, “Won’t it die?”

Marcille sighed. “Yes.”

The picklock paled at the idea, “That’s awful… But also, where are we going to get a dog?”

The bard nervously scratched his cheek, feeling a little bad that Marcille was struggling. Nonetheless, he added, “I’m sorry, Marcille, but doesn’t it all seem very tedious? Isn’t there a quicker way?”

“But at school, we…” the mage trailed off looking at her book again.

“Can’t we use a long string?” pondered Laois.

“Huh?” blanched Marcille.

Resting his chin in his hand while he spoke, the tallman suggested, “Use a string so long that we won’t hear it scream. Then we won’t need a dog.”

“What?” muttered the elven girl, flipping through her book again. “I’m pretty sure we can’t. Maybe because it’s hard to pull?”

Senshi walked over to a Mandrake and squatted down, ignoring her frantic mumbles. Lacking any fear or concern, the dwarf began to tug on its leaves.

“AAAAAAH!” A scream brought the party to cover their ears with their hands.

“Huh?” uttered Alekben, lowering his arms, surprised the sound was gone so quickly.

“That scared me…” admitted Chilchuck as he and Laois followed suit.

Three pairs of eyes flicked over to their elf companion, as Laois questioned. “Was that Marcille?”

“It won’t scream if you cut its head off beforehand,” stated Senshi, demonstrating how to do so.

“That’s true,” agreed the picklock.

“I would’ve never thought to do it that way,” mused Alekben.

“No, that’s too dangerous,” Marcille tried to warn.

The dwarf shrugged, setting down the Mandrake he used as an example. “That’s how I’ve eaten them for many years.”

“That kind of novice mentality brings the most danger,” the mage insisted.

“But Senshi actually has experience,” debated Chilchuck. “Have you ever tried the method according to the book?”

Marcille curled her arms upward, a distant despaired look on her face.

Alekben sighed, walking toward the elf and patting her back. “It’s good to be booksmart, but sometimes you have to just let it go, Marcille,” He lectured.

“Either way,” spoke the picklock while he and Laois moved away from the two magic users. “We don’t have a dog nor the time for this.”

“Sorry, but let’s learn how Senshi does it,” said Laois, furthering Chilchuck’s point.

Marcille held her book tightly in an embrace, a sad teardrop threatening to spill from her eye.

The auburn-haired half foot felt pity for his friend, moving to make a joke in hopes of changing the mood. “Who knows, maybe you’re right. I mean, if it were that easy, wouldn’t it be written in that book?”

The blonde elf continued sulking, head downturned to face her sandals.

‘Oh crap, did I make it worse?’ thought Alekben.

“U-Um,” he reached his arm out once more hesitantly. “I didn’t make you more upset did I?”

Instead of answering his question, Marcille took to snatching his hand and tugging the bard alongside her.

“Huh?” gaped the half foot in confusion. “Where are we going? Marcille?!”

-

“Hold this,” directed the mage, placing the end of a rope into Alekben’s palm.

“What are you planning to do?” Prodded the bard, brows scrunching but following Marcille’s orders regardless.

The mage continued to work, tying a knot around a Mandrake while dangling the end once held in Alekben’s grasp down in front of a tree-hole that looked to have droppings around its bottom rim.

“You can’t be serious…the dog thing but with–” the auburn-haired male tried to criticize but was cut off by another tug on his clothing.

“Come on, this way,” spoke Marcille eagerly pulling her companion to a nearby stone tower.

Panting, hunched over his knees, and glaring at the elf, Alekben growled. “Is this really worth it? You only have one tied on there!”

“Shh,” shushed Marcille examining the tree she and the half foot stood at just a few moments ago. Raising her staff, she chanted, “Aire Faum Orbis!”

A ball of fire shot out toward the hole in the tree’s trunk. Upon impact, numerous Big Bats erupted from inside, one getting collared by the rope placed earlier.

As it cried, still flying upward, the Mandrake attached to the other end of the cord slowly came out of the ground.

“Alright!” cheered Marcille while Alekben hugged himself.

“I’ve got a bad feeling about this…”

-

Hearing the eventual Mandrake screech, the three party members harvesting Senshi’s way looked over to see what had occurred.

“What’s that?” asked Chilchuck.

“Marcille?” wondered Laois.

-

The Big Bat struggled against the cord and added weight from the Mandrake. Zooming in the air with a fervor, it began to nose dive, soon enough meeting the entrance to the window Marcille and Alekben had been watching through.

“Wait!” cried Marcille in vain as she stared at her incoming doom.

“Hey!” yelled Alekben, tugging at the back of her shirt. “Try to get back at least, idiot!”

Still, it was no use, as soon enough the Big Bat and Mandrake blew right through the siding of the tower.

-

The magic users’ screams could be heard from far and wide as their party wrapped up their harvest to rush over to the, now partially destroyed, stone pillar.

“Did they die?” spoke Laois dreadfully as he eyed the rubble inside the room.

Flicking his gaze over, the armored male saw the party’s mage sitting up with ears twitching and their bard leaning heavily on her, seemingly unconscious. “Oh, they’re alive.”

Chilchuck muttered some grievances under his breath in frustration, lifting the Mandrake Marcille pulled out of the ground using a monster. “Using a Big Bat instead of a dog? What an idiot.”

When the elf didn’t provide her usual rebuttal, the picklock moved to waving a hand in front of her face. “Hey, Marcille. Can you hear me?” He asked.

Robotically, the mage raised her head, revealing messy hair and eyes that resembled a goldfish. “Yes. I am the picture of health.”

“No you’re not,” grumbled Chilchuck.

“She heard the scream,” supplied Laois. “Let’s keep talking with her. She’ll slowly snap out of it.”

Expression softening, the tallman leaned down toward the ailed elven girl. “Why did you do this?”

“I panicked when I was told I’d be a burden…” Marcille started truthfully.

“No, wait—” Gasped Chilchuck, placing a hand over his mouth guiltily.

“...So I wanted to stick it to you guys and make you bow down to me, she finished.

The brunette’s features quickly morphed into offense, no longer caring that he made the mage feel bad. “What the heck?”

“Chilchuck,” calmed Laois, placing his hands on the picklock’s shoulders.

“I felt alone since I couldn’t be of help to everyone,” Marcille continued to admit.

“The monsters get stronger as we go deeper into the dungeon,” began Laois reassuringly. “The thing I can depend on the most is your magic, so I didn’t want to use it up on such an early floor…And everyone has strengths and weaknesses,” The tallman reminded as Senshi strung up the Big Bat to drain its blood. “I want to rely on your strengths. Someone else will cover for your weaknesses. You can depend on us more.”

“Tell her, Chilchuck,” asserted Laois, nudging the half foot.

The brunette flushed, speaking with his head turned to the side. “I really think having you here with us is a huge help.”

Looking back, the picklock found the elf had regained her bearings, no longer ailed from the Mandrake scream.

“Put more feeling into it,” She egged on, shifting an arm around so the comatose bard had some support while he leaned into her side.

“When did you get back to normal?!” Hollered Chilchuck in frustration, having to be held back by their party leader. “Seriously, what in the—!”

A low groan forced the brunette to come to a halt.

“You guys are so loud,” griped a half-awake Alekben, subconsciously burying his head further into Marcille’s cloak. “Warm…” He mumbled with a small smile, slowly drifting off once more.

The rest of the party slowly blinked, taking in the sight of their childish group member.

Marcille gave a short laugh, patting the crown of Alekben’s head. “Well, at least we know he didn’t damage his hearing.”

“Not sure about his brain, though,” huffed Chilchuck as he crossed his arms.

“I heard that…” grumbled Alekben with a tired glare, lazily lifting his arm to point an accusatory finger at the picklock.

“Just you wait,” he yawned, arm slowly falling. “I’ll get you ba…back for…this….” The sentence ended in a soft snore, not helping the bard with any comebacks whatsoever.

“Mhm, we’ll see about that,” snorted the brunette, shaking his head fondly at his companion.

Beaming warmly at the banter, the party leader proposed. “Why don’t we let him get some more rest and wake him up later?”

-

“I didn’t expect a Big Bat too,” commented Senshi looking at his spread of ingredients. “What a surprising catch. How about we make some omelets today?”

“Is this really a Basilisk egg?” asked Marcille poking the orb with her index finger. “It’s completely different from chicken eggs.”

“That’s how snake eggs are,” informed Laois as he carried the fatigued bard over to an open corner of the space. Gently, he placed Alekben down, so he was laid out on the bedroll Marcille had set up prior.

“Only its tail was a snake,” Marcille reasoned. “Its head and body were a chicken.”

“No,” informed the tallman with a smile, pulling the sleep sack’s covers over the half foot. “The tail was a chicken.”

The elven girl gawked at the words Laois said so casually, her mouth dropping open with a sick expression sitting on her face.

-

“The color on this one is different from the rest,” Hummed Senshi as he peeled the harvested Mandrakes.

“You’re right,” affirmed Chilchuck. “Marcille and Alekben must’ve gotten that one since it still has a head.”

The cook grasped the magic users’ Mandrake in one hand and one of the Mandrakes he harvested in the other, comparing the difference for a short while before starting the party’s omelets.

Senshi chopped up the Mandrake evenly into cubes, sautéing it well alongside a portion of the Basilisk bacon. All before covering it with the yolks of the Basilisk eggs.

The rest area was soon filled with a delicious aroma, one so good it was enough to make the sleepy bard stir.

Letting out a big yawn and stretching his arms, Alekben tugged off his blanket. He quietly padded over to the cook, a hand shifting upward to rub his eyes.

“I don’t know what you’re cooking, but it smells amazing…” the bard spoke, his voice scratchy as he had just awoken from his slumber.

“I’m making omelets,” provided Senshi, still facing forward and focused on the pan in front of him.

“Hmm…” Alekben warbled, gingerly placing the side of his head against Senshi’s shoulder to continue watching the dwarf cook. “Sounds tasty…”

After standing in a comfortable silence for a few moments, the bard apologized. “I’m sorry for throwing that egg at you earlier today.”

Senshi set the pan down, pausing his stirring for a second to ruffle the half foot’s hair… Then quickly went back to flicking the vessel over the flame right after. He’d said nothing throughout the ordeal.

Alekben groaned, pulling back from the cook to fix his side-swept bangs. However, he would not protest any more than that. ‘Okay, I kinda deserved it this time…’ The bard thought.

-

Once the mixture in the pan became fluffy, Senshi gave it a good toss, rounding out the edges and creating the overall dish.

“It’s done,” Senshi finalized, setting down two large plates in front of the brunette half foot and blonde tallman. He then moved to serve Marcille and Alekben separately, as they were sat off to the side.

“The yellow is way darker than a chicken egg,” stated Chilchuck, observing the platters.

“This is the Mandrake we harvested,” said Senshi gesturing to the omelet by the picklock. “This one uses the Mandrake harvested by the elven girl and youngin,” he clarified, motioning to the plate in front of Laois.

“You shouldn’t rub salt in someone’s wound,” reprimanded the mage leaning moodily against the window.

“Now, now,” appeased Alekben with a sweatdrop. “I don’t think they mean anything bad by it, Marcille.”

With that, the party began to eat, with Chilchuck taking a few bites first.

“Hm?” He trilled while eating the two omelets. “Marcille and Alekben’s isn’t bitter, it has a mild taste.”

“Yeah, it’s delicious!” Laois concurred continuing to eat the food.

“The screaming must have gotten the bitterness out,” remarked Senshi, shifting his focus to the two members sitting by the window. “It’s basic knowledge that going the extra mile improves a dish. It seems I only thought of efficiency and lost sight of what truly matters.”

“Thank you, Marcille,” expressed Senshi gratefully. “Your knowledge and book are superb.”

“It isn’t a cookbook, you know!” the elf criticized.

“Come on,” Alekben reasoned. “He’s just trying to show his gratitude, right Senshi?”

Senshi nodded, reaching to his side to grab a small dish. “Take this small gift as my thanks.” Placing down three cooked Mandrake heads onto Marcille’s plate, he carried on. “You can have the most delicious part.”

The mage stared at the heads in horror as her face became red with frustration. “I don’t want it!” Marcille cried. “I’m sick and tired of eating monsters!”

-

After their meal, the party had moved deeper within the floor. Now they stood within a pillar of swirling stairs.

“Is the shortcut entrance around here?” Wondered Chilchuck aloud.

“An entrance?” asked Senshi.

“It’s hard to think there would be one around here of all places, “ murmured Alekben pressing a finger to his chin in thought.

“Laois,” the picklock commanded. “Give me your sword.”

Once the object was handed over, Chilchuck wasted no time in hitting it against the stone wall. Bringing a hand to cup his ear to hear better, the brunette half foot placed a hand on the brick side surface.

“It’s here,” he stated elbowing in a slab. As soon as pressure was applied, a door opened behind the rest of the party.

“Woah…” uttered the bard in awe, clapping alongside his two blonde party members.

Senshi on the other hand appeared very confused, turning to Laois to ask, “What just happened?”

“Chichuck is an expert in detecting traps and picking locks,” the party leader informed.

“Just so you know,” began the picklock while returning Laois’ sword. “There will be traps everywhere, so don’t do anything unless I tell you to.”

While walking into the depths of the room he just brought forth, Chilchuck finished. “What I hate the most are those who get in the way of my work.”

Senshi eyed the brunette half foot closely as he continued to march down the stairs.

Alekben shrugged, looking up at the dwarf with a carefree grin. “In situations like these, it’s best to leave it to the master.”

With that, the rest of the party made their way down to the next room.

-

Upon reaching the next room, the group was greeted with a barren stone room.

“Wait,” commanded Chilchuck as he raised his arm to block anyone from moving any further.

Taking off his heavier gear, garments, and shoes, the picklock tiptoed carefully on the stone tiles. Occasionally, he would lean down to gently press a slab with his finger, checking thoroughly for any pressure plates.

Standing up slowly, Chilchuck pointed to the pathway he had come across. “These tiles are safe to step on,” He announced.

Following the picklock’s guidance the party made their way forward.

Alekben went first, shakily stepping on the specific stones. He had been doing quite well, standing only a few stones away from his fellow half foot, when he unknowingly got his left boot caught on a piece of upturned rock. “Ack!” He yelled as he tripped.

“Woah there,” called out Chilchuck, moving to grip Alekben’s arm and pulling him toward him before he could fall.

The bard turned red from the closeness and embarrassment, throwing out numerous apologies. “I’m so so sorry!”

The brunette waved him off. “Just be more careful next time, the last thing we need is for you to—”

Just as Chilchuck was about to finish scolding the bard, large spikes shot out from the floor beneath.

Alekben, despite being flustered was quick to act. “Sociae Pallium!” He shouted, bringing Chilchuck into his embrace while tightly gripping his lyre. In any other case, the bard would’ve liked to strum his instrument, as enacting this spell would have taken less strength out of him if he were to use it as a catalyst… But he did not have the time, nor the hands to do so. It would be safe to say, he was very glad to have taken that long nap earlier.

Upon using the spell, Alekben’s cloak stretched out, shining metallically against the light in the dungeon. It wrapped around both him and the picklock, any spears coming toward them shattering on impact.

“Are you okay?” asked the bard to Chilchuck, perspiration beading down his face as he took deep breaths.

The picklock nodded. “Thanks,” he said.

“Of course,” responded Alekben between huffs, removing his arms from around his fellow party member.

Knowing the culprit, two half foot men turned to look at Senshi extremely unamused, with their blonde companions following suit.

“What the heck was that?” prodded Chilchuck, walking up to the dwarf. “I told you to only step where I told you to.”

“Senshi,” begged Alekben from his place around the broken spikes. “Please tell me this is just going to be a one-time accident sort of thing… I don’t think I can provide another defense spell like that today.”

“Look,” the picklock criticized. “Your foot is sticking out by so much here!”

The cook’s foot was indeed almost completely off the correct tile.

“I don’t like complicated stuff,” explained Senshi as if it were no big deal in their current predicament.

“Regardless, Senshi. Someone could have gotten seriously hurt.” lectured the auburn-haired male.

Chilchuck pointed a finger at the cook, leaning forward to further establish this point. “You’ve got to be more careful. Some traps are connected and affect other traps.” Gesturing angrily, he continued. “If one thing shifts, all my calculations go out the window. Just move wherever I tell you to.”

Alekben watched the whole thing from afar, seeing Senshi get this mischievous look in his eyes. ‘Is he—? No…Senshi wouldn’t do that right?’ He debated in his head.

Apparently, the bard soon found out, Senshi would in fact…do it. The cook lifted his foot to heavily stomp down on one pressure plate after another releasing a slew of different traps upon Chilchuck.

“Senshi!” yelled Alekben frustratedly, eyeing the floor to not trigger any more devices as he made his way over to the cook. “Stop it!”

The dwarf didn’t listen but eventually came to a halt when he came across a trap that acted as a flamethrower.

“Such firepower,” he inspected, not caring whatsoever about the run around he had given one of his half foot companions. “I see. Traps come in many shapes and forms.”

“Move your foot already,” demanded the picklock. “Fire traps usually come as a set with gas or oil.”

“Oil,” mumbled Senshi.

“We don’t need a dwarf roast,” pressed Chilchuck.

“A roast,” the dwarf muttered once again. “No wait…”

Chilchuck watched the cook despairingly, a sweatdrop sliding down his forehead.

“...Deep-fried food. Fried,” Senshi lit up in a eureka moment. “Kakiage!”

Turning to the rest of the party with his foot still on the fire trap, Senshi announced. “We’ll have tempura for lunch today.” He then looked directly at the picklock. “Where’s the oil trap?”

“It’s not meant for cooking,” blanched Chilchuck.

“Yeah,” supported Alekben who finally got over to the two. “If it’s in a trap like this, I highly doubt it’s usable.”

“Half foot children,” Senshi combatted. “You two are no experts on oil.”

“We aren’t kids…” the brunette replied.

“Vegetable oil is simple and the highest in supply,” provided the cook. “Anyhow, show me the oil. I’ll give up if it isn’t meant for cooking.”

Exhaling loudly in defeat, the picklock gave up. “Fine. But in exchange,” he asserted, standing up. “Promise you’ll follow my orders around the traps. I won’t help you if you don’t accept this condition”

“I swear it,” promised Senshi. “I’ll help too, if needed.”

“I feel like you’ve done enough already,” weakly laughed Alekben.

“Listen. We each have our own job. Yours is cooking. Mine is detecting traps and picking locks,” spoke Chilchuck pointing to Senshi and himself respectively. Shifting his hand to gesture to Marcille and Alekben. “Marcille’s is magic, and Alekben specializes in defensive magic and writes about our progress. I don’t say anything about your cooking methods.”

“So, please stop interfering with my work.” Chilchuck finished with a steely glare.

-

After the argument had concluded, for now, the party moved to what appeared to be a treasure vault.

“The excessive number of traps here must be to keep out intruders,” assumed Chilchuck aloud as he tapped one of the chests beneath them with his foot. “They’re secured onto the ground.”

Crouching down beside a chest, the picklock mumbled. “I guess I’ll try opening one.”

Interested in the prospect of oil, the cook repeated the action behind Chilchuck.

The brunette raised a hand in displeasure. “Go over there,” he ordered the dwarf away.

“He’s usually the most mature one,” said Marcille from beside the bard and tall man, once Senshi got back to the group.

“Having his companions’ lives in his hands is probably putting him on edge,” provided Laois.

Alekben hummed in agreeance. “It’s one thing to worry about yourself, but to have to calculate all this stuff with four other party members…” The bard glanced fondly at his fellow half foot who was still unlocking the chest. “It’s quite admirable, actually.”

A faint click was heard, followed by Chilchuck declaring, “It’s open.”

Senshi strolled back over, leaning down to peer inside the wooden box. “I see. How do we get the oil out?”

“I don’t know,” stated the brunette, motioning to the contraption with his locksmith tools. “This is the spout. Pulling this trigger will release the oil, but I don’t know how much.”

“I’ll have my pot ready then,” said Senshi already prepped and ready, holding his huge pot in front of him. “Pull the trigger.”

“No way,” refused Chilchuck shuffling backwards as Senshi encroached on the space. “It’s probably boiling oil.”

“Don’t be afraid,” reassured the dwarf creepily.

“I am afraid,” spoke the picklock, eyes wavering at the device below him.

Making his choice, Chilchuck yelled, “Don’t come crying to me later,” and pulled the release on the spout.

Oil erupted from the chest, most of it hitting Senshi’s pot dead on, while some flew in random directions.

Unfortunately, a drop landed in the party leader’s collar. “So hot!” He screamed, flailing around.

Marcille blankly stared at the tall man, while Alekben snickered behind his palm.

“I told you so,” admonished Chilchuck watching the display. “Are you okay, Senshi?” He inquired, before exclaiming in shock. “Your finger’s in it!”

“It’s 180 degrees,” analyzed Senshi. “Perfect for frying food.”

“You’re the type that’s okay with heat?” The picklock observed as the dwarf set the pot down slowly.

Senshi hummed. “The smell and taste tell me that’s olive oil.”

“For real?” The brunette challenged.

“They do say this area originally produced olives,” educated the cook. “It’s not surprising that it’s used in traps.”

Bringing fist to his chin in thought, the picklock urged. “You think so?”

“Either way, I can fry food with this.” Senshi stopped for a moment when he remembered something. “Oh right! Can we use the blade from the trap earlier to cut the meat?”

“No,” advised Chilchuck exasperatedly. “We don’t know if it’ll fall in the exact same place.”

Not taking no for an answer, Senshi dropped the Big Bat meat from earlier into the half foot’s arms. “I’ll leave it to you. After all, I don’t know how to handle the traps.”

“Why should I?” huffed the picklock.

“Cooking is my job, so you should follow my directions,” said Senshi, using a jab from earlier whether he meant to or not. “I believe that was our deal.”

“I never said that,” argued Chilchuck.

Noticing his companion’s predicament, Alekben raised his hand meekly. “Why don’t I help you out, Chilchuck?”

-

The two half foot men stood in the trap-ridden room once more, developing a quick routine to slice up the Big Bat meat.

“You know, I didn’t need your help,” spoke Chilchuck bluntly as he shifted the meat underneath the blade trap.

“Yeah,” responded Alekben hopping down on the pressure plate once Chilchuck moved away from the hunk of protein. “But it’s easier this way, isn’t it?” He shifted off the weight-triggered slab.

“That’s true,” the picklock admitted repeating the process from prior.

“Plus, it’s nice to just have a buddy or partner around,” added the bard. “Having people around who are willing to provide aid to you is not something you should take for granted.”

Putting his weight on the trap again, Alekben continued. “I should know, I’d been traveling alone for a few years before I joined your guys’ party.”

Taking in his words, the picklock nodded with an apologetic expression. “Right…I’m sorry.”

“I’m not trying to lecture you,” assured the auburn-haired male. “Senshi has been very out of sorts today, so I get the frustration. I also understand you don’t like people interfering with your job, but…” He hesitated for a moment, trying to figure out the correct words to say. “....sometimes, those people aren’t actually trying to mess up your work. They might just be curious, or maybe they want to try to help in some way.”

Stepping off the slab, Alekben carefully tiptoed over to Chilchuck, placing an encouraging hand on his back. “Stop denying them right away, and give them a second to show you what they can do. Sure, we have our specific purposes here in the party, but those are just general terms. Not all of my magic is defensive, just like while Senshi is here to help cook… he knows so much more about this dungeon than we do, he may as well be a loremaster.” Removing his hand, the bard finished. “I know it’s hard to let help in and trust people… but maybe with some guidance and a little teamwork, we can get through areas like this again without fighting so much.”

“When did you get so mature, Alekben?” Questioned the picklock with a chuckle. “ I didn’t think it was possible for you to say something like that.”

“Hey!” Pouted the bard, smacking his companion’s shoulder. “That was rude! Especially after all that advice I worked so hard to give you…”

Chilchuck’s laugh went uninterrupted for a minute before he wiped a comical tear from his eye. “Regardless, let’s get this meat back to Senshi.”

-

“Hey, Senshi! We finished cutting up the Big Bat meat,” informed Alekben as Chilchuck dropped it down beside the dwarf.

“Okay,” he simply acknowledged, carrying his big pot over to the half foot men and dropping it into Chilchuck’s hands. “Next, go heat up this oil at the fire trap from earlier.”

The shorter two of the group eyed the pot of olive oil uncertainly.

“What’s wrong? Hurry along,” Senshi shooed the two back to the trap room as he began prepping the protein for the party’s lunch.

The dwarf sliced off the Big Bat’s outer skin and diced the meat into chunks. He scored it and massaged some seasonings into the meat, before letting it rest.

While the meat rested, Senshi moved on to peeling the skin off the leftover Mandrakes, starting by ripping off the limbs of the Mandrake first.

Once those were peeled fully, a batter was started. The cook mixed a Basilisk egg into some water, sifting some flour in and mixing to avoid clumps. Once the mixture was set, Senshi poured in the Mandrakes to cover them in said batter.

-

“How’s the fire going, you two?” questioned Senshi as he approached the trap room where Chilchuck and Alekben had been fiddling with the contraption.

“How am I supposed to know,” groaned Chilchuck. “I’ve never had to adjust a trap’s firepower before, damn it.”

“Are you sure this is even going to work, Senshi?” asked the bard, eyeing the cook as he dropped a small bit of batter in the pot of oil sitting atop the trap.

“Looks just right,” commented the dwarf in approval as he ladled in a portion of Mandrake batter nests.

Placing the batter bowl in Alekben’s grasp, Senshi advised. “When it looks like it won’t fall apart, flip it. Got it?”

“R-Right!” appeased the bard as the cook walked off.

Placing a few more portions of the tempura into the pot, Alekben watched them intently as they bubbled in the olive oil.

“Hey, Chilchuck?” Alekben called his companion over, pointing at the Mandrake in the pot. “Do these look ready to you?”

“Hm, maybe,” offered the picklock. “Trying flipping them.”

As the bard went to pinch one of the nests to flip it, the tempura broke apart. “Oh crap, it was too soon.”

“Maybe the fire’s too weak,” reasoned Chilchuck going to the pressure pad for the fire trap, adding more weight to increase the flame.

Upon adding the weight, a small explosion erupted from the trap.

“Woah!” cried Alekben, not at all prepared for the sudden ‘boom.’

“Are you alright?” asked the picklock, irises hovering over the bard’s form.

With a couple of coughs and a face covered in soot, the auburn-haired male spoke. “I’m okay! …But I think the tempura burnt.”

As the two half foots examined the overcooked food between Alekben’s cooking utensils, Senshi returned.

“How’s it looking?” He inquired.

“Terrible,” whined Alekben ushering the batter bowl in Senshi’s direction. “Could you take over please?”

“The fire trap is Chilchuck’s job, you chose to help with it,” refuted the cook.

“I can adjust the fire,” Chilchuck defended. “But isn’t frying part of your job?”

“Right!” The bard enthusiastically concurred, before showing Senshi their current product. “The tempura turns gooey if the fire is weak, but it burns if it’s too strong… I don’t know what we’re doing wrong.”

“That must mean it’s not a trap-related issue, huh?” said the cook, glancing at the food still cooking in the pot. “Looks almost ready.”

Lifting a piece from the oil, Alekben smiled. “These look great.”

“The color on them turned out nicely,” examined the picklock.

-

“It’s done,” announced Senshi as he and the two half foot men brought the tempura and kakiage from the trap room.

Grabbing a piece of the tempura with his utensils, Laois noted. “I never imagined I could eat fried food in a dungeon like this.” As he took a bite, the tall man complimented, “It’s fried really well.”

“We had good firepower,” explained Senshi. “You must aim to fry food quickly with the right temperature. It gets nice and crispy, that’s pretty hard to do with an open fire.”

“I don’t think people would do this on an open fire,” commented Marcille.

“I pass by here very often,” recalled the dwarf as he turned to Chilchuck and Alekben. “But who knew such a convenient room was here?”

The picklock choked on his food for a split second, coughing harshly as Alekben pat his back.

Once his throat was cleared, Chilchuck reminded. “Don’t try this without me here. You’ll die for sure.”

“I know,” accepted Senshi taking Chilchuck aback. “I can never imitate your trap manipulation skills. It’s truly amazing.”

The cook shifted so he was speaking with the entire party, “When we go our separate ways someday, it’s unfortunate that I won’t be able to use that trap alone.”

The brunette received a nudge to his side. Looking over, he was met with Alekben who ushered his head toward Senshi expectantly.

Chilchuck sighed, scratching his face. “I guess I have no choice. When we have some spare time, I’ll teach you a bit about traps.”

“Are you sure?” asked Senshi.

“I’m kind of reluctant to do so,” spoke the picklock honestly. “But you know, you taught me how to cook, Senshi.”

-

Alekben beamed softly, watching his party occupy themselves with various tasks.

Marcille was studying her magic book, Laois was carrying the Big Bat Skin to a different area, and Chilchuck was teaching Senshi about different types of traps in the dungeon.

Scratching his quill against his book, the bard wrote. ‘Bread can’t replace meat, nor can meat replace bread. But together, they can taste even better. People and food are very alike. Here in the dungeon, it’s important to experiment to find out how different dishes, and people, can work together.’

Notes:

Thank you! I hope you enjoyed!

Chapter 3: Episode 3: Living Armor

Summary:

Alekben Minz was a half foot bard who joined the Touden Party free of charge with one hope in mind, to tell their stories. What will become of Alekben’s woven tale as the Touden Party ventures further and further into the dungeon? What good is a bard in a dungeon like this anyway? Can Alekben hold his own or will he too become victim to the depths?

Notes:

Hello! This writing is based purely off the Anime Adaptation of Dungeon Meshi, apologies if any details are left out!

All of Alekben’s spells are written based off 3e Pathfinder!

It has been a while since I have written and this is the first time I will be using the AO3 platform to be posting said work!

Go easy on me, and I hope you enjoy!

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

A Devourer’s Eulogy

Episode Three: Living Armor

Note: Alekben uses 3rd Edition Pathfinder Spells and Cantrips which are not canonical to Dungeon Meshi. Translations for said spells may not be accurate as English to Latin translations are hard to come by.

“I’m so exhausted,” said Marcille as the party traveled lower within the dungeon on yet another area of spiral stone stairs. “All these stairs…doesn’t it feel like you’re twice as tired?”

“A moderate amount of fatigue makes your meal taste better,” spoke Senshi optimistically.

The elf partially agreed, “In moderation, sure.”

Nearing the end of the steps, the party came across what looked like a solid brick wall.

“Is this another one of those secret door things?” asked Alekben, going up to the barricade and poking a random stone.

“You’re right…” started Chilchuck before scolding his companion, “...but don’t do that,” hopping down the last few sets of stairs. “Move,” he huffed, lightly pushing the bard to the side.

“Boo,” Alekben whined in dismay.

Ignoring the auburn-haired male, Chiolchuck stuck a hand outward to the party leader expectantly. “Give me your sword.”

Laois handed said item over, “Sure.”

Keeping the sword in its sheath, the picklock roughly tapped it off of the wall, blade first. “It should be around here somewhere…”

After a couple of tries, the picklock was able to find the trick door trigger, nailing the stone inward. Once pushed in, the wall shot up, revealing a new room to the group.

Within it, was a long hallway adorning a burgundy carpet. It must’ve been a very regal place to be in, in the past. However, presently, it was covered in dust and moss.

Chilchuck entered first, keeping an eye out for any traps, while Alekben followed behind him, lyre at the ready in case any protection spells were needed.

“I almost forgot that the door led here,” Marcille disclosed, stepping into the hallway with Senshi accompanying her on her right.

Laois noted with a smile, “It saved us quite a bit of time,” before lifting his sword to put it back in its holster. Upon looking at it though, he realized something was missing. “Huh?” He muttered, turning around to peek at the stairs with his lantern.

“Is something wrong, Laois?” Inquired Alekben, glancing at the tall man from beside Chilchuck.

“Yeah, what is it?” Asked the picklock with his arms behind his head, confused by the sudden stalling.

“The decoration on my sword guard is gone,” explained Laois, still looking around the bottom of the steps.

Using a light spell, Marcille side-eyed the picklock. “It’s because you were reckless with it, “ She griped.

Chilchuck sweatdropped, dropping his limbs down to his sides. “Was it my fault?”

“I mean, you were kinda hitting the wall pretty hard with it,” supplied the bard, fiddling with his lyre to avoid eye contact.

“No,” cut in Laois, kneeling on the steps. “It was coming loose for a while now. I’d been using glue and string to keep it in place…but I guess it was just time.”

“Is there a problem if it’s gone?” asked the brunette half foot.

The tallman furrowed his eyebrows in displeasure, “Nope. Not at all.”

The blonde’s party sighed at his behavior.

“Was it a memento or something?” prodded Marcille.

“A memento…” Laois thought aloud. “I suppose you could say that.”

The tallman went on to illustrate a story for his group members. “Three years ago,” He spoke. “When I was just a beginner, I joined a gold-peeling crew to get some experience.”

“Gold-peeling?” Questioned Marcille.

“It’s local knowledge that a long time ago, this castle was once covered in gold,” explained Alekben. “It became quite the hotspot for miners and adventurers alike.”

“Yeah,” concurred Chilchuk. “Peeling it made quite a profit.”

-

The party leader continued to tell his tale, explaining how his gold-peeling crew decided to enter the castle on the account that the area they had entered had already been stripped clean.

A young Falin had advised her brother that entering the castle may be dangerous for them as beginners, however, Laois would reply that it was too late to turn back. Once the group had entered the castle, they were greeted by lined-up suits of armor. Each of them carried a sword, much like one Laois currently had.

While the peeling group was distracted by the potential price of the suits, the armor began moving, one stabbing its sword directly through a member’s jugular.

The Touden siblings watched on in horror as the gold-peeling crew screamed in terror, soon deciding to make a run for it. Alas, they were halted by yet another suit of metal.

Laois went to slice at the suit, only to break his sword in the process. The armor continued to attack, swiping at the siblings while Laois pushed them away from the onslaught of slices.

Pulling a nearby sword from one of the Living Armors, Laois knocked the head off of the one approaching, crying out a cheer as sweat dripped down his face.

Though the rejoicing may have been too soon, as Falin tried to warn her brother of an oncoming attack. Too late to react, the blonde male was stabbed through the chest by one of the suits of armor.

-

“Something like that happened,” said Laois, raising his blade in his grip. “And this is the sword I got then.” He continued. “It was my first death, so for a while, simply seeing an armor terrified me.”

“I’d imagine so,” spoke the bard empathetically, paying full attention to what the party leader was saying, while Chilchuck stood beside him uninterestedly picking at his nails.

“I read a lot of documents, but none of them described how they taste,” Laois disclosed. “I wonder what they taste like…”

Alekben scrunched his brow, eyeing the male oddly. “You’re kidding me…”

Ignoring the auburn-haired half foot, the tallman turned to the party’s cook. “Senshi, how would you cook them?”

Senshi blinked at the man in confusion, “Armor isn’t edible,” He said bluntly.

“Living armor is simply controlled by magic,” lectured Marcille. “It’s not some creature.”

“I-I know that,” Laois sputtered out a defense. “But what about the leather clasps?”

“It’s difficult to eat tanned hide,” deflected Senshi. “It’s far easier to catch other monsters.”

“If you’re that hungry for armor, cook and eat your own,” huffed the picklock, knocking a hand to Laois’ chest plate before moving ahead.

“I see,” Laois pouted. “I guess we can’t eat Living Armor.”

The party waited at the entrance to the next hall, staring at their party leader as he stood in place moping.

“Come on,” ushered Marcille, placing a hand on the double doors. “Let’s go.”

-

Peering into the dark corridor, the party observed the suits of armor line along the walls.

“I’d rather not fight them right now,” stated Laois.

“How about running our way past them?” Suggested Chilchuck. “They’re slow, so we could easily shake them off.”

“True,” agreed the blonde male. “Are you all okay with that?”

“Sure,” said the two magic users while Senshi remained quiet.

“We don’t know which set of armor will move first,” warned Laois. “Everyone, be careful.”

After a beat of silence, the party leader sounded off with a “Ready?” and off went the party running.

As they sprinted down the hallway, random suits of armor began shifting out of their positions, threateningly brandishing weapons.

“H-Here they come!” called Marcille nervously clutching her staff.

Senshi wasted no time in rushing forward with his ax, knocking off a suit’s arm, while the party leader did the same, flicking the helmet off of a Living Armor with his sword.

“Run!” commanded Laois.

Just as they were brought down, the Living Armor built themselves back up. Laois stared, frozen at the sight of the armor placing its helmet back on and twisting it into place menacingly.

The tallman only snapped out of it when his fellow group members yelled out.

“Our way is completely blocked!” cried Marcille as the Living Armor piled in front of the exit.

“What the heck?” gulped Chilchuck nervously.

Alekben clutched his lyre, knuckles turning white, as he stumbled back a few steps from the approaching suits. “This isn’t good.”

The elven girl turned back to face the rest of her party, “We need to go back and regroup! Retreat!”

The Touden Party raced back from once they came, slamming the doors they entered through shut behind them.

Everyone panted, out of breath and doused in perspiration, while Laois simply stood against the door with a blank look in his eyes.

“They’re especially persistent today,” the tallman commented. “I wonder if something put them in a bad mood.”

“No way,” denied Marcille. “They don’t have physical conditions or feelings.” Looking down in reflection, she furthered. “That’s why it should be easy if we can defeat whoever is controlling them.”

“Are you sure there’s even anyone?” Prodded Chilchuck.

Alekben hummed in agreeance with his fellow half foot, “He has a point, we’ve haven’t seen anyone who could be controlling those guys.”

Rubbing his chin in thought, the party leader relayed. “Usually, they only attack anyone who gets close to them. But today, they clearly blocked our path.”
“Are you thinking they might be guarding something behind that door?” assumed the bard.

“Precisely,” stated Laois.

“Whoever is controlling them is close by?” mumbled the mage to herself, before nodding along with Laois’ idea. “You’re right. That might be possible.”

“What?” asked Chilchuck. “Is it a monster?”

“I don’t know. But a magic user with such power can’t be decent,” provided Marcille. “Anyway, we have to find a way to get past that barrier of armor and…” She looked to her fellow party members to see if anyone would finish her sentence.

“So,” reiterated Laois. “If we can reach the magic user who is controlling the Living Armor, we might be able to stop them.”

“But how?” Questioned the picklock, while Alekben gazed at the party leader expectantly.

“For example…” offered the blonde male as he lifted his index finger. “Four of us act as bait to draw their attention while one of us goes past the door.”

Upon the leader’s proposition, the four remaining group members continued to stare at Laois, silently volunteering the tallman.

Alekben grinned patting Laois’ arm and moving to stand behind him with the other three members, “You got this.”

“Yeah, good luck,” said Chilchuck, resting his hands on his hips while the bard found his place beside him.

Laois turned to his companions. “I thought you might be the most fitting for the role since you’re good at going unnoticed, Chilchuck.”

“I’m no good in combat,” reminded the picklock, raising a finger to point at his head. “Besides, Living Armor doesn’t have eyes or ears, so going unnoticed doesn’t help much against something that’s not alive.”

“No eyes or ears…” muttered the blonde to himself, reflecting on how the suit he was battling earlier turned its head directly toward him. “Hm…”

While Laois was pondering to himself, the other four gathered together.

“Are you ready?” Prompted Chilchuck, gaining a unanimous nod of confirmation.

-

Seconds later, the party busted through the double doors they had once entered before.

Marcilled shouted, “Alright! Let’s go!” Before she marched into the middle of the corridor, flailing her staff around wildly.

Alekben wasn’t too far behind as he began strumming effortlessly on his lyre.

“Gather around us, you sets of armor!” The mage continued to scream.

A faint light hovered around the bard’s hands as he spoke, “Exquisitus Accompaniment, Obturbo!”

Alekben had ceased his strumming, but the sounds of the instrument continued to echo throughout the room. ‘Hopefully, this’ll keep them distracted for a while…’ The half foot thought. ‘And on the bright side…it keeps my hands free.’ He then rushed to tuck his silver lyre into his leather bag.

Soon enough, the suits marched forward.

“They’re all coming!” Marcilled cried, hesitating.

Senshi rushed forward. “Don’t panic!” He advised.

Looking determined, Marcille and the two half foots sprang into battle alongside the dwarf.

Senshi took on one suit, clashing his worn ax against the Living Armor’s sword.

Chilchuck took to dodging various swipes from another set of armor, dragging it away from its allies to bring it into Marcille’s view.

She aimed at her staff, casting a fire spell to knock off the Living Armor’s helmet before continuing to the next one. “Aslam!” She shouted with each magical burst.

The three suits Alekben managed to gear toward him with his music began their onslaught, chasing after the half foot as they wielded their blades.

Quickly, the bard called out raising his forefingers. “Chorda Shards!” A sonic wave encompassed the sets of metal, rendering them asunder.

Amid the commotion, Laois took the opportunity to sneak into the room at the end of the hall. Pushing it open as slowly and as quietly as possible, he slid in with no trouble.

-

“Watch out!” warned Alekben to Marcille as she narrowly dodged a sword, readying the tips of his fingers once more he commanded. “Coegi Inmicitias!”

The suit of armor encroaching on the elf swiftly changed its direction to the bard, continuing to chase after him as he dodged. “That’s right, over here!” The bard spoke smugly, egging the armor on.

Once he got it into an optimal position, Alekben yelled to his fellow magic user. “Now!”

“Aslam!” Chanted Marcille as she blew the suit of armor apart.

The auburn-haired male smirked, running over to the elf to give her a high five. “We make a good team,” He complimented.

The mage rolled her eyes with a smile, clapping her hand to Alekben’s.

“Stop messing around!” Nagged Chilchuck, hopping around the room.

“Crap, sorry!” apologized Alekben sheepishly before rushing over to his fellow half foot.

-

“This is endless!” Huffed the picklock, taking a small step backward.

“Tell me about it,” Alekben groaned, shifting so he was now back to back with his brunette companion.

Unbeknownst to them, they had stepped directly in front of another Living Armor. As it moved forward, the half foot men felt cold metal touch their backs.

“You can’t be serious!” hollered Chilchuck, harshly pulling Alekben by the wrist as he ducked forward to avoid the attack.

Thankfully, to their luck, Senshi had swooped in and brought the armor to pieces. “Don’t pause,” The dwarf lectured as he hovered about the two, “It’s dangerous if you freeze!”

“Senshi, behind you!” Marcille cautioned, shooting a fireball out toward the three. “Aslam!”

Falling forward due to the spell’s impact, the Living Armor knocked against Senshi’s pot, its head flying off in the process.

“Hey, wait!” Yelped Marcille as the metal helmet came rushing toward her. As it landed on her staff, the mage wasted no time in flicking it off…only for it to attach to another suit’s body.

“Do they share parts?” Spoke Chilchuck flabbergasted.

“What?” said Senshi shocked.

Marcille gaped, “Is that even possible?”

“I think we just found out,” commented Alekben, extending his palms out, “Guard yourself!”

As if on cue, a Living Armor swung down at Marcille, forcing her to raise her staff to block it. “Hey, Laois! Do something about these armors quickly!”

-

“Why’s he taking so long?!” cried Alekben, sweat dripping down his face as he tried to hold his hands out steadily to combat the oncoming enemies.

“I don’t know!” responded Marcille, smacking a few pieces of armor away with her staff. “But he really should hurry up!” She yelled toward the doors Laois had entered in an attempt to get the party leader’s attention from outside.

Palms still readied outward, the bard glanced around the area, keeping a watchful gaze on Senshi and Chilchuck as they ran around taking down Living Armor on the outside perimeter.

The dwarf, having been occupied with a single suit in front of him had gone unaware to another set creeping up behind him.

“Senshi!” The auburn-haired male shouted, rushing over and sliding to avoid getting sliced by any metal.

However, as mentioned before, Alekben is not the most agile of humanoids. During his slide, the bard had not calculated the amount of armor that could continue to cross his path.

Alekben winced as he felt a cut to his cheek, ignoring the hot blood that seeped down his face as he continued his sprint to the cook.

“Sericum ad Ferro!” He bellowed once he managed to slot himself in between Senshi and the Living Armor. The dark fabric of his cloak became stiff, though lacked the metallic hue it had in the trap room.

The armor’s weapon jutted through the fabric after some resistance, to which Alekben opted to wrap the stiff cloth around the sword to restrain the blade for the time being.

Having thwarted the enemy in front of him, Senshi looked back to the smaller man, moving his ax to knock the arms off the Living Armor. “Are you okay, young man?” He prompted.

Alekben blanched, using his sleeve to wipe scarlet and sweat off his features. “I should be the one asking you that.”

“I think I could have handled that on my own,” shrugged Senshi as he gave Alekben’s hair his signature ruffle. “Though, for a youngin, you’re very tough. Good job.”

The bard smacked the dwarf’s hand away, an irritated expression on full display. “I’m not a kid, don’t patronize me!” Irises scanning the tattered cloth in his clutches, the half foot spoke again. “And you owe me a new cloak!”

-

The battle continued with the group growing more and more frustrated as the Living Armor built itself back up.

Alekben panted, raising a hand to grip his chest the other still held in front of him. ‘I don’t know how much longer I can keep this up.’

“AAAH!” cried Marcille, ripping the bard out of his stupor as he glanced at her, concerned.

A Living Armor had grabbed onto her staff, tugging the elf every which way.

“You…! Just let go!” struggled the mage.

The auburn-haired half foot released a shaky breath, fingers twitching as he tried to think of an offensive spell to use to help his companion.

Thankfully, his efforts were soon unneeded as Laois finally stuck his head through the door. “Everyone! Come over here now!” Commanded the blonde male.

Still surrounded by the suits, his party members yelled in unison. “Now’s not the time!”

Upon hearing their refusal, the group leader gripped onto something behind him, sliding it outside and down the corridor.

Once it had made it beyond the room, the Living Armor was quick to scuttle after it. It was a shield, and on it, a thick and white cocoon. A series of awkward clanks sounded across the room as the four companions who’d been stuck in the fight watched dumbfounded.

“Huh?” murmured Marcille, eyeing the suits of metal as they passed.

Alekben sighed deeply in relief, irises wavering from fatigue as he dropped to his knees. “Took you long enough…” He croaked, hunching over and still clutching his chest. “Ouch, ouch, ouch…”

“Alekben?” Prompted Marcille as she took a step toward the male. “What’s wrong?”

Dropping the helmet in his grasp, Chilchuck bounded to the bard, placing a hand on his upturned back. “Are you okay?”

The bard shook his head, taking in gasping breaths as he continued to curl into himself, hands still tugging at his cream-colored turtleneck through the holes in his now worn down cloak.

“Wait…” interrupted Laois, “Don’t you guys hear that noise?”

“How is that important right now?” Huffed Chilchuck in frustration as he kept attempting to ground his fellow half foot with the pressure of his palm.

“It’s like a strumming sound,” furthered the party leader.

After taking a second to take in the sounds of the room, now that the metal sets of armor had stopped their parade, Senshi blinked in acknowledgment. “Laois is right, there is an instrument being played.”

“Then that means…” Thought Marcille aloud, as she examined the bard once more. Sure enough, Alekben’s lyre was still faintly glowing from inside his bag.

“We must have become deaf to the sound after it had been played for so long,” noted Senshi solemnly, staring at the struggling half foot.

Dropping down beside Chilchuck, the mage fumbled to grab the afflicted man’s hands.

Gripping them tightly, giving his fingers an attentive squeeze, she advised surprisingly levelheaded. “You need to let go, Alekben. You’re using too much mana.”

“She’s right,” supported Chilchuck as he rubbed the male’s back. “We aren’t fighting anymore, all you’re doing is making it worse on yourself.”

“I-It hurts…” whined the bard between lungfuls of air.

“I know, but you have to try. Can you do that for us?” Said the blonde elf.

Scrunching his face, tensing his shaking limbs, as he removed his hands from Marcille’s and reached for his silver lyre.

Seeing his struggle, the brunette slid it out from his satchel, passing the lyre to the bard.

Alekben stuttered. “Di-Dimittas..”

The light embellishing the instrument flickered, slowly dimming after a few moments.

Once it had gone dark, the auburn-haired male fell forward tiredly, prompting Chilchuck to pull him backward before he slumped completely onto Marcille.

Alekben graciously leaned on the picklock’s support, back meeting his companion’s chest as Chilchuck used his body to keep the bard sitting up.

“Thanks…” Alekben expressed his gratitude softly, eyes drooping as he looked up at the brunette from his position along Chilchuck’s torso.

Chilchuck turned his head to the side, a blush radiating from his features. “Don’t worry about it.”

The mage who observed the two merely chuckled at their antics before moving to address Laois. “So what was that? What did you do?”

-

Upon entering the back room, the group of five were met with the Living Armor Laois had taken down during their scrimmage.

Marcille gasped at the sight, cheeks warming with curiosity and admiration for a powerful mage she thought existed. “So there was a magic user?!”

“There were no magic users,” clarified the tallman. “The Living Armor weren’t controlled. They were creatures.”

“Huh?” murmured the party.

“Look at the inside of this armor,” offered Laois gripping a piece of armor and taking out his broken blade. “There are two layers, and something is clinging between them.”

Pushing down a flap within the armor, Laois revealed a pale creature. It looked a bit rubbery to the eyes, glossy in an odd sort of way. “This is the identity of the Living Armor.” The blonde male asserted.

Marcille turned away from the monster, eyebrows furrowed and twitching in displeasure as Senshi merely studied the creature.

“It has to be a lie, right…” groaned Alekben, dropping further into the hold Chilchuck had around his torso, almost slouching into the picklock. “You’re telling me ‘this’ is what I wasted my mana on?”

“Hey, don’t do that.” Chilchuck chided, adjusting the bard so he was back in his original position with his arm slung around the brunette’s neck. “You’ll fall.”

“Right,” the bard sheepishly grinned. “Sorry, sorry…”

The party leader furthered his explanation of the monster. “By clasping hands inside the armor, they were acting as muscles of different parts of the body.”

Laois passed on the bottom of a gauntlet he was holding to the two half foots, placing it carefully into Alekben’s free hand.

Tendrils of the creature wiggled upward, causing the brunette and auburn-haired man to stare at it apprehensively.

“Even though each creature is weak,” the tallman continued. “By dividing the body parts and utilizing the armor’s structure…” Laois dropped the glove portion onto the armor piece, causing it to flex like a hand and force a weirded-out gasp from the two that held it. “They can imitate human movements.”

Marcille watched on just as uncomfortably.

“Unfortunately for us, it seems we encountered them during the spawning season this time,” elaborated Laois.

“Spawning?!” exclaimed the mage. “These things hatch from eggs?!”

The party leader’s face contorted into a crazed look. Beads of perspiration pooled down his forehead as his eyes widened and shook. “That’s right!” He said exuberantly. “They hatch from eggs!”

It didn’t take long for the tallman to start his monster-fixated ramble. “No one realized until now! Everyone thought they were simply Living Armor controlled by magic! If I were to reveal this fact, it would cause a huge stir in our circle!”

“You know how he talks fast when it comes to monsters?” Chilchuck whispered to Marcille and Alekben. “It creeps me out.”

“Like a kid in a candy store…” Grumbled the bard in agreeance.

The elven girl lightly smacked them on their heads. “Hush! Stop that.”

Laois, unaware of the two male’s jabs, beamed excitedly as he made his way over to the party’s cook. “Senshi! We might not be able to eat armor, but what about the stuff inside? Looks pretty nutritious doesn’t it?”

Marcille cried loudly in refusal, grabbing the bard and picklock and dragging them along with her as she expressed her frustration. “There’s no way we can eat something so mysterious!”

“Now, now Marcille,” Laois attempted to appease, fiddling with the gauntlet in Alekben’s clutches. “Every food is a mystery until that first bite.”

The piece of armor twitched and gripped onto Marcille’s hand as if it were trying to shake hands. As a result, the mage only hollered louder, dropping the half foot men in turn.

“Ow!” huffed Alekben who had landed directly onto his rear, struggling to regain his footing.

“Now’s not the time to be trying it!” admonished Chilchuck, as he held out a hand which the bard gratefully accepted.

“Yeah Laois…” added the auburn-haired male, slotting against Chilchuck’s side once more, flushing as the picklock’s hands made their way around his waist. “What if it makes us sick?”

Having had time to think about Laois’ request, the cook cut in. “Let’s give it a shot.”

The three apprehensive members of the party halted their shouts of disapproval, quaking slightly in fear of consuming the monster.

The cook tried to save face by saying, “I’m using this ingredient for the first time, so I’m not confident though.”

“Thanks, Senshi!” cheered the party leader happily.

Marcille, on the other hand, smacked the chunk of metal she had in her grip to the ground. “No way!”

-

The mage had her staff fitted around Laois’ head as she, the tallman, and Senshi gazed inside the decorative armor’s helmet.

Shaking Laois’ skull back and forth as she complained. “What if it’s poisonous?”

Raising a finger in contradiction, the party leader stated. “I doubt a creature with potent poison would hide itself inside a shell.”

The cook retracted the helmet from the two members’ stares, examining the creature more closely by himself. “But how should I cook it?” He wondered.

Freeing himself from Marcille’s hold, Laois pointed to the inner workings of the headpiece. “This underside didn’t budge when I tried to pry it open with my hands.” The blonde shifted his hand to direct Senshi’s attention to another portion of the creature. “But when I cut this part with a blade, it couldn’t close the gap.”

The two magic users and picklock listened with repulsed looks on their features, as Laois spoke to the dwarf. “Maybe it was an adductor muscle that it uses to close the gap, like a scallop.”

Turning to the three off to the side, the cook announced. “Alright, I decided. Pry the meat from the armor, will you?”

-

As the party got quick to scrape the meat off the armor pieces, Alekben soon grew frustrated.

His hands were shaking, digits completely uncooperative as he slid a wooden stick down the armor plate, jamming his thumb in the process. “Ugh!” He growled, tossing the metal on the stone floor that he sat on.

Senshi raised a warm hand to rest on the half foot’s knee. “Calm yourself, youngin,” He advised calmly. “This isn’t something to get mad about.”

“I’m not a kid…” Alekben muttered before raising his voice with conviction. “Plus, I want to help like everyone else.”

Shaking his head, Senshi removed the wooden skewer from the bard’s grasp. “You have done enough for today, relax. Think of it as a reward for helping me in a tough spot earlier.”

Flicking his head away and crossing his arms, the auburn-haired male rolled his eyes. “I thought you said you didn’t need my help back then.”

“I was wrong,” admitted Senshi, removing his hand from Alekben’s leg to go back to prying the meat out of the Living Armor.

The cook later hummed to himself, speaking in almost a rhetorical sense. “Cloaks are hard to come by in the dungeon...”

The bard could not help the grin that began to dance on his face, unfolding his arms and leaning back on the stone pillar behind him. ‘So he remembered, huh?’ He thought, laughing quietly to himself.

-

Now that the meat was successfully pried from its armor shell, Senshi went to purge them.

Dropping the mollusks into some water, the cook and Laois watched it slowly sink.

“It drowned,” noted the party leader.

“I guess you can’t purge it with water,” observed Senshi. “I don’t know if they need to be purged of sand, but I’m a bit worried about their internal organs… so I’ll remove them.”

Laois stared at the innards of the creature, hands held out like he wanted to catch them and hide them away for safekeeping.

Moving on, the dwarf cut up a couple of portions of meat. Using his knife, Senshi dropped it into a pot of boiling water while Chilchuck, Alekben, and Marcille looked on with unease. “The sliced meat will go inside a soup,” Provided the cook.

The bearded man then went to make a stir-fry from oil, meat from the Living Armor, herbs, and seasoning. Its aroma was quite good for using a potentially dangerous form of protein.

“The head…” Decided Senshi, dropping it on top of the soup pot. “...will be steamed.”

“It feels wrong to look at this,” said Alekben, a hand resting over the top of his mouth trying to hide his disgusted frown. Thinking to himself, he continued to gain that nauseous feeling. ‘It’s like we decapitated someone…’

“And finally,” concluded the cook. “We might as well make the classic dish.” Placing slabs of armor down with the mollusk on top, the last dish was set down over the fire to grill.

-

“It’s ready!” Declared the dwarf.

The party son sat down to enjoy the meal Senshi prepared, though Laois was the only one appetized by it.

As steam flowed from the pots and plate, Laois turned to Marcille and asked. “Marcille, which do you want to have?”

“What?” Choked the elf not prepared to make a decision. Reluctantly, she said. “I-I’ll have the soup then…” The mage quickly backtracked. “Wait, do antidotes work against food poisoning as well?”

“It doesn’t smell bad,” noted Senshi taking a whiff of the food he so skillfully cooked.

“It smells faintly of iron,” added Chilchuck.

Alekben eyed the meal carefully, muttering a soft, “Let’s just hope it doesn’t taste it.”

“Laois,” called the cook, grabbing the party leader’s attention as he tossed one of the grilled clams his way. “Here.”

The blonde tallman accepted the mollusk happily, before realizing it was burning to the touch.

“It’s hot!” he cried.

Taking a second to adjust to the temperature of the dish, blowing at the protein to cool it down before he consumed it, Laois caught the apprehensive gazes of his fellow party members.

“Huh?” He spoke, matching their watchful eyes with a perplexed expression. “Why are you all looking at me like that?”

“You’ve been craving Living Armor for a long time now, right?” prompted Chilchuck.

Senshi nodded along, “We shouldn’t eat it before you do.”

“Mhm,” mused Alekben as he fiddled with the ends of the torn-up cloak he had sitting along his shoulders. “It’s just a courtesy thing, you know?”

“I see…” blushed the party leader satisfied, blissfully unaware of the rest of the group’s mutters.

“If he dies, let’s just leave him here.” Whispered Chilchuck.

“Yeah,” agreed Marcille.

Scooping the meat onto his fork, Laois quickly slurped up the contents of the grilled food. The minute it hit his tastebuds, the tallman gasped, dropping the slab of armor he held as he did so.

‘Did he die?’ His party members thought in curiosity, sitting on the edges of their seats.

“It’s delicious!” cheered Laois, the crazed look from earlier coming back in full force. “What on earth? It’s so delicious!”

“Are you sure you’re not just saying that?” The bard deadpanned. “You’ve wanted to try it for so long, I wouldn’t put it past you to try to convince yourself it’s good…”

The tallman continued to ramble, unrelenting despite his group’s distrust. “At first, it tasted bland, but the flavor kicks in later!”

Marcille leaned backward to quietly inquire, “How long does it take before you start having symptoms of food poisoning?”

“It depends on the food,” replied the picklock.

Senshi was next to bite the bullet, stuffing a grilled mollusk into his mouth, and analyzing the flavor. “So that’s what it tastes like,” He hummed. “Not bad, but I think I could have done better.”

The dwarf turned to the two half foots, “How about the dish you both have?”

Said men gazed at their plates nervously, with Chilchuck downplaying, “Well, I supposed this one should be safe because it was stir-fried with herbs.”

“You’d think so…” Said Alekben in an attempt to calm his nervous thoughts.

Looking to each other to give one another reassurance, the two half foot men nodded in unison before taking a bite.

“H-How is it?” Questioned the mage as she watched the two give a series of mixed reactions to their dish.

“It’s not bad,” stated the picklock.

Alekben closed his eyes to savor the taste. “Hm,” he contemplated. “I don’t know if I would want to eat it again… but it’s definitely not the worst thing I’ve eaten.”

The bard took another bite, mumbling with his mouth full. “I can feel my strength coming back a little… so I may as well finish it.”

“Eat your fill, young man.” Warmly asserted Senshi, placing more mollusks onto the half foot’s plate while Alekben slouched his shoulders with an irritated whine.

Seeing as the party had given her no room to refuse her meal, Marcille shakily brought the bowl of soup to her lips. Upon drinking it, she looked around for an answer on how to describe the taste.

“What do you think, Marcille?” prodded Laois expectantly.

“It tastes a bit like mushrooms…” She answered, unsure.

“Right?” agreed Laois, as he ran to grab the last serving excitedly. “The steam-baked one looks ready and tasty, too.”

Not even given a moment’s rest before digging in, the tallman man pulled a big scoop of meat out of the helmet. “It has to taste great!” He claimed, placing the utensil in his mouth.

However, once he swallowed the mollusk, Laois’ face lost all emotion. “It tastes like mold,” He spoke monotone.

“The odor of the helmet must’ve gotten trapped in it,” provided the dwarf.

“Blegh,” Marcille heaved, sticking her tongue out.

-

Now that the party’s meal was finished, they moved on to their daily ritual of washing up.

“Here,” said the elven girl, handing a plate to Senshi.

“You know,” started the cook, as he looked at the discarded metal behind the group. “I’ve been in the dungeon for a long time now, but I never thought they were edible.”

“Nobody would expect Living Armor to be a sort of shellfish that hatch from eggs,” said Chilchuck.

“Every tale I’ve heard about those things say they’re just empty shells controlled by magic,” supported the bard, shrugging his forearms outward. “It’s as Laois said, knowledge like this would rock the minds of locals for a good while.”

Laois smiled elated as he theorized. “Maybe when they’re newborns and juveniles, they’re very small, and no suspects them to be Living Armor.”

The leader furthered his point, “They probably form shells as they grow. Then, they started forming colonies. And when they can move, they travel looking for other colonies. Maybe the armor standing in rows were looking for partners.”

Alekben felt his eye twitch as Laois, proceeded to mutter more of his ideas.

“They are likely hermaphrodites and the biggest colony lays an egg….Oh!” The blonde male choked in recognition. “That means…” He gripped the sides of his head with his hands. “The armor I occasionally see holding hands might not have been adventurers fooling around. Maybe they were actually mating!”

Chilchuck sighed in disappointment, head falling in exasperation.

“You can drop it now,” complained Marcille.

-

Having finished their cleaning, the group soon packed up to begin their march downward in the dungeon, but not until Laois had chosen a new sword to aid the party in their journey.

“Your sword broke, huh?” Asked the picklock as he and Alekben passed the blonde on their way to the next entrance. “Why don’t you take that one?”

The bard beamed, gently patting Laois’ hand that gripped the new blade. “I have a feeling you’ll make a lot of new memories with it.”

The party leader nodded silently, making the shorter men glance at each other before shrugging and moving on.

What they missed were two antennae with eyes, creeping out of the sword’s hilt.

Laois quickly shoved his palm down on the squiggly appendages, hiding it from the view of his group as Marcille popped up behind him.

“Laois,” she prompted. “If you’re going to use that sword, shall I test it to see if it’s not cursed?”

“No need!” exclaimed the tallman as he fumbled about, raising a hand in dismissal. “I’m absolutely sure it’s not cursed! I can tell!”

“You seem awfully confident,” Marcille groaned, turning away from the man’s idiocy. “Don’t come to me if you end up with some weird curse.”

Staring at his sword for a couple more seconds, sweating as he thought about what he would be covering up, Laois heard the inpatient chime of Alekben.

“Hey, Laois!” the bard called waving a hand. “We need to get going don’t we?”

“Right,” said the party leader, running up to his companions. “Everyone wait for me!”

-

‘He looks like he’s hiding something…’ Alekben observed as he narrowed his eyes at Laois, who marched ahead of the group, with the bright aura that typically only surrounds him when he’s fixated on a monster.

“Hey,” spoke Chilchuck as he nudged the bard’s side, breaking him out of his conspiracy. “You’ve been staring into space for quite awhile now, have you not recovered?”

Alekben embarrassedly waved his palm to refute the issue, bright pink hues rising to his skin. “No, no! I was just thinking about something…”

“Alright…” said Chilchuck, clearly unconvinced. “But if you get tired, let us know. We can’t have you passing out in the dungeon.”

”I-I will! …Thank you.” Agreed the auburn-haired male.

The picklock sighed, raising his arms behind his head lazily, his own blush coming into light. “No need to thank me, I’m just making sure you don’t make us fall behind.”

Alekben turned his head down, putting his full focus on fidgeting with his leather satchel strap. ‘Something tells me you don’t mean that…’ He thought, irises softening fondly.

‘But then again, who am I to assume…’

Notes:

Thank you for reading! I hope you enjoyed!

Chapter 4: Episode 4: Stewed Cabbage/Orcs

Summary:

Alekben Minz was a half foot bard who joined the Touden Party free of charge with one hope in mind, to tell their stories. What will become of Alekben’s woven tale as the Touden Party ventures further and further into the dungeon? What good is a bard in a dungeon like this anyway? Can Alekben hold his own or will he too become victim to the depths?

Notes:

Hello! This writing is based purely off the Anime Adaptation of Dungeon Meshi, apologies if any details are left out!

All of Alekben’s spells are written based off 3e Pathfinder!

It has been a while since I have written and this is the first time I will be using the AO3 platform to be posting said work!

Go easy on me, and I hope you enjoy!

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

A Devourer’s Eulogy

Episode Four: Stewed Cabbage/Orcs

Note: Alekben uses 3rd Edition Pathfinder Spells and Cantrips which are not canonical to Dungeon Meshi. Translations for said spells may not be accurate as English to Latin translations are hard to come by.

The Touden Party had now reached the third basem*nt floor of the dungeon, otherwise known as the beginning of the Golden Castle. It was covered, much like the corridor of Living Armor, in mold, dust, and debris. While once regal and glittering, it now was covered in cobwebs and desolate as adventurers and monsters alike walked through the floors.

Walking down the dark pathway with lanterns in hand, the party soon stopped their movement as their leader came to a halt.

Laois reached upward to cup a hand to his ear, listening to the sound of clattering footsteps resonate through the hall. “That’s a skeleton,” He said.

Sure enough, the bony creature crept through the area in front of the group.

Heavier thuds padded after it. “And they’re humans,” Laois confirmed raising a hand to wave at the travelers.

Deciding to move forward, as no other monsters were in sight, the group padded past the previous area, not looking back to see what caused a crashing sound behind them.

“That’s a ghoul,” noted the tallman.

“How can you tell?” Questioned Marcille, hand tightly wrapped around her staff. “You’re creeping me out!”

“The footsteps of a living creature, bones, and something rotten are totally different,” Laois stated as matter-of-factly.

Marcille frowned, while Alekben lightly giggled from behind her.

“Did we expect anything less from him?” The bard asked rhetorically, earning a snort from the picklock at his side.

The elf merely dropped her head with a deep breath, clearly frustrated with the casual nature of her party.

Coming across a crossroads in the corridor, Laois glanced to the side before advising his companions. “Let’s go left. The Golem seems to be wary of what’s on the right.”

Alekben tilted his head, pressing his index finger to his chin, “Golems, huh? My mother used to tell me a story about them.”

“Oh?” Spoke Marcille. “What did she say?”

“It was only a Children’s Tale, I assure you. But…”

The bard illustrated a story of childlike wonder, discussing the story his mother used to read to him when he was younger.

-

He wove a tale of a lonely young man, desperate to make friends with the townsfolk. He was scrawny, covered in dirt, and often garnered odd looks from the civilians as his face was disfigured from a previous accident. Unfortunately, due to the boy’s misshapen features, he was never able to make friends.

However, one day, the boy came across a cave with mysterious energy. Upon entering, he was greeted with a mound of clay and a singular white cross, that felt of ceramic or polished bone.

The young man in his lonesome decided to make his own friend. He sculpted the clay to match his features, making sure to purposely mold scars and displacements here and there.

Finishing his work, the boy thought it would be good to decorate his clay friend, and placed the white cross directly onto its chest. With no warning, the clay began to move, taking a tall form with glowing eyes.

The young man was elated, his friend was moving!

“That shows those townsfolk!” Cheered the boy. “I can’t wait to rub this in their faces!”

The moving clay soon began moving to the village, earning a hum of confusion from the boy, who resolved to just shrug and follow along beside it.

Once in the village, the clay person began creating chaos. Grabbing citizens, throwing them into the ground, and rubbing their faces into the dirt until they were incapacitated.

The young man could only stare in horror, trying to stop the clay to no avail.

“This isn’t what I wanted!” he cried, watching as the village was soon torn apart.

-

“Moral of the story,” Alekben spoke with a grin, raising his index finger from his chin to hold it up in the air. “Be careful what you wish for!”

His group members stared at him, disturbed expressions sitting along their faces.

“T-That was a Children’s Tale?” Chilchuck attempted to confirm, completely dumbfounded.

“Mhm! Mother read it to me every once in a while,” The auburn-haired half foot grinned obliviously. “It was one of my favorites.”

“I see…” The picklock sweatdropped.

“Did your mother tell you a lot of stories like that?” Inquired Laois, both perplexed and curious.

Alekben nodded. “Sometimes she would make me memorize them too, something about ‘a good loremaster is knowledgeable of all stories,’ or whatever,” He laughed doing finger quotes.

“You, young man…” said Senshi as he clapped his hand on the bard’s shoulder. “...are very disturbed.”

The half foot pouted, looking to the rest of his group for reassurance. “Really? Was the story that bad?”

The four other members of the Touden Party gave a unanimous hum, faces stern as they nodded.

“Oh…” mumbled Alekben.

-

Laois shook his head, “Tales aside, let’s continue left.”

“No,” interjected Senshi. “Wait.”

Marcille’s disturbed look quickly shifted to one of irritation once more. “For your information, Golem’s are 99% dirt!” She scolded Senshi. “They aren’t edible!”

The mage continued, “They are genuinely magical creatures! I even know how to make them!”

“She’s right,” agreed the bard. “My tales are one thing, but realistically Golems are made from magic…” Alekben poked his two index fingers together with a sheepish smile. “I know how to make them too, but since I didn’t go to school to learn magic it’s illegal for me to…”

Upon learning this information, Laois turned to Marcille with an excited “Teach me!”

“No!” She immediately denied.

“Then Alekben?” The blonde male asked shifting to said male.

The bard folded his arms, brows furrowed. “Didn’t I just say it’s illegal for me to make one?”

Chilchuck turned back to Laois, questioning. “What do you want to use them for after you learn how to make them?”

From the side, Senshi clarified. “What I’m interested in is their bodies,” He shifted to face the dark hallway, walking forward. “Follow me.”

Seeing as they no longer had a choice in the matter, the party filed in line behind the dwarf.

-

Arriving at their destination, Senshi opened a wooden door. With a creak, it revealed a humble abode, displaying itself with stitched and worn curtains.

“This is the campsite I usually use as my base,” explained the cook, drawing back the cloth to show his wares.

“Wow…” muttered the bard, stepping in to take a look around, his fellow party members moving to do the same.

While there was not much living space, it was quite practical. Ingredients filled the room’s floor in barrels and crates, while the walls were lined with what looked to be farming tools and hunting gear.

“You live here?” Prompted Laois.

Senshi replied, “I hardly sleep here.” He furthered, “I usually hunt on the second or fourth floor, and once a month I shop for seasoning and other things I lack in town.”

Thinking of his first interaction with the party, the cook supplied. “It was on my way back from a shopping trip that I met you folks.”

Senshi began to gather things from his living space, educating his companions. “There are only a few monsters you can eat on the third floor. They are mostly decayed or just bones. But,” He took a step back, closing his eyes as he relished the thought. “Golems! These wonderful creatures are different! Their bodies are high in nutrition, and always maintain the appropriate temperature and humidity.”

The dwarf lifted his supplies, facing the rest of the Touden Group with gardening tools in hand before passing them off.

Chilchuck eyed the trowel and bucket in his hands. “In other words…”

The picklock, Alekben, and Marcille jumped at the cook.

“Are you using the Golems as a garden?!” Cried Chilchuck. “The people in this castle will weep!”

“And so will scholars of magic!” Added the mage.

The bard looked flabbergasted, “How are you even doing this?! Those things are dangerous!”

Senshi gave a blank stare, asking, “Why? I don’t like magic but those creatures deserve praise. I’ve never had an issue with harvesting off them. All gardens should be like that!”

“After all,” the cook defended. “They’re resistant to harmful insects, and they drive away vegetable thieves.”

“I don’t think they’re after the vegetables…” huffed Chilchuck.

“What’s more,” continued Senshi ignoring the picklock. “They even control moisture levels. If you plant seeds and seedlings in them, they’ll take care of the rest of the cultivation.”

“That said,” the dwarf finalized as he and the party exited the room. “You still have to tend to them carefully. That’s why I have my base here.”

-

As the party approached an arched stone wall, Senshi moved a slab to open it, whistling as soon as he entered the area new to the rest of the party.

Once the high-pitched noise filled the room, the floor and walls began to rumble. Three Golems soon stood at full height, eyes glowing and staring directly at Senshi.

“Here they come!” Hollered the picklock.

“What now?” Immediately asked Laois.

Marcille added, “Need our help?”

Alekben provided, “I can cast a small defense spell for you!”

“You’re still recovering, youngin,” called Senshi. “There’s no need!”

Springing into action, the cook ran headfirst at the three magically operated creatures. He scaled them with ease, plunging a shovel into each of their necks rendering them defeated as he removed their cores.

“Wow,” gaped Laois.

“He’s used to this,” observed the brunette half foot.

“Talk about precision,” whistled the bard.

The party leader thought for a second, before questioning. “How does he know where the Golem’s core is located?”

Both of the party’s magic users deflated at Laois’ query, eyes twitching as they put two and two together.

“Don’t tell me…” Hissed the mage.

The bard groaned, slumping his head down. “He definitely did, it’s the only way…”

As the two blanched at their cook, said man now stood in front of them, on top of a fallen Golem with two other patches beside him.

“It’s done,” Senshi announced, proudly digging his shovel into the dirt mound he was standing on. “Harvest the vegetables from the Golems.” He then ordered.

“I thought they were covered in green,” Hummed Chilchuck. “But are these all vegetables? From a Golem’s perspective aren’t they all like parasites?”

The bard crouched down and poked at the dirt beneath them, feeling around the plants out of pure curiosity. “Yeah,” He concurred with Chilchuck’s assumption. “The dirt here feels pretty hard, doesn’t it make it difficult for them to move?”

“On the contrary,” lectured Senshi. “As Alekben said, the plant roots make the soil firmer, but it provides for a stronger exterior that supports the Golems as they defend. So you could say, they’re in a symbiotic relationship.”

“Are you sure?” questioned the brunette.

Alekben stood back up, brushing the brown specks of his hands. “Is it like that with all plants?”

Senshi gave a confirming ‘mhm,’ before stating, “But still, please remove the weeds.”

-

The party was quick to start collecting the vegetables. Harvesting potatoes, cabbages, carrots, and onions… Needless to say, there was quite a surplus of glossy-looking veggies.

“What a rich harvest!” Exclaimed Marcille happily. “Looks like we can finally enjoy some normal vegetables!”

“Bring the weeds over here,” Senshi instructed from behind the mage on a Golem. “Stack them up in this spot and they will wither. Once they’ve withered, I’ll return them to the Golems’ bodies, and they’ll naturally decompose.”

Moving over to collect the contents of one of the pots to his side, Senshi informed the group. “And this is fertilizer I made elsewhere.” The cook flicked a ladle full of fertilizer forward, nearly hitting the two half foots standing atop the dirt he splashed it on. “I mix this into the Golems!”

As Alekben jumped back to avoid the flinging of fertilizer alongside Chilchuck, he let his head fall backward in exasperation. “This just confirms it now…” He grumbled under his breath, glancing at his fellow half foot to see if he caught on.

Chilchuck, however, had been too occupied by the fact Senshi almost splashed fecal matter on them.

“I knew it!” Shouted Marcille from the stone floor.

“You knew what?” Prodded Laois as he neared the group of four.

Marcille continued to interrogate the cook, “You knew where the Golems’ cores were because you’re the one who planted them!” She accused. “Unbelievable.”

Senshi and the two half foot men walked off the fertilized dirt field, approaching their blonde party members.

Alekben and Chilchuck lagged behind the cook, however, both appeared to be absolutely over the situation at hand.

“It’s illegal to activate a magical creature without permission.” Scolded the mage, arms crossed and gaze pointed.

“All I’m doing is digging up dirt and putting it back,” dismissed the dwarf, acting as if it was no big deal.

Chilchuck sighed, “So you’re bypassing the law…”

“A loophole?” Asked Alekben as he tugged on his auburn hair. “That’s your defense?!”

-

Legal atrocities aside, Senshi explained how to complete the harvesting process to the party.

He advised the group members on the importance of stirring the soil so the fertilizer was properly mixed in, and how planting the same crop repeatedly could lead to monocropping issues.

The group of five had finished after a long while, everyone having a growing fatigue nestled within their bodies.

Chilchuck and Alekben sat on the ground, leaning back into the wall behind them, while Laois stood rubbing his face with a cloth.

Marcille drank water from a nearby water spout, yawning tiredly, “I’m exhausted.” She patted her face before saying, “I feel like I used more stamina than when we’re fighting monsters.”

“Thanks to your help, it got done a lot quicker,” spoke Senshi gaining the attention of his fellow companions.

Shifting away from the spout, Marcille reached for her staff, dragging it along with her as she spoke. “Drinking water made me want to use the bathroom.” She then left the room to use the lavatory.

“Well then,” mused the dwarf. “While that elven girl is gone, I’ll gather up the scattered soil as much as I can.”

As Senshi moved to sweep the dirt together, Alekben approached him.

“You’re planting their cores again, aren’t you?” He assumed with a blank look.

The cook nodded slowly as if waiting to hear another lecture. However, the auburn-haired half foot smiled softly, shaking his head before grabbing another broom from the wall.

“Care for an extra hand?” He quipped.

Senshi beamed at the bard, raising a hand to ruffle his hair like he does every day. But this time, it felt more out of appreciation than anything else. “By all means, young man.”

The two men were quick to group the dirt, with Senshi moving to dig a hole in each mound as Alekben returned the brooms to their original positions with the other gardening tools.

“Taro, Jiro, Saburo…” Senshi listed off the names as he buried the cores back into the dirt.

“Will burying those make them revive quickly?” Inquired Laois as he watched the cook brush dirt over the holes he created.

“No,” said the cook patting the dirt. “It takes some time. They revive just when the seeds begin to take root, and the soil stays in place even when they move around.”

“He treats the Golems with so much care,” Examined Laois as Senshi splashed water onto the newly planted crops. “I’m impressed. So this is how you were living…Wasn’t it tough?”

“I do it because I like it,” answered Senshi firmly. “It’s not tough at all.”

“Aw,” Alekben murmured placing his hands together and setting them against the side of his face. “That’s so sweet.”

Chilchuck flicked his head to stare at the bard, something about the adoring expression on his features unsettled the picklock. ‘No, that’s just ridiculous.’ The brunette scolded himself, shaking his head quickly to get any notion of that feeling out of his head.

“That’s about it,” Senshi declared. “Now, let’s enjoy the fruits of our labor!”

-

The vegetables were now washed, sitting in a pail of clean water, waiting to be used in the party’s next dish.

“What a beautiful color,” said the now-returned Marcille as she held it up to observe the carrot in her hand.

“I’ve sure gotten better at peeling,” remarked Chilchuck as he stripped the potatoes of their skin with a knife.

Alekben dropped his shoulders in dismay, “Me, not so much…” He had crocodile tears in his eyes as he held out his mutilated vegetable for Chilchuck to look at. It still had skin in random parts, and deep cavernous dents in others.

The picklock gazed at the potato, a deep breath leaving his lips as he reached for the starchy veggie in the bard’s hand. “Give it here,” He said.

Alekben did as told, watching as Chilchuck teased. “Jeez, what would you do without us, huh? Struggling to peel a simple potato.”

“Hey! That’s mean,” whined the bard, face blushing bright red for a second in embarrassment and frustration, before a pondering look crossed his features. “But…I actually haven’t thought that far ahead.”

Looking up from the vegetable, the picklock asked. “What do you mean?”

Alekben grasped the corner of his tattered cloak, opting to focus on that so as to not get super emotional. “What I would do without you guys after this is all over…” He spoke quietly, face oddly melancholic. “I’ve been enjoying our time together so much that I’d forgotten we would all separate eventually… I would be lying if I said I wasn’t afraid of being on my own again.”

“Alekben…” Chilchuck mumbled, eyebrows furrowing at the bard’s dilemma.

The auburn-haired man was swift to change his expression, weakly smiling and waving both hands in front of him. “Ah, but don’t worry! That’s not important right now! Let’s just…” He grabbed another potato from the bucket. “...continue peeling these for Senshi!”

Chilchuck was still concerned about the bard’s sudden confession but decided to let it go as pressing the issue would only make it worse. “If you’re going to try to peel them again, at least watch how I do it so none of them get messed up,” the brunette advised.

“Right, hehe…” Alekben listened sweatdropping from being called out.

-

Laois stood beside Senshi, slicing a cabbage in half before turning to the cook. “Is this size really okay?” He asked gesturing

“It’s perfect,” reassured the cook.

The cabbage, carrot, onion, and potato were placed in Senshi’s pot along with some water as it was set on top of the stove Senshi had in the room his base was in.

Using flint and steel, the dwarf knelt down to light the bottom of the cooking surface.

“Are you making a fire?” asked Marcille. “I can do it for you.”

“I’ll strike a flint,” Senshi said. “So it’s fine.”

The mage turned around, still eyeing what the dwarf was doing. “You always make a fire like that, but using magic is faster. You were just singing the praises of how convenient Golems are.”

“When you make something easier,” educated the cook. “You may lose your edge in a skill…. Convenience and ease aren’t the same thing.”

He shifted to look at Marcille, finishing his point. “Your method is no different from buying vegetables from the store.”

-

With the fire now lit, the party members went to prepare the rest of the items needed to enjoy the meal.

Laois kept the fire going, while Chilchuck and Alekben dug through the party’s bags for wooden dishes, handing them to Marcille once they acquired the correct ones.

Senshi remained off in the corner, slicing some meat with his knife. “This is the last of the Basilisk bacon,” He noted.

Once he finished portioning out the bacon, Senshi added it to the pot, allowing it to simmer before tasting it for flavor.

When he was happy with the result, the cook announced, “It’s done.”

-

The group sat down on the stone floor of the room, ready to indulge in their veggie-filled meal.

Marcille excitedly took the first bite, raising an arm in elation as she exclaimed. “It’s so good!” As the rest of the party went to eat their meals, she continued to happily state, “It’s odd to think such tasty vegetables can grow underground!”

“I wonder if something inside the Golems is affecting the flavor,” murmured Laois.

The mage pointed her fork at the tallman, not all happy with his remark. “I don’t care if they walk or yell. They’re gardens!”

Alekben rolled his eyes at Marcille’s contradicting statement, lifting a forkful of potato into his mouth. ‘She was so upset about them being gardens earlier and now she’s suddenly on board with it… Just like with the fruit tart!’

“Speaking of which,” started Laois. “Golems are 99% soil, right? What’s the last 1%?”

Marcille’s face grew pale as she looked to the side. “It’s a secret.”

The tallman frowned. “Come on… Alekben?” The blonde man’s head flicked to the bard in anticipation.

Alekben choked on his food hearing the party leader, folding over and hacking as Chilchuck raised a hesitant hand to aid him. “N-No comment!” The auburn-haired male wheezed out before nodding a quick thanks to Chilchuck who had chosen to rub his back.

It wasn’t long before the party cleared the meal, emptying the pot in its entirety.

“Phew, that was delicious,” sighed Marcille content.

“I’m so full…” Huffed Chilchuck, placing a hand on his stomach. “Eating so much makes me want to fall asleep.”

The picklock began to slouch, his head pressing against Alekben’s back as he drifted off. Whether or not that was intentional was something the conscious half foot could not figure out.

The bard’s cheeks soon displayed a burning, scarlet hue. “H-Hey now!”

The picklock didn’t even stir, he was too out of it to know what he’d done.

Standing up, Senshi said, “You can rest. There’s a little something I want to take care of.”

Alekben shifted backward and slowly raised a finger to prod at Chilchuck’s face, poking it a couple of times into his cheek. “You need to wake up before Marcille scolds us for not cleaning!” He whisper-yelled into the sleepy male’s ear.

“Ugh, fine…” The picklock murmured, moving off the bard and slowly blinking.

“I’m going to the toilet,” Senshi made the group aware before exiting the space.

With dishes in her hand, Marcille spoke. “The toilets around here are so proper. They aren’t some random holes dug in the ground.”

In the dungeon, there were thankfully designated areas for adventurers to relieve themselves. Especially in the busier parts.

“They’re always kept clean,” stated the elven girl. “And sometimes, they’re even decorated with flowers. There must be some diligent people here.”

As soon as the words exited her mouth, Marcille froze in realization. “SENSHI!” She yelled.

The group ran over to where the dwarf was headed, as Senshi stood there with pails balanced on his shoulder with a beam.

“What?” The cook questioned.

“What are you doing?” Marcille continued to holler despite only being a few feet from the cook.

Senshi responded, “I’m collecting the feces and urine from the bathrooms, and carrying them to the chamber pots.”

“I’m impressed you can do that after a meal,” blanched Chilchuck.

“They serve as crucial fertilizers down here,” informed the cook.

The mage started to sweat nervously, “You mean they were also used for the vegetables…” She placed a hand over her mouth, looking nauseated.

“Waste like this is used on the surface as well for gardens, isn’t it?” Clarified Alekben as he co*cked a brow.

“He’s right, Marcille,” confirmed the picklock.

“I know that,” the elf replied, “But it’s still gross.”

Laois moved to stand ahead of the group of three, asking. “Senshi, why are you so determined to stick to your life in the dungeon?” He further pressed, “If you want a self-sufficient life, you could have it above ground as well. Don’t you think it’d be easier to cultivate a garden and hunt outside?”

“Then who else will maintain the toilets in the dungeon?” Debated Senshi, taking the group back. “Who will remove the zombies that fall inside the toilets? Who will help up the fallen Golems?”

The dwarf stated in a reminiscent tone, “There used to be over ten Golems, but now there are only three. Without Golems, monsters from the lower levels will climb up here. And the monsters driven out by those monsters will enter more places… And they will drive out other monsters in turn.” Senshi took a breath, before carrying on. “If that happens, this dungeon will be a very different place. You wouldn’t be able to stroll or hunt in here.”

Looking determined and unmoveable, the cook told. “The dungeon is just like a garden. You can’t abandon it and expect to reap its rewards. More than anything, eating the things that grow here and giving back to the dungeon… Living like this, I finally feel like I’ve truly entered this place.”

“...And that makes me happy,” Senshi completed.

A sniffle could be heard across the hall, making the party turn to the small bard.

“Are you crying?” asked Chilchuck, eyebrows raised incredulously.

“Senshi…” Alekben babbled as he wiped his eyes. “That was beautiful. You could be a better bard than me with that speech…”

Brushing off the half foot’s antics, Laois curled a finger over his chin in thought. “But if that’s the case, is it okay for you to leave this place on our behalf?”

“Ah, I forgot about that,” said the bard, jumping out of his crybaby stupor to mimic the look on the party leader’s face.

“That was quick…” The picklock grumbled, rolling his eyes.

“If this place falls into chaos…” Laois went on before Senshi cut in.

“Don’t worry about it,” the cook dismissed. “Even if I’m away for a month or two, the Golems will take care of things. Besides, I wouldn’t rest easy at night if you all died from malnutrition.”

The dwarf spun around, walking to finish taking care of the excrement. “Give me a minute. I’ll get ready in a hurry.”

As Senshi slowly strolled along the dark path, the rest of the party watched in astonishment.

“Senshi is so amazing,” commented Laois.

-

Now ready to continue their venture deeper within the dungeon, the party stood readily in the corridor…packing plenty of vegetables. So much so, that they were forced to carry some of them in some rather unconventional ways. Marcille holding a cabbage inside the opening of her staff being one of the many highlights.

“What are you going to do with these vegetables,” inquired the elf with a dull expression.

“I usually use them for bartering,” Senshi answered, leading the group down the hallway. “Sometimes I set up an unmanned booth and sell them.”

“An unmanned booth?” Hummed Laois.

“I used to collect the money in a treasure box,” provided the dwarf. “But I stopped because they kept getting stolen.”

Marcille and Chilchuck appeared as if they recalled something, a guilty expression flooding their features seconds afterward. ‘So that’s why that chest always had money in it…’ They thought.

Alekben lifted a finger, and pointed it at them, to jokingly accuse the two. “Hm? Why do you two look like you did something bad?”

“Hush!” The elf seethed, bonking the bard over the head with her cabbage-stuffed staff.

“Ow! I was just kidding, jeez!” He cried, holding his carrot-filled hands over his cranium.

“So,” wondered Laois. “Do you do your bartering around here?”

Senshi said, “I have customers on a lower floor, but even if we go now, they probably won’t have time for use.” The dwarf supplied, “I didn’t want to leave the garden lying idle, so I harvested the crops. But you can throw them away if you don’t need them.”

“You can’t do that!” Shouted Marcille as she leaped forward to Senshi. “You shouldn’t waste food!”

Raising a plentiful cabbage, she convinced. “You worked so hard to cultivate them, and they’re so glossy and delicious!”

“Someone’s fond of their veggies,” chuckled Alekben, before pointing out. “But won’t they spoil if we hold onto them for too long?”

“In that case,” suggested Chilchuck. “We really should trade them around here.”

‘Around here, huh?’ The group thought, dim looks in their eyes.

-

Even in the dungeon, there were many areas where merchants lingered.

The party, having walked a little while longer down the dungeon hall, arrived at a steel door.

Knocking on the entrance, a slot slid open from behind the small bars at the top. A pair of sly eyes flicking around, “Enter,” called the voice from behind the door.

Inside the room, there was a tavern-like setting. Filled to the brim with adventurers and those who can no longer go above ground, it bustled with the noise of chatter and trade.

A wheezy laugh erupted, and its owner approached the Touden Party with his hands rubbing together…almost maniacally. “Welcome, my dear guests,” greeted the man. “Are you looking for a place to stay or something to eat?”

“We want to trade,” answered Laois.

“Well, well…” snickered the hunched-over man, continuing to rub his palms together. “So, what do you have?”

Alekben narrowed his eyes, ‘Isn’t it kinda obvious?’ He mentally questioned the merchant’s credibility.

“Vegetables,” the party stated firmly, face unwavering.

Deadpanning at the party, the sly man ushered them back from once they came. “Go away, go away!” He yelled.

“Wait, at least listen to–!” Laois tried to defend.

The merchant interjected, “If you want to trade bring coins! Do you understand? Coins!” He pressed on, bringing his index finger and thumb to make a circle. “The round, shiny, glittery things!”

“It’s not like we want to trade them for gems,” said the party leader. “You have a kitchen here, don’t you? You need ingredients…”

Marcille lifted the cabbage she held so dearly earlier, “These are round and shiny too.” She appeased.

Scrunching his nose, repulsed by the impish man’s behavior, Alekben slowly reached toward Chilchuck’s sack of potatoes. 'Maybe he’ll take them with a little force…’ He mused to himself.

“Don't,” scolded the picklock in a whisper, not even looking at his fellow half foot, as he shifted to the side so the bag was away from the bard.

Alekben dropped his arm, “Rude…” He grumbled.

Senshi lifted a carrot from his pouch to offer the merchant. “Show this carrot to your cook. I’m sure they’ll want to use it,” He assured.

“Who would eat something so disgusting?!” Shouted the man, smacking the vegetable out of the dwarf’s hand onto the floor.

“How awful!” exclaimed the mag, dropping down to reach for the discarded crop. “You’ll incur divine punishment if you waste food!”

The merchant snarled, lifting an accusing finger and calling upon those within the tavern-like setting. “Throw them out now!” He screamed.

A group of men surrounded the party, tugging the members to the doorway to force them out.

Alekben felt a hand latch onto his worn navy cloak, pulling it upward and with it, him. He gripped the neckline with his two hands, dropping the carrots he held before. “Let me go!” The bard spoke through his struggle.

However, it wouldn’t be too long until the fist that held him up went slack, dropping the bard back onto his feet.

Alekben’s relief only lasted for a second as the scent of harsh iron filled the room, screams trailing not too far behind it. Shakily turning back, he was met with his offender’s body… impaled by a spear.

“Wh-What?” He gaped, irises quaking as the adventurer’s body flopped to the floor, revealing a tall figure standing behind it.

“Orcs!” Shrieked the patrons, shuffling away from their seats as the Touden Party stood at the beginning of the chaos.

“Kill the ones with weapons first!” Commanded the Orc in front of the bard, authority spilling from his words. “Don’t leave even one alive!”

The room became bathed in red with adventurers, criminals, and merchants alike being slaughtered on sight as more and more Orcs entered the space.

“Why are Orcs here?” Questioned Laois, standing beside Senshi and Marcille, while Chilchuck and Alekben sat underneath a table and cowered in front of the lead Orc respectively. “I thought they were on much lower floors.”

“Anyway, we have to run–” Marcille stated before the Orc in front of Alekben moved to stand by her.

The tall form reached down as the mage shrunk back as much as she could.

“Marcille!” called Laois, reaching for his blade.

Senshi was quick to throw his arm out, halting the tallman from moving any further. “Wait.”

As the elven girl waited for an impact of sorts, she hesitantly opened her eyes when one did not arrive. Instead, the Orc reached beside her, lifting the cabbage she once held in her hands.

Staring down at the vegetable, the Orc prodded. “What are you doing here, Senshi?” He lightly tossed it to the dwarf.

Catching the green, leafy sphere, the cook responded. “That’s what I want to ask as well, Zon.”

As the rest of the party grouped around the cook, the Orc prompted. “Are these folks your acquaintances?”

“That’s right,” confirmed Senshi.

Zon shook his head, almost disappointed. “To think you would associate with humans, and an elf.”

Marcille, clutching her staff tightly, spoke to the cook. “By customers, did you mean…” She referenced Senshi’s statement about customers on lower floors from earlier.

Casually gesturing a hand to lead Orc before them, Senshi affirmed. “I meant them.”

The mage groaned obnoxiously, leaning her full weight onto her staff in displeasure.

“I figured he meant folks like them, but Orcs, huh?” said Chilchuck, sweatdropping. “I thought they’d be goblins at least.

“I thought he meant Kobolds…” Laois provided.

Alekben hummed in agreeance with the two, stepping behind Chilchuck slightly to avoid the Orc’s stare. “I’m just glad they didn’t attack us…”

Zon’s expression grew grim as he announced, “The Red Dragon showed up.”

Laois drew in a short breath, listening intently alongside his group members as the Orc continued. “The Red Dragon rarely appeared in the past, but lately, it’s been showing up near our settlement.” He looked to the side in thought. “There are some who can’t fight in our settlement, so we came to this floor for temporary refuge.”

“The Red Dragon,” uttered Marcille. “Could it be?”

“It’s highly likely,” concurred Alekben.

Laois braced himself before asking Zon, “The Dragon, where did you see it?”

“Are you asking me to tell you where our settlement is?” Growled the Orc defensively. “I refuse.”

As Senshi dropped down to gather the remaining crops off the floor, one of the Orcs slaughtering those within the room approached the lead one. “Boss, we dealt with everyone inside.”

“Good,” the Boss Orc commended. “Carry out everything that might be useful.”

-

Rummaging through the kitchen, an Orc reached for a jar of white liquid. “What on earth?” Opening it, he took a whiff, scrunching back at the smell. “Rotten milk?”

His comrade next to him advised, “Throw it away.”

Senshi leaned forward gaze burning into the two Orcs in the kitchen, while the rest of the party sat next to him, backs pressed against the crates along the wall and holding onto their harvest.

“Those are crops you cultivated, right?” asked the lead Zon. “As you can see, we’re in need right now. I’d like you to share them with me.”

“For barter?” responded Senshi. “In that case these are…”

“No.” Denied the Orc, lifting his bloodied spear. “As I said, we can’t afford that right now. It pains me to ask this of a friend, but I want you to give us all the stuff you have there.”

The Touden Group was soon surrounded by Orcs, brandishing sharp blades and jutting them toward the party members.

Upon having a weapon aimed toward him, Alekben’s light brown orbs wavered. All he could do was tuck his frame closer to his companions, hands lightly tugging on the fabric of Chilchuck’s sleeve in an attempt to stay grounded.

The picklock gave no reaction, however, as he too would shuffle backward when a spear was soon pointed in his direction.

“S-Senshi…” Marcille and Laois eyed the cook as he made his decision.

Dropping his head, Senshi conceded. “Alright.”

“Good.” Said Zon.

“But in exchange, I have a favor to ask you.” the dwarf offered as he raised his head to look the Orc dead in the eye. “Tonight, let us stay at your place.”

“Are you sure that’s a good idea?” Hissed Alekben, turning to give the dwarf a frightful expression, while the rest of the group blurted out their confusion.

Ignoring their apprehension, Senshi furthered. “If you will grant us that, we will gladly offer our lives or our vegetables.”

‘What does he mean our lives?!’ Screamed the bard mentally, sweating in a panic.

“What?” Spoke the Orc, equally as perplexed.

“And you!” Senshi garnered the attention of the Orcs in the kitchen, pointing a finger at the jar they chose to toss earlier. “That isn’t rotten, it’s fermented! Be sure to take it with you!”

-

The party was back to traversing the dark corridors of the dungeon, being led and monitored on all sides by the Orcs who were taking the group to their settlement.

“Why did you say that?” Marcille inquired about Senshi’s proposal in a hushed tone. “They took our weapons.”

Alekben bit at his nails anxiously, unhappy with the empty feeling of his satchel. “I still can’t believe they confiscated my lyre…”

“Alekben, stop that,” Marcille chided, pulling the bard’s fingers away from his mouth. “You’ll make yourself bleed at this rate.”

The auburn-haired half foot didn’t reply, despite the itch to remind his companion he was not a child. He released a deep breath from his nose, irises downcast in frustration as he allowed Marcille to leave her hold on his wrist. There was no use in arguing with her. If anything, any arguments could spur another onslaught from the Orcs.

“If we learn the location of their settlement, we may not see the light of day again,” added Chilchuck under his breath.

Laois leaned down by Senshi’s ear, following the train of thought of his party as he questioned. “You do have a plan, right?”

“The jar I told an Orc to take earlier is leaven made of yeast,” Senshi explained. “And the Orcs have the flour that was in the kitchen. In other words…”

“In other words?” ushered Laois for the dwarf to continue.

The cook raised his arms as if he were presenting one of the most precious things on earth. “I can make bread!”

The group was quick to express their disapproval, as Chilchuck and Alekben shook Senshi vigorously.

“Moron!” yelled Marcille repeatedly, squeezing the cabbage in her hands.

“So you didn’t have a plan?” gaped Laois in disbelief.

“You just wanted to make bread?” Asked Chilchuck exasperatedly.

“You idiot!” hollered the bard, face red with anger, and fists pulling on Senshi’s armband with equal vigor. “You let them walk around with our weapons, and my lyre, just because you wanted to make some stupid bread! The catalyst of my livelihood is at their mercy, all for a baked good?! Do you know how hard it’ll be for me to fix that if it’s damaged?!”

“Hey, there!” Scolded the Boss Orc. “Be quiet!”

-

Finally, the group arrived at the Orc settlement, but not without encountering a few issues.

Upon entering the establishment, the female Orcs gazed at Marcille, eyeing her up and down and spewing defamatory remarks.

“It’s an elf!” One spoke, not as quietly as she must have thought it to be.

The other raised a hand to cover her mouth, “What a barbaric face.”

Alekben looked up to Marcille as they were directed to a cage by the lead Orc. Gently patting her arm, “Ignore them,” He encouraged, following the members ahead of him into the cage.

While it was being described as a cage, Alekben thought rubbing his chin ‘This kinda seems more like a ‘pen’ of some sort,’ as he eyed the low height of the enclosure’s siding. As the bard soon took note of the few animals that roamed within the cage, he folded his arms together. ‘Yep…it’s a pen for sure.’

Regardless of the insinuation that the party was viewed as lowly animals, the bard would not complain anymore. It was one thing to be held at spear-point by Orcs in a small space, but another to be allowed into one of their settlements. Though his hands itched for his lyre, Alekben recognized he would be able to calm himself by recalling Orc Culture and Traditions. While not always great for problems in the dungeon, knowledge was still power. The bard would keep this in mind while interacting with the folk in the space.

“We better not end up becoming their meal for today,” complained Chilchuck, crouching in front of a chicken that had been inhabiting the fenced area.

Senshi approached the edge of the enclosure, gripping the fence tightly as he demanded. “Where did you put the leaven?! If you don’t know how to use it, you’re sitting on a gold mine!” The cook continued to passionately shout. “Give it to me! I’ll make you bread!” He shook the latticed twine, rattling it back and forth. “BREAD! BREAD! BREAD! BREAD! BREAD—!”

The noise Senshi made was enough for the Orcs to toss the ingredients he needed to make the baked good, much to Alekben’s chagrin. The bard was still quite bitter over not having his instrument.

“Mix together strong wheat flour, salt, sugar, leaven, and water,” the cook directed, making his party sit around him to help with the process. “Then knead it until it comes together.”

The auburn-haired male and elven girl began doing as Senshi ordered, sticking their hands into the vessels full of dough.

“Are you playing with mud?” Asked a small voice behind them.

As the two magic users shifted to see the owner of the voice, they were met with a small Orc child.

“Huh?” Marcille mumbled while Alekben beamed at the child’s adorableness.

“Well, aren’t you cute?” The bard chimed. “What’s your name?”

“I’m Bahay!” Grinned the boy.

“Well, it’s nice to meet you, Bahay! We’re just making some bread for your dad here.”

While the half foot never mentioned it before, he had quite a soft spot for children. They always listened to stories with fascination, regardless of who they came from or where. Their minds were sponges. If Alekben was given the opportunity, he would not hesitate to provide them with a tale or two, in hopes of them learning at least something before they went on their way.

The boy stood there innocently, a thumb resting in his mouth as he stared at the two.

Zon appeared behind the boy, saying “How about a history lesson?” The taller form lifted the young Orc to rest on his hip.

“This is a story about a time when we were still living above ground instead of underground,” The lead Orc began. “People like that elf and humans there killed many of our people and took our lands.”

Chilchuck and Laois turned their bodies away from the Orcs, while Marcille muttered under her breath. “Orcs killed a lot of other races, too.”

“What?” seethed the Orc.

“Marcille,” warned the bard sternly. “A fight about a culture’s history is not an argument you want to start.”

Senshi quickly cut in to help Alekben divert the situation, “Now,” he instructed. “You add olive oil.”

Peering at Marcille watchful of what she would refute with next, the Orc pressed on. “Were were forced to leave the surface and after wandering for a while, we found our place underground and we had peace for a bit. Until they found us again.”

Senshi furthered his instructional demonstration. “Hold the edge of the dough and knead it by punching it down.”

The party did so as Zon wove his tale. “They poured oil into the underground and set fire to it.”

“That’s because you Orcs kept raiding the villages of other races over and over!” The mage contended, throwing her dough down harshly.

“That was our only way to survive!” Refuted the Boss Orc.

“That was your way of life even before you moved underground,” Marcille argued, standing to face Zon. “That’s why you were run out!”

“Stop it Marcille, that’s enough!” Chilchuck approached the group, having noticed Alekben’s irritation rising apace with the elf and Orc’s growing tempers.

The auburn-haired man was a firm believer in how Historic Tales shouldn’t be something to conflict over. The stories would always vary depending on a person’s race, culture, or place of origin. Despite this, with the current issue at hand, it would be highly unlikely for Alekben to convey this notion.

“Chilchuck, I wouldn’t get involved–!” The bard tried to caution the picklock before he was spoken over.

“Shut up, half foots!” The Boss Orc commanded, pointing a large finger at the two smaller males.

“Knead the dough with more strength, will you?!” Ordered Senshi, jutting his finger similarly to Zon.

Chilchuck was quick to apologize, “Sorry.”

The bard merely shook his head at Senshi before flicking his eyes to the Orc and Marcille. “History will never be unwritten, but it is known to repeat. This argument you both are having won’t get anywhere it hasn’t gotten before.”

The Boss Orc stepped into the enclosure, “Didn’t I tell you to shut up?” He huffed, snatching the unattended bowl of dough out of Alekben’s hands stating. “Give it to me! I’ll do it!”

Now in a dough-kneading face-off, the mage and Orc continued to butt heads, ignoring their surroundings as Bahay watched them go back and forth.

Seeing the child that stood between the two, Alekben crouched down and waved him over. “Come here, little one. Let’s let your dad sort this out on his own, huh?”

The child innocently made his way to Alekben’s arms, not hesitating to take a seat in his lap as the bard moved into a criss-cross position.

Bringing a hand to pat Bahay’s head, the auburn-haired half foot spoke. “It’s important to listen to your dad’s stories,” He noted, as the young Orc lifted his head backward to stare at the male. “But that doesn’t mean you can’t learn about other people’s tales. Try to be accepting of those who come your way,” Alekben ruffled the boy’s locks with a warm smile, before finishing. “You’ll learn a lot.”

The child’s eyes glimmered in awe, his mind soaking in Alekben’s words as he nodded excitedly.

Alekben chuckled, “You’re a good kid.”

-

The dough was now in its first fermentation, prompting Marcille and the Orc Boss to take a break from their feud.

The Orc let out a deep breath as he moved toward his child and Alekben.

“Here,” said Alekben holding Bahay’s hand to bring him to his father. “I figured you wouldn’t want him to see you two yelling at each other.”

Zon gave a gruff harumph, taking his son and placing him on his leg.

“I know you don’t want to hear this from me but,” started Alekben, calmly sitting beside the Orcs. “I think it was very important for you to tell your son that story.”

“Huh?”

“While it could have done with less yelling, pride is a big part of your culture… so I understand where you are coming from.” Alekben glanced down at his knees and placed his arms around them. “However, while victory may be paramount to you, I urge you to show your son the importance of accepting others. His mind is still impressionable, and it’s our job to guide said minds to prevent history from repeating. Don’t let this period of learning go to waste.”

The Orc did not reply to the bard, simply staring ahead and watching the rest of the Touden Party make bread.

Alekben could only hope he got the wheels turning in the Orc Boss’ brain.

-

“When the dough doubles in size, divide it evenly and shape it neatly,” advised Senshi.

“You’ve been silent this whole time, tallman,” Zon pointed out from his place next to the bard along the fence line. “But what are you thinking?”

Zon recounted. “They say anyone who defeats the lunatic magician who built this place, will gain this whole castle. So why are you trying to go to the depths of the dungeon?”

Laois appeared shocked by the question.

The Orc inquired again, “When you gain the kingdom, what will you do?”

The party leader stared at the dough in his hand, “I’ve heard that story, but I’ve never thought of that,” He admitted.

“What a joke,” Zon uttered. “All adventurers are like you. You make a daily wage and you test your skills,” He provided. “You’re all just greedy fools. I shudder at the thought of what might happen if someone like you ends up getting this castle. That’s why we kill anyone from the surface we can find.”

Alekben groaned, ‘Nothing I said earlier mattered…’ He groveled to himself as Marcille raised an accusatory hand at Zon.

“That’s a poor excuse!” She shouted. “Then you should compete for the throne as well. Or is plundering the only thing Orcs can do?”

“At least you have spunk, I like that,” commented Zon before he dove right into another conflict with the elf. “I’ll throw you right into the fire alive!”

“See?” Hollered Marcille back. “You turn to violence so quickly!”

“Second fermentation!” cheered Senshi while the two caught their breath.

Bahay, plopped in Alekben’s lap once again, eyed the dough in wonder and reached to touch its fluffy exterior.

“Ah, it’s not ready yet!” Informed the bard, tugging the boy’s hand back to stop him.

-

After the dough finished its second fermentation, Senshi placed it in a pan over the fire to cook it slowly on every side.

Once that was over, the bread was done!

“It smells good!” Complimented Marcille.

Senshi, eager to cut into the loaf, stated. “Let’s have a taste.”

Unfortunately, Zon did not agree with the party’s endeavors. “Stop,” he said with crossed arms. “That bread is ours. We won’t give it to you.”

“What?” cried the mage.

“Well, that’s not fair…” whined Alekben.

“I let you make bread because you wanted to,” Zon elaborated. “But what we do with it is up to us.”

As the elf and Orc clenched their teeth at each other in frustration, Zon felt a tug at his leg.

“Dad,” Bahay grabbed his attention. “These people made it together, but they don’t get to eat it?”

‘He’s so sweet!’ The bard gushed mentally, tears running comically down his face as he did so.

Marcille took this as an opportunity to speak with the boy, squatting down to Bahay’s height she stated. “That’s because bread alone won’t make a meal.” With a smile, she went on. “You need a main dish, meat, and vegetables for a well-balanced meal. Your father just wanted us to wait until the other dishes were ready.”

“Hey, what are you saying?!” Exclaimed Zon in confusion.

“Exactly,” cut in Senshi. “He promised to provide lodging for a night in exchange for our vegetables,” the cook cheekily turned his head away from the Orc. “And your father is someone who can’t break promises.”

Gritting his teeth, the Boss Orc eventually accepted in defeat and called out to those within the settlement. “Hey! Make them some random food!”

-

It wasn’t long before a plentiful spread was set out in front of the party, with Zon and Bahay joining the group for their meal.

“Eat!” Demanded Zon while the group eyed their meal skeptically.

“Okay,” Chilchuck quickly appeased from his seat in between Laois and Alekben.

The tallman answered swiftly as well, letting out a small “Thank you.”

Marcille pulled a portion together, biting into it and relishing in the flavor. “I-It’s good!” She paused, sticking her tongue out for a split second. “So spicy! It’s spicy and delicious! It’s made with the same ingredients as Senshi’s stew cabbage but it’s a completely different dish.”

Looking to Zon, the elf noted. “I said plundering was the only thing you could do, but Orcs can be pretty decent, too.”

Zon gazed at her unamused. “Shut up,” he said bluntly.

Alekben was about to dig into his food when he felt a poke on his shoulder, glancing to the side he saw Bahay holding a piece of bread with a mixture of cabbage and stew placed into it.

“Here you go!” offered the boy, ushering for Alekben to take the food.

“Aw, thank you, Bahay,” the auburn-haired male looked at the child with appreciation, carefully taking the food from the boy. “But you’ll have to let me make you one too, okay?” He reasoned.

“Okay!” Bahay giggled.

The picklock observed his fellow half foot and the Orc child interact, eyes softening at their dynamic. It made him wonder how well Alekben got along with other children, did he always act so… maternal? Paternal? Parent-like? And how would the bard get along with his daughters if they were to ever meet? Would they get along with him too?

Chilchuck ran a hand over his face with a huff, ridding his mind of the thoughts to the best of his ability. ‘Idiot, why are you even thinking of this? It’s unethical.’ He berated himself. ‘He’s just another party member.’

“Hey, Chilchuck!” Alekben waved a hand in front of the picklock to gain his focus, and placing a portion of the meal into the brunette’s palm once he had. “Here! Bahay was sweet enough to make you a helping!”

“Oh,” Chilchuck mumbled in surprise, moving his head to see the young Orc. “Thank you.”

Alekben shifted to Bahay once more, clapping their hands together gently. “Good job!” He cheered earning more laughs from the child.

Chilchuck sighed fondly, taking a bite of the food he was given. He had a feeling this man would be the death of him someday, whether Alekben realized it or not.

-

Partway through the meal, Laois gathered his courage to talk to Zon.

“Um…” he began garnering the Orc Boss’ attention. “You asked me why I was trying to reach the depths of the dungeon…” The party leader went on to explain. “You see, my sister was eaten by the Red Dragon. That’s why I’m going after the Dragon.”

Laois proceeded, “If you tell us where it is, we’ll defeat the Red Dragon. We won’t involved your settlement at all. I promise.”

Scanning the determined look in Laois’ eyes for what felt like forever, Zon gave in to the adventurer’s demands, calling over his shoulder. “Hey, bring me a map.”

The party let out a breath of relief.

Now with a map, Zon directed the party on the Red Dragon’s location.

Prodding the map with his finger, the Orc stated. “It’s two floors under this one. Last time I saw it, it was around the west residential area.”

“Thank you,” said Laois with full gratitude as Zon handed him the map. “From now on, I’ll think about the possibility of gaining this dungeon as I explore it.”

Zon let out a laugh. “It’s tough to imagine a guy who gets captured by an Orc and bakes bread will become a king.” Raising a pitcher, most likely filled with alcohol, the Orc finished. “But, good luck.”

The meal continued with a happy aura emitting throughout the whole settlement. What could have ended in disaster actually went quite well, and the party gained some new information while they were at it.

-

“Bye, Bahay!” waved Alekben, as he stood next to his group who were doing the same. “Don’t forget what we talked about!”

“I won’t!” Replied the boy, lifting one of Senshi’s cabbages above his head.

‘Even though we are all different people, who come from different backgrounds, races, places… we all experience hunger just the same.’ The bard mused to himself as he turned to leave with the party. ‘Who would have thought all we had to do was break some bread.’

Notes:

Thank you for reading! I hope you enjoyed!

Chapter 5: Episode 5: Snacks/Sorbet

Summary:

Alekben Minz was a half foot bard who joined the Touden Party free of charge with one hope in mind, to tell their stories. What will become of Alekben’s woven tale as the Touden Party ventures further and further into the dungeon? What good is a bard in a dungeon like this anyway? Can Alekben hold his own or will he too become victim to the depths?

Notes:

Hello! This writing is based purely off the Anime Adaptation of Dungeon Meshi, apologies if any details are left out!

All of Alekben’s spells are written based off 3e Pathfinder!

It has been a while since I have written and this is the first time I will be using the AO3 platform to be posting said work!

Go easy on me, and I hope you enjoy!

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

A Devourer’s Eulogy

Episode Five: Snacks/Sorbet

Note: Alekben uses 3rd Edition Pathfinder Spells and Cantrips which are not canonical to Dungeon Meshi. Translations for said spells may not be accurate as English to Latin translations are hard to come by.

The Touden Party entered yet area of the dungeon’s third floor, lanterns in hand as they continued to traverse the area.

Alekben and Chilchuck walked in front of the group, deep into a conversation they were having.

“I’m just saying,” The bard contested, waving his hands around expressively. “Is water wet?” He had felt more energetic since the meal with the Orcs, pushing him to banter with his teammates.

The picklock gripped his pack straps and sighed deeply. “For the millionth time, yes.”

“But what makes you say so?” Alekben prodded.

“I don’t know!” Said Chilchuck, staring at the auburn-haired male perturbed. “It just is.”

Bringing his palms together and directing his fingertips to point at the brunette, Alekben reasoned. “Not good enough, what if it just ‘makes’ things wet?”

“Wouldn’t that mean water is wet then?” Chilchuck argued.

“Well, no because–” The bard halted the debate as they turned the corner, catching a glimpse of the hallway ahead of the group. Alekben spoke a soft “Oh… that’s unfortunate,” before moving forward to assess the obstacle.

The corridor before them occupied the corpses of another band of adventurers, surrounded by what appeared to be glittering coins and gems.

Stepping closer to their bodies, Chilchuck observed, “Looks like a party got wiped out here.”

“Oh dear. Seems like they were on their way back to town.” Marcille added in pity, as the rest of the party moved to get a gander at the situation. “The poor things.”

Upon examining their limp forms, Laois noted. “I don’t see any visible injuries… Maybe they were attacked by a type of ghost?”

Despite the gravity of their current circ*mstances, the party did not waste a second to spew out more theories.

As Senshi aided in dragging the carcasses to the side of the walkway, he suggested. “Maybe they starved.”

“No,” refuted Chilchuck, staring at the floor. “I think they had a quarrel over money.”

“That would explain all these coins,” concurred the bard, as he crouched beside his fellow half foot.

With the bodies now sitting against the wall, the party’s mage raised her staff in preparation. “The corpse retriever will probably find them soon, but I’ll pray for them so they don’t become zombies.” Dropping her head solemnly, Marcille then uttered. “I can’t do it the way Falin does, though.”

-

As Marcille finished her prayers, the still squatting half foots kept hovering over the currency on the ground.

Flicking his gaze around the fallen group’s loot, Alekben commented “They sure did leave a lot behind.”

“Yeah, what should we do with their scattered stuff?” Prompted the picklock.

“Let’s gather them in one spot,” said Laois, standing behind the shorter men.

Humming, Chilchuck speculated. “I bet they’ll end up in the corpse retriever’s pockets, though.”

Tilting his head while rubbing his chin in thought, Alekben offered. “I could place a warding spell on them so they don’t get stolen…” Shifting his weight downward, the bard leaned in to prod at one of the golden circles.

However, before the tips of his fingers could so much as grace the coin, Laois’s sword began quaking by its hilt. The tallman let out a loud gasp soon after.

The bard and picklock flinched backward, Alekben retracting his hand.

“Huh?” asked Chilchuck. “What was that for?”

“Yeah, Laois,” The auburn-haired male sweatdropped. “Did a monster crawl up your armor or something?”

“I-It’s nothing,” the party leader dismissed, as his hand clutched tightly at his blade. The sword jutted about, moving Laois’ arm with it in the process. Unbeknownst to the rest of his party, the antennae that lived within the blade wrapped along the tallman’s wrist.

‘Is no one going to say anything about this?’ Alekben wondered exasperatedly as he, Chilchuck, and Senshi stayed in their spots like sitting ducks.

With the nagging feeling still in his mind, the bard glanced at Chilchuck, hissing a quiet “Pst!”

The brunette flicked his head over to his companion, raising a brow questioningly.

Alekben gestured at Laois with his head, hoping Chilchuck understood what he meant by the movement.

The picklock merely shrugged at his fellow half foot, seeming to be unaware of what was going on, but not surprised with Laois’ behavior in the slightest.

The bard sighed, disappointed with the lack of answer, still turning his attention back at their party leader nonetheless. The blonde male had now drawn his sword, aiming in the direction of the two half foots.

“Just what do you think you’re—!” Alekben began before the sound of loud buzzing abused his eardrums.

Insect-like wings erupted from the currency scattered on the tile, flying around the Touden Party in a swarm.

Alekben clapped his hands over his ears, folding in on himself to protect his face as he pressed his skull into his knees. The last thing he wanted was for one of these coins to fly into his mouth.

Senshi blocked the creatures with his large pan, while Chilchuck ran from the center of the gold horde, gripping his head in a similar fashion to the bard.

Laois parried the zooming menaces with his sword, shifting it back and forth as he yelled to Marcille who, until now, was still praying over the corpses. “Marcille! Get away from the bodies!”

The mage drew out of her chants confused, “Huh?” She mumbled in response to Laois’ order. Out of curiosity, she continued to peer at the dead adventurers in front of her.

As her gaze fell on the deceased dwarf, she noticed the necklace around the body’s neck starting to move on its own. The pearly creature stretched toward the elf, its form revealing to have sharp spindly legs and a scarlet red mouth adorning pincers.

Without hesitation, Marcille cast a stun spell, enveloping the entire area and her teammates in an explosion of bright white.

-

Once the spell was released, Marcille panted from exertion, grasping her staff with a vice grip.

Meanwhile, the rest of the Touden Party lay sprawled out along the wall, sitting atop the dead bodies who remained stagnant and neatly aligned.

The small, shiny monsters had returned to their position of being strewn out across the floor. Thankfully, no longer moving.

Coming back to reality, the afflicted party members groaned.

“A stunning spell, huh?” Inquired Laois rhetorically, as he held his forehead, trying to regain his vision.

Alekben followed suit, bringing his fists upward to rub at his eyes. “You’ve gotta give a warning before you do that, Marcille.”

Chilchuck opted to stand alongside Senshi, the two walking around aimlessly with their arms sticking out to get a baring of their surroundings.

“Thank goodness it wasn’t an explosion,” Said Chilchuck as he bumped into the cook. “Ow!”

The mage cried in disgust, lifting her staff and stomping. “Ugh!” She screamed. “They’re all treasure bugs! Gross!”

Soon enough, the group managed to release themselves from their dazed stupor. Thankfully no one had received any permanent eye damage from Marcille’s spell, though Alekben’s scleras were bloodshot. Probably due to all the rubbing.

“Why do they still sting?” The auburn-haired half foot whined, running the pads of his fingers over his eyes once more. “Marcille, what’d you do to me?”

“You need to stop rubbing your eyes, moron.” scolded the mage, slapping the bard’s hands away from his face. “Look, your skin is all irritated.”

“I can’t ‘look,’ my eyes burn too much,” Alekben stated blatantly, raising an index finger like he was making a point.

“And who’s fault is that?” retorted Marcille, smacking him upside the head, earning another complaint from the half foot.

Laois, now fully functioning, bent down to pick up an incapacitated coin. “I see,” He spoke, analyzing the features of the creature. “So they were all wiped out by Treasure Bugs. I haven’t seen them around lately, so I didn’t realize.”

“What?” asked Chilchuck, moving to stand next to the two quarreling magic users. “You did realize, though…”

The bard and mage shifted to stare at Laois.

“Yeah,” concurred Alekben, folding his arms. “One minute you tell us to gather the things, the next you’re pointing a sword at them.”

Marcille nodded in agreeance with the half foot men, questioning “How did you know?”

“Um…” the party leader stared into space, thinking of what to say. “I thought… it moved.”

“You don’t sound very sure of that,” Alekben criticized.

Laois simply ignored his skeptical companion, mumbling to himself as he stepped away, tapping the hilt of his blade every couple of seconds.

Chilchuck blanched, “He’s becoming less and less human.”

Deep into their reservations about Laois’ statement, the group was pulled from their concentration when a clinking noise could be heard.

Looking behind them, they were met with Senshi. The dwarf sat on the ground, a pouch and a pan placed in front of him.

“Here,” the cook voiced to himself as he separated the Treasure Bugs out of the fallen party’s loot.

“NO!” Yelled Marcille, palms bracing her cheeks as her complexion turned blue with dread.

“He’s really sorting them out…” muttered the picklock with a blank expression.

The bard said nothing, deciding to walk over and watch the dwarf’s process alongside Laois who leaned over Senshi’s shoulder.

“These are edible,” informed Senshi pointing to the pan. “And these aren’t,” He indicated, calling attention to the pouch.

“Do these taste good, though?” Wondered Laois, lifting the pan to observe it closely.

Alekben gripped a gem in the vessel with his index finger and thumb, holding it by one of his pupils while he squinted. “I will admit, I do have my worries…” He went on to explain, “I studied a group of creatures like this once, called Goldbugs. Researchers say they were parasitic beetles that carried a deadly poison.”

“Really?” exclaimed Laois, thrilled to gain more knowledge on the creature.

“Mhm,” the bard placed the glittering monster back into the pan. “The only way to tell them apart from real coins was to use magic or bite them… You can guess how that went.”

Shaking his head to banish the idea, Alekben eyed the cook. “Even so, those are ancient history, and now that I think about it, I’ve seen these specific bugs served on the surface during some festivals. I never dared to try them, but I trust your judgment, Senshi.”

“I’m glad to hear it, young man,” Beamed the dwarf.

“I’m not a—” Alekben started before catching his tongue. “You know what, just forget it…”

Brushing over the auburn-haired half foot’s remark, Senshi provided. “These bugs are an excellent source of nutrition. They have a delicious taste and flavor.”

The cook lifted a Coin Bug, admiring its front side. “And they look great, too.”

Unfortunately for Marcille, who was now cowering behind Chilchuck, the coin’s underbelly was on full display for them.

“Don’t show its underside to us,” said Chilchuck, unamused.

“How can you tell whether they’re edible or not?” Questioned the party leader. “You don’t have to bite at them one by one, right?”

“Those methods are just as outdated as the Goldbugs,” huffed Alekben. “I’m sure Senshi has his own techniques he uses.”

“That’s correct,” mused the dwarf. “It depends on the kind of Treasure Bug. This one is easy to tell.”

Senshi held out the beaded insect, “The necklace has legs growing between its segments.” The cook further taught his knowledge. “With broaches and coins, you look at their underside.”

“It’s interesting how Coin Bugs have different designs based on their sex,” chimed Laois, holding a male and a female Coin Bug in each of his hands.

Senshi went on, “Rings have a springy shank.” He then took out the crown, setting it gently into a pot of prepared water. “With tiaras, dunk them in water, and you can tell them apart easily. If they float, they’re Treasure Bugs.”

“I didn’t expect them to be so light,” commented the bard.

“Anyway,” suggested the dwarf, removing the tiara from the water. “Let’s cook them while they’re still senseless.”

-

The cooking preparations had begun!

Holding the necklace bug, Senshi demonstrated. “To improve their texture, remove the legs from the pearl centipedes.” He lined up the creature on a stick, “Then, skewer and grill them.”

Moving on to the Coin Bugs, Senshi took out a frying pan. “Heat some oil and cook the underside of the Coin Bugs. Cover them in salt,” He sprinkled the crystalline substance over the insects. “And coat them with oil as you stir them.”

Pushing the creatures onto the cloth-line plate in Alekben’s grasp, Senshi said “Here.”

Taking some utensils, the bard flipped the coins over. “It’ll be nicer if we have their backs facing up… Otherwise, Marcille probably won’t touch these.”

Grasping the headpiece, Senshi furthered. “For the tiara, remove the eggs and larvae. Shatter the nest, and stew together.”

“Ah,” muttered Alekben sniffing the air briefly, “It smells sweet.”

He hovered beside Senshi, peering at the contents of the pot as it was finishing up its simmer. “Is that jam?”

“Something like that,” hummed the cook in return, lifting the pot. “Now, we can pour it into a jar and…”

Once everything was plated properly, Senshi declared. “It’s done.”

“It looks nice, but it doesn’t really whet my appetite in more ways than one.” Chilchuck backhandedly complimented, now holding the plate of Coin Bugs. “That said, I have eaten a Coin Bug before.”

Marcille nodded along, staring despondently at her pearl creature on a stick. “There are local cuisines like this.”

Picking up a fried coin from the platter, Chilchuck scanned it, speaking with recognition. “It seems lucky, and I believe it’s supposed to bring good fortune.”

Lifting a piece of bread, slathered in the gem jam, Alekben added. “Nowadays, certain Treasure Bugs are eaten on the surface as vessels for blessing and celebration.” The bard recalled, “But historically, dishes like these were consumed by underground nomads. It’s been a rumor that they were considered a specialty to the dwarves and miners who predated the Golden Castle’s dungeon.”

“Really?” Questioned Marcille, lifting her skewer to examine it more thoroughly. “I didn’t think these small guys would have such a past.”

“Interesting,” the picklock noted, tossing a circular insect into his mouth. His irises lit up as the flavor danced on his tastebuds. “It’s way better than the one I had a long time ago!”

“Of course it is,” affirmed Senshi as he placed the tiara spread onto a bun for Laois. “Monsters inside the dungeon generally taste better than those outside. If you keep them outside, their flavor quickly deteriorates.”

Chilchuck, no longer hesitant about the snack, began stuffing handfuls of the Coin Bugs into his gullet.

“Hey now,” the auburn-haired half foot reprimanded. “Don’t eat so fast, you’ll choke.”

“You’re one to talk,” the brunette quipped. “You used to inhale your meals when Senshi first joined us.”

The bard scowled in embarrassment and turned his back to Chilchuck. “Rude,” He bashed, before going in for a bite of his bread and jam. Upon tasting the snack, Alekben’s cheeks flushed a rosy pink. “Woah…” He mumbled before clearing the food rather quickly.

Chilchuck snorted at his companion's actions, saying a playful, “Point proven.”

“Shut up,” the bard groaned in response, flipping back around to his companion and sticking his palm out. “Let me try one of those.”

Amid the half foots’ bickering, Marcille stared at the pearly Treasure Bug in front of her, face pale as she slowly encased it in her teeth. “It’s gooey,” She spoke in a cold sweat, hand hovering over her lips as she chewed. “I can’t wear necklaces anymore.”

Ignoring the elf’s qualms, the two short men praised the Coin Bugs.

“They’re like small fish,” said Chilchuck in delight, still tossing handfuls of the snack into his mouth.

“Yeah!” Agreed Alekben, as he ate the few he held in his hands. “They’re really tasty.”

“The same monster will taste better when they’re from the lower levels,” the cook informed, handing Laois his helping of a gem sandwich.

“I can’t wait to try it,” smiled the party leader with eager orbs, accepting the prepared bread from the cook. “Thank you.”

Laois took a large bite, savoring the sweetness that filled his stomach when he swallowed and admired the gem's beauty spread between the two buns. He pondered about the reaction his sword had to the Coin Bugs earlier. ‘In the context of concealing itself from enemies through camouflage, it’s one of your kind… Is that why you responded?’

Munching on more of the golden treats, Alekben glanced at the tallman, eyes thinning in suspicion when the party leader got an odd expression on his features. ‘Just what is he thinking about?’ The bard posed to himself.

Laois stood up from his seat, walking to the two magic users and Chilchuck who were still eating by the wall. Marcille and Chilchuck ate gem jam buns, while Alekben held the plate of Coin Bugs.

“Give me one,” said the party leader.

Alekben slowly held out the plate, still having an inkling that something wasn’t quite right. However, he wouldn’t act on his apprehension without evidence first.

The blonde male snatched a shiny circle off the platter before quickly moving to the hallway, facing away from the group. He held out the Coin Bug to his blade, waiting for feedback from the weapon.

Similar to how it responded prior, the sword clinked about in its sheath, gaining another shaky breath from Laois.

“Hm?” murmured the bard once the party leader’s gasp reached his ears, Marcille and Chilchuck following suit as they looked to Laois perplexed.

The tallman stuttered a fast, “Nothing!” Quickly returning to observe the object at his hip.

‘That was intimidation,’ Laois remarked mentally. ‘Did it try to defeat the bug with me because it thinks I’m a friend?’ He raised the blade to his cheeks, rubbing it with his face affectionately while the three onlookers blanched at his behavior. ‘You cute thing! Let me give you a name.’

-

Now finished with their meal, the party wrapped up their leftovers and tied off the pouch of inedible treasure.

“Let’s get going soon,” spoke Senshi as he placed items in the bag containing their remaining food.

Pulling the jingling pouch out of its spot set away from the snacks, Chilchuck asked with Marcille hovering beside his small frame. “Can I throw away the inedible ones?”

“If you want,” answered the dwarf as Alekben approached him with some leftover buns.

The bard hadn’t really been paying attention to the three’s conversation, contently focused on delivering the bread to Senshi.

“What happens if you eat the inedible ones?” Prodded the mage while Chilchuck brought the small pouch to the railing. “Do they taste bad? Or are they poisonous?”

This notion grabbed Alekben’s focus, the bard lifting his head to eye the brunette and blonde. ‘Don’t tell me…’ He sweatdropped, before shaking his head in dismissal. ‘No, they’re smarter than that.’

“What are you talking about?” Senshi asked incredulously.

The auburn-haired half foot’s orbs widened as he watched the picklock release the pouch to the dark depths that sat below them, over the railing. “Magus Manus,” He uttered under his breath as he ran toward Chilchuck, a hand outstretched.

From the tip of his finger sprouted a glowing outline of another hand, its wrist stretching downward as it tried to reach for the pouch.

“Huh?” Chilchuck eyed him with furrowed brows. “What are you doing?”

The bard wouldn’t answer, mind fully focused on his cantrip. Cantrips were used most often by young magic users to pull small pranks, being the most simple kind of magic to learn. So thankfully, Alekben would not need to use a catalyst or exert himself in any way to enact one.

Senshi tied his pot into its place on his back, as he finished. “You can’t possibly eat real gems.”

Taking a minute to understand the gravity of the cook’s words, Marcille and the brunette turned to grip the railing, yelling. “You should have said that first!”

Alongside them, Alekben continued leaning over the railing to get his spell closer to the small bag.

Alas, it had been too far out of reach. The pouch disappeared into the murky black.

The bard released his glowing extender, slumping onto his knees. “I can't believe that just happened…” He groaned. Marcille and Chilchuck soon copied his actions, leaning down with their heads in their hands.

Oblivious to their antics, Laois cheerfully lifted his blade above his shoulders, declaring. “I know! Your name is Kensuke!” It clattered happily in his hold.

-

Lost loot aside, the party began walking further down the dungeon, reaching yet another cobweb-filled hallway.

Not much conversation was happening, leaving the only ambiance to be Laois’ chewing as he continued eating a gem sandwich.

“You’re still munching on that?” asked Marcille who walked next to the party leader. The two half foots had once again led the pack while Senshi followed not too far behind them.

“It’s heartier than it looks,” Laois defended with his mouth full.

“Seriously,” complained the mage. “You’re making it hard to keep my guard up.”

As the group continued forward, a chill collectively ran down their spines, each member tensing up while Laois stated. “It suddenly got cold.”

“Ah,” Voiced Alekben as he pointed upward. “There’s something there!”

Marcille followed the bard’s direction, murmuring, “That white hazy thing…”
Floating above the group was a cluster of phantasmal energy, gleaming as bits of it moved around.

“That’s a lot of ghosts,” acknowledged the tallman.

Enamored by the sight, the bard didn’t even notice that the party had begun moving forward until Laois started pushing him along. “Let’s go,” advised the party leader. “It wouldn’t be good for us to be spotted.”

“Ghosts?” Asked Chilchuck, glancing back at his fellow half foot and Laois.

“They must’ve gathered, attracted by the corpses,” said Laois.

“Can’t you simply use magic to…” the picklock started before pausing. Eyes dropping pensively Chilchuck spoke quietly. “Right. Falin isn’t with us.”

Alekben gazed at his companions, lips downturned. He had never met Falin, but clearly, the party cared for her and relied on her skills in tough situations. Of course, there is nothing wrong with that. Despite this, the bard could not help but feel something tug at his insides. ‘She’s a woman worth admiring…’ He thought, fidgeting with the ends of his worn cloak. ‘But, relying on others too much isn’t ideal…I’m worried they’re limiting themselves.’

The auburn-haired male would never say that aloud, he knew he would only be met with backlash. The group was still grieving Falin’s death to the Red Dragon, and it was not his place to say anything about their friend. ‘Regardless, I’m still intrigued to meet someone so revered.’

“I miss her, too.” Consoled the mage, stepping in front of the brunette as she marched ahead. “It was the least I could do, but I prayed for them,” She said, referring to the deceased party. “So I don’t think the ghosts will possess the bodies there…”

Marcille looked back to check on her party members behind her when her shoulders quickly jumped up to her ears. Sweating nervously, she briskly moved ahead of the strolling group. “There’s one behind us. Run!”

The rest of the party didn’t hesitate to listen, jogging to catch up with the elf. Laois, however, straggled behind. He had dropped his sandwich and was reaching back for it.

Unfortunately for the party leader, the ghost would use this as its opportunity to strike. It gripped his arm, pulling the blonde in, as waves of cold slowly froze over Laois’ figure.

“Stupid!” Marcille groaned having heard the tallman’s scream, the other three party members pausing their sprint to assess the situation.

Alekben pulled his lyre from his satchel, clutching it in his palms. “Do you want me to try and help him?” He asked the mage. “I don’t have many spells that combat phantoms, but I can figure something out.”

“No,” denied Marcille as she flipped back to approach the ailed party leader. “I can handle this.”

Laois tried to smack the phantom away to no avail. Physical movements wouldn’t do much for an incorporeal being.

As the ghost passed through the blonde male, Marcille pointed her staff at its translucent head. Without a word, she let out one of her signature fire spells. Blowing the spirit away, but harming Laois’ hearing at the same time.

“My ears!” The party leader cried, raising a hand to cradle the injury.

“Hurry!” Urged the elf. “Before another one comes!”

“Um,” Let out Alekben, who stood in between Senshi and Chilchuck. “About that…”

The once passive cluster of phantoms now neared the group, spirits within it swirling at a rapid rate.

“Looks like that noise attracted their attention even more,” said the picklock.

-

The Touden Party wasted no time in returning to a full sprint, the members panting as they ran through the area.

“Don’t either of you know other magic besides something so flashy?” Inquired Laois, running beside the two magic users. “Something random like the stuff Falin would have done.”

Alekben sighed, “I have magic that can defend against phantoms, but nothing to get rid of them. It wouldn’t have done any good in that short amount of time.” The bard furthered, “And I may have not known Falin, but I’m sure what she would use wasn’t just ‘random.’”

“Alekben’s right,” confirmed Marcille with a scowl on her face. “Don’t you know how advanced her magic was?”

Senshi listened to the argument brought on by Laois’ comment, humming in confusion when Marcille added her stance.

Picking up on the dwarf’s lost expression, Chilchuck informed. “Falin, Laois’ sister, was good at dealing with ghosts.”

The picklock wove a story of an encounter the previously made Touden Party had with a ghost, who possessed a missing adventurer.

Falin had done everything in her power to remind the party, that there was no need to harm the spirit, and instead used her magic to deal with them cruelty-free.

Through prayers and mana, she was able to have the spirit exit the body of the traveler with an embrace. An outstanding feat that would take any mage difficulty to pull off.

“Seems like she was an important person,” noted Senshi.

Alekben concurred, “Using magic like that, with such ease, is something many people have sought after.”

“Yeah, Falin was really amazing,” said Marcille, whose brows soon scrunched up at another thought. “If the ghosts catch up with us, I’ll have to do something with my magic.”

“Forget it!” Reprimanded Chilchuck, “Are you planning to explode all those ghosts individually?”

The mage let out a shaky breath before stalling her stride. “So, I should do what Falin did, right?” She began repeating. “Make them explode with a gentle embrace. Make them explode with a gentle embrace. Make them explode with a gentle embrace…”

“No way!” The picklock refused. “You can’t.”

“Yeah…I don’t think making them ‘explode’ is the right course of action here.” Insisted the bard.

The brunette pressed on, reminding Marcille, “You said yourself you can’t do it the way Falin does it!”

“Falin wouldn’t say that,” the mage argued.

Senshi approached a doorway, leading to a space of lowering stone stairs. He pushed it open and ushered the party in.

“But what if you run out of magic, Marcille?” Debated Alekben, as he entered the room behind Chilchuck. “Sure, I just recovered my reserves not too long ago, but later down the line we’re going to need your offensive magic! We don’t have the luxury of being down another magic user now that we’re almost to the fourth floor.”

Marcille whined, “That’s why I’m trying to make them explode with the minimal amount of magic needed!”

“And we’re saying you shouldn’t do that!” Yelled Chilchuck, as the party fully entered the new space.

“Hey, you three…” Laois admonished as Senshi shut the door behind them closed.

The dwarf announced, “Turns out, it’s not that easy to run from the dead.” Reminding the group they were still being chased by spirits.

“That’s right,” admitted Chilchuck as he quickly stepped down a flight of stairs, the two blondes of the group following suit. “They’ll catch us if we bicker in a place like this.”

Meanwhile, at the bottom of the steps, sat Senshi and Alekben who were removing items from the bag that was packed earlier.

“Wait, what are you doing?” Questioned Marcille, staring at the two oddly as she approached them.

“We’re preparing a charm to drive away the ghosts,” Answered the cook while Alekben nodded along.

“But what do you mean by a charm?” Asked Laois, crouching slightly to inspect what the bard and dwarf were up to.

“Holy water,” Replied Senshi.

Marcille gaped, “You had that on you?”

“No,” said the dwarf. “I’m going to make it right now.”

“Make it?” The mage reiterated.

“Are you a priest or something?” Wondered the picklock.

“There are many customs and practices around the world used to ward off different demons,” Pointed out the auburn-haired half foot.

“For example,” Senshi spoke as he struck a flint and steel. “Lighting a fire. Fire drives away the darkness and has the power to create and take.”

Fanning the flame Senshi made, Alekben lit a small stick and began lighting the candles the cook prepared. “Fire has been utilized in all of history as something holy and used to ward off demons.”

“That’s true, but will the light of a candle ward off ghosts?” Prompted Laois, skeptically.

“While each may be weak on their own,” said the cook, putting a glass shield over the flames. “Together, in large numbers, they can become a substantial force.”

“Another example is the Golden Beetle,” Senshi educated, as he scooped the gem jam into a pot of water he had put together while the fires were being lit. “Its characteristics led it to be worshipped as a symbol of the sun and its deity.” He placed the cooking vessel on top of the candles.

Pulling the green bottle out of the ingredient pouch, Alekben proceeded. “The next examples are alcohol and salt. Alcohol as it’s typically used in offerings to gods and has disinfecting properties, and salt as it has a history of customs that use it to drive away evil and cleanse it.”

The components listed were added to the pot, being stirred by the bard while Senshi poured in another item.

“Sugar is similar to that, so I’ll add some just in case.” The cook guessed. “It’s probably less effective so I’ll add a lot.”

“You’re totally winging this!” Accused the picklock.

Brushing over the claim, Senshi added. “Aside from that, there are herbs and the internal organs of creatures.” He had the auburn-haired man mix the contents of the pot once more, stating. “Add the power of fire to this and…”

“We have holy water!” The dwarf finalized.

The concoction had been poured into the jar originally used for the jam and two sealed vials the bard had pulled from his satchel.

Setting the mixing spoon down, Alekben swapped it out for his lyre. “Judging by the number of ghosts outside, the smaller portions may need to be enhanced. Would it be alright if I used magic on these vials, Senshi?”

“Just this once, young man.” The cook agreed.

Alekben beamed, setting the two tubes in front of him as he plucked a string or two on his instrument. “Ditans Aqua Sancta.” The vials glowed a faint blue before settling in a shimmering opal color, unlike the rainbow oil-spill hue the large jar contained.

Stuffing his silver lyre away in his bag once more, the bard lifted the two vials in his grip. “Perfect!” He cheered. “These should do nicely.”

As if on cue, the ghastly spirits breached the stairwell’s walls.

“Here they come!” Shouted Marcille.

Still sedentary, Senshi spoke. “Tightly seal the jar of holy water and…”

“Seal it?!” Screamed the picklock in disbelief. “Aren’t you going to use it?”

Alekben mused, continuing his own scheme with the vials. “I just need to poke some holes in the corks…”

“Do we have the time for you to do that?” Hollered Chilchuck once more.

“Be patient,” chided Senshi. “Then, tie it with a string…”

“Greatness takes time, Chilchuck,” stated Alekben, stabbing the corks of the small tubes with a utensil.

Ghosts invaded the premises, enveloping themselves around the party members, bringing them to a chilly kneel.

“At this rate…” muttered Marcille as her eyes began closing. Chilchuck and Laois experiencing the same.

The party leader hacked as his neck was covered in frost. ‘Oh no…’ He thought. “Falin…That day, if only she didn’t shield me.’ He flashed back to the circ*mstances of his sister’s death. ‘If I were the one devoured by the dragon instead, this sorry mess would have never happened.’

While wallowing in his self-loathing, Laois was broken out of his daze, by what he could only imagine was a jar smacking Falin in the face.

The blonde opened his orbs, blinking quickly, and soon came to know that it was the work of Senshi and Alekben.

Marcille and Chilchuck shot up from their frigid slumber soon after.

“For a moment,” the picklock gasped bracing his hands in front of his face. “I saw my dead dad beyond the river.”

“W-What on earth?” Exclaimed the mage as she watched the two functioning members of the party sling a jar like a mace, and shake two vials like maracas.

As Senshi and Alekben jumped around the room, dodging phantoms and hitting them one after another, Marcille carried on. “The ghosts that come in contact with the jar and vials of holy water are dispersing.”

“This is kind of fun,” laughed the bard as he shook the vials at the few ghosts in his line of sight. “Good idea, Senshi.”

“Compliments to you too, youngin,” The dwarf smiled. “Those shakers are quite the invention.”

Studying the men, who were practically twirling at this point, Chilchuck spoke. “That holy water is doing the trick, huh?”

“I can’t believe it actually works,” Commented the elf.

The longer the party leader stared at Alekben and Senshi, the more recognition covered Laois’ visage. He eventually uttered, “Maybe we were being possessed…by Falin.”

“How could you say that?” Marcille scolded upset. “Falin would never do such a thing. She isn’t a ghost yet in the first place!”

“No, That’s not what I meant,” the tallman appeased. “We shouldn’t say stuff like, ‘Only Falin could have done this,’ or ‘Things would’ve been easier if Falin was around.’ Right now, it’s just us. So we have to take care of things on our own.”

The magic user and picklock glanced at each other, nodding slowly once they understood where Laois was coming from.

“You’re right,” said Marcille.

Setting his pack down and strutting up the stairs, Laois called. “Senshi! Let me help.”

The cook had no issues doing so, handing the party leader his makeshift flail.

Seeing this, Alekben’s eyes softened. ‘Seems like you’ve broken your limit, Laois.’ He mused, still hopping about to shake holy water on the spirits. ‘I think your sister would be proud of you.’

-

Once the final ghost was dispelled, the two men dropped to their knees, taking deep gulps of air to catch their breath.

“It’s over…” stated Laois as the remaining party members hiked up to meet them.

“I-It’s completely covered in frost!” Noticed the mage.

“Using it like this is more effective than tossing it about, don’t you think?” Probed Senshi, extending a hand to help Laois stand.

Chilchuck approached Alekben to do the same, only to stop when he saw little beads of red arise from the skin of the man’s palms. “How did you manage to do this?” He questioned, squatting down to grasp the bard’s hands, turning and flipping them to inspect the superficial wounds.

“When the vials got too cold, the glass burst,” explained Alekben sheepishly. “It’s fine though, really. No treatment required! I already made sure there’s nothing in them.” He insisted, “Nothing more than what a kid would do scraping his hands while playing.”

“Hm…” mumbled the brunette as he gently set Alekben’s hands down. “You’re right, but at least let me wrap them later. You wouldn’t want an infection from a little cut like that, would you?”

The auburn-haired half foot wanted to retaliate, but in the end, gave in. “Fine…only because they kind of sting.”

“Huh?” Blurted Senshi, catching the party’s attention as he opened the jar Laois swung around. “What is this?”

The dwarf stuck his thumb into the slushy contents of the container, staring at it briefly before sticking it in his mouth. This resulted in anxious noises from the remaining group members who peered at him intently.

Revelling in the flavor, Senshi concluded. “You made ice cream.”

-

It would not take long before the sorbet was dished up in bowls, though most looked at it with great apprehension.

“Is it safe to eat something that came in contact with some many ghosts?” Wondered Chilchuck.

“And consuming such potent holy water could cause problems as well.” Added Marcille.

Alekben lifted a small spoonful, fumbling slightly as he wasn’t used to the feeling of bandages over his fingertips. As the spoon fell back onto the rest of the ice cream, he huffed. “Damn it…”

If there was anything to note about the bard’s food preferences, he was a diehard for sweets. If it hadn’t been for Senshi guarding the jam container, he probably would have tried to sneak a few more bun-fulls. Needless to say, he desperately wanted this ice cream.

Making the initiative to try once more, despite the snickers he was receiving from Marcille and Chilchuck, Alekben managed to hold his utensil. Smirking in victory, he waved it around. “Look, I got it,” He said to the picklock and mage.

“Good, I was worried we were going to have to help you,” teased Marcille.

“Shut it!” The bard fumed. “You know I wouldn’t need help eating, I’m an adult.”

“Didn’t Bahay help you make your food at the settlement?” Taunted Chilchuck.

“That was different!”

Overlooking the three’s banter, Senshi spoke observing his bowl. “I think I’m taking in too much sugar today.”

Laois took this as a chance to shovel a mouthful of the treat into his gullet, giving the immediate verdict of “It’s good!”

Alekben went next, clutching his spoon so it wouldn’t fall from his grip. An ecstatic gleam washed over his features. “This is delicious!”

Taking their first bites in unison, the picklock and mage had similar reactions.

“You’re right. It is good!” Said Chilchuck.

Marcille praised, “It tastes really fresh!”

Raising his utensil to analyze the frozen food, the picklock joked. “Seems like we managed to drive away the ghosts without making them too upset.”

“True!” Agreed the elven girl, as the bard chuckled from beside her.

Chewing a tad more, Laois noted. “You added the internal organs of a creature. What creature?”

“I added some Slime shavings,” provided Senshi.

“So that’s why it jiggles a little,” Hummed Chilchuck.

Marcille chimed, “I like how smooth the texture is.”

“Right?” Concurred Alekben. “Who knew holy water could be so tasty?”

“This…makes me think,” brought up the tallman, halting his consumption. “If Falin were here, we probably couldn’t have such tasty food.”

The two magic users and picklock glanced at Laois blankly.

“Huh?” spoke Chilchuck.

“Are you saying…” Marcille looked disturbed. “...you’re glad Falin ended up that way?”

“Is that what you’re saying?” Grilled the picklock. “Now of all times?!”

“Laois, have some respect…” Criticized Alekben, expression judging. “You’re talking about your own flesh and blood…”

“Huh? No, I was just…” He stuck his hands out placatingly as he glanced at Senshi for help.

The dwarf, however, stated. “There are things you should say and things you shouldn’t.”

Laois sagged at the barrier he was hitting, seeing the way some of his party members glared at him like critics, while the other just shook their heads in displeasure. ‘If only Falin were here right now,’ He mentally backtracked. ‘She’d say something like ‘He just meant everything has a silver lining,’ to clarify what I meant!’

“Your bond with your friends is what really grew cold, huh?” Lightly mocked Senshi at the sight of Laois’ tears.

“Senshi, that was mean!” Complained Alekben, who soon held a hand over his mouth to whisper. “But he totally deserved it for that one, nice job!”

‘Please return soon, Falin!’ The party leader kept wishing as the dwarf and bard shared a high-five.

Notes:

Thank you for reading! I hope you enjoyed!

A Devourer’s Eulogy - hoshi_d - ダンジョン飯 | Dungeon Meshi (2024)

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