To call the cave ominous would be a grave understatement, the cave's maw, which seemed to stretch into an infinite inky maw, was positively frightening, the barely lit torches inside seemed to only contrast against the darkness, making the already suffocating dark even more intense. However, if one squinted their eyes hard enough, one could make out the faint outline of a grand iron door, more fit for guarding a city than guarding a random cave in the middle of nowhere. However, this was no ordinary cave, Jacob knew that when he the voice that seemed to emanate from it. The voice was husky, rough and yet it seemed inviting, it reminded him of those strange ladies that would look at his father in a funny way when he would visit the city. The voice told him to come inside, that it would make all of his dreams come true, Jacob, being somewhat brighter than the average child, thought that a random voice in a cave probably wouldn't be able to give him a brand new shortsword, and in fact, probably shouldn't be trusted.
"Come child, I tire of being in this darknessss all alone, just step inside, and you can have all you dessssire..."
Jacob had a sudden thought, this not-trustworthy person must be hiding from someone! That must mean they're a bad person! The thought spread through his mind like vines, this person probably wanted to hurt him! He remembered when his father spanked him for breaking his prized model galleon, that really hurt! And if that really hurt, what would this stranger do to him! Jacob immediately sprinted in the opposite direction, trying his hardest to get as much distance between the cave with the scary person and himself. He ducked under branches and skipped over streams, however, as he neared the village where he lived, Jacob accidentally tripped over a stray root, tumbling over and making his leg go at a very not-normal angle. While the pain was indeed great, Jacob gritted his teeth and kept walking, the adults needed to know of this! If he just kept quiet about a bad person that was right near the town, the punishment from his father would be even greater! Jacob shuddered at the thought.
As he limped near the village, Jacob's mother saw the boy's noticeable limp, muddy clothes and teary-eyed expression and knew something was wrong. She ran to him and hurriedly asked where he had been and what had happened. Through hiccups and a snotty nose, Jacob tried to recount the story to his dear mother. He had started out just outside the forest when he heard a voice coming from deeper inside the forest, thinking it might be a lost traveler, he decided to help out. As he delved deeper into the forest however, he didn't come across a traveler, he came across a cave. As Jacob did his best to recount the story to his mother, her expression changed from frustration, to curiosity, to outright fear. Her son had come across a seemingly unknown cave, with a strange voice beckoning him inside. Had he been a more naïve child, he might have gone inside and who knows what would happen next! More realizations dawned on her, there were other children in the village who were just as young, if not younger and more careless than her darling son, if one of them came across this cave, there could be a murder on the town's hands!
With a swiftness not seen in many a year, Jacob's mother rushed to the lumber mill where his father worked. "Henry! Henry! Come here!" She screamed. "Gah! What is it dear?" Jacob's father Henry muttered, turning the corner from where he'd been working. "Jacob, he's been hurt!" Jacob's mother whispered. "And? Boys get hurt all the time playing Margaret, helps 'em build character I say.'" Henry chuckled. "It's not just that, Jacob hurt himself running from a brigand's cave!" Margaret worriedly said. "Brigands!" Henry interjected, "This close to the village? Surely they must be insane to come this close!" "I know, but w-what if more children find the cave Henry? What if one of the younger ones goes inside? What would we do if a child is murdered Henry!" Margaret screamed, her concern apparent. "Okay, okay, I'll visit Captain Jürgen now, happy?" Henry frustratedly muttered. "Thank you dear, it'd mean a lot to me."
"Brigands this close? They must have some pretty large numbers considering the force stationed here." Henry mused on his way to the guardhouse, "Surely not, but then perhaps they're attacking up the road, pretty popular route for the caravans" he surmised, "but then why haven't we heard anything about caravan attacks? A missing caravan is all the news when it happens, they should've struck by now, especially with such a risky position." Henry's thoughts wandered further on why brigands and bandits were attacking much closer to the Order capital now. The war was raging pretty heavily to the north, but the Order always kept several regiments behind to defend the capital and the provinces, so attacking this close was almost a death wish at this point. But then again, most of these bandit groups are off their arses with booze and drugs, so rational long-term planning isn't really their strong suit. Henry glanced north, towards the front lines, the skies were perpetually dark towards the fighting. Rumours were that the demons were corrupting the very land itself, soaking their foul essence into the very land itself and causing horrific abomination to sprout forth with which to continue their vile crusade. Henry brushed these thoughts aside however, they were far enough from the fighting that they didn't need to worry themselves about any of that. Just work, provide tithes to the Order and you'll stay safe.
The guardhouse was a rather intimidating affair when compared to rather ramshackle shacks that dotted the village. It looked like a miniature castle with several small towers surrounding the sides, battlements spread across to give archers room to fire, a large mana crystal on a large central spire giving mages the ability to cast fiery death far more quickly than normal. The whole design was meant to serve a last resort should the town come under enemy siege, be it from bandits or hellspawn. Henry was blocked from entering by two soldiers wielding menacing looking pikes. "No entry without appointment" one of the soldiers said in a gruff monotone, "Look, I have information about a possible bandit hideout close to the village, I need to see Captain Jürgen" Henry said with a hint of exasperation. The soldiers looked at one another, "Very well, you may enter, but be quick!" The second soldier barked. Henry entered quickly.
The inside of the guardhouse was just as intimidating as the outside, grim, gruff soldiers went about their business in a room that was the very picture of the word seedy. Henry knew he wanted to spend as little time as possible here, so he quickly spotted the door labeled "AREA CAPTAIN" and made a beeline. Upon opening the door, he was greeted by the visage of a man who had seen enough combat to grind down ten men, let alone one. Captain Jürgen was a stoic man, his face was almost permanently stuck in a displeased scowl and his attitude seemed to reflect that perfectly. Those that worked under him however described him as firm, but fair, he very rarely raised his voice beyond its gravely normal and he distributed his punishments equally. "Ah, hello Henry, what can I help you with today." He spoke, not raising his eyes from the veritable mountain of paperwork set before him. "Good day to you Captain, I come because my son may have encountered a bandit camp close to the city," Henry quickly explained. Jürgen raised an eyebrow, "bandits? This close to town? Surely it was just a group of travelers who became lost." "That's what the missus and I thought as well, but what with the war raging on, maybe they've grown bolder!" Henry spoke exasperatedly. Jürgen sighed, "Alright, alright, let me grab my notebook," he pulled out a small pad, fit only for taking notes, "okay, give me as much detail as you can." Henry scratched his chin, "Well, Jacob was being a little rapscallion and decided to run into the forest to play, he must've gone farther than we though cause he ran near a cave he hadn't seen before. I remember Margaret saying he heard a weird voice luring him in." Jürgen shot up bolt-straight, glaring intensely at Henry, "did you say a voice was luring Jacob in?" Henry nodded, "Was the voice in any way feminine?" Henry racked his thoughts, cursing his spotty memory. "Yeess, yes! It was! But why is that impor-" But before Henry could finish his sentence, Jürgen was already arming himself. Normally, all that was needed to keep the village in order were a few swords and some slightly intimidating helmets, now however, Jürgen looked to be going to war, his spear was rarely seen off of it's ceremonial mount, to see it wielded by the veteran was a shock indeed. "Captain! What's the rush?" Henry asked, not knowing why the captain was making such a big fuss over what was likely a few unorganized bandits. "Henry, this is not the work of bandits, if it was just some lowlifes coming to ransack the town, they would've already. The only creatures who would stoop so low as to kidnap children, are monsters." Henry gasped, monsters, in this village? The frontlines were weeks away, even with the fastest of horses! For them to come this far-. Jürgen shook Henry out of his stupor, "For Illias' sake Henry! Wake up! You need to inform the townsfolk, get them to gather their weapons and meet in the village square, okay?" Henry shook his head, clearing the stray thoughts, "Yes captain!" With that, the captain left to gather his troops and Henry left to gather the local militia.
Margaret looked north at the dark skies, everyday they seemed to grow just a little bit dark and seemed to come just a little bit closer. She knew she wouldn't be around by the time she eventually kicked the bucket, but what of Jacob? She wouldn't be able to rest in peace if she knew her little angel was a slave to those awful demons! She sighed, worrying about the distant future isn't going to help, especially when there are very real threats much closer to home. As she looked up, she saw Henry, running as fast as his legs could carry him back to the house. "Hah, phew, dear, get Jacob inside," Henry said, still out of breath. Margaret put her hands to her now agape mouth, "Why? Honey, what's wrong?" "Look, there's nothing to worry about, now get Jacob inside!" Margaret knew when something was wrong, and now was that time, quickly she found Jacob playing in the backyard with his wooden sword, practicing on a straw dummy. "Jacob, come inside honey! Dinner's ready!" Margaret shouted, Jacob wondered why they were having dinner so early, but knew not to question his parents on such matters.
Henry ran as fast as his aging legs could carry him over to the village square, already, the troops had armed themselves and gathered, many of the menfolk of the village had already gathered, curious as to what was happening. The captain was standing on a raised platform in the center, used primarily for getting the attention of a large number of people. The captain was already an imposing figure, his tall frame was as intimidating as it was strong, the grand armor he wore on top only accentuated this. After clearing his throat, he began to speak. "Citizens! I have dire news for you this night!" The gathered townsfolk muttered among themselves, "dire news? What was so dire as to disrupt my cooking?" The captain continued "It has come to my attention that there is a monster living in close proximity to the village." THAT set the villagers off, "A monster, here?" "But the demon realms are weeks away, how could they be here?" "SILENCE!" Jürgen commanded, the square went dead silent, there was no use arguing against him. "Now then, we believe that it is only a single monster, however, if my tours have taught me anything, it's that you Never underestimate even a single monster, that is why I have gathered you all here today. We are going to hunt this temptress down and make an example of them! Who is with me!" The crowd burst into cheers, "even the worst of situations can be turned around with a good speech" thought Jürgen with a wry chuckle.
Jacob wondered why his father was gone for so long, he knew that sometimes he liked to go to the tavern with his friends from the mill, but even then, he'd usually be home by now. Asking his mother didn't work, she just said that he'd be home soon. He wanted to go out and help his father, like a good son would! But his father wouldn't trust him with a new sword, even though he'd been practicing really hard with the wooden one! Jacob decided to just head to bed and find out what happened in the morning.
Jacob's dreams were usually the normal types of dreams that a child his age would typically have. He'd play with his friends, he'd play in the woods and in the mountains and sometimes he'd do something fantastical, like slay a dragon or fly to the moon. But tonight, tonight was different. Jacob was floating in a black void, so black was it that he couldn't even see his fingers in front of his face, did he even have a face? No, that was a silly question, of course he had a face! He'd seen it in the windows at home! Before he could ask anymore silly questions, he heard a voice.
"Hello Jacob, did you missss me?"
The voice! it was the same as the one in the cave!
"Yessss dear, it'ssss little old me, how are you doing?"
"I-I'm doing okay"
Jacob tentatively responded,
"Sssplendid, dear, sssimply sssplendid" the voice replied, seemingly happy. Jacob and the voice talked for what seemed like hours, the voice was apparently happy to listen to Jacob talk for hours about the things he liked, but eventually the topic turned to his father's absence.
"Do you know where my father is?" Jacob asked,
"I asssume that he wasss a part of that group that went into the forest,"
"Will he be okay?"
"Yesss, yesss, I asssure you that no harm will come to them"
Jacob breathed a sigh of relief
"Now darling, you need to wake up. I won't be able to talk to you for a while now, but be sure to remember me! I'll be sure to remember you... darling."
Jacob awoke with a start, light was streaming through his open window. That dream was so real! But, it couldn't be, that voice... It said it was the lady from the cave, but she was a lot friendlier than that weird cave lady! But then again, I didn't spend that much time around the cave before I ran. Jacob's stomach interrupted his train of thought, all that worrying must've used a lot of energy! Jacob bounded out of his room and down the stairs to the kitchen, there, sitting in his usual spot, was Jacob's father. Jacob immediately ran and gave his father the biggest hug he could.
"Woah, woah there! I was only gone for a night kiddo!" Henry laughed.
"The kid wanted to go with you Henry! He really looks up to you, yaknow!" Margaret spoke from the stove.
"You wanted to help eh? You know... It is your birthday in a few weeks isn't it? How about when that day comes, I'll take you for your first hunting trip!" Henry laughed.
"Now that's all well and good Henry, but there is something important we need to talk about"
"Ah, yes. Jacob, are you sure that you saw that cave when you were out playing?"
What? Of course he'd seen the cave! He saw it with his own two eyes!
"It's just that when me and the men went to search for it last night. Well, we didn't find anything like that."
This was ridiculous! Jacob was young, sure, but to even suggest that he was lying about something so serious was insulting to him!
"Look, Jacob, I know you think you saw the cave, but I think you just have a very active imagination dear. C'mon, why don't we go into the square and get some of those bear claws you always like, hm?"
Jacob sighed, he'd swear on the chief god that he saw that cave there, and he'd double swear that he heard that voice! But if they couldn't find it, well, it must've just been his imagination. But the thought of those tasty pastries brought him out of that funk real quick!
But even as time went on, Jacob's doubts would still linger in the back of his head. Even when he'd joke about it with his friends at the local tavern, he'd still remember how vivid that cave was, he'd remember how encompassing the darkness felt and how the torches only seemed to emphasize the darkness, rather than repel it. When he went hunting with his father, he'd always keep an eye out for any caves in the area, trying in vain to find that one cave that had plagued his thoughts. But eventually, the boy known as Jacob grew into a strapping young man, and as any strapping young man wished to do, Jacob became an adventurer, travelling the world and taking jobs wherever he could.
But whenever he had a moment to himself, his thoughts would wander, and his mind would seemingly always drift back to that day. To the cave that didn't exist.
The bandit camp was like any other bandit camp that Jacob had seen in his adventures. A simple campfire, a pile of all the ill-gotten gains they had made that day and piles of weapons haphazardly strewn about the camp. However, Jacob's main focus was on the cage towards the back of the rudimentary camp. Inside the cage was an sleeping unicorn. These bastards are probably trying to make a quick buck by cutting off the horn, it's these bandits that really made Jacob's blood boil. Jacob knocked an arrow in his trusty bow and aimed it at the patrolling guard, after a few moments, the arrow was loosed, only to then lodge itself in the bandit's neck. With the first one down, Jacob moved further down. Most of the brigand's were in a drunken coma, they wouldn't wake up if an Ushi was pulverizing them into next week, the more pressing concern was the one bandit guarding the cell. Jacob had done this many time, but never once did he grow cocky, for he knew, the moment he grew bold, was the moment he'd slip up and kill himself, or worse, someone innocent. As he quietly slipped behind the bandit, he readied his trusty dagger, quietly preparing himself before...
The bandit's jugular met the outside air. Luckily, the still sleeping unicorn didn't wake to the gruesome sight. Pilfering the keys from the now still guard, Jacob quietly opened the cell. With as much grace as he could muster, Jacob quietly opened the rusty iron door, praying to whomever would listen that it wouldn't make too much noise. As the door fully opened, he gently shook the sleeping unicorn awake, the tiny centaur's eyes gently fluttered open, as she opened her mouth, Jacob shushed her, mouthing "follow me", the unicorn nodded and tagged along. As the pair quietly moved out of earshot, the unicorn burst into tears and hugged Jacob with a strength not unusual in monster children.
"Thank you sir, thank you so much!" the unicorn cried with a small smile on her face
"Eh, it's no problem, let's get you back to your parents. I'm sure they're pretty worried about you right now!" Jacob laughed. The two made their way through the forest quickly, hoping to make it back to the unicorn's parents by sunrise. After a rather uneventful walk, the two made it back to a rather unassuming log cabin. It looked to be built by a single person, but held a rustic charm in that sense. Upon seeing the cabin, the young unicorn bounded forward with a gleeful squeal. The parents, a much larger unicorn and a rather average looking man came running out to investigate the sound, only to tear up at the reunion with their kidnapped daughter.
"All in a days work!" Jacob boasted,
The father stepped forward, wiping tears from his eyes, "Thank you sir, I'll be frank, I didn't believe that you'd do it, save my daughter I mean. I-I thought that I'd lost my darling Veronica forever to a bunch of no-good slavers, and-and the thought of my daughter in such pain, it-it made me..."
"Hey, it's alright sir, your daughter's safe and sound, now, I don't want to be a killjoy, but I need to move onto the matter of payment." Jacob stated bluntly, he hated having to break up heartwarming reunions like this, but he still had to pay for his food and accommodation.
"Ah, yes, I'm sorry, here's what we agreed upon, 250 gold pieces, yes?" In truth, the man had offered 300 pieces, but these were simple people leading an even simpler life, the last thing they needed was their daughter's savior to start demanding coin from them.
"Yes, that will do just fine!" Jacob said cheerfully
The older unicorn stepped forward, "Now, Veronica, say thank you to the nice man, okay?"
Jacob looked down to see Veronica peering out from behind her mother's legs, "Thank you for rescuing me mister!" She said timidly.
As Jacob began to head off, the man suddenly spoke up, "Hang on! You've done so much for us sir, would you like to stay for breakfast? A man like you surely needs a big breakfast to do what you do doesn't he!"
Jacob respectfully declined, he had other things to do, and he wanted to get to the next town by noon.
With a wave, he bid the family farewell and carried on down the beaten path.
This path would just so happen to take him past the village he grew up, funny how after all this time, his adventures would lead him back home. It was decided, he'd spend the day catching up with everyone before heading off to Balfour’s Hold, from there he could pick up some lucrative jobs, perhaps even catch a ferry to Zipangu, now that would be an experience! Jacob also reflected on the past ten years he'd been away from home, it only seemed like yesterday that his father presented him with his trusty broadsword and his mother presented him a tailor-made suit of leather armor. The same sword and armor that he wore today. He didn't know why, but the fact that they were made by his own parents seemed to make them even better than some random sword or armor you'd buy from a smith. Sentimentality he guessed with a smirk. But ever since that fateful day where he left the village to strike out on his own, adventure and excitement seemed to be at every corner, from that time he helped defended an Order village from a band of pillaging orcs, to that time he rescued the princess of the centaurs from a lecherous duke, there never seemed to be a dull moment in his life. But some days, he pined for a simpler life, one where he could work a regular job and come home to a loving wife, loving children and a freshly cooked meal. Those thoughts were pushed back when he remembered that he was still in the prime of his life, he had plenty of time to worry about those things later.
After a relatively short walk through the forest, Jacob arrived at the gates of the village he once called home. The place remained practically unchanged, save for some renovations and the odd new house. His first port-of-call had to be his parents, they'd berate his ear off if he didn't come immediately. Opening the door, he spied his mother making tonight's dinner on the stove, "Hello!" Jacob sang in a sing-song manner, "Who's ther-" Margaret stopped mid-sentence, she saw the man standing in her doorway, he was very clearly her dear son. "Why didn't you say you were coming? I'd have made more to eat had I known you were coming!" She grumbled in an accusatory manner. Upon hearing the commotion, Henry descended the stairs, his face bore a few more wrinkles, and he had a few more gray hairs dotting his chin and head, but he was still Jacob's father through and through. "Jacob! Why didn't you say you were coming! Oh, this old fool's missed you sonny.." Henry mumbled.
Over the course of that night, many stories were told, from Jacob's tales of daring and heroism (sans any pro-monster stories), to Henry's more mundane tales of odd occurrences at the mill and local thieves being laughed at in the pillories, to Margaret telling Jacob about all the nice food she'd learned how to make over the years. No small amount of liquor was consumed that night, and by the end, everyone inside was at the very least, partially drunk. There was some sobering talk about politics and the like, taxes had gone up quite a bit, "to fund the war effort" the priests say, didn't stop the tax collector becoming absolutely reviled in town, apparently got so bad that the first one quit, much to Henry's amusement. That war effort seemed to be ramping up though, more and more soldiers were marching through on their way to the front lines. On the plus side, some were staying behind and bolstering the villages now rather anemic force. On the down side however, more and more priest were coming through, and if given half a chance they'd rant and rave about how horrible monsters are and how good the chief god is for hours upon hours, apparently even the most fervent of the villages believers have gotten sick of their proselytizing. After a while however, the conversation drifted to that one fateful night.
"Remember when I was a kid and my imagination was so great that I imagined a whole cave!" Jacob laughed uproariously
Henry wiped a tear from his cheek, "Yeah, I remember, got the whole town chasin after a damn mind trick! Heh, good times."
Jacob sighed, "I've been thinking, before I leave north, I might go back to that forest for shits n' giggles, see if I can't find that cave for real this time!"
Margaret sighed, "Jacob, don't you think you should actually let this go?"
"That's what I'm trying to do mom! I'll go there, figure out that it isn't real and be on my way north in a matter of hours, no harm done!"
Henry pursed his lips, "Well, you are a grown adult. Go on, get it out of your system!"
"Heh, thanks pops..." Jacob mumbled.
"Don't mention it..." Returned Henry.
The next day started like any other. Jacob got up, had breakfast, got cleaned up and suited up in his trusty suit of armor. Today, he was going to once and for all prove that cave that haunted his thoughts for over a decade was just a myth, just a figment of an overeager childhood imagination. Part of him wanted it to be just that, so that he could move onto to better things and not be bogged down in the past by flights of fancy. But even still, there was still a part of him that wanted it to be real, just so that he could say "I told you so!" to everyone who doubted his veracity. There was still the matter of the voice though, it still confused him to this day, it was clearly a monster, with its breathy, seductive voice, but why was it trying to lure a child in? These questions would hopefully be solved today, so with a final farewell, he set off towards the forest he so loved to play in as a child.
The forest somehow seemed even more ominous than it was as a child, and it was, for lack of a better term, fucking creepy as a kid. Perhaps it was the lack of animals scurrying about here and there, as a kid he'd at least see the occasional rabbit or fox, now, there was nothing. On the other hand, perhaps it was how the trees had grown in such a way as to block as much natural light as possible, had it not been near midday, Jacob would probably have needed a torch to find his way. Hell, Jacob counted his lucky stars that he hadn't tripped on an errant root or something. All this added up to foreboding feeling in the back of Jacob's mind, something bad was going to happen soon, he could feel it.
Then, out of nowhere, he heard it.
"The child returnssss, but he isss not a child anymore isss he?"
"Show yourself demon!" Jacob screamed, seemingly at no-one, the ethereal whisper seeming to have come from everywhere and yet nowhere at the same time.
"Follow my voice child, I shall guide you to your dessstiny."
A feeling seemed to implant itself into Jacob's subconscious, it seemed to drag him to and fro, pulling in random directions rather than in a straight line. The voice grew stronger and stronger as he wandered, telling him that he was close and that no-one, save himself, has ever seen this cave.
And then, after what seemed like hours of being dragged along in random directions, Jacob arrived at the entrance of the cave. The entrance of the cave that everyone he knew said didn't exist. There was no doubting it, unless he'd somehow tripped on a branch and this is what his concussed mind was playing back to him. The cave was similar and yet somehow different to what he saw as a child, the entrance was still as consumingly black as it was before, the lanterns inside emphasizing the darkness rather than illuminating it. But now, there was treasure dotted inside, the tell-tale gleam of gold coins and precious gems drawing his eye. The entrance also looked like a proper stone entrance now, looking less like a door built into a cave. Honestly, this made the cave he saw as a kid look pretty rough by comparison.
"Thisss is but a fraction of what I can give you, but you mussst enter to claim it"
This was suspicious to say the least, but that gold looked as real as it could possibly be! Even just the coins and gems there could have him and his parents set for the rest of their lives! With a small amount of trepidation, Jacob set foot inside. His intention was to just loot the entrance, then make a hasty retreat, however, the dungeon designer must have thought about this, because as soon as he crossed the threshold of the cave, a gigantic iron door slammed down behind him, a lock rune truly sealing it to anyone, inside or out.
Jacob was stunned for a second, for all the times he'd reminded himself to be careful and analyze the situation, he'd just stumbled into what was a pretty elementary trap, all because he, in that moment, had the brain of a black harpy and thought pretty, shiny coin! Jacob collapsed to floor and let out a heaving sob, he promised his parents that this was a small detour and that he'd be back in at most an hour. Now he was going to starve in some random dungeon, his parents wouldn't even have the courtesy of a body. In his grief, he remembered his parent's words, to stay close to the village or something bad would happen, Jacob uttered a hollow chuckle as he realized how true they really were.
However, after a few moments of feeling sorry for himself, Jacob decided to pick himself up by his bootstraps and figure out how to escape. The entrance was obviously off of the table, what with the high level lock rune sealing it, the walls and ceiling showed no sign of weakness, there was no way to proceed but forward. Jacob steeled himself, the only way he was going to make it out alive is by making it through here in one piece. Jacob uttered a small prayer, and moved forward into the unknown.
Desdemona first saw Jacob when he first accidentally stumbled upon her dungeon all those years ago. Not knowing who it was who had penetrated her complicated illusion, she expected a rugged knight, or perhaps a wizened scholar and put on her full charm to lure them inside. But when the scared little boy ran from the cave in fear, she realized that she may have been a bit too presumptuous. However, once she checked up on the boy via her magic mirror, she liked what she saw. He was obviously too young, but he had all of the base characteristics she desired in a mate, intelligence and wisdom, albeit on the level of a child. Not wanting the chance to slip through her fingers, Desdemona planted her voice in the young boys head. When the boy came of age, he'd be unconsciously brought back to her, ripe for the picking.
And now he had arrived, and what a hunk he was!
His body had been forged by years of combat, with sturdy arms, strong legs, a wide chest and a few scars to give a rough-and-tumble look.
He was perfect.
As her man made his way inside, no doubt intrigued by the treasures that she had laid in the entrance to entice him, Desdemona shut the gate behind him, sealing him inside. She was distraught with the look of terror and panic on her true love's face, but she knew, deep down that this had to happen, if she had simply left the gate open she risked her one chance at love escaping with the gold meant to entice him further. Desdemona's fears were assuaged however when Jacob rose from his grief and begun to trudge forward into the elaborately crafted dungeon. Now she had to brief the guardians.
The guardians were an idea Desdemona borrowed from her mother. Three increasingly strong monsters, meant to test a potential husband, the idea was that if a human male can make it past all three of the guardians without getting married to any of them, then they are worthy to claim the echidna at the end as their wife. Desdemona had agonized over who to select for the role, there needed to be a gradual climb in difficulty, the first must be doable to a relatively well-trained fighter, the second should be more difficult (preferably testing a different, completely unrelated attribute) and the last should be a final test, difficult, but manageable to those who had been learning through the course of the dungeon.
After years of scrutinizing, Desdemona had come up with the perfect test. First was the lizardman Cathy. She hailed from the desertlands to the far west, a budding swordswoman, she was the perfect first test for her beloved. Next was the nightmare Eternia. She hailed from the forests up north, her dream altering powers would make for a unusual and most importantly different second test that would truly put Jacob's focus and perception to the test. And last, but certainly not least, were the kunoichi twins, Mei and Miyuko. The reputations of kunoichi being like the shadows themselves preceded this enigmatic duo, they even manage to spook Desdemona when they first appeared, but these would make for a fitting final test, needing strength, focus, perception and cunning in equal measure.
After gathering the guardians together, Desdemona began the briefing in full.
"Okay ladies, you all know why you've been brought here, you are to serve as the tests for my beloved to prove his worth to me. Under no circumstances are you to take him as your husband, unless you are to defeat him in combat."
Cathy stepped forward, "But, you said he's your husband to be right?" Desdemona nodded, "But then, why are you letting us take him for ourselves? Kinda seems counterproductive in my opinion..."
Desdemona sighed, "Yes, but if he falls to any of you, then unfortunately, he is not the one for me. I am praying to anyone who can hear to not let that happen, but I will not deprive you ladies of a viable husband out of sheer pettyness."
Cathy shrugged, "Well, it's your funeral boss. Don't say I didn't warn ya when I walk outta here with him!"
Eternia nervously cleared her throat, "Uh, miss Desdemona! Can you remind me again where I'm supposed to be?" Desdemona chuckled, "It's alright dear, you see this room here?" She pointed to a room labeled Bedroom, "Y-yes, that's where I am?" The echidna nodded, "once the proximity ward lights up, cloak yourself and wait for him to fall asleep. The room is surrounded by an exhaustion sigil that will only work on him, once he is open, you move in, okay?" The nightmare nodded, "I won't let you down miss!" The last ones left to address were the kunoichi twins, their silence was deafening, "okay, you two are to head to the library, wait for him to make his way in, then attack as soon as he's in range okay? No kidnapping until he's properly incapacitated!" The twins vanished in the blink of an eye, did they even understand common tongue?
Ah well, can't worry about that now! All Desdemona could do now was watch her (hopefully!) soon-to-be husband make his way through the dungeon. Good luck dear!
She couldn't wait to coil around that handsome body of his!
The dungeon was surprisingly linear, most castle dungeons he'd been to were built to maximize the amount of cells that could be packed in. Gotta have as many prisoners as possible to get that authentic "abandon all hope ye who enter" vibe going. But this place was way different to those, green torches hanging on pristine sconces, stone tiles with just the right amount of moss on them to give an authentic vibe. This place, was most definitely made recently. The gold coins and jewels continued to be peppered down the halls, seemingly to entice unlucky guests forward, but I was in no mood for treasure hunting, I just wanted to get out of this claustrophobes hell and back into the wide open world that seems all too far away now.
As Jacob progressed even further, the number of gems increased steadily, trying to lure him in further. This all screamed TRAP to him, so he decided to take things slowly. After a few minutes of skulking through the rather narrow passages, Jacob was led into a large, circular room. Light streamed from a crafted hole in the roof, at first it seemed like an escape, but with no rope or easy means of climbing up, freedom was sadly unattainable. But as Jacob surveyed the room even further, he noticed a figure in the middle of the room. The figure was knelt on one knee, a sword planted in front of them, Jacob walked as silently forward as he could, hoping that the figure might not notice him. Those plans were thwarted when a door slammed behind him, apparently a signal for the figure to stand up.
Upon closer inspection, the figure was in fact a woman, and the green fins and clawed hands and feet signaled that this was in fact a lizardman. Jacob had encountered a few of these reptilian sword-swingers in his travels, thankfully, they were all married. Their sword skills were peerless, with most of them training from the moment they were able to wield a sword, to underestimate a lizard was to seal one's defeat in stone.
"HALT!" the woman said, a tone of finality in her voice.
"Look, miss, I'm just trying to find a way out of here, so if you could just point me to an exit, I'll just be on my way" Jacob explained, hoping to come to reasonable conclusion.
"The one who asked of my services would not forgive me if I allowed you to pass, prepare yourself human, I shall not hold back!" The lizardman said, readying her sword.
Jacob muttered a few choice curses to the seemingly uncaring heavens for landing him in such a particularly frustrating predicament before readying himself for combat.
Without so much as a "begin!" the lizardman sprung into action, Jacob only just managing to roll out of the way of her precise thrust. Jacob took a quick look at the weapon being used, it was an estoc, perfectly designed for this swordswoman's thrusting techniques. Just as Jacob finished analyzing the enemy's choice of weaponry, she jumped forward again missing him by a matter of inches.
"Shit! She's quick, but she seems to only seems to thrust, if I can trip her, that should give an edge..."
The lizardman stood in place, readying herself, assessing the situation. Such a powerful lunge should have at least slightly winded a normal person. But then again this wasn't a normal person, this was a creature whose culture is almost fanatically devoted to swordplay, of course she wouldn't be affected by such a maneuver.
With a plan in place, Jacob readied himself once more. This strategy was particularly risky, even a small slip-up and he'd be skewered by her. "Staying still eh? Heh, I'm happy if you make this easy for me!" she smirked. With a growing scream, she lunged one more time at Jacob, seeming to throw her entire weight behind this one thrust. Jacob gripped his sword tighter than he'd ever gripped it before and-
The sword connected with her scaled feet, sending her tumbling forward. She tried to regain her footing, but all it did was cause her to plant even harder into the dirt floor. Before she could recover and grab her sword and continue the fight, Jacob planted his foot on her back, securing the victory.
"Hah, this-this is the first time I've truly lost to a human! And to think I have to let you go..." She mumbled sadly.
"What do you mean, let me go?"
The lizardman jumps to her feet, "Heh, don't you wanna know, well, you'll find out sooner or later champ! After all, she's waiting..."
Before he ask who "she" was, the lizardman had bolted out of the room.
Jacob considered running after her, but decided against it. The sooner he got out of here, the sooner he'd return to his normal life. The question remained however, who the bloody hell was this mysterious "she" that he'd kept hearing about? Was it the voice he'd heard at the start?
"Well, nothing left to do but move forward I guess..." Jacob mumbled.
Cathy was like any other lizardman from the wastes, she'd grown up under a stern but caring mother and father, had used a sword since she could articulate her claws, and left her clan when she came of age to find a suitable warrior husband, like any self respecting lizardman would do.
But unlike other lizard warriors, she was having trouble.
Most of the warriors she had faced in her travels were overconfident buffoons, who could barely hold their weapons correctly, let alone be equal to her in combat. There were a few decent warriors, but still none could best her. Lizardman doctrines state that only a man who defeats a lizardman in honorable combat is to be considered worthy of being a husband. Such attitudes irked Cathy, who envied the simpler races for being able to pounce on whomever they wanted, with no rules or expectations binding them. But she persisted, for dishonor was among the greatest sins in their society, and dishonor when taking a husband was inexcusable.
But then an opportunity arose.
A unique monster named Desdemona came to her, saying she needed a "guardian" for her dungeon, Cathy would normally scoff at such an idea, but the echidna promised a husband if she was good enough. Interested, Cathy listened further. The idea was that she would be a 'test' of sorts for any would be adventurer, and if she managed to defeat the adventurer, she could have him as a husband. Normally, honor would hold her back, but Cathy was desperate, and she'd heard tales of lizardmen raising defeated men up to be better warriors, so she threw all care to the wind and signed up.
But the man that showed up was certainly different.
Her thrusting technique was considerably unique compared to other styles, but its difference made it deadly. The thrusting techniques she'd learned made short work of the heavy armor the order idiots loved to wear, but this man was wearing a simple set of leather armor. Normally she'd scoff at how little protection it would give, but the speed it gave him put her at a disadvantage. And before she knew it, she was on the ground, defeated. Normally, she'd pounce him right there and then, but the stupid agreement she had with the echidna meant she couldn't take him. If it were any other monster (short of a lilim or a baphomet), she'd say 'fuck the rules' and take him, but echidnas are known for their strength and magical prowess, so she decided to just grumble and take the gold.
Desdemona waited eagerly for Cathy to return with the details, she'd seen how clever Jacob was in taking her down, and all it did was stoke her fire even more! The thought of a rugged, grizzled adventurer like him coming home after a long day, only to be greeted by her and their wonderful children made her insides so tingly that she just wanted to pounce on him right there! But he still had two more tests to complete, and then, and then...
Cathy burst through the door, dirt caked on her face. "He's the real deal boss, Honestly, if the pay wasn't as good as what you were offering, I'd have just taken him for myself."
"Well, if you did, I'd just have to remind you how powerful us echidnas are, wouldn't I?" Desdemona spoke with a possessive tone. No-one but her could have Jacob! Especially now that he'd proven himself against the first guardian! Perhaps if he lost against one of the other two, she'd just have to personally train him into being a better warrior. Now that was a good idea! But it would go against her mother's wishes. AHHHH! Why did getting a husband have to be so difficult! Why couldn't she just run up and rape him like everyone else!
Desdemona calmed herself, there was no use getting worked up now. She should save that energy for when Jacob finally arrived in her inner sanctum. The seconds felt like hours as she watched him slowly traverse the narrow hallways.
That fight, while short, was still more draining than anything else today. That combined with dodging a particularly dangerous lightning trap and having to outrun a speeding boulder combined to leave him feeling particularly sore in places he'd never felt sore. Jacob's muscles ached, his head spun and he almost had to drag himself down the hallway. But then, on his side, was a bedroom of all things. To a more rational Jacob, he'd wonder why a bedroom of all things would be in a dungeon, and why he'd only just now felt the symptoms of heavy fatigue as he came close to the bedroom. But this was not a rational Jacob, this was a Jacob who's body was crying out for rest of any kind, and the luxurious looking bed, with crisp, white sheets and what seemed to be the fluffiest pillow in existence looked to Jacob like how a man dying of thirst would see an oasis. Mustering up what strength his tired muscles could manage, Jacob pulled himself over to the bed and collapsed down, falling asleep before his head even hit the pillow.
He floated through nothing for what seemed like an eternity.
Jacob wondered if this was really a dream, shouldn't there be something by now? He tried to bring his hands to his face, to get a grip on where he was, but there was nothing. All around him was nothing but a void, streching out into infinity. He decided to just sit, for what must have been hours, but could very well have been years or seconds. But then there was a voice.
"Up..." the voice said.
"Who's there?" Jacob asked, trying to locate the phantom voice. "Where am I? Where are you?"
"Get up..." the voice urged again, stronger this time. The voice seemed to be pulling him somewhere.
Sensations returned to his body, he felt the softness of blankets on his body, he smelt vanilla and lilac, he heard the sizzling of bacon cooking on a cast-iron griddle. And then he woke up.
"Get up lazybones! Do I have to do everything around here?" Jacob's wife Eternia grumbled.
He woke up with a headache, massaging his temple to try and relieve the pain.
"Did you have that nightmare again? The one with the dungeon?" Eternia questioned, a hint of concern in her voice. "That's the third time in a row that's happened! If it happens again we're going to have to get that checked out!" Eternia was a little bit of a hypochondriac, but the fact she cared so much about him always made Jacob's heart flutter a little bit. After pulling himself out of bed and getting changed into some casual clothed, he went downstairs to see his darling wife preparing a veritable feast of a breakfast.
"I know how hungry you get after those awful dreams of yours, so eat up! There's plenty more where that comes from!" She cheerfully said. Jacob couldn't quite remember how he met Eternia, but she always assured him that they had know each other since childhood, he never delved too deep into that either way, always made his head hurt for some reason. But that didn't matter, he was married to an absolutely stunning woman, both inside and out. Her lilac hair flowed down her back like a mountain waterfall and its softness rivaled weresheep wool. Her body could charm any man she pleased, but she chose to use it only on him, only adding to her charm. But more important than all of that, was her soul, it shined like the brightest diamond, bringing joy to any who were there to witness it. The fact she chose him of all people, made him tear up a little.
"D-dear? Are you o-okay?" Eternia whimpered, the sight of her love crying serving to drive a stake through her heart.
"I'm fine dear, really! Let's go for a walk" Jacob reassured, finishing his expertly crafted breakfast.
During the walk through the village, a feeling crept up on Jacob, a feeling that this wasn't right and that all of this was just an illusion. He tried to clear his head, tried to just enjoy the sights and enjoy the feeling of his wife clinging to his arm, but like a catchy tune, the more he tried to get rid of it, the more it seemed to bug him. The sky seemed too clear, the flowers too colorful, the village too quiet, it all built up over time to a concise feeling that this wasn't real, that this was just a dream. And then the memories returned, the fatigue he felt after the traps and the lizardman, the bed, how he fell asleep far quicker than he normally should have. Everything came to a head when Jacob's temple seemed to pound, forcing him to his knees.
"D-darling! What's wrong!" Eternia worried, seeing her love in pain.
"Get-get away from me!" Jacob screamed, knowing what was going on. He'd heard tales of these monsters, of a centaur variant that fed exclusively on dreams, and more importantly, dream sex. Everything about this situation was meant to lure him into a false sense of security so that this dream demon could steal his valuable seed.
"Darling, what's wrong! Please tell me what's wrong!" Eternia screamed. She knew at this point that he'd figured out that this was a dream, but if she could entice him with her body, perhaps she could still have him.
Jacob had to figure a way out of here, he had to get back to the real world, he had to get back to his parents. With no sword, he couldn't fight his way out. Things seemed hopeless, unless...
"Darling! I'm sorry I brought you here without asking, but please! Give me a chance! I promise I'm wife material!" Eternia screamed, her disguise having dropped, revealing the purple horse body beneath.
Jacob wasn't listening to her, there had to be a way out! Throwing all caution to the wind, he burst through a random door, falling into the same void he'd started in.
Eternia was the type of monster you'd call "perpetually lonely." Being a nightmare was hard enough, people really didn't like it when you messed with their dreams, and stigmas can be pretty hard to shake, even more so when they're true. All she wanted in life was to have a man she could say was hers, someone to hold, to cuddle with, to have children with, all of that important stuff. But this wasn't helped by her shyness. Now, nightmares are usually shy, this comes with the territory, but Eternia was even shyer than most other nightmares, to the point where she couldn't even make her way into a man's house in the dead of night without seizing up and running out with tears streaming down her face. This, combined with the pressure to find a husband led her to Desdemona.
The echidna needed what she called a "guardian," someone to test any suspecting treasure hunter and find out if they're fit to be the husband of said echidna. What interested Eternia however, was the reward for defeating the hunter. For successfully defeating a man who had entered, she would be able to keep the man as a husband! Oh what joy! To be given this opportunity to live happily ever after!
However, things didn't start well. She somehow managed to botch the dream enter, leaving her beloved in a state of limbo for what must have felt like hours. After managing to enter and donning the typical sultry seductress persona, she proceeded to pamper him to the best of her ability, all she needed was one orgasm, done by him, and she would have him for the rest of her life. However, things managed to go downhill even further. He immediately had doubts about where he was, this was to be expected, but he continued to doubt himself up until he broke free, bursting out of the dream to her horror.
She snapped out the dream in time to see Jacob, her supposed future husband, pointing his sword at her, a furious glare in his eyes.
"Leave," he hissed.
"imsorryimsorryimsorryimsorry!!!" Eternia wept as she galloped out, distraught at how much stress she'd brought on the person she chose to be her husband. Well, not her husband now, if he continued the way he'd been going before, he'd most likely be married to that echidna before long.
Before she could exit the dungeon, she was stopped by Desdemona, the one who'd hired her.
"Hold on, hold on! What happened to you! You look miserable dear, what happened!" Desdemona worriedly asked.
"hic I-I-I hurt h-him! I-I made him hate me! If I can't make him love me, then hic may-maybe no-one will-"
Desdemona shushed her with single elegant finger, "No listen here dear, how old are you?"
"T-twenty th-three" Eternia responded shakily, sadness still permeating her form.
Desdemona smiled, "See! I'll have you know that I'm three hundred and fourty seven years old! You've still got plenty of time to go!"
Eternia smiled weakly, "Th-thanks, I'll be going now."
"Of course dear, don't forget your gold!" Desdemona replied helpfully.
As the centaur left the dungeon, the echidna returned her attention to Jacob. He's only one trial away from her now, she shivered in delight as she realized she'd soon feel his delightfully warm skin wrapped around her icy scales as they declared their love for each other, the thought drove her mad with need, the seconds seemed to crawl by as she saw Jacob dodge the clockwork automata she'd personally created.
There were still the kunoichi twins however. They were born from some of the most efficient assassins ever trained. The thought of losing Jacob to them made her stomach wretch, the thought of subtly aiding Jacob in the ensuing battle crossed her mind but was soon quashed. The entire point of the guardians was to test Jacob, to ensure that he was truly worthy of being her husband and siring her children. He had to do this alone, as much as the thought disgusted her.
"Hurry up Jacob! Your one true wife is waiting for you!"
"This place must go on forever!" Jacob thought exasperatedly to himself. After the automata and the stepping stones, this place seemed less like a dungeon and more like a endurance test. After catching his breath, he continued down into the next large room.
The size was comparable to the room where he fought the lizardman, but this seemed to be a library instead. The scale of the library dwarfed most of the collections he'd seen in his life, only the grand archives of the capital would come close to this. Bookcases ringed the room, towering almost to the ceiling itself with what must have been untold amounts of arcane knowledge. Jacob grabbed a random book from the nearest shelf and flipped to a random page. It seemed like a spell tome of some kind, the exquisitely detailed sex scenes on the page revealed that this must've been an eromancy tome. Quickly putting it back on the shelf, he grabbed another. This time however, he recognized it as a romance novel his mother read a few times. Why a decrepit old dungeon like this would need a romance novel of any kind? Who knows, but Jacob didn't have time to read some cheesy love story, for at that moment, he felt a presence watching him, waiting for the opportune moment to strike.
Drawing his blade, Jacob surveyed the room. The large number of shelves provided ample places to ambush an unsuspecting adventurer like himself. Feeling like a mouse being stalked by a cat, Jacob quietly stalked through the now intimidatingly quiet library, hoping to hell that he'd find a exit of some kind.
As Jacob neared the exit, the presence never left, it seemed to be content to just watch him from afar. Feeling a very large amount of unease, he exited the library, continuing onwards, hopefully to an exit of some kind.
"WHAT ARE THOSE GOOD FOR NOTHING SUCCU-SLUTS DOING!!!" Desdemona roared, fury quite evident in her voice. Those Maou-damn kunoichi were just sitting there, blushing like damn children while Jacob walked right by them! They were meant to be the final challenge! The final obstacle that he needed to overcome to finally claim his rightful prize! AND THEY WERE SITTING THERE BLUSHING!?!?
"MEI, MIYUKO, GET YOUR FAT ASSES HERE NOW!!!" Desdemona screamed, demanding to know why they had completely ignored her requests.
"You called?" Mei said quietly, appearing behind Desdemona in a small puff of smoke.
"I hired you to be the final guardian of my dungeon, the final obstacle between Jacob and eternal bliss with me, a challenge commensurate with the reward at the end."
"Yes," said Miyuko, appearing silently beside Mei.
"Then tell me, why in the name of all that is good and unholy, DID YOU LET HIM JUST WALK RIGHT BY YOU!!!" Desdemona spat, vitriol caking every syllable.
"He was cute," Mei near silently responded, as if it was an obvious answer.
"Well, yes, I know he's cute, but why did you just ignore him? You're meant to be trained assassins, not children who blush at a handsome man!" Desdemona spoke, anger fading, being replaced quickly by sheer frustration.
"We apologize, this was our first mission," the two spoke in unison.
Desdemona cupped her head in her hands, she didn't have time to be worrying about this. Jacob was just about to clear the last gauntlet, and she needed to prepare for his arrival.
"Just leave..." She said dejectedly.
The two vanished quickly, leaving the echidna alone once more.
After a few more minutes of sulking, Desdemona started to get herself ready. Her current appearance wouldn't look out of place on a village drunk, with clear bed hair, wrinkled top and drowsy hair-snakes. She needed an urgent makeover if she was to impress her new husband! After a quick freshening up, Desdemona steeled herself.
"Okay! Let's do this! Remember, sultry, seductive, roll the r's. He won't know what hit him! Hehe!"
"Okay, now I am seriously done with this shit."
Jacob was seriously starting to tire, the final gauntlet had pushed his body to the limit, and now it wanted to give up and die. It didn't help that he didn't really get that much sleep on the nightmare bed and was running on about three hours of sleep total. If he didn't find the exit in the next few rooms, he'd probably weigh up the pros and cons of just collapsing and letting thirst and hunger take him. Dragging his bashed, bruised and battered body up the stairs, he came to what must have been the largest amount of treasure he'd ever seen.
The mountains of gold that covered the room almost reached to the ceiling, and it was a very tall ceiling. Jewels of all kinds dotted the piles, as well as gilded swords, shields, plates, goblets, you name it, the pile had a gold version of it. And in the middle of the room was a glorious golden throne, more suited for an emperor than a musty old dungeon.
And on that throne sat one of the most beautiful women Jacob had ever seen.
"I've been waiting for you Jacob..."
It would be a rather blatant lie to say that Jacob hadn't seen other women, he'd seen plenty of women, plenty of beautiful women. Living in this world of monsters meant one will often come across women that boggle the mind when it comes to natural charm.
But she made all of them look like swamp witches.
Her navy hair fell perfectly behind her back, looking like (and probably feeling like) the finest of silks. Her slender waist, wide hips and large breasts looked completely natural on her and gave her the rightful appearance of a fertility goddess. Even the two snakes that idly moved either side of her and the giant snake tail that coiled on itself looked natural on her, nothing about her was unusual in any way, and every part of her seemed to be molded by the gods to entice.
"Mmmm, I've waited for you to look at me like that dear..." The snake woman drawled, her eyes lidded.
"W-who are you!" Jacob stammered, partly in fear, partly in nervousness.
"My name is Desssdemona, but you can call me darling, or honey, or wife. Whatever you want husssband..." Desdemon said in a voice that seemed to drip with raw sexual energy.
"Husband!" Jacob exclaimed, he'd just met this woman and she was declaring herself his wife!?
"Yesss, I've been watching you for a long time dear. Ever since you stumbled near my cave all those years ago..."
Memories came flooding back to Jacob, of running through the forest, of coming across the cave, of his parents saying it didn't exist. And the voice.
"I saw into your sssoul that day, I saw the sssoul of a hero, a sssoul perfect for me! But you were too young, you had yet to ripen into a man, so I put my voice into that cute little head of yoursss, ssso that when you finally came of age, you'd come right back to me, your rightful wife!" Desdemona licked her lips with a long, thin tongue, "And what a man you've become! I cannot wait to feassst upon you tonight!"
The words took a few seconds to register in Jacob's tired mind. When the words processed, he quickly drew his sword. "You mean to eat me? I shall not allow you!"
Desdemona's eyes widened, "WHAAAT! No! Nononononono! I was just trying to be sexy! Oh why is this so hard!" The change in tone was rather abrupt and threw him off balance. This was a monster right? But when she started crying, he started to feel bad. It wasn't an elegant cry either, it was a full on bawl, complete with red eyes and dripping nose.
"I-I j-just wanted s-someone to c-call my own! I-Is that so much t-to ask!" She howled. Jacob felt the growing heat of embarrassment on his face and decided to act, moving in to embrace the distraught echidna.
"W-what? W-what are y-you doing!?" Desdemona questioned, still hiccoughing.
Jacob didn't say anything, opting to instead hug the snake tighter, her eyes widened before gently closing and tenderly returning the hug.
"I know you didn't want to be here originally, but I really do love you Jacob. We don't have to stay here if you want to! I really would like to meet your parents and, and..." Desdemona said frantically, trying her best to convince him to stay.
Jacob smiled and reassured her, though this wasn't what he'd intended to do with his life, his mother did instill the importance of settling down eventually. And what better time to settle down than now! If the amount of gold and jewels in the dungeon meant anything, they'd be set for the rest of their lives! What better time to settle down.
Desdemona smiled and leant into the embrace, "Now darling, how many children do you want?"
The question threw Jacob off, they'd just met and she was already talking about kids? Doesn't she want to take things slow first? Maybe get to know each other before jumping in the deep end?
She chuckled darkly, "I don't know if you know darling, but us echidna are prided as the 'mother of monsters.' It is in our very essence to create progeny. And now that I have you right where I want you..." Her eyes glowed with a predatory glint, "I will not be denied what I crave!"
Jacob couldn't voice a single complaint before he was pulled away by a very, very hungry echidna.
Later on though, he'd think that it was all worth it.
The only thing now was explaining her to his parents. That was going to be a tall order.
As Jacob neared the entrance to the dungeon, he entered the secret knock to open the door. These past few days had been rather hectic, what with the increases in bandit activity, let alone the order, and now he just wanted a few days of relaxation.
As the titanic metal door opened, he was immediately assaulted by three immensely fluffy forms. To his right was his hellhound daughter Cindy, in his middle was Michelle the yeti, and squeezing his left arm tightly was his kobold daughter Jess.
"Welcome home daddy!" They all yelled in unison, tails (or equivalent for Michelle) wagging at breakneck speeds. It always warmed Jacob's heart to see his favorite daughters all so happy to see him.
"How was your trip dad?" Came an older voice from further off. It belonged to his first daughter Minerva, looking like a younger version of her mother.
"Eh, it was pretty normal, nothing your old man couldn't handle! Haha!" Jacob chuckled heartily. Just being around his precious daughter made even the worst funk disappear.
"Well, mother is waiting for you in the kitchen, I'll handle the others." Minerva said. It touched his heart with how motherly Minerva was already acting, perhaps she'd even meet someone like him some day? Before he could ruminate any further, his gorgeous wife called for him.
As he made his way into the large kitchen he'd helped to create, he reflected on everything that had happened so far. After being married to Desdemona, they'd performed a much needed renovation to the dungeon, turning it from a decrepit old tomb, meant only to test the strength of would-be adventurers, and turned it into a dwelling that one could actually raise a child in. Only a few months after that, Minerva was born, Jacob didn't think he'd be a father so quickly, but after seeing his daughter's beautiful face and the look of adoration in his wife's, he vowed to never look back. And some say, he never did. With each child born to Jacob and Desdemona, the happiness they shared seemed to grow even larger, even if Jacob had to go adventuring occasionally to supplement the shrinking treasure hoard. Raising four bouncing baby monsters does take a lot!
As he entered the kitchen, Desdemona enveloped him in a coiled hug, her scales feeling like heaven on him.
"I missed you darling..." She whispered.
"I was only gone for a few days!" Jacob retorted.
"Still, I feel like you owe me some compensation for this transgression," She said in an imperious tone, "I feel like another child would be appropriate."
Jacob grinned, He always loved his wife's teasing, "What the lady want, the lady gets!" Announced Jacob, before sweeping her up into a princess carry, his now enhanced strength making such a task more than easy.
"Mmmm, I love you so much, my hero..." Desdemona swooned.
"And I love you too, my queen." Jacob replied.