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Echidna short

Magus_Anon Jan 25th, 2020 (edited) 1,031 Never
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  1. “Hey kid, you wanna make some money?”
  2.  
  3. Duft looked at the hooded figure who had sat down at his table over the top of his mug.
  4.  
  5. “Uhh… Yeah?” he said tentatively. “Unless it’s day labor. I’m an adventurer.”
  6.  
  7. “Good! Wonderful! Because I happen to know of a SECRET lair full of EVIL MONSTERS packed with fat stacks of LOOT. There’s even a SMOKING HOT BEAUTY in the clutches of some ancient unspeakable villain.” Said the woman, leaning in to emphasize certain points. Some of the other bar patrons glared at her as she practically shouted to Duft.
  8.  
  9. “Uh huh…” said Duft.
  10.  
  11. “What?! What kind of reaction is that?! You should be halfway out the door by now! What kind of limp-dick adventurer doesn’t get all hot and bothered at the mention of treasure?” said the woman, slamming her grey wrinkled hands down on the table. Duft still couldn’t see her face with the hood, but he imagined that she was scowling at him.
  12.  
  13. “It’s just that that seems a little to good to be true. Are you telling me that there’s a completely untapped well of treasure? That no one has ever found before?” asked Duft.
  14.  
  15. “Yes!”
  16.  
  17. “But you know about it, and you’re telling random strangers about it in bars?” asked Duft.
  18.  
  19. “Ah, well, people HAVE found it before, but they all perished!” said the woman, wiggling her fingers at him.
  20.  
  21. “Well I’m flattered by the offer. But I’m actually a bit green when it comes to adventuring. I was actually looking for a party to travel with. That ruin of yours sounds like it would be too much for the likes of me.” Said Duft.
  22.  
  23. “Nonsense! This is a perfect resume building exercise! No party in all the land will be able to turn you down once you plunder this place!” said the woman.
  24.  
  25. “I don’t think so. Sorry.” Said Duft curtly.
  26.  
  27. “…I’ll buy you a drink.” Said the woman.
  28.  
  29. “A beer for a march into certain doom? Yeah right lady. You’re probably just camped out in the woods with your bandit pals waiting to lure people like me to their deaths.” Said Duft.
  30.  
  31. “No! I promise that you will absolutely, one hundred percent NOT die.” Said the woman.
  32.  
  33. Her confidence was an abrupt juxtaposition from her earlier uncertainty.
  34.  
  35. “What makes you so sure?” he asked.
  36.  
  37. “I will PERSONALLY accompany you into this dungeon. The gods have given me the gift of foresight.”
  38.  
  39. “Sounds like you just want someone to escort you.” Said Duft. “What do you get out of all this? A cut of the loot?”
  40.  
  41. The woman paused for a second and then flopped down onto the table crying. Her exaggerated wails causes a group of miners at the next table to pick up their plates and find somewhere else to sit.
  42.  
  43. “You see, *sniff* that buxom beauty I mentioned earlier she’s… she’s… MY GRANDDAUGHTER!” said the woman raising the back of her hand to her forehead and leaning backwards.
  44.  
  45. Duft stared at her. “Are you mocking me?”
  46.  
  47. “Oi you bastard! I’m grieving! What kind of heartless sicko are you?”
  48.  
  49. “I’ll pass. Go find some other sucker t-“
  50.  
  51. Before he could finish, the woman pulled a bag of money from her tattered cloak.
  52.  
  53. “400 gold pieces. Up front. You can store it in the bank if you’re so concerned with being robbed. Please… Just…”
  54.  
  55. She let out a sniffle and clenched the bag.
  56.  
  57. Duft balked at the sum. More than enough to get himself the equipment he would need for serious excursions. The metal wafers twinkled in the dim light of the candles. The woman yanked the bag away as he reached out.
  58.  
  59. “How far away is this place?” asked Duft weakly.
  60.  
  61. “Only a few days. You’d be back before you know it.” Said the woman hopefully.
  62.  
  63. “Fine. If you let me use some of that to buy some new gear, and store the rest in the bank, I’ll come with you.” Said Duft.
  64.  
  65. “Really?” said the woman.
  66.  
  67. “Yes. We can set out tomorrow morning.” Said Duft.
  68.  
  69. “Of course! Oh, bless you hero!” said the woman. She took Duft’s hands in her own aged wrinkly hands. Duft quickly slipped out of the crone’s grasp and wiped his hands on his shirt.
  70.  
  71. “Right, see you then…”
  72.  
  73. ~~~~~~
  74.  
  75. “Are you sure this is the place?” asked Duft.
  76.  
  77. “Yeeeesssss traveler. Behold! FORT DEATH!” shrieked the hooded figure accompanying him.
  78.  
  79. Duft stared at the towering skull of stone carved out of the mountain. The empty eye sockets yawned, looking down at him in cold indifference.
  80.  
  81. “Hmm…”
  82.  
  83. “What’s wrong? It’s not to intimidating for you, is it?” asked the woman.
  84.  
  85. “It’s just a little… conspicuous isn’t it?” asked Duft. The surrounding forest had been cut down by the architect of the dungeon. Haunting totems stretched out for miles into the surrounding woods. Further up the mountain, a volcano belched soot into the sky. Occasionally some ash would take the form of a tormented human face as it slowly drifted upwards.
  86.  
  87. “I just feel like there should be more people that found this place.” Said Duft folding up the map and stowing it in his new pack.
  88. “Indeed! This place should have been plundered already. How all those incompetent heroes out there failed to get through the dungeon, or even FIND THIS PLACE is a mystery.” Said the woman.
  89.  
  90. “Probably all those monsters in the forest. That premonition of yours is a real gift. They would have found us for sure if you didn’t know how to avoid them.”
  91.  
  92. “Yes. Years of practice I suppose.”
  93.  
  94. Duft shuffled uncomfortably.
  95.  
  96. “What’s wrong?” asked his guide.
  97.  
  98. “I’m just a little nervous. This is my first time after all.” Said Duft.
  99.  
  100. “Me too…” muttered the woman.
  101.  
  102. “Did you say something?”
  103.  
  104. “Hmm? No. Let’s get inside shall we?”
  105.  
  106. Duft approached the mouth of the skull.
  107.  
  108. HALT.
  109.  
  110. A booming voice echoed through the clearing. Duft jumped and took a step back, brandishing his sword.
  111.  
  112. “Who’s there?”
  113.  
  114. Pebbles shook free from the skull as it shook.
  115.  
  116. TO PROCEED, YOU MUST ANSWER MY RIDDLE: WHAT CREATURE WALKS ON FOUR LEGS IN THE MORNING, TWO LEGS IN THE AFTERNOON A-
  117.  
  118. “Man.”
  119.  
  120. A WISE ANSWER. BUT A WISE MAN WOULD TURN AND FLEE. FOR NONE SURVIVE THE FORTRESS OF DEATH!
  121.  
  122. The teeth of the skull slowly slid into the ground and the maxilla to provide passage to the duo.
  123.  
  124. “This place must be ancient if it’s using that riddle. Oh well, easier for us I suppose.” Said Duft.
  125.  
  126. “Hold it!” said the old woman grabbing his shirt sleeve. “What was that?! You can’t just cut off some ancient magical riddle giver in the middle of his speech like that. It’s rude!”
  127.  
  128. “Everyone’s heard that one. Now let’s go. I want t-“
  129.  
  130. Duft stumbled and fell onto the cold stone bricks. Turning around, he could see the sun pouring in over a pile of gold.
  131.  
  132. “No way! That’s gotta be at least a thousand…” he said in awe.
  133.  
  134. “Yes, truly this place houses wealth beyond measure. Now come, let us press deeper int- Oi! Stop that!”
  135.  
  136. Duft ignored the crone and continued to stuff as much gold as he could into his backpack.
  137.  
  138. “Hey! I said stop! We have a long way to go, you shouldn’t fill up your bag with gold already!” said the woman tugging him onwards.
  139.  
  140. “What are you talking about? I can probably buy a house with all this. And there’s no danger here anyways. Might as well just take what we can carry and head back to town.”
  141.  
  142. “Umm… But! But, uhh… Granddaughter! What about my granddaughter?” pleaded the woman.
  143.  
  144. Duft paused. “Is she REALLY here? You don’t really seem to broken up about her…”
  145.  
  146. “How DARE you. She IS here, and she is the most beautiful woman in all the land. If you save her, I’ll have her marry you.” Said the woman. She bobbed her head in what was probably a wink, but Duft couldn’t see her face.
  147.  
  148. “Oh yeah? What does she look like?” said Duft crossing his arms.
  149.  
  150. The hooded figure clenched her fists and raised a hand to her chin. “Beautiful.”
  151.  
  152. Duft raised an eyebrow.
  153.  
  154. “She’s got uhh… Brown hair, and smooth creamy skin, and big fat tiddies, and uhh…”
  155.  
  156. “You describe your granddaughter as having ‘big fat tiddies’?”
  157.  
  158. “She’s attractive! Now shut up and lets go.” Said the woman.
  159.  
  160. “Sorry lady, I think this is where I check out. Even with premonition, I’m probably not cut out for dungeon delving like this. Why not hire a professional crew to tackle this?” said Duft.
  161.  
  162. A loud hum caught his attention. Turning to the door, he saw silhouettes of something on the horizon, just above the tree line. As they got closer, Duft was able to see that they were hornets, each carrying a spear twice as tall as he was.
  163.  
  164. “There he is!” shouted one.
  165.  
  166. The squadron charged forwards with their spears at the ready.
  167.  
  168. “Oh fuck! Get behind me!” said Duft, drawing his sword.
  169.  
  170. Before the angry insects could close the distance, the teeth slammed shut again sealing the two of them in. Duft quickly pulled out his tinderbox and lit one of the torches he had brought along. As the fire flickered to life, he saw the woman standing beside a lever.
  171.  
  172. “Good thing I foresaw what this lever did. Looks like there’s only one way to go now.” She shrugged.
  173.  
  174. “You foresaw the what some random lever did, but not that we would be ambushed by bees?” asked Duft.
  175.  
  176. “Hey, I can’t see EVERYTHING. Now pour the gold out of your pack and let’s keep moving.” Said the woman.
  177.  
  178. She shuffled off into the darkness. Duft took one last look at the pile of coins behind him, and swore as he followed after her.
  179.  
  180. ~~~~~~
  181.  
  182. “Careful, this next room has some traps in it.” Said the woman. She pointed to the floor tiles. Each had a different symbol carved into it. “Think you can figure it out?”
  183.  
  184. Duft looked around. A series of symbols corresponding to the tiles on the floor stretched to the opposite side of the room.
  185.  
  186. “Yeah, I think I can handle this.” Said Duft.
  187.  
  188. Hopping from tile to tile, he quickly arrived at the far end of the room. The woman let out a quiet ‘yesss’ and followed him.
  189.  
  190. “Well done! I knew you were a clever one.”
  191.  
  192.  “Are you sure this isn’t a trap? This has seemed too… trivial so far.” Said Duft.
  193.  
  194. “This is the easy part. Just you wait young man; in a few hours you’ll be crying for momma.” Said the woman. She paused and shuddered a bit, wringing her wrinkled hands.
  195.  
  196. “If you say so. Are there anymore dangers nearby?” asked Duft.
  197.  
  198. “Umm… No.”
  199.  
  200. “That didn’t sound very confident.”
  201.  
  202. “Shut up you brat! I know this place like the back of my hand.” Snapped the woman.
  203.  
  204. “Alright, geeze. I didn’t mean to offen-“
  205.  
  206. “WAIT!”
  207.  
  208. Duft froze and drew his sword. “What is it? Monsters?”
  209.  
  210. The woman pushed past him and snatched the torch form his hands. Holding it out in front of her, she crept around the corner. Leaning as far as she could, she tapped a few tiles with her foot.
  211.  
  212. “Oh. Not quite there yet.” She said.
  213.  
  214. Duft took the torch from her. “Have you been here before?”
  215.  
  216. “Many times. In my dreams.” Said the cloaked figure.
  217.  
  218. Duft just pressed onwards. The sooner he could ditch this nutcase the better. Every time he tried to leave, she just reminded him of the hornets outside. It’s not like they would just wait around all day. If she was so gifted with foresight, she should have hired more than one person to take down an entire fortress full of traps and monsters!
  219.  
  220. “Is this it? No, I think it’s one more…”
  221.  
  222. Duft sighed as the woman continued to murmur to herself. Suddenly, his foot sank into the floor, compressing a brick. There was a high-pitched whistling as a flurry of darts shot towards him. All Duft could do was hold up his arms and grunt as they lodged into his arms and chest.
  223.  
  224. “OH NO!”
  225.  
  226. The woman hurried over to him and quickly pulled the darts out of him. Reaching into the sleeve of her cloak, she pulled out a small crystal vial and pulled the stopper.
  227.  
  228. “Drink this, quick!”
  229.  
  230. Duft was already beginning to feel woozy. Though he still couldn’t see the woman’s face, her voice was becoming more enchanting by the second. He found that he was helpless to resist her suggestions, and earnestly pulled the vial to his lips, downing the contents.
  231. “What now?” he asked, reaching out to hold her hand.
  232.  
  233. “Just wait. The antidote should take effect soon.” She said pulling free from his bumbling grasp.
  234.  
  235. Duft groaned and tried to squeeze her breasts. The woman awkwardly tried to keep his wandering hands off her body as she held him in her lap. He nuzzled her stomach and sighed as they both waited for the aphrodisiac to wear off.
  236.  
  237. After a few minutes, the twinkle in his eyes started to fade. Duft’s face began to shift from loving wonderment to disgust. Pushing himself away, he dusted himself away from her and continued down the hall.
  238.  
  239. “Come on. Let’s keep moving.” He said.
  240.  
  241. The woman struggled to her feet and dusted off her cloak. Giving him more space than usual, she reminisced about the smooth feel of the young mans hands as she walked behind him.
  242.  
  243. ~~~~~
  244.  
  245. “It’s getting late, we should stop and rest for the night.” Said the old woman.
  246.  
  247. “Hmm… Alright. We should back track a bit. I don’t want to be caught by surprise by monsters just as we’re about to sleep.” Said Duft.
  248. “Nonsense! The room up ahead should do. On your left, dear.”
  249.  
  250. Duft lifted the torch above his head and watched a thick wooden door appear from the shadows. It looked out of place in the corridor of stone. The brass doorknob twinkled in the firelight as Duft gently reached out and twisted it.
  251.  
  252. “Locked.” He grunted.
  253.  
  254. “Perhaps you could pick it?” suggested the woman.
  255.  
  256. “I don’t know. I’ve never picked a lock before.” Said Duft inspecting the keyhole.
  257.  
  258. “It’s simple. Here, I always carry a pick on me.” Said the woman. She reached into the sleeve of her cloak and pulled out a few thin metal rods.
  259.  
  260. “You certainly are well prepared.” Mused Duft, taking two of the picks form her.
  261.  
  262. “Well, I knew you would need them after all.”
  263.  
  264. Duft squatted down and set to work on the lock.
  265.  
  266. “That’s it. Gently now. Don’t make any sharp movements. Just ease the tumblers into place…”
  267.  
  268. With a click, Duft twisted the knob and opened the door.
  269.  
  270. “Well done!” praised the woman.
  271.  
  272. Duft held the door for her, and closed the door shut behind them.
  273.  
  274. The room they were in was unlike any of the other rooms they had been in so far. A small fireplace and cooking station were carved into the wall. A small, moth-eaten bed rested on the floor next to the hearth. Opposite the wall with the fireplace, a destroyed cabinet and bookcase leaned against the cool stone. The bookcase’s contents had broken through their shelves, piling on top of each other on the lowest shelf in a heap of yellowed paper. There was even a small table over a raggedy rug, giving the place a comfy feeling. Clearly this was at one point a residence. For who or what, Duft had no idea. Shuffling past Duft, the woman tossed some desiccated sticks into the fireplace and began to warm herself.
  275.  
  276. “Well, this is unexpected.” Said Duft.
  277.  
  278. “This place is a mess! Whose job is it to clean around here?!” said the woman.
  279.  
  280. Duft laughed and set his pack down on the ground. Grabbing one of the two chairs, he wedged it under the doorknob.
  281. “What are you doing that for?” asked the woman.
  282.  
  283. “Just making sure that nothing gets in here while we sleep.” Said Duft.
  284.  
  285. “Well you can put it back after we eat dinner.”
  286.  
  287. “You want to eat at the table?” asked Duft.
  288.  
  289. “We might as well. If we have a stewpot and a table, why not enjoy them? Oh, and could you light that chandelier too?”
  290.  
  291. Duft used the second chair and a smaller stick to light the half-burnt candles hanging over the table. The ancient wax released a charming scent as the blackened wicks flickered to life.
  292.  
  293. “What do you think lived here?” asked Duft. He picked up a book and tried to read the ancient tome. The writing was too faded to read, even after he brushed away a thick layer of dust.
  294.  
  295. “A monster, I suppose. Probably one of the more intelligent beasts that decided that they could do better than a damp pile of straw.” Said the woman.
  296.  
  297. “You don’t think they’ll come back do you?”
  298.  
  299. “No. You’ve seen how barren this place has been so far. I suspect that most of the monsters have either retreated further into the depths to be closer to the treasure, or left in search of prey.”
  300.  
  301. A sizzle from the fireplace turned Duft’s attention away from the illegible books. “What are you doing?” asked Duft.
  302.  
  303. “Cooking. I brought along some provisions that could be eaten as is, or cooked into a nice meal. So many adventurers just run off thinking that they can survive off boot-leather jerky and dried fruit for three weeks. Hah! Never let any of those meatheads tell you that cooking isn’t an adventurers skill. I’ve seen whole parties almost starve to death when they were surrounded by edible mushrooms.”
  304. “So you WERE an adventurer.” Said Duft, watching as she turned a piece of meat on a grilling rack.
  305.  
  306. The woman sighed and spread a handful of spices across the meat. “No. I was always more of a domestic soul. But even though I didn’t adventure, I became something of a mentor to others. Teaching younger explorers the basics and learning advanced techniques from veterans.”
  307.  
  308. The fire popped in appreciation as a glob of grease dripped onto the coals.
  309.  
  310. “Do you have any plans after this? Finding your granddaughter, I mean.” Said Duft.
  311.  
  312. “Hmm? Oh, right. No, I think this is going to be the last time these old bones make such a trip. When she’s safe, I just want to relax with my family and live happily ever after.” She said wistfully.
  313.  
  314. “Happily ever after? Isn’t that a bit romantic?” asked Duft.
  315.  
  316. “Certainly not! It happens more often than you think, young man. It’s hard to tell when you’ve got it good you know. But then one day you wake up, and you realize how content you are with the life you lived, and how blessed you were just to be able to live it. Happily ever after doesn’t mean perfect, it just means everything turned out fine.” Said the woman, shaking a utensil at him.
  317.  
  318. Duft walked over to the bed and nudged it with his foot. Pulling back the covers, he was surprised to see the mattress in decent condition. Vermin had been more merciful to the bed itself than the sheets and blanket that covered it. Tentatively, he sat down on the edge.
  319.  
  320. “Hey, this thing is sturdier than it looks.” Said Duft.
  321.  
  322. “Oh? Good, we can sleep on that instead of the cold floor.” Said the woman.
  323.  
  324. “We?”
  325.  
  326. She looked over at him from under her cloak. “Is that a problem?”
  327.  
  328. “I thought you were going to take the bed. I can sleep on the floor.” Said Duft.
  329.  
  330. “Oh, what a kind young man you are. I don’t mind sharing a bed with you. You’d certainly sleep better on a mattress anyways. Can’t fight monsters with a sore back after all.”
  331.  
  332. Duft pursed his lips but didn’t say anything. He was more concerned with having to be spooned by a wrinkly old woman than preserving her dignity.
  333.  
  334. “Here we are.” Hummed the woman carrying over a plate of meat and vegetables. Dusting off the surface of the table, she set down the pan and looked at Duft expectantly.
  335.  
  336. Duft sighed and took the seat across from the crone. He took a fork and slipped some of the piping hot medley onto one of the small camping plates they had brought. Taking a bite, he was surprised to find the meat bursting with flavor.
  337.  
  338. “Wow.” He grunted through a mouthful of food.
  339.  
  340. “Is it to your liking?” asked the woman.
  341.  
  342. “It’s incredible. Where did you learn to cook like this?” asked Duft.
  343.  
  344. The woman folded her hands together. “Years of practice. Funny, I spent so long learning to prepare food but never had anyone to prepare it for…”
  345.  
  346. “What about your husband?” asked Duft.
  347.  
  348. “Husband?”
  349.  
  350. “Surely you married if you have a granddaughter.” Said Duft.
  351.  
  352. “Ah! Yes, he died.”
  353.  
  354. Duft chewed slowly and waited for her to elaborate.
  355.  
  356. “… Was he an adventurer?”
  357.  
  358. “Oh yes. He was handsome and charismatic, unrivaled in martial prowess. Nothing could stop him when he put his mind to something. And when he came home, he would whisk me away to the bedroom and caress every inch of my b-“
  359.  
  360. She caught Duft’s incredulous look and coughed before she finished the thought.
  361.  
  362. “But yes, he met a tragic end in some dungeon.”
  363.  
  364. “What was his name anyways? Or yours for that matter? I don’t think I ever caught it.”
  365.  
  366. “Me, I’m… Corallinus.” Said the woman.
  367.  
  368. “And your husband? If he’s famous maybe I know who he is.”
  369.  
  370. “It’s too painful for me to recall him. Would you like some salt?” said Corallinus.
  371.  
  372. Duft shook his head and blotted his mouth with a napkin. “Where are the parents of your granddaughter? Your son or daughter and their spouse?”
  373.  
  374. “Far away in some big city. They sent my granddaughter out here to get her away from the filth that lives behind those accursed walls.” Spat Corallinus. “They don’t know she got kidnapped yet, so I’m in a bit of a time crunch.”
  375.  
  376. “How did she even get grabbed if you have clairvoyance? Forgetting about that dart trap is one thing, but I would think that the powers that be would clue you in to your own family being kidnapped.”
  377.  
  378. “The Chief God works in mysterious ways.” Said Corallinus with a shrug.
  379.  
  380. Duft scowled at her and wiped his face. “Whatever. If you don’t want to tell me that’s fine. I’m going to sleep.”
  381.  
  382. The cloaked geriatric moved faster than he had ever seen, leaping into bed and lifting the other side of the blanket for him.
  383.  
  384. “Yes, I’m feeling quite tired as well. We should prepare for the long day ahead of us.” She said.
  385.  
  386. “You do that. I’ll be sleeping here on the floor.”
  387.  
  388. “No, I insist. Come here.” Said Corallinus patting the mattress next to her.
  389.  
  390. “I don’t want to! Now go to sleep you, old bat!”
  391.  
  392. Corallinus stared at him and huffed. “Very well…” she muttered.
  393.  
  394. Duft unfurled his bedroll and extinguished the candles lighting the room. Turning his back to the glowing hearth, he settled into his lumpy pillow and tried to get comfortable on the cold stone floor.
  395.  
  396. ~~~~~~
  397.  
  398. A tickling sensation roused Duft from his uneasy sleep. Sighing in irritation, he opened his eyes. The largest cockroach he had ever seen was gently batting his cheek with its antenna. Duft yelped in surprise and scrambled up.
  399.  
  400. “What is it?” asked the Corallinus.
  401.  
  402. Duft smacked the bug with a piece of wood and pitched both into the fireplace.
  403.  
  404. “Nothing, just a bug.”
  405.  
  406. “You sound awful. Have you gotten any sleep?” asked Corallinus.
  407.  
  408. “Yes.” Lied Duft.
  409.  
  410. “Liar. I can practically SEE that knot forming in your neck. Do you want to push further into the dungeon or not?”
  411.  
  412. “I do.”
  413.  
  414. “Then come here. I don’t know why you’re so averse to sharing a bed with me, but I’m a little offended honestly. I was quite the looker back in my day.” Sniffed the old woman.
  415.  
  416. “I get it, I get it. Fine. Move over.” Grumbled Duft.
  417.  
  418. Corallinus scooted over for him and he slid into place next to her. The warmth of the bed and plushness of the mattress melted away any reservations he had about this sleeping arrangement. It would be over before he knew it. Already he could feel sleep overtaking him as the old woman next to him gently placed her hand on his side.
  419.  
  420. “There you go… Nice and comfy…”
  421.  
  422. Duft began to snore softly, too exhausted to notice her caress.
  423.  
  424. ~~~~~
  425. He awoke to the crackling of the fire and the scent of breakfast being cooked.
  426.  
  427. “Good morning. You slept well.” Said the Corallinus.
  428.  
  429. Duft stretched and yawned. “I guess so. It certainly is more comfortable than the floor…”
  430.  
  431. “Well, we have a big day ahead of us. Here, eat up! You’ll need lots of energy. We’ll be fighting some monsters today for sure.”
  432.  
  433. Duft accepted the bowl of oatmeal and pondered the implications of the prediction. Was he really ready to fight a mamono? More trained men than he had fallen to the beasts.
  434.  
  435. “Wipe that look off your face. You’ll do just fine.” Said Corallinus.
  436.  
  437. Duft nodded and slurped down a spoonful of oats. Her assertion made him feel a bit more relived, even if he wasn’t confident in his skills.
  438.  
  439. ~~~~~~
  440.  
  441. “Careful, she should be just around this bend…” said Corallinus, peeking around the corner.
  442.  
  443. The single corridor had long since spanned out into a labyrinth of twisting stone and deadly traps. Too late Duft had realized that he was now wholly reliant on this loony’s prophetic sense to guide both of them to safety. He would certainly starve to death if he tried to find his way back through the maze. Starvation may not even be the worst fate to meet here…
  444.  
  445. Duft blenched as a low growl emanated from the darkness ahead. Claws scraped against the stone as their foe began to move towards them.
  446.  
  447. “Ah! Here she comes! Remember what I told you.” Said Corallinus excitedly. She shimmied behind Duft and began nudging him towards the monster.
  448.  
  449. “Hey! What are you doing?!” hissed Duft.
  450.  
  451. “Go get her, champion!”
  452.  
  453. With strength unbecoming for a woman of her age, Corallinus shoved Duft around the corner. He gasped and took a step back as he came face to face with a woman coiled in black metal. Though she was a bit shorter than Duft, the malevolent red sword growing out of her arm was more than enough to give him pause.
  454.  
  455. “Ah… At last. Prey has finally come to me. Come then!” The monster swung her sword arm in a flurry of strikes in front of her before stabbing deep into the stone wall. “Meet your fate, insect!”
  456.  
  457. Duft didn’t have time to retort before she lunged at him. Twisting his body out of the way, her thrust sailed past him. Bringing his own sword to bear, he slashed at her naked body.
  458.  
  459. “Too slow, mortal! Have the traps all rusted to dust? Surely one as incompetent as you could never have made it this far~” taunted the petite swordswoman as she swung her weapon at Duft.
  460.  
  461. Duft grunted in pain as he deflected the blow. The vibration shook his hand, but he was too intent on the battle to notice. As the cursed sword readied another haymaker, he lunged at her. Swearing, the woman made a feeble attempt to block the incoming attack.
  462. “Mind your footwork, Duft!” called Corallinus.
  463.  
  464. Duft shifted to the left side of the monster, away from her sword arm. With a grunt, she made a low swing at his legs as he sidled towards her. Stepping away from the sword, Duft deflected it and kicked at the monster’s legs. His boot struck her shin, and she staggered back. Seizing the opportunity, Duft lunged forwards and pushed her sword arm away with the flat of his blade. As her arm twisted to the side, he slashed backwards across her torso.
  465.  
  466. The monster screamed and collapsed to the floor. A trail of red oozed up from her chest where she had been cut.
  467.  
  468. “Well done!” clapped Corallinus reappearing from behind the corner. “Excellent swordsmanship hero!”
  469.  
  470. “No! Stay back, I don’t think she’s dead yet.” Said Duft. “I’ll finish her off.”
  471.  
  472. “NO! Look, she’s stone dead, see?” said Corallinus nudging the girl with her foot. The cursed sword grunted.
  473.  
  474. “She’s still alive!” Said Duft raising his sword again.
  475.  
  476. “That was just air leaving the body!” said Corallinus. “Come, the smell of death will attract more monsters, we have to keep moving!”
  477.  
  478. Corallinus began to shepherd Duft down the hall. Fear of the sword recovering and coming after him was superseded by a long howl echoing through the labyrinth from deep within the dungeon. Gripping his sword tighter, he grit his teeth and pushed further into the darkness.
  479.  
  480. ~~~~~
  481.  
  482. “So this should go… here.” Said Duft, slotting the last rune stone into the archway. The stones glowed and the door began grate open.
  483.  
  484. “Impressive. Not many people would have been able to solve that puzzle.” Said Corallinus.
  485.  
  486. Duft thrust the torch into the darkness. A cool draft of ancient air battered his face.
  487.  
  488. “Looks clear. Come on.” He said.
  489.  
  490. “So, child, what do you plan to do after this is all over?” asked Corallinus, trailing behind him.
  491.  
  492. “Hopefully plundering this place will give me enough prestige to find a proper group to travel with. Though, there hasn’t been much loot so far…”
  493.  
  494. That was a bit concerning to Duft. From how this place looked on the outside, there should be oodles of gold and monsters. But the denizens of this once great fortress seemed to have left, and taken their belongings with them. The only other foe he had faced since was a giant bug woman who had tried to bum rush him. And a giant rat woman. But she fell on her face and ran off crying so Duft wasn’t counting that one. He adjusted the new breast plate he had found and cinched the straps. At least the remaining gear was excellent quality.
  495.  
  496. “Have you ever considered settling down and starting a family?” asked the woman.
  497.  
  498. “Eh, maybe someday. Not right now though. I still have the world to see. And I wouldn’t dream of marrying a girl unless I knew I could provide for her.”
  499.  
  500. “Respectable. Sounds like you do want a family someday, no?”
  501.  
  502. Duft thought for a moment. “Yeah, I can’t really think of any other way to spend the last half of my life. All the adventurers I know over the age of forty take easy jobs. And the ones that try to relive their youth and go back for “one last big score” usually don’t come back. Not like I’d have anything besides people I care about to spend the money on anyways.” Said Duft.
  503.  
  504. “Yes, one should remember that youth is fleeting. Sometimes even when everything goes right, the outcome isn’t what you’d hoped.”
  505.  
  506. Duft looked back at Corallinus. Her tone was more melancholy than he was used to. The hooded figure shambled along after him.
  507.  
  508. “How many kids do you want?” she asked abruptly.
  509.  
  510. “Huh?”
  511.  
  512. “Never mind. Careful, this room looks dangerous.” Said Corallinus, pointing to the entrance up ahead.
  513.  
  514. The room’s floor was a checkerboard pattern of holes and pillars. In the center, a lone pot rested on a pillar slightly larger than the rest. Beyond the pitfalls, a door at the far side of the room was sealed with an intimidating padlock.
  515.  
  516. “Well, I guess I know where I’m going.” Said Duft. He unslung his pack and set it down.
  517.  
  518. “Be careful.” Said Corallinus.
  519.  
  520. “Make sure that you don’t get ambushed while I’m in the middle of the room.” Said Duft.
  521.  
  522. He hopped onto the first pillar. The stone below him was sturdy and smooth. Not that that meant the remainder of the room was in such sound condition. Some of the pillars may crumble when he stepped on them. Hopping to the next pillar, Duft prepared for a hasty jump if this one should fall.
  523.  
  524. Nothing.
  525.  
  526. Striding from pillar to pillar, Duft quickly reached the center of the room.
  527.  
  528. “Alright, now let’s see if the key is in here…” muttered Duft.
  529.  
  530. Peering inside the jar, a small girl grinned sheepishly at him.
  531.  
  532. Duft screamed and staggered backwards.
  533.  
  534. “NO!” shrieked Corallinus.
  535.  
  536. Twisting his body, he was able to hook his hand over the edge of the central pillar before he fell onto the spikes below. Reaching up with his other hand, he clung to the edge with all his might.
  537.  
  538. The face from the jar reappeared over Duft as he hung over oblivion. Now that she was out of the darkness of the jar, Duft could see that she had taken the shape of a littler girl. Perplexingly, she looked even more distraught than he did at his current predicament. Clasping her hands to her mouth, she looked over at Corallinus. The hag grabbed her head and then waved her hands in a circular motion in front of her. Was she encouraging the monster to finish him off?!
  539.  
  540. “Uh! Um… Y-you are finished! P-p-prepare to meet your maker, uh, human!” stammered the girl.
  541.  
  542. Duft couldn’t spare the energy to retort as his feet scrabbled for purchase against the side of the pillar.
  543.  
  544. “Come on! You can do it!” cried Corallinus.
  545.  
  546. Duft grunted and wheezed as he finally sank his foot into a small crack in the brickwork. Adjusting his weight, he heaved himself up back onto the platform. The jinn pranced around him mumbling and whining as he crawled towards her.
  547.  
  548. “Smash her jar, Duft!” shouted Corallinus.
  549.  
  550. The girl squealed and ran to the far side of the platform.
  551.  
  552. “Jar, got it.” Panted Duft. Walking to the cowering demon, he stood over her.
  553.  
  554. The girl burst into tears and for the first time in his life Duft felt pity for a monster. The others were just trying to eat him, and he couldn’t really blame them for that; humans were a prey species. But this runt was something else.
  555.  
  556. “PLEASE DON’T HURT MEEEE!” wailed the little girl.
  557.  
  558. “This doesn’t feel very hero-y...” called Duft to Corallinus.
  559.  
  560. Corallinus put her hand over her face. “Well then just make her give you the key.”
  561.  
  562. Duft looked back at the girl. “So…”
  563.  
  564. The jinn pulled a large key from her jar and threw it at him. Duft winced as it hit him in the chest.
  565.  
  566. “Just take it and leave you bully!”
  567.  
  568. The jinn leapt off the pillar and effortlessly fled the room past Corallinus. The old woman watched her run past into the darkness.
  569.  
  570. “Is it really okay to let her go?” asked Duft.
  571.  
  572. “Yeah, she’s just a little one. I think it’s safe to let tricksters like that go, don’t you?”
  573.  
  574. “Yeah. I’ll go unlock the door. Just stay there until we know there aren’t any more traps.” Said Duft.
  575.  
  576. Working his way over to the door, he slid the key into the lock and hesitantly turned the key. The tumblers clicked into place and the lock clattered to the ground.
  577.  
  578. “Excellent work.”
  579.  
  580. Duft nearly cleaved Corallinus in half as she appeared behind him.
  581.  
  582. “How did you get over here so fast?!” he asked.
  583.  
  584. “These old bones aren’t as brittle as you think, boy. I’ve still got vigor left in me.” Said the old woman.
  585.  
  586. “Some vigor would have been handy when I was hanging on for dear life over a pit of spikes.” Said Duft, peeking through the door.
  587.  
  588. “I was uh, casting an incantation! Yes, I charmed that monster to make her more docile.”
  589.  
  590. “Speaking of which, have you noticed that all the monsters we’ve encountered have been women? I figured they would be more teeth and claws and less tits and ass.” Said Duft.
  591.  
  592. “All monsters are like that.” Said Corallinus nudging him through the door into the dark.
  593.  
  594. “Really?” asked Duft.
  595.  
  596. “Yes, there was a big magical cataclysm that shook everything up a long time ago. Monsters have been like this ever since. Don’t be fooled, they’re still dangerous.”
  597.  
  598. “Right.”
  599.  
  600. They walked in silence for some time. Occasionally Corallinus would direct him where to go when the dungeon got too complicated.
  601.  
  602. “Are you feeling alright?” asked Corallinus nervously.
  603.  
  604. “Yes, why?”
  605.  
  606. “You just seem like you’re tense.”
  607.  
  608. “We’re in the middle of a monster infested dungeon. Are you NOT nervous?” said Duft.
  609.  
  610. “Of course. But I’m not scared. Not with you here. I only ask because you seem like you aren’t enjoying yourself.”
  611.  
  612. Duft looked back at her. “Enjoying myself?”
  613.  
  614. “Most adventurers are wary, but they love the thrill of delving into unknown depths and dangers in pursuit of plunder and prestige! But I haven’t seen you smile once this whole time…”
  615.  
  616. “Forgive me if I find fighting for my life to be less than entertaining.” Said Duft.
  617.  
  618. “I mean it! Where’s your spirit of adventure? We’re the first humans to be in this dungeon in a hundred years, and you don’t feel even a tingle of excitement?” said Corallinus.
  619.  
  620. “That’s a funny way to describe an adrenaline rush.”
  621.  
  622. “Oh… I’m sorry.”
  623.  
  624. “Sorry for what?”
  625.  
  626. “I just thought that this would be more enjoyable for you.” Said Corallinus. “Most adventurers would be chomping at the bit to delve deeper into the dungeon.”
  627.  
  628. “I’m grateful for the opportunity, don’t think that I don’t know how lucky I am to be here.” Said Duft. “I just think I’m in over my head here.”
  629.  
  630. Corallinus giggled. “Every adventurer feels like that, you know.”
  631.  
  632. Duft laughed. “I doubt that.”
  633.  
  634. “It’s true! Even the most seasoned adventurers know that every trip they make could be their last. You never know what traps or monsters or curses you may run into. All it takes is one little mistake. Don’t think for a second that those pompous fools peacocking about the taverns aren’t shaking in their boots when they crack open a new tomb. Hell, the ones that DON’T feel enough fear are the ones that bumble into the first trap.”
  635.  
  636. Duft smirked a bit. She was right. Maybe he was being too hard on himself. After all, adventurers were a herd species. They relied on each other for both moral and martial support. He had done just fine so far, even without backup. He glanced pack at Corallinus. No, this was a party. She had been invaluable to him. Even though she was a living relic, she was extremely knowledgeable about every aspect of adventuring from camping skills to combat. Already he felt like he had learned more under her tutelage than a month with the old guard he had studied under in the village.
  637.  
  638. “I suppose you have a point. Discretion is the better part of valor. But I guess that makes me the fool; I still would have come to save your granddaughter even if I had to come alone.” Said Duft.
  639.  
  640. Corallinus clasped her hands together in front of her chest. “I’m happy to hear that. That’s the most important thing for an adventurer to have you know: courage. As long as you keep your chin up, and do your best to conquer every obstacle that the gods set forth for you, there’s no limit to what you can achieve.”
  641.  
  642. She hummed contentedly and nodded. “I’m sure that you’ll make a woman very happy one day.”
  643.  
  644. Duft smiled and continued on. “Thanks…”
  645.  
  646. ~~~~
  647.  
  648. Their shelter that night was a library. A veritable labyrinth of bookshelves and desks stretching into the darkness.
  649.  
  650. “You’d think a place where people read would be better lit…” muttered Duft. The only light source came from some luminescent crystals embedded into the walls of an alcove. Though they were scarcely brighter than a candle, the soft white glow shone like a beacon in the inky blackness.
  651.  
  652. “This spot will do. We can move some of the bookshelves to create a room.” Said Corallinus.
  653.  
  654. “Smart. Here, hold the torch.” Said Duft. He began to shovel books of the shelves onto the floor.
  655.  
  656. “What are you doing?!” hissed Corallinus.
  657.  
  658. “What do you mean? These cases are heavy enough without the books on them. There’s no way that I’m keeping all these texts on the shelf AND lifting a massive block of wood.”
  659.  
  660. “Mmm… A good point. Just be careful, some of those books may be valuable.”
  661.  
  662. A bright pink cover caught Duft’s eye. Reaching down, he looked at the cover of the book. A bare-chested lamia was reclining in the arms of a muscular man. His long hair billowed behind him as he looked passionately at the woman in his arms.
  663.  
  664. “The Serpent and the Snake Charmer…” said Duft.
  665.  
  666. Corallinus lunged towards him but tripped over some of the books.
  667.  
  668. “Put that thing down!” she cried.
  669.  
  670. Duft ignored her, compelled by his curiosity. Stepping away from Corallinus, he flipped to a random page and began reading.
  671.  
  672. ~~~~
  673.  
  674. “Release me, you brute.” Said Mircur.
  675.  
  676. “I can’t.” said Sodal. “A thief like me could never let go of a treasure like you.” He said.
  677.  
  678. One of hid hands clasped her wrists together, leaving her helpless to his ministrations as the other hand groped one of her supple breasts. Mircur moaned as his finger ran across her tender nipple.
  679.  
  680. “Ufufu… Such a lurid sound from such a beautiful creature. If I had known that all monsters were so beguiling, I would have kidnapped one long ago.”
  681.  
  682. “YOU’RE the monster. Stealing an innocent woman away like this…” said Mircur.
  683.  
  684. Sodal gently ran his hand across her cheek, brushing an errant lock of hair out of the way.
  685.  
  686. “That attitude just won’t do. I need a wife who will be better behaved.” Smirked Sodal.
  687.  
  688. “Wife?!” gasped Mircur.
  689.  
  690. “It would seem I have no choice…” Sodal leaned in to kiss her softly. “...But to pull one last heist and steal your heart.”
  691.  
  692. ~~~~~
  693.  
  694. “STOOOOP!” wailed Corallinus. She was jumping up and down trying to pry the book from Duft’s hands as he held it over his head.
  695. “DON’T READ ANYMORE!” pleaded the old woman.
  696.  
  697. Not that Duft could. The second he had begun to read aloud, the hag had begun wailing like her feet were being put to the fire.
  698. “What the hell is wrong with you? It’s just a book.” Said Duft tossing it aside.
  699.  
  700. Corallinus gasped and hurried over to the book. Picking it up, she made to throw the book, but faltered and instead tossed it further down the aisle they were in.
  701.  
  702. “Kind of a weird book for a monster to read anyways. Seemed more like a trashy romance story than an arcane tome. What kind of monster would fall in love with a man? They just eat ‘em.”
  703.  
  704. Duft looked at Corallinus. Her gnarled hands were clenched at her side and she was trembling. With rage or embarrassment, Duft couldn’t tell without seeing her face.
  705.  
  706. “It’s not trashy.” She muttered. Her voice was choked with emotion. “And monsters CAN fall in love with people. You think that love is just a human emotion?”
  707.  
  708. Duft stared at her. “Why do you care so much? You’ve watched me cut down two dozen monsters on the way here.”
  709.  
  710. Corallinus shuffled. “It’s different when they attack you. What if a monster fell in love with you?”
  711.  
  712. “I’d cut them down, just like the others.”
  713.  
  714. “No! If she didn’t attack you and didn’t pose any threat. Can you really say that the monsters you’ve fought so far haven’t been attractive?”
  715.  
  716. Duft blushed. “W-well, I do admit most of them have been… pleasing…”
  717.  
  718. “Exactly! So if one of them had the demeanor of a sweet village maiden and the knockout-body of a monster, why would you refuse her?” said Corallinus earnestly.
  719.  
  720. “I-I don’t know. Maybe I wouldn’t kill them, but it’s not like I would love them. I mean, they’re a monster.”
  721.  
  722. Corallinus took a deep breath and relaxed her hands. “No matter. We’re getting distracted. Let’s just finish making this room.”
  723.  
  724. Together they shoved the last bookcase into place, completing the last makeshift wall. Feeling marginally more safe, they settled down for a wordless light dinner before falling into an uneasy sleep.
  725.  
  726. ~~~~~
  727.  
  728. “Not much farther.” Said Corallinus handing Duft a bowl of hot oats.
  729.  
  730. “Do you think we’ll reach your granddaughter before the end of the day? I mean, if it is day. Not like we can tell what time it is in here.” Said Duft.
  731.  
  732. “We’ll be out of here soon enough, and you’ll be a rich man. With a beautiful girl in tow.”
  733.  
  734. Duft shifted in the chair he sat in. “I’m not just going to marry your granddaughter you know. Saving a girl with the caveat that she marry me is no different from abducting her in the first place.”
  735.  
  736. “A fair point. But don’t blame me if she can’t keep her hands off you.” Said Corallinus coyly.
  737.  
  738. Duft snorted and finished the last of his oats. Love at first sight didn’t happen like that. Even if the girl was head-over-heels in love with him for saving her, he was still going to take it slow. No telling what kind of crazy she might be. If she got captured by monsters, she may be one of those hopeless romantics who wanders through monster infested woods in search of her prince charming. If she was even alive. The idea that she was already a pile of gnawed bones on some demon’s table was getting harder and harder to ignore as time dragged on. But Corallinus insisted that she was still kicking, and she hadn’t been wrong yet. No choice but to keep trusting her.
  739.  
  740. “Right. So, which way are we headed today?”
  741.  
  742. “Deeper into the library. Come, I’ll show you.” Said Corallinus.
  743.  
  744. Duft pushed a bookshelf aside and let Corallinus out into the musty athenaeum.
  745.  
  746. ~~~~~~~
  747.  
  748. “That’s it! Parry, step, thrust!” called Corallinus.
  749.  
  750. Duft growled in frustration as he fought off another amazon. The massive woman slammed her club into the ground where he stood a second before. Duft tried to slash at her exposed arms, but a demon hurled a fireball at him. Diving to the side, he narrowly escaped being grilled in his armor as the fire lapped at his heels. Rolling away, he righted himself and prepared to dodge another attack.
  751.  
  752. “I could really use one of those charm spells right about now!” yelled Duft.
  753.  
  754. “They’re too strong. Just hang in there, you can do it!” said Corallinus.
  755.  
  756. As the amazon raised her weapon, Duft sidled around her, putting the towering warrior between him and the demon. Once he was out of the line of fire, he lunged at the amazon. She swung her club down, but Duft closed the gap too quickly. The handle of the club caught Duft on the shoulder, but he had avoided the worst of the blow. With a quick thrust, he shoved his sword into her chest. The amazon shuddered and collapsed onto the ground.
  757.  
  758. “Bastard!” hissed the demon. She flew farther away and readied another spell.
  759.  
  760. Duft rubbed a rune on the buckler he had found and aimed it at the airborne monster. The blue-skinned woman yelped as a gout of magic pulled her towards Duft and out of the air. She rolled to a halt at his feet. Flipping herself onto her stomach she gasped as she looked up at Duft preparing to finish her.
  761.  
  762. “Please! I’ll leave! Don’t stab me! You win, so just have mercy!”
  763.  
  764. Duft glowered at her. Seeing an attractive woman beg like this made his guts churn. It was so much easier when they just tried to kill him like a normal monster.
  765.  
  766. “Drop everything you have.” Said Duft, pointing his sword at her.
  767.  
  768. The demon whined and began to undue the clasps on her jewelry. When all of the enchanted gear she had was on the ground at her feet, she undid the clasp of her bra. Her face was bright purple as she covered her chest and began to cinch her panties down.
  769. “NO NO NO! WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” screamed Duft, looking away.
  770.  
  771. “You said everything…” the demon whimpered.
  772.  
  773. “Not your underwear you daft cunt! Get the fuck out of here!”
  774.  
  775. The woman let out a shrill ‘hyeee!’ and sprinted off as fast as she could in her heels. Duft felt an uncomfortable tightness in his pants as he watched her breasts bounce in time with her strides.
  776.  
  777. “Ahem.”
  778.  
  779. Duft whipped around to face Corallinus. She stood with her arms crossed over in front of her chest, tapping one of her fingers against her arm in obvious frustration.
  780.  
  781. “What?”
  782.  
  783. “You’re disgusting.” Said Corallinus.
  784.  
  785. “I didn’t think she would take it so literally!” said Duft. “Not my fault that she’s dumb as a rock.”
  786.  
  787. Duft began to sift through the pile of loot on the ground. He pocketed a glowing ring and moved the bra out of the way.
  788.  
  789. “Eugh.”
  790.  
  791. Duft looked back at Corallinus as she vocalized her revolt.
  792.  
  793. Grumbling he quickly picked up the rest of the trinkets and stowed them away.
  794.  
  795. “Let’s just keep moving.” He muttered.
  796.  
  797. Stepping over the amazon, he continued on down the hall.
  798.  
  799. “This is it. There should be only one room left.” Said Corallinus.
  800.  
  801. “Do you know what’s up ahead?” asked Duft.
  802.  
  803. “Nothing good. I don’t know exactly what it is, but I know you can win.”
  804.  
  805. Duft gulped and gripped his sword tighter. He had the immense urge to turn and flee. Whatever was up ahead was going to be leagues more powerful than anything he had faced thus far. His hands shifted inside his new gloves. Already he had acquired more enchanted gear than most adventurers would find in their entire life. More than enough to compensate for his lack of combat experience.
  806.  
  807. “Are you ready?” asked Corallinus.
  808.  
  809. “No. But I don’t think I ever will be. Let’s just keep going.”
  810.  
  811. Slowly advancing, the duo arrived at a massive set of stone doors. Every inch of the doors was covered in an elaborate relief, depicting a massive snake coiled around a hero while other humans fled in terror.
  812.  
  813. “Try the key you found earlier.” Said Corallinus.
  814.  
  815. Duft nodded and pulled out the conical piece of metal he had found on the body of a minotaur. It was covered in ridges and protrusions, no doubt teeth to fit into tumblers. Spinning the key around, Duft finally found an angle where it slid into the door. Turning the handle, a loud metal grating echoed through the hall as the lock was undone. The doors slowly swung inwards.
  816.  
  817. The pair waited as a draft of stale air wafted over them.
  818.  
  819. “Huh.” Grunted Duft.
  820.  
  821. Stepping into the room, he inspected his surroundings.
  822.  
  823. The room was cavernous; bigger than any they had seen so far. Pillars sprang up from the ground to a ceiling lost in the darkness above. From the angles of the walls, Duft surmised that the room was circular, or at least curved in some way. His foot steps echoed through the emptiness as he walked farther into the darkness.
  824.  
  825. Ahead, the torch reflected off of something. Readying his sword, he passed the torch to Corallinus and prepared for combat.
  826.  
  827. “Be careful, there’s something up ahead.” Whispered Duft.
  828.  
  829. “What is it?” asked Corallinus.
  830.  
  831. “I don’t know…”
  832.  
  833. Inching closer, the torch shone over the object.
  834.  
  835. It was a statue of a woman, the only thing breaking the monotony of uniform pillars in the room. Whoever the subject of the sculpture was, she must have been important. It must have been twelve feet tall from the foot of the plinth to the top of her horns. Stone wings protruded out from behind her, emphasizing her demonic appearance. Duft was a bit discomforted by the attention to detail in her anatomy; every part of her looked like it was lovingly carved to be as lifelike as possible.
  836.  
  837. “Just a statue.” Said Duft. Stepping forward, he tried to read the plaque embedded in the plinth.
  838.  
  839. Before he could get close enough to read the inscription, his foot sank into the ground. Leaping back, he saw one of the floor tiles slowly raise itself back into position.
  840.  
  841. “That’s not good…”
  842.  
  843. A thunderous crack resonated through the room from above. Duft shielded himself as dust and rocks rained down from the rafters. A symphony of mechanical noises began as high above the roof began to separate in the middle. The crack grew wider and wider as the two halves retreated away from each other. Soon, the entire room was illuminated in silver moonlight.
  844.  
  845. Duft and Corallinus remained frozen in place. The only noise was the occasional crackle or pop from the torch. Then, a new sound broke the tepid silence. At first, the sound was so soft that Duft thought he was imagining it. Another cracking sound, much closer this time.
  846.  
  847. “Oh no…”
  848.  
  849. Turning his attention to the statue, he watched in horror as the first chip of stone broke away from the statue’s wing. Cracks began to run along every surface of the stone woman. The statue began to vibrate violently, shaking off even more chunks of stone. Slowly, one of the clawed arms pried itself free from the plinth.
  850.  
  851. “Corallinus, stay back.” Said Duft softly.
  852.  
  853. With one hand free, the statue began to rip away more stone with its talons. In an instant, the rest of her body was freed from its petrified prison. The gargoyle stood up from its pedestal, flexing its wings and limbs. Reaching up with both arms, she clawed the last of the stone away from her face.
  854.  
  855. “Ahh… It’s been SO long since I’ve been free~” said the gargoyle with a sinister smirk. “You wouldn’t BELIEVE how stiff you get after a few decades.”
  856.  
  857. The ground shook as she hopped off the plinth. Her digitigrade feet gripped and released the floor as she flexed the claws on her feet.
  858. “So, you’re the morsel that has the privilege of being my first meal?” mocked the gargoyle. She paced in a wide circle around Duft, inspecting him with her violet eyes.
  859.  
  860. “Hmm… Not as big as I would have expected. Are you one of those roguish fellows? Here to stab me in the back or blind me with smoke? I hope not. I doubt that one of those glorified acrobats would last more than a second under me without getting crushed.” She wiggled her enormous hips to accentuate her point.
  861.  
  862. “I’m just here for the girl.” Said Duft, twisting himself to keep the monster in front of him.
  863.  
  864. The gargoyle cocked her head. “Girl? Who are you talking about?”
  865.  
  866. “The human girl that you’ve kidnapped!”
  867.  
  868. The gargoyle stopped circling him and tapped her chin thoughtfully. “I haven’t seen a girl come through here. Not in a long time. But I am confined to that infernal plinth most of the time. No matter, it doesn’t matter what you’re chasing after; it ends here.”
  869.  
  870. She flashed her claws and flapped her wings. “With you begging for mercy as I drain you for every last drop of your essence!”
  871.  
  872. Duft barely had time to dive out of the way before the gargoyle shattered the pillar behind him. Debris rained down as she tumbled through the rock. Her claws made an earsplitting crack as she used her hands to stop herself.
  873.  
  874. “You’d do well to entertain me, prey! The more you make me sweat now, the less I’ll sweat later~” cackled the gargoyle.
  875.  
  876. Duft kept himself near the base of the destroyed pillar to keep her from lunging at him again. Corallinus had made a tactful retreat to the doorway to avoid the worst of the fighting. Striding towards him, the ex-statue unleashed a flurry of swipes. Duft grunted as her claws raked across his shield. Every blow made his arm reverberate painfully.
  877.  
  878. “Come on! You must be stronger than this to have made it this far. Show me your worth!”
  879.  
  880. Her tail slipped through her legs, pulling Duft off his feet. He pushed her incoming hand to the side and slashed wildly at her retreating tail. His sword caught the tip of her spade, and she yelped in pain.
  881.  
  882. “Oh, you little bastard…” growled the gargoyle.
  883.  
  884. Thrusting her hand forwards, she pulled her punch just before it hit Duft. Grabbing his shield, she pulled Duft off his feet. With a roar, she hurled him into another pillar. Duft cried out as he tumbled to the foot of the pillar.
  885.  
  886. “Look out!” shrieked Corallinus.
  887.  
  888. Duft quickly rubbed one of the runes on his shield, sending a blast outwards and launching him backwards. The gargoyle collided with the base of the pillar an instant later. She moaned and clutched her head as pieces of rubble fell out of her hair. Capitalizing on the opening, Duft slashed at her. Black liquid spurted out of her wrist as she howled in pain.
  889.  
  890. “You’ll pay for that, worm!”
  891.  
  892. Taking flight, she dove at Duft again. This time he was too far from any pillar to prevent her from slamming into him. Planting her feet on his chest, she dragged him along the ground. Turning sharply, she let Duft roll into the base of a pillar. He didn’t have time to react before she stomped on his chest, mashing her foot into him.
  893.  
  894. “Cheap tricks won’t work on me, boy! I’ve ended adventurers far more skilled than you with less!”
  895.  
  896. Duft screamed as she pressed harder on his chest. Gripping her foot, he desperately tried to lift her off. She sneered down at him and prodded his face with her tail.
  897.  
  898. “Hope you’re not a restless sleeper boy, because you and I are going to be taking a VERY long nap after this~”
  899.  
  900. Her amethyst eyes illuminated as a flash of light shone through the room.
  901.  
  902. “Huh? What is that old hag still alive?” mused the gargoyle. Her question was answered as a burst of lightning sent the stone woman skittering away.
  903.  
  904. “Duft! Get up! You have to get up! I know you can do it!” pleaded Corallinus.
  905.  
  906. Both Duft and the gargoyle staggered to their feet.
  907.  
  908. “You bitch! That hurt!” moaned the gargirl.
  909.  
  910. Duft turned to face his winged foe again. His head was still reeling from being dragged across the uneven floor.
  911.  
  912. “Enough of this! Once I’m finished with you, I’m going to skin that whore alive!”
  913.  
  914. In her ire, the gargoyle had lost any sense of strategy. She made a full-bodied lunge at Duft, with claws outstretched. Duft rubbed one of the runes on the inside of his shield, and sent a blast of energy at the gargoyle. The force wasn’t nearly enough to stop her, but it did force her arms out of position. Raising his sword and bracing for impact, Duft allowed the massive woman to slam into him.
  915. Duft cartwheeled through the air, landing sharply on the ground. It felt like every tooth in his jaw had been knocked loose with the impact. From his dazed stupor, he became faintly aware of a loud thrashing and screaming. The gargoyle must have injured herself on his sword. Reaching to his chest, he prodded the spreading warmth seeping through his clothes. More of the beast’s black blood.
  916.  
  917. If that wound didn’t kill the thing, then the fight was over. With no weapon and what felt like a few broken ribs, there was no way that Duft could put up any meaningful resistance against a stone monster two feet taller than him.
  918.  
  919. “Duft!”
  920.  
  921. Corallinus hurried over to him and propped him up.
  922.  
  923. “Are you alright? Can you stand?”
  924.  
  925. For the first time, Duft could see her eyes under her cloak. A beautiful champagne color. They would put citrine to shame.
  926.  
  927. “No…” groaned Duft. Grunting in pain, he motioned to her to help him move over to a pillar. Propping himself up, he tried to regain his breath.
  928.  
  929. “You were amazing! I knew you could do it.” Praised Corallinus.
  930.  
  931. “Is she dead?” asked Duft.
  932.  
  933. “Almost. But I daren’t touch her until she’s finished. She could claw me in half if I get too close.”
  934.  
  935. “What was that spell?” asked Duft.
  936.  
  937. “Something I’ve been saving for a long time. I’m afraid that a single lightning bolt is the extent of my power…” said Corallinus.
  938.  
  939. “Well you certainly made good use of it.”
  940.  
  941. The adventurers sat in silence, listening to the fading wails of the gargoyle.
  942.  
  943. “Wait, your granddaughter… You should go find her.” Said Duft.
  944.  
  945. “She’s waited this long, she can wait a bit longer. If something sneaks up on us, we’re finished anyways.”
  946.  
  947. Duft was too tired to argue with her. They sat next to each other against the pillar until the first rays of dawn shimmered into the room through the hole in the ceiling.
  948.  
  949. “Duft.”
  950.  
  951. “Hmm.”
  952.  
  953. Duft kept his eyes shut as Corallinus nudged him awake.
  954.  
  955. “Are you ready to go? We should get out of here, it won’t be safe forever.”
  956.  
  957. Wincing as his armor pressed against his bruises, Duft stood up and took an experimental hobble forward. His legs protested even the slightest movement. Corallinus wedged herself under his shoulder to help support his weight. Together they limped towards the far end of the room at an agonizing pace. The gargoyle lay prone in an inky pool. Duft’s sword was nowhere to be found. Presumably the beast had tossed the thing off into some corner as she writhed.
  958.  
  959. “Do you see my sword anywhere?”
  960.  
  961. “No, wait here for a moment.”
  962.  
  963. Corallinus left Duft resting against the wall and returned with his sword a moment later.
  964.  
  965. The wall opposite the entrance had a pair of much smaller doors. There was no discernible locking mechanism; no doubt the architect of this death trap never expected anyone to get this far. Duft pulled the handle down, struggling to push through the rust and age in the latch. The pair stumbled forwards through the door as it finally gave way.
  966.  
  967. “Woah…”
  968.  
  969. It was like they had walked out of the dungeon and into someone’s home. No, home wasn’t the right way to describe it. It was like someone had taken rooms and decorations from hundreds of different domiciles and compiled them together in a strange disjointed manner. The room they were in now was a cozy sitting room, with a massive piano that took up half the floor. A pair of gold-encrusted china teacups sat on a roughly carved wooden coffee table. Duft could see a suit of armor standing guard in a hallway leading to a kitchen with a wooden stove.
  970.  
  971. “What IS this place?” asked Duft.
  972.  
  973. “I think it’s rather comfy.” Said Corallinus.
  974.  
  975. “I suppose it’s better than looking at stone bricks. I’m going to take a rest here, can you go look for your granddaughter?” asked Duft.
  976.  
  977. “But what if there are more monsters?” asked Corallinus.
  978.  
  979. Duft groaned. “We’re finished if there’s anything here either way, might as well die together.”
  980.  
  981. Hobbling along, they searched through the strange house.
  982.  
  983. “Not much loot here, is there. I hope there’s something here to at least cover the expenses…” said Duft.
  984.  
  985. “She must be upstairs.” Said Corallinus pointing to a strange staircase.
  986.  
  987. The wooden steps were warped to the extreme. Each step started high on one side and slanted down to the other. Which side was raised or lowered alternated each step, further contributing to the disfigurement of the thing.
  988.  
  989. “What the hell is this?” said Duft.
  990.  
  991. “Hmm… Strange indeed. Oh well! Let’s go!”
  992.  
  993. Duft yelped in protest as Corallinus began to drag him up the stairs.
  994.  
  995. “Ow! For fuck’s sake woman, give me a second!”
  996.  
  997. Corallinus slowed her advance, but kept her death grip on his wrist. With grip strength like this, she probably could have helped him fight some of the monsters…
  998.  
  999. Corallinus didn’t hesitate as she crested the stairs, continuing to drag Duft down the hall. The hall that was sea themed for some reason. He gawked at a tiny model lighthouse sitting on a display stand.
  1000.  
  1001. “She’s this way, I’m sure of it!” panted Corallinus. Duft had never seen her move so fast before.
  1002.  
  1003. “Wait!” cried Duft.
  1004.  
  1005. He dug his heels into the carpet. Corallinus was almost yanked off her feet as Duft ground to a halt.
  1006.  
  1007. “What is it?” demanded Corallinus in exasperation.
  1008.  
  1009. “Look…”
  1010.  
  1011. One of the rooms branching off the hallway was filled with cribs. The walls were painted pink, with birds and fairies chasing each other through the sky. Dozens of stuffed animals sat on a shelf, next to a toybox.
  1012.  
  1013. “A nursery…” muttered Duft. He limped in, compelled by his curiosity. As he got closer, he quickly realized that the toys on the shelf were not animals, but stuffed monsters. Each carefully stitched together with a yarn smile and button eyes. He pulled a harpy doll off the shelf sending a small could of dust into the air.
  1014.  
  1015. “Looks like it hasn’t been used in a long time.”
  1016.  
  1017. Corallinus sniffled.
  1018.  
  1019. Duft put the toy back on the shelf and walked over to her. “What’s wrong?”
  1020.  
  1021. “It’s never been used…” said Corallinus.
  1022.  
  1023. “What?”
  1024.  
  1025. “Nothing. I’m sorry. Seeing this room made me realize how much I miss my daughter. Please, let’s just keep moving.”
  1026.  
  1027. Duft followed her down the hall to the last door. Corallinus opened it without hesitation and walked inside ahead.
  1028.  
  1029. “Hey, we should stay together.” Called Duft.
  1030.  
  1031. “Don’t worry, I’ll be fine.” Said Corallinus.
  1032.  
  1033. He watched her wander into a different segment of the room, probably a bathroom based on the tiling. Walking over to the massive bed, Duft sat down and laid back with his legs hanging off the edge. Despair was starting to grip his heart; Corallinus’ granddaughter was not here. How could he console her when she realized this as well? Would he have to drag her all the way out of the dungeon as she kicked and screamed?
  1034.  
  1035. “Oh Duft~”
  1036.  
  1037. Duft opened his eyes and sat up. An enormous snake woman was slithering towards him from the bathroom.
  1038.  
  1039. His sleep deprived brain struggled to comprehend what he was seeing. Finally recognizing that the monster coming towards him was indeed a threat, Duft scrambled to unsheathe his sword.
  1040.  
  1041. “No need for that, dear.” Said the echidna. With a wave of her hand, two ghostly serpents shot out of her palm and coiled around Duft’s arms.
  1042.  
  1043. “Corallinus?!” said Duft. The monster had the same voice as his elderly guide.
  1044.  
  1045. “Me. So good to finally be out of that tiny body. How you humans can go through life being so small and weak is beyond me.” Said Corallinus stretching her human torso.
  1046.  
  1047. “What happened to the woman? Did you eat her, or did you just stab her in the back?” spat Duft.
  1048.  
  1049. “I always was that old woman. It was me from the beginning.” Said Corallinus. She slithered over to Duft and put her hands around his waist.
  1050.  
  1051. “I knew the moment I saw you in that tavern that you were the one. So much potential…” she pulled his shield out of his hand. “…But so inexperienced. I had my doubts that you would ever get here.”
  1052.  
  1053. Duft struggled against her as she used both magic and her hands to strip away more and more of his armor.
  1054.  
  1055. “Yet here you are. Looks like I made the right choice after all~”
  1056.  
  1057. “Go to hell, demon. Was this all just a game to you? Drag me through a whole mountain of traps and monsters just to eat me?”
  1058.  
  1059. Corallinus paused. Duft was startled by the genuine shame in her expression. “I don’t eat people.” She said softly.
  1060.  
  1061. “Then why am I here?!” shouted Duft.
  1062.  
  1063. Corallinus blushed. “H-husband.”
  1064.  
  1065. “What?”
  1066.  
  1067. Corallinus turned away and hid her face in her hands. “They told me it wouldn’t be this embarrassing…”
  1068.  
  1069. “Did you say husband? As in husband and WIFE?!” said Duft.
  1070.  
  1071. “Yes! Now stop shouting! I had to be sure that you were worthy of marrying me. That’s why I put you through all those trials.” Said Corallinus.
  1072.  
  1073. “Your ‘trials’ were hardly obstacles at all! A twelve-year-old could have solved some of those puzzles! Not to mention I had you holding my hand, sometimes in a literal sense, making sure that I didn’t get lost. What’s the point of a maze if you just show someone how to get through it?!”
  1074.  
  1075. Corallinus clenched his shoulders and Duft realized that she may kill him for speaking to her like that. Instead, her face scrunched up in sadness, and she began to sob loudly.
  1076.  
  1077. “You don’t understaaaannnd! I built the best dungeon ever, but no one ever made it throuuuugh!” wailed Corallinus.
  1078.  
  1079. “That’s your fault!”
  1080.  
  1081. “Shut up! I just wanted a gallant and strong husband to pamper and give me kids! It’s THEIR fault for being weak!”
  1082.  
  1083. “Their fault?! Most of the dungeon looks like it’s never been touched! Just how many people have died in here?”
  1084.  
  1085. Corallinus sobbed harder and pulled Duft into a bone-crushing hug. He gasped in pain as her powerful tail coiled around his tender ribs. She quickly realized he was in pain and loosened her grip.
  1086.  
  1087. “None of them! I told you, monsters don’t kill people anymore. Everyone who didn’t make it was taken as a husband by one of the monsters guarding the dungeon.”
  1088.  
  1089. “So people HAVE been to this place before.”
  1090.  
  1091. Corallinus sniffled and nuzzled the top of his head. “This place attracted people from all over the WORLD, but since nobody ever returned, all the stupid peasants forgot it existed and the adventuring guilds blacklisted it! When the dick stopped coming, all the monsters living in the dungeon left. After the groundskeeper dorome and the landscaper alraune caught a man, they left and let the forest grow out of control. Since those bee hussies moved in, no one has even made it to the front gate.”
  1092.  
  1093. Duft panted as he rested in her embrace. “That’s what all this is to you? A fetish?”
  1094.  
  1095. “It’s not a fetish! My species is just attracted to strong men! I really do care about you. I know you humans don’t believe in love, but I do.” She huffed.
  1096.  
  1097. The more Duft thought about it the more he wondered if he died fighting that gargoyle, and this was all some crazy dream concocted by his hemorrhaging brain before his soul was whisked off to the afterlife. After all, a giant snake was hugging him and complaining about her problems and telling him that he was her husband now. While lecturing him about the true meaning of love no less.
  1098.  
  1099. Corallinus let out a little whimper and moved one of her hands to the back of his neck. “I’ve been so lonely for so long. I don’t even have any friends anymore. All the monsters that you saw were mercenaries I hired.” She ran her fingers through his hair and gently kissed the top of his head. “But now that you’re here, I’ll never be alone again.”
  1100.  
  1101. Duft wad beginning to have his doubts that Corallinus was going to kill him. If she subjected him to this ordeal to mess with him, she would NEVER have told him such a pathetic story.
  1102.  
  1103. “How can I trust you? You’ve done nothing but lie to me.” Said Duft. He felt her coils tighten around him.
  1104.  
  1105. “It was only to bring out your potential. You have to admit, you’ve grown so much in just a few days! If I hadn’t found you, you’d be collecting dust in the corner of that dingy tavern.”
  1106.  
  1107. No argument there. Already Duft’s body and fighting style had improved far beyond what he thought to be possible in such a short amount of time. An almost supernatural improvement...
  1108.  
  1109. “Did you use magic to make me stronger?”
  1110.  
  1111. Duft could feel her throat clench as she gulped.
  1112.  
  1113. “W-well, not stronger. I may have, err… assisted you with some of my cooking. But they were only supplements! If you didn’t work hard, you wouldn’t have changed at all. All those potions were just to accentuate your growth!” said Corallinus.
  1114.  
  1115. Duft’s mind reeled at the phrase “all those potions”. Just what had this crazy snake been feeding him?
  1116.  
  1117. “And?”
  1118.  
  1119. “And what?”
  1120.  
  1121. “Is that ALL the magic you’ve used on me?
  1122.  
  1123. Corallinus froze. After a few seconds she began to stroke his hair anxiously.
  1124.  
  1125. “Corallinus!”
  1126.  
  1127. “Quiet! Okay, so I also used a few charm spells to get you out here and keep you from questioning things too much. Would you REALLY have followed a strange old woman who found you in a tavern into the depths of an unexplored dungeon because she said she had some dreams about the place?”
  1128.  
  1129. “What did you do to my head?!” said Duft. He began to panic. Suddenly his grasp on reality felt very weak.
  1130.  
  1131. “Please calm down! You’re safe! I hardly had to use any magic at all. I-I was actually very touched how willing you were to find that woman’s… my granddaughter. Not that she ever existed. I do love that chivalrous side of you~” she said mashing his face into her chest.
  1132. Duft tried to hold his breath. Even if she was a snake monster, she smelled incredible. Some medley of lavender and spice that melted the fear right out of his body. The warmth was equally intoxicating. Strange that a snake would be so toasty. If he rested his head at just the right angle, he could even hear her heartbeat.
  1133.  
  1134. Wait!
  1135.  
  1136. This WAS still a monster after all.
  1137.  
  1138. “What now?”
  1139.  
  1140. “Now we get married! Oh, I’ve waited so long for this day! I can’t wait to show mama her first granddaughter! First granddaughter from me, that is. Most of my sisters are already grandmothers themselves…”
  1141.  
  1142. How sad could one person be?
  1143.  
  1144. “Why should I marry you? You’ve been anything but forthcoming so far, and now you’ve got me CONSTRICTED ON YOUR BED!” said Duft.
  1145.  
  1146. Corallinus released his head, moving back to a more conventional hug. She draped her arms over his shoulders so that she could look at his face.
  1147.  
  1148. “I’ll be a great wife! I promise! Has my cooking been bad? Even once?”
  1149.  
  1150. “No.”
  1151.  
  1152. “And have I ever been callous or overbearing?”
  1153.  
  1154. “You were a bit pushy sometimes, don’t flatter yourself.”
  1155.  
  1156. Corallinus smiled. “A bit pushy. Heh. That’s the worst you can say about me, isn’t it?”
  1157.  
  1158. As much as Duft wanted to prove her wrong, she was right. Sure, she may not be the best conversationalist, but she didn’t have any glaring flaws.
  1159.  
  1160. “The best spouse you can have is one that pushes you anyways. What kind of wife would I be if I just let you rest on your laurels? No, I’ll make support you so that you can do your best every day. I’ll work night and day so you can reach your full potential. We’re going to have a lot of kids, so you’ll have to bring back lots of money to support us.”
  1161.  
  1162. Corallinus loosened her grip on Duft as she wormed her way all the way onto the bed. With her serpentine might, she wrestled Duft down onto the mattress with her as she rolled around.
  1163.  
  1164. “Oh! I’m so excited. I know you said you wanted a family someday, so I hope that you’re alright with starting it now.”
  1165.  
  1166. “Just how many kids do you want you crazy snake?!” said Duft. He squirmed in her coils. Corallinus seemed to appreciate the stimulation.
  1167.  
  1168. “As many as you can give me, honey~”
  1169.  
  1170. Corallinus cupped his cheeks and kissed him. His neck wasn’t nearly strong enough to break away from her supernaturally strong grasp.
  1171. “I won’t hurt you, I promise. I know Basanos did a number on you. I tried to tell her to go easy, but she gets carried away so easily. Does it still hurt?” asked Corallinus giving him a gentle squeeze. Duft inhaled sharply as pain flared from his bruises.
  1172.  
  1173. “Poor thing, let me help.”
  1174.  
  1175. Loosening her coils, Corallinus grabbed Duft’s wrists and secured them with the tip of her tail. The rest of her serpentine lower half rested on his legs, keeping him in place. The echidna’s hands glowed with energy.
  1176.  
  1177. “What the hell is that?” asked Duft.
  1178.  
  1179. “Shh…”
  1180.  
  1181. Corallinus lowered her hands gingerly onto Duft’s bare torso. He gasped as her lithe fingers made contact and began to pump magic into him. It was a chilling sensation, as if someone was tickling him with an icicle. He shifted to the side, trying to escape her wandering hands.
  1182.  
  1183. “Stop that, it’s healing magic.” Giggled Croallinus. “Doesn’t it feel good?”
  1184.  
  1185. “It feels funny.” Said Duft.
  1186.  
  1187. Corallinus smiled and finished massaging his chest. “Now, let’s take care of this…”
  1188.  
  1189. She slid off his legs to get at the nasty gash on his calf. Brushing her long hair back behind her ear, she leaned in to kiss the wound.
  1190.  
  1191. This time the magic was sharper. It felt like a muted electric shock was being applied to his whole leg. A sickening slithering sound emanated from his cut, which Duft surmised to be the sound of his leg being sealed. He shuddered at the mental image of his skin knitting back together under the monster’s lips.
  1192.  
  1193. “There. All better?” asked Corallinus, daintily wiping her lips with a finger.
  1194.  
  1195. Duft gave an experimental kick with his rejuvenated leg. It felt good as new. So did his chest.
  1196.  
  1197. “Yes…” muttered Duft.
  1198.  
  1199. “Oh! But it looks like I still have one thing left to heal~”
  1200.  
  1201. Corallinus grabbed Duft’s crotch and gave him a playful squeeze. Having the snake woman toy with his body had put an uncomfortable fire in his loins.
  1202.  
  1203. “Don’t grab me there!”
  1204.  
  1205. “Do you really want me to stop?” asked Corallinus smugly. She hooked one of her fingers into the cloth holding her breasts, and let one dusky nipple peak out from behind its covering. Duft gulped and stared as she slowly pulled the other one free.
  1206.  
  1207. “It thought so~”
  1208.  
  1209. Corallinus released Duft’s hands and slithered up next to him. Resting one hand on his chest, she used the other to pull him into a deep kiss. He offered only token resistance as her long tongue easily slipped past his lips and into his mouth. She sighed contentedly as she leaned deeper into the kiss. The longer they stayed together, the harder it became for Duft to think. How could he think of danger in the plush embrace of a loving woman?
  1210.  
  1211. Slowly, he began to use his own hands to explore her body. Corallinus groaned in appreciation as his fingertips over her lavender skin. Her eyes flashed open as his thumb brushed against one of her nipples.
  1212.  
  1213. She broke away from the kiss, slowly pulling away while leaving her tongue inside his mouth. With one final swirl, she recoiled the forked appendage back into her own mouth and licked her lips.
  1214.  
  1215. “If you like these so much…” she said hefting her breasts. “Wouldn’t you prefer a taste instead?~”
  1216.  
  1217. Duft nodded, too far lost in his lustful stupor to flirt back.
  1218.  
  1219. Corallinus giggled and coiled around him. Her thick tail propped him up in a sitting position, with her torso just above him. Giving her chest a little shake, she let her breasts sway back and forth in front of his face.
  1220.  
  1221. Duft needed no more invitation. Reaching out, he pulled her closer and began to attack the closest nipple with his tongue. Corallinus gave a throaty purr of appreciation and settled in next to him as he began to suckle. One of her hands supported his head, gently leaning him back and caressing his hair as she got comfortable. Eventually Corallinus pulled his head away and directed it to the other breast.
  1222.  
  1223. “Sorry I couldn’t give you a drink. But if you play your part, you’ll be able to have a drink any time you want. Right from the tap~” said Corallinus.
  1224.  
  1225. Duft grunted an affirmation into the bountiful titflesh. Corallinus pulled herself away from Duft. The look of betrayal Duft gave her was almost enough for her to relinquish her chest, but she knew that he would be content to nurse all day if she allowed him.
  1226.  
  1227. “Sorry to take away your appetizer, but I’m ready for my main course~”
  1228.  
  1229. Quickly stripping away Duft’s pants, Corallinus bit her lip in anticipation at the sight of the first bead of glistening precum. Shedding her loin covering, she splayed her mauve slit for Duft to see.
  1230.  
  1231. “I know you’re tired, and I’ll try to be careful, but please don’t hate me if I lose myself.” Said Corallinus.
  1232.  
  1233. Before Duft Could reply, she wrapped herself around him again. Planting her hands on his shoulders, she lined herself up with his shaft and pressed forwards. The pair let out a moan as their hips connected.
  1234.  
  1235. “Finally…” panted Corallinus.
  1236.  
  1237. Laying on Duft’s chest, she began to earnestly pump her hips. Duft did his best to reciprocate her thrusts, but her coils held him fast. After a few half-hearted stabs, he resigned himself to his fate and tried to savor the experience.
  1238.  
  1239. “Don’t just lay there, kiss me.” Demanded Corallinus.
  1240.  
  1241. She raised her head and waited for him expectantly. Duft grinned as he wrapped his arms around her and pulled her close. She draped her arms around his neck and slowed the rhythmic motion of her wide hips.
  1242.  
  1243. After a few minutes, Duft was already reaching his limits. Corallinus noticed his belabored breaths and began to move more vigorously.
  1244. “Hang in there honey, just a bit more…” panted the echidna.
  1245.  
  1246. Duft squeezed her as he made a desperate effort to meet her hips every time she pulled away from him. With one final thrust, Corallinus hilted him inside herself as Duft released inside of her. The prospective mother let out a high-pitched squeal as she felt the warmth radiate through her womb.
  1247.  
  1248. “Ah… I really did it. I’m really going to be a mama…” mused Corallinus tearfully.
  1249.  
  1250. Duft’s afterglow was shattered by the revelation that if she was going to be a mother, he was going to be a father. Was he really prepared for this? It always seemed like something that was too far into the future to worry about…
  1251.  
  1252. “Are you worried?”
  1253.  
  1254. Duft looked into Corallinus’ amber eyes. She gave him an affectionate squeeze with her tail as she undulated around him.
  1255.  
  1256. “A little nervous maybe. Being a father is going to be hard work….”
  1257.  
  1258. She kissed him. “I wouldn’t have chosen you if you weren’t capable.”
  1259.  
  1260. Duft’s stomach growled loudly, interrupting the tender moment they were sharing.
  1261.  
  1262. “Sorry, I haven’t eaten that much today…” apologized Duft.
  1263.  
  1264. Corallinus smiled. “If you think the food I’ve cooked so far is good, just wait until you see what I can do with a whole kitchen!”
  1265.  
  1266. “I think I’m just going to lay here for a bit…” said Duft.
  1267.  
  1268. “Of course. You’ll need to rest up for round two~” said Corallinus as she slithered out of the bedroom.
  1269.  
  1270. “Round two…?”
  1271.  
  1272. ~~~~~~~
  1273.  
  1274. “Shouldn’t you be out adventuring? I went through all that effort to get you the tip on that burial ground and you’ve been dragging your feet ever since.” Chided Corallinus.
  1275.  
  1276. “I told you, I’m not leaving until she’s born.”
  1277.  
  1278. Corallinus smiled and stroked her bulging stomach. “She’ll be fine. I’m a natural at this, remember?”
  1279.  
  1280. “That doesn’t mean I want to miss seeing her for the first time…” said Duft.
  1281.  
  1282. Corallinus wrapped herself around him as best she could with her baby bump and kissed him on the cheek. “Alright, I understand. Being a father is exciting. Just don’t forget to provide for us, okay?”
  1283.  
  1284. “Of course! I’m going to give her the best life possible. But I just want to be there to see her grow too.”
  1285.  
  1286. Corallinus rested her head on his shoulder. “I’m glad I found someone who’s as content with being a father as he is dungeon diving. Don’t you worry…” she whispered in his ear. “We’ll be making a LOT more every time you come home~”
  1287.  
  1288. Duft ran his hands over his wife’s stomach. Yeah, starting a family young didn’t sound so bad after all.
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