The Outlands - Chapter 7

Published at 3rd of May 2022 09:12:44 AM

Chapter 7

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Tess emerged from Gramps’ office with her new “paperwork”, which was actually in the form of some addition to her band. “So, are we going to the slime dungeon again or somewhere else?” Tess asked.

Ker scratched his chin thoughtfully. “There are a couple of other low-difficulty dungeons around here, let’s visit one of them. You want to do the easier or the harder one first? We’ll be going through both of them anyway to get your rewards, but the order is up to you.”

“Easier.” Tess said firmly. “Slimes don’t exactly fight back much, so I’d like to get a feel for how tough I actually am.”

Ker nodded. “A wise plan. Alright, let’s go pick up a couple of jobs and then get going.” He stood up and walked down the hall, Tess following closely behind.

“Why the jobs?” Tess asked, “We didn’t get any for the other dungeon.”

“That’s because there aren’t any for that dungeon. It’s one of the most popular already, so it doesn’t need incentive for people to clear it, unlike these other two.”

Tess frowned. “Why would the guild provide incentive to clear a dungeon? Do they need materials that badly?”

Ker shook his head. “While materials are part of the reason, the main reason has to do with how dungeons work. If someone doesn’t go in and clear them every once in a while, they go “wild” and start growing, but the more they’re cleared the longer it’ll take them to go wild. When they do go wild, the living quarters vanish, the dungeon starts to become more difficult, and if you let it go for a really long time then monsters start to leave the dungeon. So, for most dungeons there’s a standing reward for a clear. If you take the job, then your guild identification will track clears for that dungeon. Or at least kills of the boss monster, but there are only like…three sets of dungeons that have the same boss, so it’s basically the same thing.”

Tess frowned. “Couldn’t you just farm the boss over and over without taking the time to fully clear the dungeon? That seems like an oversight.”

“Unlike getting Rewards Crystals, only clearing the boss is required to prevent a dungeon from going wild. Scholars have been trying to figure out why for a long time, but no one’s been able to find a satisfactory answer.”

They exited the staff hallways into the main room, which was significantly less crowded than it had been the last time Tess had been there.

“Anyway, most modern identification will track the last ten or twenty monsters you’ve killed, so you can still get the reward if you don’t take the job, but that limits how long you can stay there and it’s just not efficient when you could take the job and stay for a while.” Ker continued, steering her over to the line for one of the counters.

Ker looked like he was going to keep talking, but there was a commotion from behind the counters and a voice from the far counter called out to them. “Ker, Tess, over here!”

They walked over to the new, line-free counter and were greeted by Graham, the minotaur from the previous day. “Hey there!” He said cheerfully, “I’ve been assigned to be a personal receptionist for you, Ellie, and The Rumors.”

Ker raised an eyebrow. “Oh? Why’s that?”

Graham smiled. “Well, Guildmaster Los said that his grandkids had run into some…unique circumstances and it would be safer if I just did everything for them. I’ve been told that Tess in particular won’t be selling me her materials most of the time, but I don’t know any of the details other than that it’s confidential. I can make a guess or two from that, but I won’t ask, don’t worry. As for The Rumors, he called it a perk of working with the kids.”

“Is having a personal receptionist a big deal?” Tess asked.

“Usually it’s reserved for people who’ve helped the guild a great deal or have special circumstances.” Graham explained, “It means you get to skip the long lines and always get the same receptionist in your home branch, or one of the better receptionists in other branches. Most people will probably assume it’s the Guildmaster doting on you, but that’s fine, he’s an eccentric guy and he does his job well enough that no one will really care. Well, no one except for jealous freelancers, but they won’t give you any trouble. If they do, then…” He trailed off, smiling darkly. “Let’s just say that no one is going to make waves over it. Especially in this branch, where everyone can guess who you are. No one wants to be on Guildmaster Los’ bad side.”

“He may not seem it, but he’s kind of a really big deal.” Ker told Tess, “He manages the guild, and the guild is the closest thing the Outlands have to an independent governing body. And, given that the Outlands are the most important planes, he’s as high up on the food chain as it gets; emperors would think twice before making him an enemy.”

“You’re just yanking my chain.” Tess said in disbelief, “Him? He put relighting candles on my birthday cake when I was thirteen and then tried to pin it on Ellie. You’ll have to forgive me if I’m a little skeptical.”

Graham smirked. “Just because he’s a goofball doesn’t mean he’s unimportant. There’s a reason they picked him to prep Mael to be introduced to wider society. He’s great at making friends.”

“And he’s got a lot of friends. Important friends.” Ker added. “But we’re getting off-topic, we were going to grab the job for our dungeon delve.”

“Right, which one would that be?” Graham asked, turning to the side to use the computer.

“Cub’s Den.” Ker replied.

“Good choice.” He typed a few things into the computer before turning back to them. “Alright, you’re all set.”

“You’re not going to update our identification?” Ker asked.

“Not necessary.” Graham said, “As your personal receptionist, I can pull your files up without any hassle, and because you both have the new wireless stuff, changes I make reflect automatically. Good luck out there!”

“Thanks, Graham.” Ker replied, “I look forward to working with you.”

“Um, me too.” Tess said.

“Likewise!” Graham said, waving as Ker and Tess left.

The two exited the guild onto the main street, and Ker took Tess down a different way than the one that they had gone the previous day. “If you don’t mind my asking, you used planes when you were talking about the Outlands.” Tess began, “I thought it was just one plane?”

“Yes and no.” Ker replied, “Officially speaking, it’s all one big plane. In reality, it’s a collection of a bunch of planes. Every time we discover an uninhabited plane, it’s treated as part of the Outlands until we decide what to do with it. If it’s deemed safe for general habitation, people move in. If not, we establish a town much like this one and let freelancers work there if they so choose. It’s risky work, going out and exploring the unknown, but a lot of people find the pay worth it; information about what’s out there is worth a lot to the right people, especially if you manage to find a dungeon or some other potentially lucrative thing.”

Tess nodded, and let the conversation die. They walked for a few more minutes before Ker led her to what appeared to be a rock cave rising up out of the otherwise flat ground. It was like someone had taken a “dungeon” icon from a game overworld and just plopped it down into the real world.

He steered her towards a couple of bored-looking watchmen, who let the two pass after checking their identification. The inside was much the same as the slime dungeon; featureless grey brick walls, a teleporter pad, an entrance to the dungeon proper, an entrance to the living areas, and a giant crystal in the center of the room.

Unlike the slime dungeon, which had two or three stalls on the bottom floor, this only had one, staffed by another bored-looking individual. And, instead of going straight for the Party Crystal, Ker brought Tess to this stall. “We need the dungeon’s information packet, if you would.”

The man in the stall nodded, rummaging around before handing a piece of paper to Ker. “Do you want the maps as well?”

“No thanks.” Ker replied, and retreated from the Stall, Tess following closely behind. “The information packet is given free of charge by the guild, any shop that sets up in a dungeon is required to carry them and give them to people. You can get a copy at any guild branch too, but if there’s a shop in the dungeon it’s usually best to grab it there if you plan to go to the dungeon regardless of what’s on the sheet; the process of getting the right packet won’t take as much time. That being said, the guild doesn’t do maps for most dungeons, so they generally cost money and are only sold at shops.

“If you ask me, they’re not usually worth it, either, so don’t bother with them unless you really need to know what you could find. They’re better for the small dungeons that only have four or five layouts, but for the big ones? They’re practically useless. Yeah, you could find patterns in the floor generation, but any important ones will be on the info sheet, so most freelancers have learned not to rely on them.”

They took a moment to use the Party Crystal, then Ker led Tess to the door. “Um, aren’t we going to look at the packet?” Tess asked.

“Later.” Ker replied, opening the door and shepherding Tess through. As opposed to the grey brick of the previous dungeon, the inside of this one was cave-like; rugged stone walls, stalactites dripping water onto a small carpet of stalagmites, and a vague humidity in the air. It was darker in here, but still bright enough to be visible. The change in lighting and shift from an environment that suggested it was built by people to a natural one was enough to draw Tess’s attention to the fact that there was no visible source of light.

Actually, now that she was thinking about it, the previous dungeon didn’t have one either. “Ker, where does the light in dungeons come from?”

“Not sure.” He replied, shrugging. “Every dungeon’s lighting is different, sometimes they’ll have actual lights like torches or lightbulbs, sometimes it’ll be an omnipresent, constant light like in this one, sometimes it won’t have light, and sometimes it’s a combination of any or all of those. Best not to worry about it, just check the information sheet to find out and have some mounted lights on hand for if you need them.”

“Right.” Tess said, glancing around again. There were no monsters, and further sight into the dungeon was blocked by a twist in the path. Unlike the previous dungeon, it seemed that this wasn’t just a series of rooms connected by doors. Well, unless there was a door beyond the bend, but Tess had a feeling there wouldn’t be. “So, when are we going to read that packet?” She asked, keeping a wary eye on the bend in case any monsters came around.

“I wanted to wait until we were in the dungeon to talk about it, as we won’t have to worry about keeping quiet about your abilities. This is a dungeon where monsters don’t respawn while we’re inside so once we clear out the floor, we’ll have a nice, private place to talk in. As the dungeon’s name implies, we’re mostly dealing with baby monsters, so this shouldn’t be a problem even with your stats.” Ker set off down the cave, Tess once against trailing behind.

Their work was short. There were, in total, 8 monsters on the floor. They were, as promised, all babies of some form or another – bear cubs, fawns, a lion cub…well, that was about it for that floor, but Tess had to admit that their cuteness was offset only by their aggressive murderous tendencies. Ker got most of them before Tess even had a chance to give them a whack, so she wasn’t able to get a really good handle on how tough they were compared to her but for the time being they were just clearing the area, not trying to train, so it was fine.

The layout of the floor ended up revolving around a central intersection, with four branching paths including the one they entered from. Down one of the paths was the exit, and the rest held only monsters.

“This dungeon is too weak to hold any treasure or traps.” Ker explained. “The three small ones in this city were placed here directly by the God of Dungeons to serve as a training ground for those with low levels, and we make sure to keep them cleared so they never have a chance to grow further.

“He sat down on the rough ground near the exit and took out the information packet, motioning for Tess to sit next to him. Once she was sitting, he passed the sheet to her. “Give it a once-over while I talk.” He said. “You’ll notice that the packet is divided into sections. The front page is dedicated to the really important information; number of floors, what floors have bosses, and anything that’s vitally important to keep in mind while traversing the dungeon such as particularly deadly monsters or traps.”

Like he said, the front page contained just that. Under the name of the dungeon, it was listed as having 7 floors, with the only boss on floor seven, and no further vital information.

“If nothing else, always, always read the first page carefully. It could very well save your life multiple times. Even with insurance you want to avoid dying as much as possible; it’s an awful experience and resurrection isn’t exactly cheap. And if your whole party is wiped and you’re in a dungeon far away from civilization then there’s a real chance you don’t make it back before it’s too late.”

“How late is that?”

“Usually a week. If you’ve signed up for the really nice, expensive packages, then it’s a year. I believe your grandfather put you on that one, but it’s best to pretend you don’t have any insurance at all.

“Anyway, the next page details some common patterns in the floor layouts, and the pages after that have a list of monsters and traps known to be in the dungeon and brief descriptions. Never take those as complete lists, though. In larger dungeons, it’s relatively common for there to be monsters and traps not on this list simply because there’s a lot of monsters and traps. If you do encounter a monster or trap not on the list, make sure to report it to the guild, and they’ll look into verifying it. Usually a report needs to come from a trusted source or be reported more than once to be put on the list, so it’s rare for there to be misinformation.”

A quick glance showed that the dungeon didn’t have any traps, and the monsters, as expected, were all babies of some form or another. The writeups weren’t terribly detailed (no in-depth stats or anything) but gave a quick overview of behavior and notable characteristics for each monster.

“After that is a more detailed write-up on bosses. Make sure you read up on the bosses before you fight one, just to make things as smooth as possible.”

Tess nodded, and took a look. The boss for this dungeon was named “Mama Bear”, and it seemed simple enough; it had a bunch of minions, which were just regular monsters from the dungeon, and whenever a minion was hurt Mama Bear got stronger in proportion to the damage dealt and started attacking whoever hurt the minion.

“A list of known Challenges and how to reach them follows. Don’t worry about that for now, I’ll take you to the only one in the dungeon on our way through. It’s a pretty simple one, you just make your way through the Challenge room without killing any of the monsters. The last section is what you in particular want to pay really close attention to, though. It’s got a list of all known rewards from the Rewards Crystal, as well as at what clears you get a shot at the Crystal. Now, this is never a complete list, because there are ultra-rare rewards that just don’t come up often enough for us to have been able to record them. Look through them and let me know what interests you. You can basically choose what you want to get, so if there’s something you think would be really nice then you can grab it.

“Still, I think it would also be wise to not try and actively pick anything for at least a few of the results if you want to get strong as fast as possible. Your blessing should guarantee you the most optimal results, and there’s always the chance of there being something really nice that you don’t even expect.”

“Got it.” Tess said, flipping to the last few pages of the packet, “Do you have a pencil or something? I want to take notes.”

Ker reached into his satchel, pulled one out, and tossed it to her. “Knock yourself out.”

Tess tucked it into her ear and began to read. This dungeon had…seven shots at the Rewards Crystal, so she could pick at most seven things she wanted, but she was planning on taking Ker’s advice, so she dropped that down to five. That wasn’t a lot, considering the list was over 100 entries long if she was any judge, so she had her work cut out for her.

Still, of all the problems she could be having, this was certainly one of the most welcome. So, she smiled and got to work.

Fighterman481 I think having a personal receptionist makes sense for the unique situation Tess has found herself in. She can't sell all the materials without crashing the market, but it would also be weird to never sell any materials, so, Gramps just said 'let's not deal with that'. 

Oh, and Gramps is a big deal. Don't worry about it.   More importantly, has anyone else ever had relighting candles on their cake? My family did it to me as a prank once but it was kind of obvious because they were sparking. A shame, really, because it was funny but could have been even funnier.   I debated for a bit on how much of the monster clearing I wanted to show at the moment, and then decided against doing more than I already did, and that's mainly because they're just clearing things out so they have a safe space to talk privately. When it becomes more important we'll see some "actual" combat.   The information packet is also something I feel any reasonable organization would be providing to their workers. It's a simple, relatively easy way of reducing loss of life and maximizing profit, and the guild's not some heartless organization that'd put a price on that.   Anyway, next time we'll do some ability planning and work on actually clearing the dungeon, so look forward to it!   And, as always, thanks for reading!

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