“Until now, you have seen standard dungeons,” Ferguson said over breakfast. I had to admit it was true, but couldn’t see how it could be otherwise. “Today, I will show you a dungeon that could only have been made by the natural evolution of Dungeon Land, made by the movements of a mountain.”
“A cave?” I asked, not sure what he was driving at.
“Better. A dungeon of such beautiful green that you will need another word to describe the color.”
“Well,” I replied, “let’s be on our way then! I’m always up for a color-based puzzle.”
The people of these parts are savage and violent. If one does not pay protection money up front, the locals will attack and savage the party. With Ferguson’s help, we were able to secure protection from a local named Keyhar who led us along an ancient trade route known as the Iron Road. It’s been an arduous journey of many days, and the further south we’ve gone the more lush the greenery has become, and the hotter the temperature.
Eventually, the air became so thick with water that it began to condense on my skin. As I wiped great drops of moisture from my face, it occurred to me that there was moisture in the air – not, as I had originally supposed, from a change in weather but rather a fine mist that cooled in droplets on trees and men alike. I realized that the sound I had taken to be a wind in the trees was actually a waterfall. It was huge, taller than any tower I’ve ever seen built by men, and the sound of its waters thrummed through the ground at our feet; this must be our destination.
Imagine my surprise then, nephew, when Ferguson and Keyhar continued along the trail that led to a stone bridge that marched across the river away from the waterfall. I paused before the waterfall a moment before catching up. I had to shout my questions, but Ferguson seemed to anticipate them regardless of hearing. Why weren’t we going into the waterfall, I wondered, don’t all waterfalls have dungeons behind them?
“Not this one!” Ferguson shouted over his shoulder at me. “This river flows off the mountain. It used to flow off a different side of the mountain, but a landslide redirected it years ago.”
I understood his meaning when, a short while later, we came across an empty riverbed, a smallish cleft in the cliff face where it once poured down. The combination of plentiful sunshine and plentiful moisture had turned the riverbed into a thick, green field, and I thought for sure we’d be carried off by the insects before we reached the cleft. But eventually, we made it.
Here, Keyhar left us and we continued on just Ferguson and I.
If the replenished riverbed was a vision, then the ravine we walked into was doubly so. Water still trickled down between the rocks overhead, giving the narrow chasm a damp, dark texture for which the local molds held an obvious appreciation. Here and there, beams of bright light struck down to the bottom of the crevasse, and in those places thin, hearty trees took root and reached hungrily up the stone walls for more sun.
Metal rings, some as thick as two or three nings around, were hammered into the wall ever five or six targs. The combination of age and water turned them into rusty claws reaching out of the stone.
Soon, the traces of sunlight vanished and we found ourselves underground. The hall was still narrow and tall, but with the top closed there was less slime on the walls. The gently sloping floor was still slippery, and more than once I gashed my hand against the stones trying to stop myself from sliding back all the progress I had made.
At the top of the incline we found ourselves at the edge of a crevasse that dropped at least a hundred fremptas below us. A wide wooden bridge spanned the distance to where the tunnel resumed on the other side. Ferguson explained that this rift was made during the landslide that redirected the river and, until that point, the river had flowed through the mountain, directly where we were standing.
The bridge was massive, 30 targs across at least. I asked Ferguson about the size of the bridge; aren’t dungeon bridges usually small, rickety affairs?
“Bigger bridges hide bigger trolls”, was all Ferguson had to say on the matter. I kept toward the center of the bridge as we crossed.
The first sign that this cave system had ever been inhabited was a massive statue situated in a small alcove. Whether it was a fearsomely carved gorilla-beast, or a poorly carved fat man I couldn’t tell. It was covered in a black algae, damp with the water that dripped from the ceiling. Although adventurers had cleared this dungeon out long before, I couldn’t help but feel as if that statue would stand up, and indeed I looked over my shoulder several times as we walked ahead.
Further ahead, remnants of the river that had formed these caves filled a cavern that stretched off in the distance. We could see glints of sunlight further along, dancing on the water’s surface. There was no telling what was living in that water, of course, and Ferguson said that the party that brings its own boat into these caves would end up rich indeed. As we made our way above the water on a small ledge that hugged the wall, I thought I might be starting to understand the appeal of this adventuring business.
However, my skills were far from being up to the task for in the very next section, a warren of interconnected round rooms, I found myself disoriented and were it not for Fergson I would have been completely lost; the rogue produced a piece of chalk from his gear belt and began making marks on the wall by which we were eventually able to navigate our way out of this maze.
And into view of the most beautiful sight I have ever seen in my life.
This large cavern dwarfed the others in orders of magnitude. Above us, the dome-shaped ceiling opened to the sky where the river used to enter. Sunlight, so sharp white after our time by torchlight, shone full on the red and orange striped walls. But, curiously, in the center of this natural cathedral, stood a tree the like of which I have never seen before. It was short, maybe thirty gablers tall, but the trunk was wide enough that seven men, clasping hands, could scarcely have stretched around it. Its leaves were a brilliant green, and not a single one lay on the floor of the cavern. The tree’s mighty roots clutched at the earth as a kitten claws at a blanket.
To our right, the sloping floor had been cut into rough squared stairs leading up to a well. To the left, the tunnel opened onto a ledge looking down the side of the mountain. A large, rectangular slab of stone was prominent on the ledge, whether for sacrifice or recreation, who could tell now?
The view of the valley was breathtaking, but I couldn’t help but reflect how this dungeon had clearly sprung forth directly from the ground, exactly has common wisdom taught.
Clearly, I will need more research.