Being a [Dungeon Boss] was miserable work. Grimsnarl sat on his throne of skulls and wondered what had ever possessed the original owner of the dungeon to make such an incredibly lumpy and uncomfortable chair. For the hundredth time he weighed the benefit of order his minions to tear the stupid thing out and replace it with something simpler and more tasteful.
A plain wooden chair wouldn’t project the proper [Lordly] majesty, but that might be a good thing. Better to put visitors off their game by surprising them with something that didn’t seem to make sense than to lean into the dreary and overly dramatic “grandeur” the original decorator of the throne room seemed to prefer.
As with the ninety nine times before though, Grimsnarl rejected the idea. The enchantments the [Skull Throne] offered were too good to forego.
[Ten Fold Armor] to increase his durability to the point where a small army couldn’t manage much more than to blunt their blades on his rippling abs. [Creeping Doom] to call forth poisonous shadows that dissolved anyone he found displeasing. [Touch of the Grave] that coated his comically oversized blade with life stealing fire.
Most important of all the gifts though was the most subtle one, [Shadowed Eyes]. The technique had rendered him fantastically near sighted when he acquired it, and that had taken a week of bonding with the throne by sitting in it without sleep or disruption. It was also the first of the gifts to begin fading when he rose from the throne. For all that though, it gave his the power that truly made him the [Dungeon Boss] – so long as he was on the [Skull Throne], he could see the whole of the dungeon at once whenever he closed his eyes.
This was an invaluable tool for ruling any domain, but even moreso for Grimsnarl since he and his fellow [Deep Ogres] controlled only scattered and poorly connected areas of the dungeon, the rest being under the control of the various non-sapient monsters his companions hadn’t been able to root out yet.
It was because of the advanced warning [Shadowed Eyes] provided that they’d managed to hang on as long as they had after their band was driven from the [Sunless Deeps] when Grimsnarl’s family was unexpectedly and quite efficiently removed from their positions of royal privilege (as well as, in too many cases, their position of ‘being among the living’).
Grimsnarl endured the [Skull Throne] for that reason, and, many days, that reason alone. He knew he didn’t need to impress his companions. They’d grown up together. They knew him for what he was and had no illusions that he was going to lead them back to their homeland as revenging conquerors.
The desire was there in all of them. To payback the blood that had been stolen, and to smash the humiliation they all felt at the scorn and derision the usurpers had shown them as they fled down tunnels few dared to explore.
Without resources and personnel though, there was no return that wasn’t an elaborate and pointless suicide. As they stood, Grimsnarl and his companions wouldn’t even make it within the range of their longest clubs before the usurpers cut them down with magic and missiles.
A life apart, secure in their own domain that was too far away from the ancestral dwellings of the [Deep Ogres] was the best they could hope for.
But not if aggressors kept invading their territory.
Grimsnarl noticed the incursion a moment after the strange band crossed into the area his companions controlled. He could have seen them coming farther out but things had been quiet for days and paying attention to the whole dungeon left him with a miserable headache by the time he was ready for sleep.
The leaders of the invaders were odd. Not the [Gelatinous Spiders] but something far worse. [Humanoids].
No. Even worse than that.
The one in the lead was a strange sort of animated cloth doll dressed in armor. Grimjaw focused in closer, trying to grasp what he was seeing. A stuff doll in armor had to be some form of golem. Not self willed but obeying the commands of the human beside it.
As the rest of the invaders entered his territory, Grimsnarl’s confused sank into roiling unease.
A cat person? Another golem, but this time of solid metal? A [Vampire]?
This wasn’t an [Adventuring Party], it was a collection of nightmares that had run loose from a particularly demented mind.
Grimsnarl reached for the [Great Horn] to alert his scattered companions, but hesitated.
The [Adventurers] had already run into two of his companions, Fellbold and Drumbell. They were within their territory, so the [Heart Fire] would work for them, but Grimsnarl was still disquieted to think they were moments from death.
Their strength would have been valuable to turn away the invaders.
And they were his friends, watching them suffer was miserable even if the death wouldn’t be permanent.
Hopefully not permanent.
Except, they didn’t seem to be dying.
They were fighting.
Quite well in fact.
Very much in tune with each other. Grimsnarl guessed they’d learned to rely on each instinctively during the difficult journey from the home tunnels, though he hadn’t noticed their closeness until that moment.
It was wonderful to see them doing so well, regardless of what it said about Grimsnarl’s attentiveness, but he noticed that for as well as they were fighting, they weren’t winning.
In fact, if Grimsnarl didn’t know better he would say that the invaders weren’t actually fighting back.
They were defending themselves, but they seemed to be more focused on preventing injuries than inflicting any.
And they seemed to be talking.
Grimsnarl couldn’t hear the conversation. His gift was [Shadowed Eyes] not [Muffled Ears]. Even without being able to make out the words themselves though, the invaders body language spoke volumes.
They didn’t want to fight, and they refused to hurt either of the [Deep Ogres].
Drumbell worked that out first, or was the first to believe them, stepping back from the fray and reaching out an arm to hold Fellbold back as well.
The [Deep Ogres] tried to shoo the invaders away, likely warning to the “leave the territory of the fierce [King Grimsnarl]” if Grimsnarl could guess. He didn’t have any legitimate claim to a [Kingship] currently, but his friends weren’t likely to explain that or use his proper title of [Broken Prince].
The cloth doll in armor stepped forward, securing her weapon at her side, and made some sort of offer that changed the [Deep Ogres] whole posture.
Grimsnarl adjusted his vision and noticed the pouch in the doll’s other hand.
Which explained everything.
They didn’t have anywhere to spend it, but gold was still a powerful motivator for [Deep Ogres].
Unsure whether to be more amused or concerned, Grimsnarl watched as the [Adventurers] were led through his domain, past all of their clever traps, and the monsters they’d tamed to act as backup, around the collapsible areas that might have killed some of the [Adventurers] or at least forced them to take even more dangerous routes, right to the door of his [Throne Room].
Dropping his face into his hands, Grimsnarl answered the knock on his door with a weary, “Enter,” before straightening up to greet the new arrivals with his full (and he felt ridiculous) majesty.
“Grimsnarl…uh, I mean, [King] Grimsnarl, we bring supplicants to your throne,” Fellbold tried to exclaim in a towering voice. Unfortunately the tower sort of toppled over due to his pauses and uncertainty.
It didn’t matter though, the invaders seemed to be quietly respectful regardless of the unnecessary dramatics.
“Why are you here?” Grimsnarl asked. He didn’t try to add any particular air of menace to him voice, but he suspected his frustration with his friends leaked into in a bit anyways.
“To negotiate with you, [King] Grimsnarl,” the doll said.
Grimsnarl raised an eyebrow at that.
They [Adventuring Party] let the mindless doll speak for them?
It had to be one of the others speaking through it.
Was that an insult?
Or was the controlling [Adventurer] too shy to speak on their own?
That didn’t seem like a plausible trait for a leader of any sort, but Grimsnarl had heard many tales of [Adventurers] that started with “You won’t believe how weird this group was.”
“Negotiate what?” Grimsnarl asked. He could play along until he worked out how much of a threat they were. The [Creeping Doom] was always ready to be called forth if he needed it.
“We’ve seen the state of the dungeon beyond your holdings,” the doll said. “Your subjects have explained that you hold claim to the enter area but that certain sections of it are still in the process of being pacified. We believe we can help with that.”
“Help?” Grimsnarl asked. “Why and how?”
He was capable of longer sentences, but [Adventurers] were tricky so cutting out the garbage and getting directly to the point seemed like the only safe and sane course of action.
“You have monsters in places you don’t wish for monsters to be,” the doll said. “Our job is killing monsters. That’s both the how and the why.”
“Aren’t we monsters to you too?” Grimsnarl asked, genuinely perplexed.
[Adventurers] were bloodthirsty kill fiends. Their definition of “monster” was broad enough to include everything [Floor Mold] to [The Cursed Guardian of Time]. The last time Grimsnarl had heard of an [Adventurer] not killing a [Deep Ogre] on sight was half past the first of never.
“Uh, no, you can talk,” the doll said. “If you can talk, then you’re people. If you can’t talk, you might be people still, but it might take special effort to figure that out. And of course, if you’re people, you might be a monster too, but that’s a case of what you choose to do. Things like those [Gelatinous Spiders] you have one level up from here don’t exactly get to choose what their doing. They’re basically preprogrammed murder-bots.”
“Murder what?” Grimsnarl asked.
“Constructs built to kill, just made from biological material rather than mechanical components,” the doll said.
“And you only kill monsters?” Grimsnarl said, wondering if perhaps these weren’t actually [Adventurers] after all.
Perhaps some benevolent form of dungeon dwelling [Faerie]?
Grimsnarl hoped not. The [Faeries] he’d heard of were even more terrifying than [Adventurers] were.
“We only go looking for monsters to kill,” the doll said. “With people we like to see if we can talk first and find some common ground.”
“And if you can’t?
“Then we look to see if we can coexist peacefully.”
“And if that’s not an option?” Grimsnarl asked. He wasn’t sure why. He didn’t want to hear the obvious threat that would answer the question.
If two groups couldn’t ally, and couldn’t coexist, the only thing left was bloody annihilation for one or both of them. If any of the losing side was left alive, they’d recover, rebuild, and eventually kill your family and usurp your rightful throne.
“We’d just leave in that case,” the doll said. “It’s big world out there, and we don’t have any particular claim to this place. You were here first, and it’s your home. Who wants to be the kind of jerk that kicks someone out of their home?”
Grimsnarl’s mouth worked but no sound came out.
That wasn’t what the doll was supposed to say.
They were supposed to move on to escalating threats.
And then start fighting.
And then they’d die or he’d die or everyone would die, then they’d wait an hour or two and start the cycle up all over again.
“I’m sorry, you would just leave?” Grimsnarl asked, certain he couldn’t have heard the doll right. Or that it wasn’t really speaking for the party.
“I mean, we’d asked if we could stay in touch first,” the doll said. “Even if you don’t want us around, there might be other mutually opportunities that might arise. At the worst, we’d want to be able to warn you if something like the [Hungry Shadow] shows up.”
Grimsnarl’s head was reeling.
The doll was serious.
Cooperation with an [Adventuring Party].
An [Alliance] with an [Adventuring Party].
[Seven Steaming Hells], it sounded like they wanted to be [Friends]!
“Who are you?” Grimsnarl asked, completely lost on how any of this could be happening.
“My name’s Pillowcase”, the doll said. “And it sounds like you might be willing to negotiate?”