The passageway leading to the Well Chamber went on and on and on.
And on, and on, and on.
Kelli Thunderhold, Paladin of Righteousness, was getting antsy.
“Uh, excuse me?” she said, after a while. “How long now?”
“Not far!” said the little kobold, encouragingly. “Not far at all! Just have to wander a little more!”
“Yeahbut,” said Kelli. “You’re a wandering monster. That’s like, professional-grade wandering. I ask a blacksmith how long it will take me to hammer a horseshoe into shape, he’s gonna say, ‘Oh, not long! Not long at all!’ completely forgetting the fact that I don’t smith anything for a living, black or otherwise. It’s not what paladins do.”
“It would be if you’d have points in Craft,” said the dog-sized walking brain trotting along gamely nearby, despite the fact that it had no mouth or anything to speak with. Kelli was chalking it up to psionics and leaving it at that. She didn’t understand psionics much but that was okay because absolutely no one understood psionics, not even with the required manual right there in hand. The Intellect Devourer’s psychological “voice” turned mocking. “Oh wait, I forgot,” he said. “We’ve got Miss No Skill Points over here.”
“Please,” said Kelli. “Ms. No Skill Points.”
“What’s the difference?” said the Intellect Devourer, whom Kelli had named “Eidey.”
Kelli put her hands on her hips. “Well, let’s see. My way makes no assumptions one way or the other about whether I’m married or not, okay?”
“Okay, sorry,” said Eidey. “Ms. No Skill Points it is. Seriously, though, you get at least one per level. Them’s the rules. What did you blow it on?”
Kelli muttered something incomprehensible.
“Sorry?” said the Intellect Devourer, cupping a claw to his temporal lobe. “Didn’t quite catch that?”
“Drop it, Eidey,” she said, grimly marching on. The way to the Well Chamber was turning out to be interminably long. She was reasonably certain that the little kobold wasn’t leading them in circles; if the tunnel was curved, it was to such a tiny degree that it seemed straight for all practical purposes. She supposed for a moment that it might be sloped—
—and her eyes went wide. She blinked once, twice. Could this be it? After all her (admittedly few) years of adventuring, had she actually stumbled across a point in an adventure where the explicit dwarfish ability to detect sloping passages could be used, where her one-eighth dwarfish heritage might bleeding come in handy for once? I mean, sure, she sometimes detected sloping passages at parties for a lark (she could also, when unarmored, touch her elbows behind her back, another crowd-pleaser) but for the first time in her life, it might actually be of use! And yes, she could have just blown 2 CP on a basic industrial level and stuck it in her extra-dimensional purse, but it lacked the flair and raw undiluted élan of being able to do it racially.
This was it. This was the moment of truth! She closed her eyes and, for a moment, surrendered her consciousness to the ancient deep-delving dwarfish gods of her ancestors, or at least, her ancestors on her crazy great-grandfather’s side. Her ears filled with the heady sound of chanting and of hammers against veins of mithril ore and the noise of great flagons of fermented mushroom ale being quaffed, a verb that is basically only applicable to flagons (with the possible additional inclusion of tankards). The mysterious sixth sense of the mountain-people replaced all her other five as she focused her attention on the floor before her, and she began to feel the twisted spirit of the Proving Grounds itself, speaking to the core of her mind—
“Watch your step,” said the kobold. “This passage slopes down a little.”
Kelli’s ancestral vision switched off with a soft noise as of a deflating balloon. The trio walked for a time in silence.
“Cuthbert damn it, kobold,” she muttered.
Eidey chuckled. Kelli rounded on him. “What?” she demanded.
“Oh, nothing, nothing,” said the Intellect Devourer.
“You were looking into my brain, weren’t you?”
“I swear, no!” said the Intellect Devourer, whose eyes would have been wide and innocent had he possessed them. “Just thinking of a funny political cartoon I saw the other day.”
“You didn’t exist the other day!” Kelli shouted, her patience exhausted. She marching up to the kobold, who had been steadily pulling ahead for the last few turns. She waved a gauntleted hand in front of his face. “Hey! Kobold! You’re absolutely certain it isn’t far? I got issues I need to deal with here!”
“Not far,” said the kobold. “Just a few more minutes.”
“How many more minutes?”
The kobold thought. “One hundred twelve,” he said, with some confidence.
“Right,” said Kelli. “That tears it. We are stopping.”
“That is only going to make the journey longer,” the kobold pointed out. “Q.E.D.”
“Well, there’s nothing for it,” said Kelli. “I really need to stop.”
“Seriously, are you wimping out that easily?” said Eidey. “We’ve already established the dump-stat status of both your Dex and your Int, are you going to tell me you choked on Con as well?”
“For crying into the Abyss!” shouted Kelli. “I’m not tired. I just need a, uh, rest break!”
“That’s one of those statements that contradicts itself,” said the kobold. “What do they call it? A palindrome?”
“Not that kind of rest break! Do I have to spell it out for you?”
“I think we would all enjoy that,” said the Intellect Devourer, who had now come to the correct conclusion.
“I don’t need a rest break! I need a rest room!”
“Still not getting it,” said the kobold.
“I have to see a man about a horse,” she said, with greater urgency.
The kobold frowned. “The Proving Grounds has many dungeon amenities, but a livery stable is not one of them…”
“Listen, you little evolutionary backwater,” said Kelli. “I’m trying to tell you that—”
“She needs to take a crap,” said the Intellect Devourer. “Or a piss. Or a crapiss. I can’t tell, because now she’s got her Divine Grace up to stop me from seeing in there.”
“Yes,” said Kelli, rolling her eyes. “Yes. Okay, yes. Yes. It’s out in the open now. With some shame, I have to admit that I have biological functions besides smiting things, which is my favorite biological function. So what I need you to do is direct me to the nearest water closet or whatever, I get myself refreshed, and we continue on our merry way.”
“If you have insufficient water stores, I can certainly direct you to a fresh underground spring with a comparatively small percentage chance of making you sick. We don’t keep closets filled with the stuff, however.”
“A toilet,” explained Kelli, drawing out the two syllables of the word into at least four or five. “A thing that takes the waste away after you produce it.”
“Why would you want to do that?”
“Some of us aren’t keen on sleeping in our own excrement!”
The kobold frowned. “Really?” he said. “Does it not provide enough lower back support?”
“I don’t believe this,” said Kelli, smacking herself in the forehead with her gauntlet. “I seriously do not and cannot believe—”
“Hubert here is not totally off-the-wall,” explained the Intellect Devourer. “One of the useful things about kobolds is that the main byproduct of their digestion is a soft, fluffy, perfectly sanitary excelsior-like substance. It’s great for filling mattresses or packing valuables for long storage.”
“It has the softness of cotton batting and the strength of cotton batting,” said Hubert. “Basically, it’s cotton batting. Why? What do adventurers poo?”
“Here, let me just inject a picture of it into your mind,” said Eidey, focusing his attention on the kobold for a moment.
There came the faintest thrum of psionic, uh, points, or whatever, being expended.
“Oh, ew,” said the kobold, putting a claw to his muzzle.
“I know, right?” said Eidey. “It’s enough to turn one’s amygdala.”
“Okay, wiseguy,” said Kelly, nearly spitting her gum out onto the Devourer’s exposed prefrontal cortex. “We’ve established that Hubert here craps fluffy clouds, in defiance of all probability. You’re going to tell me that you’ve got similarly unimpeachable doo-doo?”
“Sort of,” said the Intellect Devourer. “As an obligate psychovore, I break down complex thoughts into smaller, degraded ones and consume the mental energy thus produced. In doing so, I leave behind tiny chunks of easily-digestible memetic waste. It’s all very tidy.”
Another psionic thrum. Kelli blinked.
“Weird,” said the paladin. “I just got the strangest urge to take an iconograph of a cat and print words all over it in broken Common ostensibly reflecting what that cat is saying or thinking.”
“Me too,” said Hubert, his voice a picture of wonderment. “And I don’t even know what an iconograph is! Or a cat, for that matter!”
“Strange,” said Kelli. “It’s almost as though we both simultaneously had a simple, infectious thought that—”
Kelli’s normally rather open face twisted and darkened.
“You didn’t,” said Kelli, scowling.
“Tell me you didn’t just take a psionic crap in my brain.”
“Honestly, I can’t.”
“Holy animal-servicing Obad-Hai!” Kelli said. “I’m going to kill you! I don’t care if you’re immune to fire and edged weapons, I’m going to find me something not-fire and not-edged and so help me I am going to bash your lack of face in!”
“Back to this,” said the Intellect Devourer, in tones of a yawn. “Back to the smiting.”
“Hubert!” shouted Kelli, over her shoulder. “Find me some kind of non-edged weapon!”
Kelli paused, unable for a moment to think of a non-edged weapon. “A mace!” she eventually decided on. “A mace with, like, an electricity enchantment on it! We’ll see who goes around pooping cat pictures into whose brains when I scramble the tar out of the neurons of your entire body!”
“Well, I can try,” said Hubert, placatingly. “I mean, if you really want me to have a go at it. I think there are some unraided weapon racks and maybe the occasional cursed artifact that other people have wisely left alone, and maybe I could scare up a mace at one of those places. But if I might suggest something?”
“Is it a table leg? Because I bet I could also beat him silly with a table leg.”
“Actually, it’s not a table leg. What I’m going to suggest is that we do have a ways left to go before we get to the Well Chamber, so maybe you should just unbolt your armor, the two of us will avert our eyes or visual cortexes or whatever, you use the wall to produce your hideous biological sludge, and we continue on our way?”
“It’s either that or hold it,” continued Eidey. “For serious, woman. I promise you as an asexual organism who reproduces by budding that there’s absolutely nothing I care about seeing down there.”
“You know, it’s not just the sanitary considerations,” she said. “I mean, that’s how it started. We knew we were vulnerable and exposed when we were making waste, so we decided we would do it in private little places we created for ourselves. But it became something more. We started using it whenever we started feeling vulnerable and exposed for any reason.
“The bathroom’s a safe place. No one bothers you in the bathroom. If you’re there with a group of your girlfriends and you wanna talk, you can do it, but it only happens on your own terms, when you’re ready for it. Everywhere else in the world, people stare at you when you look weird. The bathroom is the one place where you’re the weird one if you’re staring. And so yes, I rely on bathrooms to make water. Yes, I rely on bathrooms to tweeze all these little hairs I get in places that upwardly-mobile young women aren’t supposed to get hairs but that I do because of my stupid dwarfish grandpa. But most of all, I rely on them to give me a moment, just a moment, where the rest of the world goes away.”
Kelli sighed. “So, yeah. I don’t know if I’ve just been visiting particularly civilized dungeons before this, but every other one I’ve been to has had at least nominal toilet facilities here and there. And the Proving Grounds just… doesn’t. It’s taking me a bit to cope.”
There was a dull sense of impact against one of the paladin’s greaves. She looked down to see the kobold patting her comfortingly.
“There, there,” said Hubert. “There, there. It’ll be all right.”
Kelli sniffled a little bit of snot and shook herself out. “Yeah,” she said. “Yeah, it’ll be fine. This whole thing is one big character-building learning experience.”
“I for one am not going to think any less of you if you take a dump against the wall,” said the Intellect Devourer, reassuringly. “I’m not sure what you would even possibly do to make me think less of you. My opinion of you is pretty low, is what I’m saying.”
“Thanks, you two,” said Kelli. “But I think I’m just going to wait. It is said that Great Ast held her bowels for three days during her entire epic battle against the legendary diabolic spider Grothank. I think I can make it another two hours.”
“Very good,” said Hubert, nodding briskly. “And after that it won’t matter because you’re going to be drowned. Come along!”
“Okay, about this ‘drowning’ thing you keep mentioning. When you say ‘drowning,’ what exactly are you talking about? Because I’m going to assume that you aren’t taking us all this way just to actually, literally, drown us.”
“You’ll see,” said Hubert. “Now, come! Let’s enjoy your final hours of life!”
“Okay, when you say ‘your final hours of life,'” said Kelli, “what exactly are you talking about?”
They continued on, deeper into the Proving Grounds.