Author: Chris Cook
Deep beneath the World's Edge Mountains lie the Dungeons of Insanity, a vast network of natural caverns and dwarf-fashioned halls of old. They are not for the unwary - it is said that the deepest tunnels breach the bedrock of the world, and venture into the depths of hell itself, and whether or not this is true, it is a fact that the Dungeons are inhabited by countless monsters, all too eager to slay the unwary traveller. Yet legend speaks of great riches, a treasure trove unequalled in all the surface world, if only a hero could brave the manifold dangers of the Dungeons and, having conquered them, stand against the dread Dark Lord and slay him, and many are the would-be champions who venture into this perilous underworld.
This has been going on for some time. There's a sign outside the Dungeons, and a stall run by an enterprising druid selling scrolls of Identify Magic Item and Detect Trap (guaranteed to prevent lethal injury or your money back).
Several hundred metres below ground, a battle was taking place in an ancient cathedral to dark gods, and several levels below that, in a less ambitious cavern, a dark conjurer was cleaning her nails with an ornate sacrificial dagger. She looked up as a pillar of flame burst into life in the middle of the floor, vanishing an instant later and leaving in its place a blood-red woman with bat-like wings, impressive horns, a pointed tail, and a chainmail bikini, who said "-uck!"
"Hi Tara," the conjurer said, getting up and smiling. "You okay?"
"Hi Willow," the demon said, wincing slightly. "Yeah, it's nothing. Got distracted in a melee, some level twenty paladin snuck up behind me, and I turned around just in time to get an enchanted warhammer between the eyes."
"Ouch, nasty," Willow said sympathetically.
"Blunt weapons always give me a headache when I respawn," Tara complained.
"Here, lemme try something," Willow offered. She put a hand gently on Tara's forehead, between the horns, and spoke several dread syllables learned from books written in languages of madness. Tara's eyes widened.
"My headache's gone!" she exclaimed. "Thank you, how'd you do that?" She hugged Willow, then took her hand as they wandered back to the ancient, dried-up fountain the conjurer had been sitting on previously.
"Oh it's nothing," Willow smiled. "I was rummaging through some old spellbooks left behind by an apocalyptic cult from before the dawn of time. Nothing much else to do between heroes."
"Quiet over your way, is it?" Tara asked.
"Yep, not much traffic these days in the Chapel of Anguish," Willow shrugged. "Amy moved out - said it wasn't high-profile enough."
"I guess it's true. There's not so many sorcerer-heroes these days, and the fighters tend to avoid all the dark magic areas - anything they can't just tackle hand-to-hand gets them all confused. Amy got a job over at the Labyrinth of Torment, apparently there's some rumour going around the barbarians that there's a mystical suit of armour at the heart of it, so it's gotten pretty busy down there and they're hiring more evil witches to keep up."
"So you're stuck in the Chapel with just Harmony?" Tara asked sceptically.
"Yeah it's not ideal," Willow admitted. "But with the low hero traffic I can handle it without much help, and Harm spends most of her time on the crystal ball chatting with some harpies she went to school with."
"How'd you wind up respawning?" Tara asked. "I wasn't expecting to see you until the weekend."
"Ran into a knight with an Armageddon scroll," Willow complained. "Being incinerated's no fun for someone with my skin tone, believe me - I wish I had your immunity to fire."
"Your skin always looks good," Tara ventured. Willow blushed, which was particularly noticeable on her pure white skin.
"I have a moisturiser spell," she grinned sheepishly. "So, it's all melee up in the Cathedral of Endless Night?"
"You wouldn't believe it," Tara said wearily. "I don't know whether someone up top's made a map to the place or what, but it's just an endless stream of heroes these days. We can hardly slaughter them fast enough."
"I hear resurrection scrolls are getting cheaper," Willow noted.
"That's probably contributing to it," Tara agreed. "It used to be that you could behead a hero, and it'd be at least a month before the rest of his party got together enough gold to bring him back. Put in a good couple of days' worth of hero-killing, and you'd have at least a couple of weeks of low traffic, plenty of time to relax... visit friends," she added, with a grin at Willow.
"Is the Dark Cardinal hiring extra monsters?" she asked.
"He says he's hiring more to cope with the demand," Tara replied. "But if you ask me he's trying to do it as cheaply as possible - animated skeletons that keep falling apart on their own, a couple of minor fire elementals that keep fizzing out when you really need them... It's not enough, against the kind of organised parties of heroes we're getting lately. We're rushed off out feet."
"How's Buffy?" Willow asked.
"She's doing okay. That thing between her and Riley is starting to get serious."
"Riley? The yeti?"
"She's borrowed an amulet of lycanthropy so she can have a fur coat when she visits him down in the Arctic Vaults," Tara nodded. "I haven't seen her much lately, it's too busy in the Cathedral to duck out for a chat."
"You work too hard," Willow frowned.
"It's a living," Tara shrugged. "There's not a lot of demand for succubi, really - it's all about specialists, powerful spellcasters or melee juggernauts. There's not a lot of high-level job opportunities for demons like me, with a few spells, a few melee moves, but nothing specialised."
"I was thinking," Willow said hesitantly. "There's a little cavern down near the Pillars of Dread that's vacant, and I've been saving up the loot from the heroes who've come by the Chapel without looking where they were going..."
"You're thinking of moving in?" Tara asked.
"It wouldn't be much, just a few caves and connecting tunnels," Willow admitted. "It'd probably only attract a few dozen heroes a month at most, but I think it's got potential, and once a bit of treasure builds up there's room to put in a Library of Evil, maybe even an Ancient Altar, that'd get a bit more interest once word got around."
"I-it sounds lovely," Tara smiled. "I think you should go for it."
"Well that's the thing," Willow went on hesitantly. "I'm not really sure about taking it over just by myself, and I was thinking, perhaps, if you wanted... maybe the two of us could try it out?"
"R-really?" Tara said, stunned.
"They're not using your talents in the Cathedral of Endless Night," Willow pointed out. "You're... you deserve better than to be just another demon in a melee line-up, and I think between the two of us, we could really make a go of this, I've been basically running the Chapel of Anguish solo for the last few weeks so it's not like I've never done this before, and... it occurred to me, as well, if we were both in the same area, then when some high-level hero came marauding through and wiping out everything in sight, we'd have our twenty-four-hour respawn cycles at the same time, so we could keep each other company, instead of just meeting like this when it happens by chance that we've both been banished at the same time... and even when we're active, we could still spend time together, and the cavern's really close to the southern stairwell so we could visit our friends, and... I, uh, the truth it, I'd really like to spend more time with you. You know?"
"Y-you really want me to move in with you?" Tara asked in a whisper.
"I do," Willow nodded anxiously. "So... what do you say?" Tara took a deep breath, then let herself smile.
"I say, I would absolutely love to torment heroes with you," she grinned, stretching out a wing to curl around Willow and propel her into her arms.
"Me too," Willow smiled, returning the hug.