◈ Chapter 63:

Red lay in the vault and decided he quite liked gold.

Okay, that was a lie. Red didn't like gold, he LOVED gold.

He shivered and squirmed as he rolled about in the pile of the stuff, the heavy metal titter tattering against his scales like raindrops drumming against a canvas. It was an immensely satisfying feeling, like relaxing around an open campfire, the scent of a fresh rat roasting, spiced with shaved Goblin toenails, his Kobold comrades around him, comfortable and safe.

Kobolds and gold went together like wine and cheese, like socks and shoes, like Kobolds... and more gold. If there was one thing that Kobolds had inherited from their distant dragony cousins it was an appreciation for that lustrous precious thing that seemed to have an inner warmth all of its own.

The Kobold lifted his claws and watched blissfully as coins clinked and slipped between them to fall to the mound below.

Despite everything that had happened, being kidnapped and enslaved by levelers, then being rescued and enslaved again by some terror of a monster and repeatedly used as bait and terrified out of his scales and forced *cough* to watch that terror do lewd things with that Goblin, despite all of that he was glad he was there at that moment. Only a Kobold at the very tip top of a tribe could even begin to imagine rolling around in a literal pile of gold, if the tribe could even muster that much of the stuff, this was truly a luxurious ecstasy beyond ecstasies.

He watched lazily as the Goblin girl explored the room, or rather, vault. The spear had sheared through the wall revealing the sheet metal clad interior. From what he could tell it had no door on the inside so he had no idea how the original owner of the mansion had accessed it. Some dirty leveler trick no doubt. He shuddered to think that he had been so close yet with absolutely no idea that all this wonderful gold lay beyond a simple wall, that was the stuff of Kobold nightmares.

The room contained a number of chests. Most of them had been stoved in by metal shrapnel from the spear, wooden planks shattered allowing the contents of each chest to spill forth, coins, metal, jewelry, uncut gems, cut gems. Less interesting were the metallic devices marked with occult runes and even less interesting than that was the paper and scrolls, bundles of the things. Red had already looked at the paper, according to the sheep girl they were something to do with power leveling. He did not like the sound of that and had kicked the paper into a corner, shunning the suspicious stuff before subsuming himself into the largest pile of gold he could make.

Opal was picking at a small chest. This one appeared different than the others, while the other chests were at ground level and unremarkable this one was on a pedestal and set with iron filigree, its wood a plaster white. One of the metal shards had struck the lock, fracturing the metal, and Opal was digging at it with her gladius, working it up and down until with a crackle and a flash of blue the lock broke apart, and so did half the rest of the chest as the enchantment holding it together collapsed.

Opal fell back with a yelp as the box broke and a spill of vanta black rubies streamed out, clattering from the pedestal in a shower of gemstones.

"What... is this?"

Lyra stepped by the confused Goblin and picked up one of the gems. It didn't reflect the light in the slightest, instead appearing as a pitch black hole in the air, as though Lyra was holding a shard of pure darkness. The only reason she could tell it was a gem was because rotating it revealed its silhouette to be gem-like in shape.

"I... I have no idea, these things are so dark, it's like they're eating the light. I guess they must be pretty valuable if they were kept above where the gold is in a special box."

Opal huffed and picked up a fistful of the things and let them pour between her fingers.

"This nice secret protected room and there's not even any swords in it! And my new spear got broken..."

She let the gems fall and then as her eyes passed by the chest she noticed something was still inside of it. It was a bag, a drawstring leather bag with intricate leatherwork carefully crafted and patterned all over. She reached out a hand for it hesitantly, perhaps a small conveniently sized dagger was hidden inside of it?

She plucked it free and pulled open the drawstring then seeing what was inside stumbled back and fell on her rump in surprise.

"What? What is it!" said Lyra alarmed by her reaction.

"It's- it's stone! b-but-"

Frustrated at Opal's non-explanation, Lyra grabbed the bag from her and peered inside.

"O-oh, oh my."

Red who was getting annoyed that his gold bathing was being interrupted sent a questioning snort in the sheep girls direction. "Is it more gold? It better be more gold..."

Lyra shook her head.

"I think we just found something more valuable than anything else in this vault..."

Red's head lifted, suddenly interested, what could be more valuable than all this gold?

He watched as the sheep girl put her hand inside the bag and then her arm up to the elbow, then up to her shoulder, yet the bag barely changed shape, the sheep girl appeared to have made her entire arm just vanish into nothing. His brow rose in confusion and he sat up, coins sheeting off his body.

"How are you doing that? Tell me! If this is some tricksy leveler thing..."

Lyra let out a small laugh as she removed her arm. She held out the bag to him and Red took it and peered inside. There was stone inside, literally, stone blockwork walls, perfectly cut so as to be near seamless, walls in the interior shape of a sphere, a sphere somewhere between three and four foot across.

Red moved his head to the side, the space inside the bag disappeared from view. Just the small leather bag, nothing like the large spherical space, was on the outside, no stone no anything. He hefted the bag, it weighed practically nothing, nothing at all like the amount of stone inside of it suggested it should weigh.

He moved his head back to the hole and looked more closely. There was a second drawstring visible on the interior side of the bag, but now he was examining it he could see that the threads it was made from were glowing faintly. He moved the opening about and the inner drawstring came with it, it was like the edge of some kind of moldable portal, a portal to a different space somewhere else.

Carefully he picked up a coin and let it fall from his claws into the bag. It fell quite a ways and clinked against the stone below.

He looked up to see Lyra looking at him, a strangely familiar look in her eye. A greedy Kobold look.

"You know what this means right? We can take all of the gold in here with us!"

Red's eyes went round, Yes, yes! This was fantastic! A portable hoard!

"I can bribe so many people with this!"

"NO! NO BRIBE!" shouted Red, spreading his body and curling his tail over the gold pile protectively.

---

A bone shifted then rolled across the ground, a small bone, what had been part of a cooked chicken, the remains of a certain Kobold's meal.

The bone joined with another bone, touching up against it, then connected with another and another. The gristle that hung from the bones causing them to slip and slowly glide across each other until the bones had formed a small construction that continued to pile upward, bone after bone shifting and moving, albeit slowly.

Soon the bones began to take shape, a slightly disjointed chicken skeleton without a head, its missing bony structures replaced haphazardly by spare ribs.

Vaush looked at his hopelessly awful creation and felt sick. If it were possible for a skull to vomit he was sure he would have. Being forced to go from his beautiful carefully constructed and cared for symmetrical collection to the tossed aside discardings of a pathetic little Kobold was too much. It was revolting. Disgusting. Beneath his dignity, beneath the respect he deserved.

But unfortunately necessary. The problem with being a skull and nothing else was that he lacked legs with which to move around. He wanted to escape from beneath the paw of that unpredictable brute of a wolf, that strange beast that grew ever larger and stronger, that had effected that level orb in such a way due to- Well, that did peak his interest, but Vaush wasn't one to dwell in danger which he suspected would increasingly be the case the longer he was around the beast. He just wanted somewhere dark and private to while away the years, some ruined castle somewhere with a convenient supply of levelers from a nearby town perhaps

He mused on this as the gangly undead chicken skeleton wobbled toward him on slap-dash legs, barely keeping its balance.

"Yes, my creation, come and lift me, take your master away from these foolish monsters."

The chicken skeleton seemed to become resolute and it lurched over to the skull which was perched atop a chair alongside Opal's pack.

This was it, the perfect opportunity to escape. He glanced to the side, the beast remained asleep, passed out on the town Ranker's bed, a black mass of fur that filled the frame from end to end.

The beast's irritating Goblin, and the clearly mentally warped sheep girl, as well as the Kobold slave were elsewhere, having found some kind of vault belonging to the Ranker.

He didn't care, the important part was that all eyes were off of him. His chance had come, this was it.

The chicken reached up with a pair of boney rib wings and clumsily touched at the sides of Vaush's skull, then with surprising strength managed to shakily lift him into the air and place him atop where the chicken's head might have been, having to keep its wings up to hold the skull in place.

Vaush looked down and physically cringed at the sight of his temporary body.

"I may have to find some way to delete this memory, oh gods how far I have fallen, what a wretched creation."

The chicken body slumped slightly hearing that, as though it were a little hurt by the words.

"Come my undead... chicken. Take me away from this place, back to the darkest shadows of the world!"

The undead chicken turned, took an unsteady step forward, and then promptly collapsed, sending a wash of loose bones across the floor along with a tumbling bouncing swearing skull.

Vaush rolled up against a table leg and came to a stop.

He continued to swear and rage, his flame eyes flaring with fury until a voice interrupted him.

He looked up to find the sheep girl looking down at him, Lyra, he vaguely recalled. Clearly she was suffering from some kind of monster derangement syndrome, no normal leveler would take orders from a monster. Simply put: she was an insane person. Not ideal company, being surrounded by monsters and crazy people rarely was.

"What are you doing? Why are these chicken bones everywhere? Red? What is this?"

The decapitated head of Red appeared at the sheep girl's hip and Vaush's flame eyes shrunk down in surprise. What was this? Had they killed the little Kobold monster? Was he next?

Then the head moved and looked around. It looked between the pile of chicken bones then to Vaush.

"The skull did it."

The Kobold's head disappeared back inside the leather bag on the sheep girl's hip with a grump, as though annoyed it had been disturbed.

Lyra stared at Vaush.

"Uhm." said Vaush."

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