“Hmph,” Paolo crossed his arms, his squad gathering up behind him. “As if a simple test of courage could cause I, the great leader of Squad III, to feel fear.”
“Hohoho… then why are so slow to agree? Any member of Squad II would gladly throw themselves in the line of danger. Your hesitation… is unbecoming. Perhaps in your age-” Kayle said, his tone teasing, his Squad too gathering up, but he was interrupted.
“Choose quick. Boring.”
Dinesh tried not to tremble as the huge giant Bone Wurm rumbled down at them, weaving its head back and forth. Her. Her head, Dinesh had been told. He resisted the urge to say a small prayer.
Initially, Dinesh had been secretly overjoyed that after their joint exercise in the North, against the Skeleton Knight, Paolo and Kayle invited him and the rest of the 23rd Squad to join them for a “celebration”. Very eagerly, they had agreed. It wasn’t rare to see the Numeral Squads around, but it was an usual thing for them to fraternize so openly with a Squad in the 20s. This could be a big move for them.
And Dinesh had high hopes of making friends, learning secrets, and working to improve himself in his Squad. To his chagrin, the final thing had come true.
Their version of celebration was an elongated practice session designed by the Dusk Spider, Mrs. Hamilton, to draw out the entire physical potential of the exerciser. Primarily, it increased the Physical Fitness, Empower, and Herculean Strength Skills, which most of all of the Classed individuals had. Even Dinesh, who was a mage focus, as well as his Squad, had them.
However, his mage focused squad was a long, long way of being able to keep up with workouts with this group of individuals.
Tired to the bone, the 23rd Squad of Donnyton had stumbled back while Squads III and II and walked back in high spirits, laughing and cheering the 23rd Squad on. Although it had been one of the most intimidating experiences in his life, Dinesh had gained 5 Skill Levels doing it, which spoke to its effectiveness. So finally, his spirits were starting to life. Truly, the way of life of those at the top was completely different.
That was, until they stumbled on the Bone Wurm, Neveah, who was bored, sitting at the edge of the Village while Donnyton figured out how to let her wander around a little.
Kayle had admired her size. Paolo had pointed out her larger-than-her-body head. Kayle had commented on her sharp teeth, his grin growing. Dinesh had a bad feeling.
Kayle bet that Paolo wouldn’t dare get inside the creature’s mouth, and let her close it.
To Dinesh’s horror, the monster had seemed profoundly excited by the prospect, and was practically preening at first under the attention. She generously opened her mouth as wide as possible, displaying at least 60 rows of jagged bone teeth that could rip anything not made of metal to shreds in a heartbeat.
Dinesh privately believed that mouth was a portal to hell. But Paolo and Kayle had unhesitatingly walked over, inspecting the mouth space, poking her tongue, discussing the relative comfort that it offered. And both of their Squads went right along with it.
The men and women of the Squads resembled their Captains. Paolo’s 10 were stocky, stoic, and had noses broken from fist fights; meanwhile, the teammates of Kayle were lithe and graceful, with longer hair. They all wielded different weapons, but it was clear that each Squad had an identity, a specific method for defeating the enemy. It was… extremely enlightening, and it made Dinesh consider his own Squad. How should they cast themselves, going forward…?
Currently, Paolo was scowling at Kayle. “You are all talk. The minute I exit Neveah’s mouth, you will have long gone, retreated to your small hovel to shiver in fear.”
“More talking… so little doing…” Kayle countered. The two glared at each other.
“Both at same time!” Neveah announced, her oddly hollow voice flowing over the entire crowd. Everybody paused and thought about this for a second.
“Acceptable.” Paolo said, crossing his arms, grinning at Kayle. Dinesh could tell that the man was just glad that the weight had shifted to his rival.
Kayle, for his part, had the humanity to remain silent for 3 seconds. Then he said yes.
So it was, that the three Squads sat and watched two of their leaders climb into Neveah’s mouth. Before she closed it, they both looked out at Dinesh.
“Dinesh, shall we make this a Captain’s outing?” Paolo asked, extending a hand. Then he exchanged a sparkling glance with Kayle.
“Kukuku… truly, this will be a wonderful bonding experience,” Kayle said, his own wicked smile growing. “Neveah, can you fit him too?”
“Yep!” Her cheer was that of a psychopathic murderer staring down her next victim.
Dinesh took a step back. “I-”
“Best make it quick, don’t let him get away,” Kayle audibly muttered, patting the side of Neveah’s mouth. She needed no further encouragement, and sprung forward, not really uncoiling her body, but seeming to be propelled by the very ground. The two already inside her mouth hurriedly layed down.
“I-” But then Dinesh was gulped down, smashed into the mouth, which clicked shut. He could feel his armor pressing against another person’s, but there was only dampness, darkness, and the feeling of several teeth piercing through his armor and stabbing his leg. Panic rose in his chest, and he immediately wanted to vomit. All of the sore muscles and small injuries rose to the fore of his mind, demanding his attention, before they were swiftly drowned out by the panic, swamping all of him.
Of course, Paolo was roaring with laughter, and Kayle was chuckling.
“Move around a little!” Paolo yelled.
Neveah obliged. No, the hell monster obliged. In that moment, Dinesh felt g-forces that reminded him of riding a rollercoaster. His eyes rolled around, sightless in the darkness, as he began to flail, his panic needing an outlet. The wounds in his leg grew worse, as the teeth tore larger and larger holes.
Kayle, who had an arm pressed against Dinesh, punched him the face. “Stop lashing out. You aren’t alone in here, you know.”
“Wow, this is amazing! What a rush!” Paolo roared. “I haven’t felt like this in ages, say, Neveah, can you go faster?”
“You idiot-” Dinesh screamed, but it was too late. It was like a sudden explosion of momentum, that they could even feel in here. They pressed against each other, struggling to stay in the center of Neveah’s mouth, and began to slowly slide towards the back of her throat. Or at least that’s what Dinesh assumed. They would fucking die here, fucking die, all fucking devoured and… and…
And his senses spread out in a way he never felt before, and suddenly Dinesh could feel the strange sensation of the bone rasping on the ground, rubbing smooth, the impossible hardness that could resist this friction over and over again. The Mana that she used, constantly creating a path beneath her, throwing her body forward.
But the sheer volume of Mana…. The speed… If she were to lose control-
Even their System empowered bodies would-
The flow of Mana, the damp mouth, Paolo’s laughter, the panic, his lightheadedness… everything began to swirl and mix, drawing Dinesh, and what was left-
As could be expected from an enthusiastic but childlike Bone Wurm, Neveah lost control. Or at least that’s what Dinesh assumed, because he just lost consciousness for several seconds, then found himself awoken by a slap to the face.
Blinking, he sat up, looking up at Paolo, who was grinning down at him.
“Ha! What a rush! We should do this everyday. What do you think of that, eh, Dinesh? Chills you out a little, doesn’t it?”
Dinesh looked behind Paolo to Kayle, who was walking slowly along the spine of Neveah, chatting with her. She didn’t really speak in complete sentences, but she spoke enough words to get her point across, and seemed to delight in communicating with these individuals.
They appeared to have crashed when Neveah ran into a small hill that was a bit too steep. Luckily for the three of them inside her mouth, she had twisted her body, so her back and middle regions had taken most of the impact, while her head was relatively well protected. But based on the fact that even Dinesh’s System strengthened body was knocked out by the impact, they were moving at quite the clip when they crashed.
The panic that had almost drowned Dinesh during the ride rose up again, catching fire and turning to a vicious fury, and it took several long breaths to restrain the urge to stand up and punch Paolo in the face. And based on his expression… that was exactly what he wanted! The Brawling piece of shi-
Then Dinesh paused, because he had a notification.
Congratulations! For being exposed to an extremely dangerous situation, you have obtained the Skill Curse of Fear Lvl 1.
Congratulations! For examining the flows of a great monster’s Mana, you have obtained the Blue Mage Mastery I Path.
Dinesh paused. Truthfully, considering these gains… there truly would be changes in store for his 23rd Squad. “....Well it wasn’t the worst thing ever.”
With a loud laugh, Paolo helped him to his feet and slapped his back.