Pain. Why is everything always pain.
I slowly open my eyes. I can see the sky above me. Far, far above. I’m lying in soft dust, at the bottom of a well. Standing up to get my bearings, I survey my surroundings. I’m in a small room made of bricks. There’s soot everywhere. A very rusty hatch is on one of the walls. I push it gently and find it unlocked. It makes a screaming sound as it opens completely. I climb out of the little room, and find myself in a basement. It looks oddly familiar, though old and abandoned. There’s a door on one wall, a hopper for fuel. Realisation slowly dawns on me as I look around. I’m in a boiler room. This isn’t the bottom of a well, it’s a furnace, like in the Weke burrows.
My surroundings seem barren. Broken tools litter the floor, detritus, plants and unidentifiable goop. In places, the brick walls have cracked, letting roots and insects in. I turn back to the furnace to investigate further. It’s well built, and must have been in heavy use at one point. The walls of the chimney are smooth and slick from soot. I try climbing it, but my skill is far below what would be necessary to get up there. Covered in soot from head to toe I climb out of the furnace. The only other exit from the room is a large, rusty door. I grasp the handle, pulling as hard as I can manage, with nearly zero results. The few millimeters it shifts rewards me with a screech I’m certain they can hear back in Poroto. I reposition myself with my feet on the wall, using my entire body to pull open the massive slab of metal. At first, there’s nothing but creaking. Then I get a little momentum going. Speed slowly increases until the hinges reach breaking point, and the entire door falls off the frame, slamming into the ground with a deep and abiding gong.
It takes me a few minutes to recover. There’s no damage, but the sound has given me a debuff, affecting my hearing, nearly deafening me. I get up, brush off the worst of the soot covering me, and move into the hallway outside. The walls here are covered in slime. In some places, earth and roots have breached into the corridor, nearly blocking the passage. I’m able to crawl through, but the experience drenches my soot with gunk. The smell reminds me of the hall of the elder fungus. The temperature is higher than I’m comfortable in, the humidity is through the roof, and the smell is like rotten feet blended with a fine, aged milk. I find myself thankful that I’m not being grossed out by the ambient sounds.
The light from the furnace room isn’t enough to see by, so I craft a makeshift torch from detritus I find lying about. Old moldy cloth, a table leg. Experimenting a little, I find that when I mix soot and dust with the gloop in the room, I get a smelly but serviceable torch. While the light is fantastic, it also makes me wary about the flammable substances all around me. Well, I’m not here because I’m prissy. My determination squared, I move into the dungeon proper.
Avoiding the worst of the goop on the walls and the ceiling, I move cautiously forward. Ahead of me is the stairwell leading to the bottom landing. If the place follows the layout of Loes burrow, I should be able to go straight to the top and out of here if I need to. I get halfway up the stairs before I hear the chittering. Moving silently, I reach a corner where I can sneak a peek into the adjoining hallway. There are two doors here, as expected. The stairwell going further up is caved in, completely impassable. The left hand door is closed, the other open and seemingly well travelled. In the corridor itself there are two fieldrunners. Smaller than the one I saw outside, they seem to be standing guard.
Fieldrunner Drone General worker for the FieldRunner queen. Low danger rating when faced alone. Is rarely encountered alone.
Okay.. This isn’t too bad. I should be able to take one out with a sneak attack, maybe fight the other one off hand to hand, and in the worst case I can blind it with magic like with the other one. My HP, mana and endurance all at max, there’s no time like the present. As I move slowly into the corridor, the insects seem unaware of my presence. There’s no indicator to show that I’m in stealth mode but the lack of reactions are encouraging. They pace around the corridor in a pattern, searching or patrolling. I take a moment to time them, then position myself near where one of them walks, waiting for my opening.
Sneak attack successful: You have inflicted 100% damage on FieldRunner Drone
Like a coil released, I spring forwards. Slashing my gladius into the unsuspecting insect, the force of the blow nearly bisects it. It really is less of a threat than the one I fought before. I turn towards the other one as it looks at me with it’s triangular head cocked to one side, somehow hesitant. I stalk towards it, blade in hand, and it responds by leaning forwards. Just as I’m about to attack, it raises it’s two two scythe-like appendages in the air, rubbing them together. A piercing sound cuts through the feeling of cotton in my ears, reverberating through the corridor. I close the distance as fast as I’m able to, first slashing the creature in a cross pattern, then stabbing it’s thorax. I take a moment to focus, to listen, but I realise it’s too late already. I can hear the skittering sounds coming from the open door. Answering calls, chittering sounds, legs moving across slimy floors. I take a second to consider my options. I can run back to the furnace and hide in there. I might be able to defend myself against them if they’re forced to come at me one by one. I can charge them, hope my skills have improved enough so that I can take down enough of them. Maybe my flash attack can affect multiple enemies in an area.
Neither of the options seem workable. As the first insectile limbs come through the open door, I dash for the closed one. I turn the handle as I reach it, my whole body pushing into it, forcing it open despite a slight resistance. I get inside and slam it shut in the face of a small horde of drones. With my back against the wall, I feel the impact as they hit the other side, trying to force it open. My torch reveals a room similar to Loes on my side. A small kitchenette in the corner, simple furniture and two rooms. In front of the door where I’m standing is a mostly rotted chest of drawers which has fallen apart thoroughly after my gentle ministrations. A massive push from the other side of the door reminds me of the dire situation I’m in, forcing me to consider more options. I frantically look around me, searching for something else to use as a barricade, but there's nothing intact here. Time has done a real number on the furniture in here. The insects are getting more aggressive, ramming the door, slashing at it. I can feel the bladed limbs penetrating the wall around me. With only seconds left, I’m forced to gamble. There’s less of the goop in this room than outside, but there is some. I drop my torch on the broken pile of wood, hold out for long enough for it to catch properly and spread a little, then I make a run for what I think is the master bedroom. Moments after, the door gets broken down by the angry insects. I don’t think it’s anger or hate, just an instinctual reaction to the stranger in their hive. They flood the room, trying to avoid my little bonfire, but there’s just too many of them. Some of them are forced into the fire. Some of those are covered in the goop. Before long, they become living torches, lighting their friends, spreading the conflagration to the rest of the room, disorienting and slowing down the horde for just long enough to let me reach the bedroom, closing the door behind me. Inside I find a sturdy looking bed which I push in front of the door, firmly entombing myself in the underground darkness.
I take a deep breath and feel my way around the room. I can hear the horde outside, looking for me. They seem to have lost track of me with the inferno disorienting them, but there really aren’t a lot of places to hide in this hovel, and they can’t be that stupid. I pause for a second, and activate planar sense. Once again, the world emerges around me in colours and outlines. I can see perfectly. I check out the bed, and realise it’s not going to hold them for long when they decide to come for me. The door is too deteriorated to hold out for any length of time. It’ll probably splinter in a few blows of their natural weapons. Searching the rest of the room, I find a grate in one corner. In hindsight, it was obvious. The burrows are well ventilated. They’d have to be to keep people alive. All of the rooms would be connected to this network of vents. I can make my escape through here. I go to remove the grill, nearly missing a shape lying on the bed. A skeleton, lying flat on top of what used to be the sheets, a large book under it’s folded hands. This again? Of course, last time I tried grave robbing it turned out pretty well for me. And I’m a lot less squeamish about these things now than I was with old Les. I decide to go for it, jumping onto the bed, scattering a lot of the bones around the room. Unceremoniously prying the fingers off the book, I yank it off the corpse, stuff it in my backpack and run for the vent in the corner. I take the time to reattach the grate just in time for the door to explode inwards. Scooting backwards into the mysterious depths of the tube system, I can barely hear them in the distance through my damaged hearing, skittering, searching for me.
After a few meters of scrabbling backwards, I make it to a crossroads of sorts where I can turn around. It extends up, down, left, right and back where I came from. I’m guessing down would take me to the boiler room. Not where I want to go right now. There’s no way to climb up, no handholds and no rope. Considering the layout in Loes place, I’m guessing left would take me back to the other room in the same apartment, back into the fire. I pick the last option, right. As I crawl along, I notice the surfaces around me are getting more slippery, more gooey. For a moment, I worry what will happen if the fire reaches this far with me inside here. Then I realise the moisture is getting worse, and the smell is actually levelling out a bit. Either that, or I’m just getting desensitized. Either way, It makes me a little bit happier.
Warning: Mana at 30%
Aw man! Why do I ever bother getting happier? I turn off planar sense, leaving me in pitch black darkness. With little other choice, I keep crawling. Soon, I reach a dead end. In front of me is what feels like a wall of gunk, blocking my passage onwards. I groan in frustration and disgust as I feel around me, looking for a way to continue. I realise quickly that there’s a grate beneath the slimy layer in front of me, and I push on it to try to get through, to no avail. It’s stuck somehow. I reach behind me, digging through my now slimecovered backpack, withdrawing my trusty club. Awkwardly, I slam it into the goopy obstacle. It resists my first few strikes, but in a final mighty thrust, I break through, tumbling gracelessly into another level of hell. This room is much bigger than I expected. There’s light emanating from one side, and I can see multiple slimy lumps crawling around on the floor.
FieldRunner Nymphs. Mostly harmless. Given time and opportunity, they can devour creatures many times larger than themselves.
Don’t fall asleep.
I stand up with a shudder, avoiding the curious little creatures approaching the intruder in their midst and look around. I can see the entrance to the landing on one wall. Flames are licking the corridor, and it’s clear they’ll come here before long, with all the goop around. The hall I’m in seems to be carved out of the smaller apartment that should have been here, as if something burrowed in and made a nest. My cold dead heart sinks a little as I turn around and realise where all the slugs are coming from. A large, fleshy structure is pumping them out onto the floor, very near where I’m standing. It’s a steady trickle. The structure, the egg sack, is connected to the backside of a fieldrunner larger than the ones outside. Much larger.
FieldRunner Queen (Egg Laying) Ruler of this particular hive. Constantly ravenous. Always pregnant. Guardian of the Fieldrunner Heart
How do I end up in this shit every fucking time. And how have I still not made a bind point anywhere. It looks at me curiously. It’s eyes are glistening in the torchlight. The head is triangular, with eyes glowing in the reflected flames. Unlike the drones and grubs, there’s real intelligence in those eyes. Intelligence and hunger. Spread out in front of her are pieces of meat. Fresh meat. This must be where the food ends up after their hunter finishes carving it. Maybe that means there’s an exit from here somewhere. I slowly move towards the centre of the room to get a better view of my situation. It’s head swivels to keep me in sight, never taking a break from chewing, picking up a piece, stuffing it in its mouth, chewing. On the other side of the massive creature I can see another passage. It looks well worn, and I’m hopeful. But to get there, I’ll need to find a way past the queen. I take out my bow and notch an arrow. She doesn’t seem to be able to move to catch me, and maybe I can find the heart if I kill her. I take aim, and loose an arrow, right into her body. She lifts herself up from the floor, higher than I’d thought possible, screeching in pain. Green blood sprays out from the impact site, covering her food pile, and clearly agitating the larvae. Before she comes back down, I spot a glowing gem underneath her.
“I need that heart, your majesty. I don’t suppose there’s any chance you’ll just hand it over so we can part ways, is there?”
I can tell how much she hates me just by the way she looks at me. No dice. I sigh, and notch another arrow. I hit her in the arm this time. Much the same result. I have no idea how damaged she is, and how much more she can take, but I’ve got plenty of arrows, and it doesn’t seem like backup is coming anytime soon. My only constraint is the flaming inferno approaching us from behind.
I fire several more arrows, each one soliciting a reaction, but none of them seem to finish the job. Despite my earlier bravado, I’m running out of arrows. Out of options, I steel myself for another desperate act. I fire an arrow straight at her again, making her rise. Before she’s even off the ground, I make a dash for her, right underneath her, to where the heart is. I slide underneath her bulk to the gemstone, snatch it up, and dive for safety.
Athletics check failed. You have been crushed for 70% damage. You are immobilised.
Her bulk slams down on top of my leg before I have a chance to get away completely. The pain is almost unimaginable. I wouldn’t believe it if I wasn’t living it. The queen is trying to turn around to reach me with her scythe-like forelimbs, but I’m in too awkward a position for her to reach. I get my sword and try to stab her, but from this angle, her carapace is too thick, and I can’t get enough power to penetrate it. I lie back, staring at the ceiling, trying to think of options. I could try to saw off my leg and escape that way, but I doubt I’d survive that for long. I could wait until the fire catches us, letting it kill her off and hope she’ll dematerialise when I loot her. Maybe I could use the moonsilver somehow. I dig through my backpack to find one. Potions! I have six potions that I looted from Huntex. Four of them are red. I say a small prayer to whatever’s listening, hoping that Huntex follows the RPG standards and made healing potions red. As I swallow, my hp bar begins to rise rapidly, and soon I’m at full health. Excellent. But maybe..
I grab the green flask. By my reasoning, this will either be poison, or acid. I think back to my wild flight through the forest, to the crash of glass against tree, to the burning sensation taking over my world for the few seconds before Rip finally put out the devouring burn. I uncork the bottle and reach out as far as I can. As I pour the solution onto the hard shell of the queen, it begins to smoke and bubble. A solid DOT, but more importantly, it weakens her armour. She doesn’t even seem to notice at first. I make her notice as I plunge my sword into her body. In pain, she rises up again, taking me with her this time. I hold on for dear life, and manage to get purchase on her back. Maneuvering myself so I’m straddling her, the position gives me the luxury of two free arms and a view of the room. Slowly, inexorably, the flames are coming closer. The goop seems to be a pretty good material for burning, but the little nymphs who are unable to move fast enough make for little firecrackers as they get caught up in the flames. With one arm, I open my last bottle of acid and carefully cover her back with the corrosive liquid. At this point, she’s thrashing around, trying to throw me off with all her might. She might have succeeded as well, if she wasn’t attached to the egg sack. I break her weakened carapace with my club, burying it deep in her gloopy insides. Withdrawing that, I begin stabbing her with my gladius, over and over. A few deep strikes later, and a small geyser erupts from her back, and she slumps over, defeated.
I stumble off her and limp towards the exit. My leg is mostly healed after the potion, but the debuff is going to be with me for a little while longer. I can hear pops and squeals from behind me, dangerously close. I don’t take the time to look behind me, clamoring up the passage as fast as I can. Air is rushing towards me as I ascend the tunnel, feeding the growing inferno I left behind, slowly dooming the entire nest. By the time I’m halfway up, my leg is recovered enough for me to stand on. The roughly carved corridor gets dark fast as I get further away from the queens room, and soon I’m in the black void again.
“Well done, child of darkness. You fought with deception, with speed and with effectiveness. And when you fell, when you were damaged, you found your way out of your predicament.”
I look around, but the darkness hides everything.
“Who are you? What do you want?”
The voice is deep and dark and sweet, making me relax and tense up at the same time.
“I’m your one ally in this world. I saw what that pesky spider did to you, and I’m appalled at the audacity. I’ll keep you safe from his prying eyes, no charge. You deserve better than that kind of treatment. But be aware that others are coming, and they will not be as friendly as I am. Watch out for the Basilisk and Ashlad especially.”
I switch to my planar sense, searching around for the one speaking, but all I see is a swirl of darkness standing out from the contours of the cave I’m in.
“I’ll find you again later, Shae DoomFlinger, when you need me.”
The swirl of darkness dissipates, and I’m left standing in the rough passage again, all alone. I shake off the chill I’m feeling and scramble towards the surface at top speed. With my enhanced senses I’m much more sure footed, reaching the surface in good time. I emerge from a hidden pit a short way away from the burrow, near the butchering ground. There’s smoke coming out of the central stack, clearly not doing well from my little adventure inside. I take a moment to rest before I start back towards the village. The sun is still up, but it’s a long way to go, and I don’t want to be out too long past darkfall. Not with the voice out there looking out for me.
Ability increased: Focus Ability increased: Strength Ability increased: Luck Skill increased: Short Blades Skill increased: Move Silently Skill increased: Stealth Skill increased: Sneak Attack Skill increased: Marksmanship Skill increased: Athletics
The notifications letting me know about advancements was delayed until I had a free moment to deal with them. Seems like the system was intelligent enough to know when I didn’t want to be distracted. It kept evolving, responding to my thoughts and desires, becoming more streamlined. I couldn’t help but wonder at what the various abilities and skills actually did, I mean, I don’t feel much more focused than before, and that’s at what, six now? I decide to do some research the next time I got some downtime. I’d have to do it through the ingame interface though, as I didn’t want to be captured by Spider again.
- Stranger in a strange land
Software developer by trade. Games developer by uni course. Shopkeeper in a previous life.. don't ask.
I took a look at my life recently, and realised I read too much. I watch too much tv. I play too many games. I consume too much. It was time for me to create instead, improve the balance of things. So I wrote, and I wrote, and I managed to finish a first draft. Then I went back to the beginning and started rewriting it, while working on the sequel.
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