“This feels weird.” Garth said as the Kipling gnawed on his forearm. The rabid, drooling monster that used to be a woman had clamped down on his arm with her inhumanly long jaw and was trying to saw it off with a rocking and tugging motion. It reminded him a bit of a dog with a rope toy, or perhaps more like a Komodo Dragon.
Garth’s skin hardened underneath the assault, turning a light brownish purple, stiffening only in response to pressures that would cause him external or internal injury, working equally well against stabs and bludgeoning.
He could see his skin in her mouth, but he couldn’t really feel it, just the tugging and the pressure from her teeth. This must be what it’s like to have a non-newtonian fluid for blood. So far the Bark Skin enchantment buried in his chest opposite a healing spell, had made him, for a lack of a better word, ‘tough as shit’.
Garth had figured L.A. would be a good place to do some test runs of his equipment, so he’d dropped his force armor and warded off the first kipling to attack with his arms. As long as he still had the limb by the time he made it back, he should be fine. Thankfully it didn’t come to reattaching severed limbs, or even sealing minor cuts.
The kipling’s teeth couldn’t even penetrate his last line of defense, let alone the redundant Force Armor enchanted into his Status Band.
That made him feel a lot better about bringing an expectant mother out on a hunting trip wearing a bit of protective gear he’d made for her.
Garth didn’t want to fall into the trope where he enforced punitive levels of bed rest on Sandi and basically locked her in his cave until she gave birth to his progeny, as was typically the first instinct a man had when a woman became pregnant with his children. That and Garth was fairly sure the universe would conspire to have her murdered while he was away, so he was keeping her where he could see her.
That makes sense, right?
Yep, Garth was of the opinion that a bit of warm sun, ocean breeze, and exercise murdering Kipling would be good for her. She wasn’t that pregnant. Garth still had a good…
“What’s the gestation time of a succubus?” Garth asked, snapping the Kipling’s neck and stepping away from the falling corpse.
“About fifteen months, Earth time,” Sandi said. She glanced at a pale monster charging at them, drool spattering the ground beneath it.
Garth saw a flicker of movement as her real body cleaved it in half with one of her forelimbs, making him wonder if his new implants made making out with her a safer proposition.
“Well, that’s a while. I expected it to be a little longer on account of your race’s size, but man…” Garth shrugged. “Just keep trucking I guess. The good news was that Sandi wouldn’t be hugely pregnant any time soon, the bad news was that there was that much more time for shit to go wrong.
That and he had to feed her the whole time.
“Can you eat veggies?”
“It’s not my favorite,” Sandi said with a shrug as she ate the Kipling. “But yes.”
“Giant avacados maybe?” Wilson supplied, walking beside them.
“Protein,” Garth said, tapping his nose.
So far the lizard hadn’t put his three foot tall, four foot long, hundred ten pound body to any perceivable use fighting baddies, but he was glad that other people could hear the lizard speak now. It reminded him of a joke where you put a Bluetooth on the ear of crazy people who talk to themselves. Now that people had context, he was sure he was going to get a lot less weird looks, and that suited Garth just fine.
Their aim was to clear out as much of L.A. they could in a single trip, and Garth intended to work smarter, not harder. Tyler’s crew and Samantha’s rangers carefully cleared swaths of the city, but the kipling had simply spread out again, claiming emptied territory as their own, settling like grease in the bottom of a pan.
When there were millions of them, they needed a little more forethought in how they approached the problem.
Behind Garth, his anti-kipling grass followed, spreading through the streets behind him at a jogging pace, neatly bisecting the city. Let’s see them spread through death-grass. Garth thought.
The first thing he wanted to do was find a dungeon and threaten to destroy it. That really drove the pale monsters up the wall. Nobody else had attempted it, on account of not wanting to die overwhelmed by a tide of man-eaters, but Garth was fairly confident he could handle it.
The second thing was use Plant growth to rapidly grow the grass to divide the newly emptied city into small, easily cleared chunks that wouldn’t refill on account of Kipling being unable to traverse the grass without dying.
He, Wilson, and Sandi walked through the empty streets, making their way to where he had spotted a dungeon from the mountainside, navigating the streets with a mental map.
Itet wasn’t coming because she’d gone home.
The insect warrior had told Garth that she had learned everything she wanted to know about being a ‘Scum-bag’ and was going to return to her hive for the queening ceremony.
She’d wished him well, told him they’d probably never see each other again, strapped on her gear and made for the outpost.
Anti-climactic, maybe, but life tended that way.
Or maybe the extraordinary becomes ordinary too easily? Garth thought as a sheet of ironwood bisected a leaping Kipling. Nah.
When they finally go to the dungeon, they found a dark cave that seemed like the rock surrounding it had grown up out of the ground, pushing aside the charred buildings that had been surrounding the core’s landing zone.
Oddly enough, this was the first time Garth had ever considered going dungeon diving, and he was a little excited to see what was in the cave.
“Okay, give me the run-down on how dungeons work, Guild receptionist.” Garth said as they stood outside of the enclose stone doorway.
“I don’t personally know all the rules, but I can give you the script.” Sandi said, sitting on the hood of a nearby Jaguar.
Garth felt a toss-up between making her look like the girl in White Snake’s video or going back to good old Sexy Librarian while he absorbed the lecture.
“Go with the classics.” Wilson said.
“They’re both Classics.”
“You know which one you want.”
Big Hair felt a little unprofessional. Maybe it was a boring choice to some, but Garth opted for Sexy Librarian again
“What are you talking about?”
“’sfine,” Garth said, waving his hand as Sandi’s Lure morphed into the aforementioned brunette, cleavage nearly bursting out of her suit jacket.
“Anyway, dungeons grow and change as they get older, they get both harder to remove, and more valuable to keep around, making it easy to be tempted to let them go too long and get out of hand. As they age, some dungeons gain reality warping abilities to further hinder people from destroying them. For example, there was a dungeon once that men physically couldn’t enter, and another where people couldn’t leave until the dungeon was destroyed, making it rather difficult to remove.”
“I’ll bet.” Garth said.
“The treasure inside consists of the heartstones of the monsters, who appear out of thin air, conjured by the core itself. These are valuable, but not uncommon, unless an aberrant monster appears.”
“The other treasure is valuables spawned by the dungeon itself as a means of bribing adventurers into sparing the core long enough for it to accomplish its task, and sometimes, a mutant dungeon will grow mithril, orichalcum, or gold in its walls that can be mined. These mines are more carefully tended, and artificially made easier to destroy, so that they can enjoy a longer work life.”
“Now I’m pumped,” Garth said, rubbing his hands together. Who knew what kind of treasures would await them in the dungeon?
Unfortunately, the only creatures inside were some kind of mutated sand-flea. Cool to look at, but ultimately not a threat. There was no treasure at all in the dirt-cave. Garth dragged his finger through the walls, and didn’t see any specks of glittering metal. Not a mutated dungeon core either.
“It’s only a couple months old, what did you expect?” Sandi asked quietly as they stalked through the cave, keeping their guard up just in case.
The dungeon took up a single floor, and there were hardly any twists before Garth found the core, a beige, pearl-looking thing sitting on a pedestal at the end of the tunnel. There was a slightly bigger sand-flea in the room, and it jumped at them, its legs wriggling aggressively.
Sandi squished it, then Garth went to the Core and picked it up.
According to Sandi, the core wouldn’t detach from the earth until you pulled it all the way out of the extra-dimensional borehole (dungeon) that it was drilling. It was all a bit disappointing, but maybe a few years from now, he could revisit the dungeons.
Whistling, Garth walked back to the entrance of the dungeon with the core in his hand. It was a simple hundred foot walk, but he stopped just inside the entrance when he felt the inexplicable resistance from the core as it tried to remain in its dungeon.
According to what Garth had pieced together, the Kipling were symbiotically linked with the dungeon cores, allowing them to spread far and wide across realities since time immemorial. So they should be a little offended when he destroyed one of them, right?
Garth cast Clarion Call, breathing mana in and projecting it out with his voice, amplifying the volume and delivering its message straight to the listener’s brains.
“Listen up you primitive sharkheads, I’m about to destroy one of your dungeons! Then I’m gonna break another, and another, until there’s nothing left in the city to spread your taint across the multiverse! Whaddya think about that?”
Garth’s voice shook the entrance of the cave, dropping small rocks and little chunks of dirt on his shoulders. The message itself burst throughout the city, then bounced off the mountains, coming back to Garth as a faint echo.
Garth cocked his head to the side and listened. Nothing. Maybe they need some motivation. He wasn’t above destroying a dungeon or two if it helped him clear the city and get it up and running in a timely manner.
Garth yanked the dungeon core forward, and the slight resistance became a thrumming pressure that pulled back, trying to force the fist sized orb out of his hand.
In the distance, wails of anger rose up, so numerous that Garth had trouble telling how many there were, or where they came from. The whole city seemed to have been strummed like an electric guitar straight out of Satan’s rec room, and the vibration flooded back in through the cave.
“Looks like that did it.” Garth said with a grin.