After a long period of stop-start running through the forest we eventually made our way clear of it and into the open fields. The once neat and organised fields that had been planted with crops or contained docile herds of animals were gone, trampled into the muck by monstrous feet. I didn't expect the sight to effect as much as it did. My heart experienced a definite pang when I gazed upon the sheer destruction and human misery that had occurred here.
I hadn't exactly had a positive life experience amongst humans before my rebirth. In fact I'd go so far as to say it was horrible. I never knew why, but my parents had hated me from, as far as I could tell, the moment of my birth. Growing up in that kind of environment wasn't conducive to my ability to form healthy relationships, things at school went as you might imagine.
After I grew old enough to care for myself my parents pretty much disappeared, I dropped out of school and most social contact vanished. When I think of it in those terms, it doesn't seem strange that my mentality became a little weird. It makes me a little uncomfortable to admit it, but I felt more at home and more welcome amongst the colony in this life than I ever did amongst humans in my last one.
They accepted me without wanting anything in return, never asked anything from me and my mother, the Queen, gave me her complete and total trust in an instant, simply because I was member of her family.
That was something I'd never experienced before. Not even anything remotely like it. Gandalf mentioned that people brought to Pangera were usually crazy in some way, broken, I think was the way he phrased it. I've never really thought of myself in that way, my life wasn't ideal by any means, but I always felt there were plenty who were worse off than me, but not I think I get what he was trying to say.
He didn't necessarily just want to bring insane people here to Pangera and reincarnate them as monsters, he wanted to bring people who would feel more at home here, amongst the monsters, than they did in their previous lives. I suppose it could be said that only a crazy person would meet that criteria and perhaps that is what he meant by 'broken' people.
I wonder what will happen if I were to meet another person like myself, someone who had originated from Earth. It's a question that's been bothering me for a long time. We're both monsters after all, designed to fight and kill each other in order to progress along our path. If I meet one and they try to nibble my face off I'm certain to fight back, no question about that. Is peaceful cooperation even possible in the Dungeon?
My mind weighed down by these concerns, we begin to make our way through the final stretch of our journey. We crept across abandoned fields and passed the numerous scattered farmhouses and small villages that orbited the beating heart of this small kingdom, the capital city of Liria.
The once proud stone walls no longer looked so imposing, large gaps had been smashed into the stone, giving us glimpses of the destruction that had occurred within. Massive stone blocks that had been part of the wall had been scattered across a wide area of land, as if the masonry had been smashed by a titans fist, blasted out of place and flown a hundred metres to land in a field.
What buildings that had existed outside the walls, concentrated around the gates for the most part, had simply ceased to exist, flattened and destroyed, barely a wall remained standing of these dwellings which appeared to have drawn the monsters ire for some reason. They present an ill omen for what remains of the city inside the walls.
Morrelia grows more tense the closer to the city we get. Her muscles are bunched and knotted by the time we reach two hundred metres of the wall, her eyes are ablaze with fury, like balls of liquid magma they seem to radiate heat into the air, so great is her wrath.
[Try and stay cool] I advise her, somewhat uselessly, [Whatever has happened inside the city is likely to be worse than what we see out here and this is exactly the wrong place to go berserk.]
[Don't you think I know that?] she replied, though her teeth remained clenched in her mouth.
Not going to have a lot of luck there…
[Crinis] I speak to my loyal follower, [If Morrelia flies off the handle, I need you to try and grab her so we can run the heck out of here.]
[I'll do my best, Master!] she replies, never failing to follow my instructions to the letter. If only Tiny could be so diligent.
The ape in question is sniffing the air as we speak, looking bored without anything to fight. Just to be certain I reach out and speak to him as well. I want to make sure there aren't any incidents.
[We aren't here to fight, Tiny] I warned him, [You are not to attack any monster we see inside the city. No fighting at all until we are safely away. This is an order.]
I reinforce the point to ensure there is no wiggle room for him to avoid obeying me. I can't afford any stuff ups this time.
Morrelia and I decide to climb the wall and take a peak rather than slip through one of the cracks and move directly into the city. We want to get as much information as we can whilst remaining as far from any momma Crocs that might happen to be positioned inside the city, so taking a glimpse from a higher vantage point makes the most sense, even if it might outline us against the sky. Most monsters have quite poor vision anyway, especially those from the first strata. Since we only intend to look for a few seconds, we should be safe.
Hunkered down, we circle the city a little until we come to a largely undamaged stretch of wall with no openings for a few hundred metres on either side. If we're spotted and pursued then the monsters either having to go over the wall of travel the extra distance could mean the difference between life and death.
I look constantly around at our surroundings, it's eerily quiet. Where I expected to see roaming hordes of monsters there is almost no motion, no sound. The city feels dead, in a complete way, as if no living existed within it for the last hundred years when only a few months ago I had seen it full of life! Just what is going on here?!
When we begin to close the final stretch to the base of the wall itself I feel something change.
I freeze in place for a moment before snapping out instructions to my pets.
[You two stay back here! Do not get any closer than this!]
[Master! No!] Crinis protested.
Thank goodness she's sitting on my back and not on my head, otherwise she would have felt this change at the same time I did.
[Off you get Crinis, Tiny come over here and let her ride on your shoulder. Don't get any closer to the city than this!]
As an aside I speak to Morrelia. [You can feel that too, right?]
Her face looks even more tense than it did before, something I hadn't imagined was possible. If she looked like she could eat rocks before, she looks like she could chew through steel now.
She nodded. [Somewhat, though I imagine it may be a little different to you.]
Once Tiny had taken Crinis off my back and moved back a little, the little ball of mayhem protesting the entire time, I began to move forward once more, very slowly.
It was an aura, an aura that had hit me like a truck running straight into my brain. Oppressive, dominant and filled with endless fury it switched on the moment I drew close enough to feel it, as if someone had flicked a switch. My entire body quailed at the touch of that aura and my minds shied away from it. This was far worse than what we experienced in the Marsh Expanse, this was ten times worse.
Garralosh. It had to be. If it isn't the big Croc, if one of her children can unleash this kind of power, then we are cooked. We are a duck stuffed into a chicken, stuffed into a turkey and then double baked kind of cooked. I'm talking well-done with the charred marinade on the outside.
Focus dammit Anthony! Stop imagining yourself beings so delicious!
As if moving through molasses I firm my will and push forward to the base wall and then begin to climb. One leg at a time, I advance, my claws digging into the stone and sticking like a vice as I reach up to grasp my next foothold.
[Advanced Grip (II) has reached level 5]
Who cares about that right now?!
Impressively, Morrelia uses her own bare hands to climb, her fingers display extraordinary strength as she finds minute holds and gaps in the stone to haul herself up. She still takes longer than I do, walking up a wall is only somewhat harder for me than walking on the ground, but I have natural advantages.
After ten minutes of silent, tense climbing, we finally reached the top.
Just before we poked our heads over the edge, Morrelia and I turned to look at each other as possibly the worlds' first 'Good luck, hope we don't die' look was exchanged between human and monster. Then we took the final step and lifted our heads above the edge.
That's a big ass Croc.