Four days since the troll incident- The Roach
Up on the glow worm-infested sewer ceiling, clawed limbs gripping tight, I studiously watched my familiars go to town on a rather large pack of dire rats, perhaps the last in my domain.
The cobbled stone floor ran red as a dire rat fell to the floor, thrashing, its throat showing a deep tear in its jugular.
This was not the first pack I had sent them to purge, I having already had them clear out over a dozen of the little beasts warrens already, but it was by far the largest one.
I watched with approval as Roulette finished the larger rat with a quick flick of her tail, decapitating the dying rodent, no hesitation in her movements.
Roulette was more ruthless and chilling than her youthful personality would suggest, although it was something that wasn't too surprising considering that she was a being used to killing, fighting tooth and claw just too eke out a living down here.
I watched her immediately scoot towards the next closest rat, tail whipping forward, the boney spikes extending.
Roulette made quick work of that rat as well despite its greater bulk, piercing its eye from the side with her tail before leaping on the half-blinded creature and sinking her teeth into its neck.
Roulette looked like she had been a good investment, playing 'pretend' daddy was a meager cost if her performance remained high, I didn't even mind her forgoing calling me master if she kept up this level of performance.
It was a fair compromise.
Three dire rats split off from the others and confronted Roulette, hissing, hackles raised, noses twitching as they sized up the smaller white rat.
The rodents glared at each other, trying to decide who was stronger, Roulette's gaze did not falter as she eyed up her opposition.
Perhaps having decided that she was weaker, the three rats charged, much like some mice that had once attacked Ruolette, this was a mistake for the feral rats.
Roulette charged to meet her feral counterparts and just as she met the rats in a charge, she spun.
Spinning on the spot, her tail gleaming that curious silver again, Roulettes bladed appendage became a shimmering blur.
Unable to react in time two of the dire rats fell instantly, large grooves of their forehead and brain matter missing, having been sprayed all over the nearby wall.
The last rat lept back, much of that confident aggression having dissipated at Roulettes display, hesitating the rat froze, still trying to decide whether it should engage or flee.
This hesitation was fatal, Roulette having not stopped since braining the two rats was already upon the dire rat, knocking it over in a tackle, she pulled back her tail and stabbed the hapless rat in the chest three times before managing to pierce the heart, ending the rat's struggles,
Roulette was doing perfectly well, exemplary really considering that her opponents were not only bigger but also more numerous,
'Maybe she got it from her old pops,' I rattled, amused at my own words.
From my position on the ceiling, I pivoted my jointed head gazing at another promising investment.
Dwayne was unstoppable, he didn't even bother to evade the rat's feeble attempts to pierce his thick hide, merely shrugging off the rats with a flick of his claws before plowing into the rat swarm, mouth and claws covered in a mottled assortment of gore, innards and visceral.
He slashed and batted at the rats as they sought to overwhelm him, mutilating or eviscerating a rat with every swing of his large clawed fists, his serrated teeth dripping scarlet as he tore heads from their spines.
Dwayne roared in delight as he brawled, his hooked talons scything through many a rat as he unleashed his savagery, the rats losing numbers at a breakneck pace began to crumble into disorder, some even began to split off from the main body and flee.
Dwayne didn't let them.
With a huff of disappointment, Dwayne braced before leaping into the air, his conjoined wings pumping as he soared through the damp air.
That's right, he could fly, he was a bat after all.
With a crash the brawny bat landed ahead of the cowardly fleeing rodents, taking one's head off as he landed on it with a wet pop.
"There will be no respite for cowards!" Dwayne bellowed down the mental connection.
The fleeing rats were swiftly dispatched and no more rats attempted to escape, but their fighting grew ever more frantic
The dire rats were being eradicated, Dwayne was frankly overkill for these rat's, they didn't stand a chance, if it was him and him alone, Dwayne would still clean up this sorry swarm of rats without a problem.
Yep, Dwayne was a great investment, although his enthusiasm was a little off-putting at times.
"Die! you low life heretics! know the glory and fury of his majesties right fist, Dwayne!" The bat howled crushing a rat into paste under his heel as he stomped.
Yes he was a little overzealous but it wasn't that bad a thing.
Completely soaked in the blood of rats and with bits of fur that weren't his own sloughing off him, Dwayne roared,
"GLORIOUS!" he boomed, pounding his own chest in a proclamation of victory while the few rats still remaining around him cringed and shied away, the fight having left their eyes.
Yes, he was a perfectly good minion.
My compound eyes left Dwayne's blood-covered, posturing form, he did not require my attention, he was doing well, unlike some others...
A tiny blobular creature moved quietly through the battlefield, going entirely unnoticed as it attempted to do its part in the ensuing violence, it was a slime.
Dewey... ahh Dewey, he was... pathetic, nope, useless, at least for now...
I watched the small slime slug its way among the dead and dying rats, occasionally stopping on top of a twitching rat for a few seconds before moving on.
It was finishing off the dying by dissolving them.
The slime despite its best attempts couldn't even down a single rat, it took the sorry snot a whole minute to even kill an already wounded rat and even then the slime had almost perished in the process.
Dewey was not a good minion, he was loyal sure, but his ability to perform lacked in all areas except being a waste disposal bin, he was good at that.
The slime continued to snail trail its way through the combat zone, unnoticed by the dire rats for being non-threatening.
'At least I didn't have to worry about it getting killed,' I mused, most things didn't like eating slimes, 'I' didn't like eating slimes, they were the consistency of boogers and had the taste of five-year-old moldy cheese, unpleasant to say the least.
I could only hope that as Dewey leveled up, it would become useful for more than just melting garbage.
Crawling further along the ceiling, I looked down upon my first and very human familiar, Lescar.
She was fighting five rats at once and doing a fairly convincing job of the matador, evading the dire rat's attacks with far greater ease and grace than when I had first seen her fight the beasts back when she was but an ownerless cur.
She was mine now, so she was no longer a cur, I had long since forgiven her for trying to kill me and collar me, if I had been in her position I would have surely done the same.
Lescar danced out of the way of another rat, her blade making a shining arc as it drove through the vermin, dividing the rat in half, the blade rippling visibly.
Probably the seventh rat she had killed in this pack alone, she was doing very well, the rats couldn't land a blow on her
The corpse in halves fell to the ground and I observed the rodents shudder nervously as it slapped wetly against the floor, raising her blade again Lescar entered a fighting stance resetting her posture, calmly waiting for another rat.
She was a sight better than her initial ability when I fought her, but that much was obvious given she was level 5 opposed to no level at all.
Honestly, I had expected something more drastic considering her rather 'extreme' stat boost, but I wasn't complaining.
Her main role in the future would not be to fight but to be my mouthpiece or figurehead, so optimized fight capabilities were nice but not necessary.
No one but my familiars could hear my words, so I needed a familiar that could speak them for me.
A translator if put openly, and that, was Lecar's job.
I brushed these considerations away for later, the performance down below was reaching its crescendo.
Hanging from the glowing ceiling, I saw my little company annihilate the rats one by one, Dwayne at the forefront.
Corpses strung about everywhere, the floor littered with limbs and pools of blood, the last remaining rats huddled together, a mere four out of the original 35 odd rats.
The remaining four backed into a corner surrounded on all sides by my familiars who were all stalking forward, even Dewey as he menacingly bobbed along.
The dire rats were frozen in terror, they knew they were doomed and their attempts to fight back were futile, they had vastly outnumbered my familiars and still lost so many, how could they win now?
The answer was, they couldn't, they could only rely on my generosity.
Lescar looked up at me as I watched and asked doubtfully.
"Do you want us to spare them?" she said pointing with her rippling blade at the quaking dire rat's.
At her question I cocked my head, it was a silly question.
'Why?' I thought to myself, these rats were meaningless, I could neither reason with them or benefit from their presence, the only reason to keep them around was for sustainable hunting and I didn't plan to stick around here long enough for that to be a problem, these creatures had entered my territory after all.
To be fair my territory was getting quite big, the forest I called home had spread another kilometer in all directions and more creatures were being attracted to its bounty, still, I did not abide unwelcome guests and these rats were certainly unwelcome.
There was something different between the vast majority of larger creatures that entered my domain and its smaller residents, the creatures that dwelt in my lands felt as if they belonged there, it didn't irk me that they lived in my garden, they were a part of it, a part of my territory.
But the majority of larger newcomers felt off, they did not belong, did not yield, they were invaders and I was loathed to let invaders stay unchallenged in my garden, the dire rats quivering bellow were such invaders.
Jaws rustling and clicking I said without emotion, "No mercy, kill them."
I heard Lescar mutter something that sounded like "That's what I thought you'd say..."
I ignored Lescars mutterings and gestured with my antennae for the execution to continue, her words were harmless if a little bitter, either way, she was dealing with things better than I'd thought she would.
I had thought she would be more agitated and unwilling to listen to orders, but I had been wrong, she obeyed, it seemed despite her poor memory of the occasion, she still remembered her promise, at least in a way.
Hearing our exchange Dwayne stomped forward.
"I see you do not wish to take the final blow sister," Dwayne said in his coarse growl, his burning slitted orange eyes flicking over to Lescar before returning to the huddled rats.
Dwayne had only recently taken on Roulettes way of addressing Lescar as sister, he never however referred to her as big or older, on the other hand, he seemed to respect Lescar greatly, for reasons I don't entirely understand.
Lescar, for her part over the day and a half since she had woken, had gradually become less guarded around Dwayne and Roulette but still tensed up whenever the massive bat passed to close to her, it was funny almost, watching her be on edge but she curiously was not on edge around myself, actually, she was rather snippy and at ease around me.
Since when had I lost my intimidation factor over her? I did not know, but she was very unironically familiar with me, to the point she would openly disagree with things I said or contest my view, her pesky determination coming out no doubt.
It had only been little over couple days since she met me and we formed our little deal, perhaps spending time in someone else's head just made others that much more amicable.
I brought the wayward thoughts to a halt as I saw my familiars interact.
In response to Dwayne gruff but genuine query, Lescar nodded, giving a silent confirmation and Dwayne grunted in return.
Moving forward steadily Dwayne said with a bit of finality in his voice "I shall erase these pests if no one else desires to?"
Dwayne glanced around looking for a response, Roulette now that she no longer had rats attacking her was taking the opportunity to groom herself and only stopped briefly to squeak out a "Nope."
In comparison, Dewey simply bobbed on the spot as he always did and Lescar looked away, crossing her arms.
It seems she thought what we were doing was too much, cruel, but then she doesn't know what I know.
No one else responded and Dwayne without any more need for words, rushed forward, towards the squealing rats, his red maw hanging open.
The rat's deaths were swift and merciful, Dwayne didn't believe in torture.
The Sewer passageway now was silent, only the strange breeze that had become more common of late disturbing said silence.
I checked my familiar menu and was immediately reminded of our progress and why we were indiscriminately killing anything larger than a dog.
As I understood it, the two best sources of experience came from killing and eating, or at the very least it was the best source of exp for me.
I did not know yet whether my familiars got the same means of leveling or if it was more specific for them, but their raised levels suggested that my training regimen for them was at least partially effective.
Although not one of them can enlighten me on that as for whatever reason they don't get popups like I do.
None of my familiars seem to understand the system, what it is or why it is here, I have asked them, the only thing that my familiars have all said about strange things in their vision was that a few times something that read 'Level up' appeared.
This was worrying information as my own system seemed a bit glitchy ever since I forcefully shut it down, it sometimes showing random letters and numbers before cleaning itself up or showing me pages and pages of meaningless scrawl.
I was worried that me crashing my system trying to fight that troll had messed up that of my familiars, so I ran a few tests, I asked my familiars if they saw anything on their vision that was related to health bars, hunger, anything, they said no, so I tried something else.
Over the period of time, I have had my familiars grinding I have been keeping a careful feeler over their stats and levels stopping them when any one of them went up a level asking them what they saw and if they could access a menu.
None of them could answer me not even Lescar, the only thing they could see was level up every now and then
From this, I discovered something interesting, they didn't get popups in their vision at all, the only one they ever got was when they leveled up, no health bars no stats no perk menu, nothing.
This information has all but certified that only I have the full system, my familiars all getting some bootleg second rate version, which also practically proves that nothing else has levels and that I am in a way, unique.
Are creatures with levels rare? Am I the only one of my kind? Has anyone else ever had this system? How far could it take them?
These questions rebounded over and over in my head when I first discovered this knowledge and they still bothered me now albeit less.
The facts were as such, I had no clue for any of those questions save the first one, which was likely a resounding yes.
The system was not a common phenomenon that everyone had the pleasure of making use off, it was limited and only some had it, my earlier discussions with Lescar had all but confirmed this, because she had not a single clue as to what a system was, the real question was this.
How many other system users were there? and if any, how much of a threat were they?
These troubling questions were among the reasons I was driving my pets to decimate the rodent population, they had to grind, feed and grow and it just so happened the local dog-sized vermin were the best source of nourishment and training available.
I needed powerful pawns if I intended to take to the stage of global and nationwide powers, which I did.
So my pets must train and become strong, my daily regimen installing fortitude into their lackluster selves.
One, in particular, benefitted tremendously from my methods.
Dewey - gunk slime (quisquiliae gelata)
age 2 weeks and 5 days
Current traits and abilities, perk points remaining 0
- Silent (soundless)
- Vastly increased digestion speed (peptic acid storage condensed)
- Increased balance (enlarged statocyst)
- Siphon cavity (hyponome)
- Elastic nervous system
Dewey was my highest level familiar now and yet he was by far the weakest, unfortunate, although it at the very least wasn't a complete waste of space now, given its recently added traits, the slime could move quickly, or quickly for a slime that is.
The siphon cavity trait allowed Dewey to suck up liquids or any small debris and shoot them out at high speeds, propelling the little sludge ball a few feet into the direction it was pointing, it could even become airborne for a few seconds before gravity dragged it back down.
The second trait that made Dewey's existence more substantial was the regenerative trait, Dewey would heal from anything provided he didn't die, regrowing any lost mass in minutes.
This healing quality had gotten me excited when I first beheld it, maybe I could turn the little slurry into a meat shield I had thought but later discarded that thought.
Even though Dewey could heal, it was so small that the chance of it being killed outright from a single hit was probable, another path the slime could not take yet.
The third trait that caught my eye was one that it had always had but now had been seemingly reinforced.
Dewey was noiseless, utterly soundproof, the only time it made noise was when it used its siphon to propel itself, but even that only resulted in a subdued 'putt' when the slime launched itself about.
My slime was dead silent and couldn't be heard moving, even my sensitive leg hairs couldn't pick up his movements, if Dewey were any other creature I would be impressed with his stealth potential, but Dewey was a slime.
And that meant I wouldn't be having a silent assassin anytime soon.
I turned my faceted gaze upon Dewey, still clinging to the ceiling as I looked at my snot ball, I wasn't able to control Dewey's direction of growth, I would have to simply cross my antennae and hope for the best.
It still irked me that I couldn't control what my familiar's perks were spent on, it was automatic, after leveling anytime a familiar went to sleep when they woke up their level points would have been exhausted, used up and that familiar would then have new perks I did not pick for them.
I had asked my pets if any of them had dreams (more specifically level dreams) and none save Lescar had anything to say about that, just shrugging or staring blankly in Dewey's case, Dewey probably couldn't even dream the slime lacked a proper brain.
It was frustrating but so far the perks that had been selected seemed decent enough for all of my peons.
In fact, if I had had a choice in the matter I probably would have chosen the same ones mostly, strange that.
Even though I could not select perks from the familiar menu for them, I could still browse the contents, and much like my own perk list most things were grayed out and the things that were available were things that seemed related to my familiars race or inclination.
Among the things that were available the perks that had been selected were preferable.
Tapping a claw against the ceiling I kept looking through Dewey's traits.
The other traits weren't as potent or intriguing as the first three mainly being mere generall overhauls.
Dewey could break down organic matter faster now thanks to an upgrade to it's stored acids, it could maintain what little balance it had better due to a bigger statocyst and it now had a nervous system.
The last one, the nervous system was a little confusing, if Dewey had lacked a nervous system earlier, how had it been moving up until now.
It was baffling but a slimes physiology was obviously very outside the norm of most life, claw still tapping I checked on my most promising rat slayers stats.
Dwayne - greater maul bat ( Sumphaeam-dentatis vespertilio (mutant variant))
age 17 years and 10 months
MIND 0070 accurate
BODY 0130 accurate
SOUL 0300 estimated
Dwayne's stats were crazy, his body stat was almost as high as mine and he was only level two!
It was no wonder the poor little rats stood no chance, Dwayne would be running a territory of his own if he were not already my familiar.
He was a real beast, literally.
I kept digging through the menu coming before the perk display.
Current traits/abilities perk points remaining 0
- Full night vision (infrared)
- Intimidate (baleful glare)
- Echolocation (enhanced)
- Venomous (paralysis)
- Thickened hide
Only one change here, echolocation.
It was enhanced which meant Dwayne could find things, or put more easily, 'see' with his ears.
I had heard about this, it was a common ability even among the bats of earth, the bat would shriek and listen for the bounce-back of sound to hit its ears, receiving the returning sound and deciphering the slight differences in it to determine what was nearby, it was like radar and my bat had an improved version of it now.
It would surely be useful for detecting enemies and prey alike, Dwayne, as well as already being the muscle was also the ears now.
I cackled softly, my feelers rasping together.
My means of collecting data were only growing with my familiars, soon nothing would be able to catch me off guard.
Still creaking as my feelers rubbed together I turned to face my... 'daughter'.
Roulette was still grooming herself, trying to erase the scarlet flecks from her otherwise snowy coat, she, despite being a rat was very pro hygiene, and always put aside some time to groom herself.
I was almost impressed with her standards, my daughter was at least the clean sort and that was saying something considering we lived in a cave, in the sewers.
Admiring her gleaming coat for a second, I moved to peruse the familiar menu.
Roulette- common sewer rat (Rattus Octaalica (mutant variant))
age 1 year and 5 months
MIND 0029 accurate
BODY 0048 accurate
SOUL 0210 estimated
Roulette wasn't as impressive as Dwayne but she was coming along nicely I had no faults in her growth.
She was a good girl so far, hopefully, she wouldn't disappoint.
Moving past the stat screen, I slid the menu down.
Current traits/abilities perk points remaining 0
- Reinforced bladed vertebrae columns (increased bone density)
- Heightened immunity
- Acute scent recognition
- Lesser night vision
- Coiled muscle groups (ventral, dorsal)
Considering her dependance on her tail. it made sense that both of the perk points she had accrued had gone into bolstering her preferred weapon, the muscles that controlled the movement of the tail were now more forceful, which was a good thing since Roulette's tail was quite a bit heavier now.
Compared to her initial tail which had looked like a normal worm-like tail, save for when the spikes came out, Roulettes new tail looked intimidating.
The boney spikes having elongated could no longer hide flat against the tail and now protruded from the skin in intervals, forming a tapering, if jagged set of bone-like crests, that formed a crude blade, ending in a slightly curved spike reminiscent of a scythe.
It was a wicked looking weapon, it suited Roulette's childish personality perfectly.
Roulette looked up at me hopefully, eyes sparkling optimistically as I studied her thicker and heavier tail.
"Father, I'm hungry again!" She said in a slight whine, "can I eat these things?"
Roulette nudged one of the deceased dire rats with her bladed tail before glancing at me again pleadingly.
Roulette was almost always hungry, much like her old man, and I made sure all my possessions were well-fed, but on this occasion, I saw fit to deny her request.
Something I had noticed was that Roulette had no qualms about cannibalizing other rats, I wouldn't have cared normally but something cannibalism often encouraged was disease exchange.
I myself avoided eating other cockroaches for the same reason, and I would rather Roulette do the same.
I would prefer Roulette not catch something incurable or life-threatening, sick followers were not nearly as useful as healthy ones, and even if Roulette had a formidable and robust immune system that didn't mean I wanted to risk it.
Having already decided I made it known with a heavy voice.
"No... daughter of mine, eating this rabble would surely give you a stomach ache." I said apologetically, before stopping, my mind pouring over the possibilities for a deeper bond and more loyal peon.
Roulette had performed admirably and good performance merited reward.
'Yes, she had probably earned that' I considered before saying aloud reassuringly.
"Do not fret Little mouse, I will share a portion of my own meal when we get home."
The look of dejection on Roulette's elongated snout was quickly overtaken by one of excited joy as Roulette licked her chops, buck teeth visible.
"Does that mean frogs?" Roulette squeaked, her eyes growing luminous with excitement
I nodded, the silent confirmation sending Roulette into tumultuous joy.
"Yaaaay! frogs are so good!" Roulette squealed rolling over and over before springing onto her feet and repeating the process.
For whatever reason Roulette was quite taken with the taste of Denge frog, much like myself, and would often pester me whenever I managed to catch one, which was rare, I had been a little overzealous in my culling of the sad frogs.
But those frogs deserved it.
I watched Roulette for a few seconds, that twinge of emotion rising again, my right foreleg quivering as it reached out automatically.
'No' I said chiding myself, pulling the leg back ' just a tool, just a tool...'
Having suppressed the sentimental urge I spoke, clearing the stuffy feeling from my voice.
"We will head back for today," I said firmly, pleased that my voice wasn't choked up "Dwayne grab some of those rats, five I'd say."
As I said this Dwayne nodded with a grunt before saying respectfully 'my king' and stacking the less mutilated rat corpses.
Roulette continued rolling on the floor blissfully, covering herself in grit, undoing her hard work on her own fur.
Dewey looked like he was trying to help Dwayne carry corpses but only ended up half dissolving them, causing Dwayne to snort and push the slime aside.
That left Lescar alone, while the others were busy with their respective duties or fixations, Lescar cleaned and checked her gear over, cleaning the simple shortsword on a dead rats fur before giving it a satisfied and slightly mystified once over, as electricity ran up the blade.
Lescar stared at the visible electricity coursing through her arm into the blade with wide eyes, the blades rippling doubling in response.
"Again?" I heard her gasp, she was shocked, quite literally.
Shaking her hand frantically, the lightning flickered, sputtered and shot out a meter in front of her before fading away.
This was a result of one of Lescar's more recent developments.
Sighing in relief Lescar slid the shimmering blade into its scabbard.
Having watched her struggle against her own power, I pulled up the stats and traits of my first familiar.
Lescar Gestalt (Homo sapien)
age 13 years and 11 months
MIND 0060 accurate
BODY 0075 accurate
SOUL 0402 estimated
current traits/abilities perk points remaining 0
- Chosen (contracted to serve)
- Novice swordsman
- Awakened electric soulbed
- Deft hands (ambidextrous)
- Enhanced motor cortex
- Lesser night vision
Lescar had not leveled up since that messy scuffle with that troll, but she had acquired a few new traits, two of them were particularly interesting traits.
Both traits were changes to already existing ones and the differences were slight but significant.
Chosen (contracted to serve)- favored of a higher power, this individual has sworn to follow their master forever their soul eternally bound to their patron, individual will receive additional stat increases over time.
The changes here were a total of 11 words, these eleven words made this trait just that much more useful and at the same time just a little unhinging.
The trait would apparently make Lescar stronger which was great since strength would make her more useful, but the issue was the part earlier in the description, the words 'favored' and 'chosen'.
The higher power in the description could only be me, but I don't recall ever favoring or choosing her in a way that merited such a change, the deal I cut with her hadn't entailed such specifics, was the system addressing this automatically or was it something else.
I thoughtfully scratched the hard plate on my head with an antenna, another mystery, one I would have to solve later, although instinct again gave me the impression that it was fine.
I wasn't that upset with this change, Lescar was my first familiar and my most important, it would be only beneficial for her to grow more powerful.
Scrolling a little further down I examined the next most interesting trait with analysis.
Once again the change was a small one.
Awakened electric soulbed- the individual is disposed towards lightning and its affinity, affinity is unshackled.
I was uncertain but I felt that this mostly meant that Lescar could actually use magic now, I had seen her hands light up with what looked like static lightening occasionally but not once had she thrown a bolt of electricity or even electrocuted something... until now, it appeared that Lescar didn't know how to control her newfound power at all.
Something that I would have to rectify, perhaps on the surface I could find a teacher for her, I certainly couldn't teach her myself, I did not even have magic yet.
'Maybe when I get the opportunity I should unlock light soulbed,' I pondered wistfully
Magic had already proven itself to be potent, that is how I got my minions after all.
I turned my mind back to Lescar's remaining traits, remaining on track was imperative.
Lescar's remaining traits were plain but handy, traits that would benefit Lescar and through her, me.
Lescar could see in the dark now with lesser Nightvision and was more coordinated and faster thanks to an improvement to her mental faculties.
Aside from her electric problems, Lescar was better than ever.
My minions were becoming stronger.
Having completed my survey of my underlings I left the ceiling with a burst of movement from my wings, landing on the floor scattering a number of the rat corpses as I descended, the downwind of my beating wings being just that strong.
My wings were largely useless, I was just too big to fly, but they were good for explosive jumps or changing trajectory mid-air, it had taken some time to get good at that, I had never had wings before my roachy days began.
Landing with an audible 'thunk' i strolled up to my familiars, praise on my mandibles.
"A wonderful execution of things," I chittered, dignified, "I am pleased with everyone's performance."
"You flatter me my king" Dwayne growled lowering his still stained head, a bashful undertone in his voice, the normally grandiose and over the top way of speaking temporarily suspended.
As I nodded in acknowledgment to Dwayne, a certain white rat scurried up my frontmost leg, before tiptoeing to sit on top of my head.
"Are we going home dad?!" Roulette nattered on my antennae, her mind clearly still on the froggy meal she would be sharing with me.
"Why yes daughter of mine," I said smoothly before turning back to Dwayne and Lescar having something to say to my human familiar.
Dwayne was carrying a small pile of dead rats under a shoulder and Lescar was holding Dewey, her face twisted into a slight grimace as she held the slime away from her chest.
"Got everything," I said quizzically, directing my gaze at Lescar, considering she was the only one with material possesions she was the most likely to forget something.
"Tiny gross slime, my sword, and a water flask," Lescar listed off with a frown, " yeah, I have everthing."
"Good," I said simply ignoring the touch of sarcasm in Lescar's voice and asking Dwayne the same.
"Dwayne got enough rats?"
"Plenty, your majesty," Dwayne said, already chewing one of the rats as he spoke with his mind, the rats were mostly for Dwayne, he alone ate a mountain's worth of food, not more than me, but enough to make me concerned at times.
I didn't bother addressing Dewey it couldn't even speak and had done nothing but eat the entire battle, the slime had certainly gotten bigger but not by much.
Everything apparently wrapped up, it was time to go home, it was rare that more than one pack of beasts moved into my territory in one day and my gang had already cleared out all the unwanted rabble.
So patrolling was generally unnecessary and I personally was eager to be home.
The glade was the best place for relaxing, it put me at ease to be at my home and made it easier to plan for the future, it might have just been a big hole in the wall of the sewers, covered in and surrounded by plants, but it was mine and offered a comfort I could not fully explain.
My home was special to me, it was... my sanctuary.
Moving forward I walked toward my sanctum at a brisk pace, Lescar following behind me, it wouldn't take that long to reach home and once there I planned to iron out my plan to get to the surface with Lescar.
I already had a good plan in its infancy set up, I just needed to make it a reality.
I continued moving forward, mired in my own future plans, so it took me a while to realize Dwayne wasn't following.
Turning my head with a clack I asked, puzzled.
"Dwayne? what is it?"
Dwayne was standing upright, his enormous bulk straightened as his ears twitched and turned like satellite dishes.
"Your majesty..." The Bat said in a whisper "I hear something."
"What is it?" I asked again.
The bat's ears swiveled rapidly and his face was screwed up with effort, "it sounds strange, like Sisters cries but different."
Dwayne pointed a talon at Lescar, which prompted an explosive reaction from the skinny girl.
"What! other people! that's great!" Lescar exclaimed a relieved expression growing on her face "I can finally get out of here!" Lescar's face then turned pale and her smile drooped as she looked at me and hurriedly added, "Not that your forest isn't lovely, umm master."
While she was often snippy Lescar still remembered her place at least.
"Other humans," I said aloud jaws clacking together, that potent hunger coming back at the very thought of humanity that wasn't Lescar.
I didn't need any more people now that I had Lescar, at least not yet and I was full despite my rising desire.
It would be fine to let these humans be, actually it would be best to avoid them entirely or make positive contact with them, with Lescar as the delegated speaker.
'I could certainly do that, however...' my feelings churned violently as I considered my options.
Many of the plants that filled my domain were valuable, analysis had told me that much, and not only that, crystal deposits had started growing in my glade, they were even more valuable.
If humans came here it would mean they would find my forest, then my glade, they would tear it down, rip it up for quick profit, turn my sanctuary into nothing more than a quick buck.
I had only been here for over six weeks if my sense of time was at all accurate, and while that might not have been long, it was enough, this place had grown on me, it was my land, my birthplace.
I did not want some crummy unwelcome humans taking my stuff, ruining my sacred home. soiling its holy ambiance with their dirty hearts.
If these humans so much as stepped a foot into my domain, they would not be coming back out.
'Sorry Lescar,' I said to myself, 'but no one steals from me and gets away unscathed.'
And I knew these humans would steal, my instincts told me so.
Ire invoked, the leaf-like crests that normally acted as camouflage rose on my back, like sharp spines, Lescar, Roulette and even Dwayne were all looking alarmed, only Lescar had ever seen me this angry.
"Familiars of mine, ready yourselves!" I said in a hissing voice.
"We are not finished with the hunt today!"
Leaping back into the air I attached to the ceiling, urging the startled Dwayne to lead me to the source of the human incursion.
"Today we taste the flesh of man."
With a speed I rarely demonstrated, I scuttled across the ceiling, jaws pumping and clenching, as I followed Dwayne, he loping below me on the forest floor as Roulette and Lescar struggled to keep up.
'No one steals from me.'
A wrathful insect moved with almost paranormal speed.
No mercy was in his heart.
A short time before detection- The human invaders
Naython slapped at a mosquito absently, crushing the blood-sucking insect without a thought, his face was scrunched up in a grimace and his other hand was covered in a brightly glowing magical orb he was waving before his nose even as it was alight, trying to blow the putrid stink of the sewers away from his sensitive nostrils with absolutely no success.
Naython was in the sewers for an extermination request, one involving trolls, his group had dealt with the filthy demihuman scum before, and this had not been their first time helping clean up a brood.
Unlike the other teams which had begun tracing troll movements in the area, the trolls likely inhabited, 'Headcase' the team Naython was part of, was hunting down stragglers or trolls that had left the brood den in search of their own territory.
These wayward loners could swiftly start-up new broods if left alone and so it was important the trolls were hunted to the very last one.
His team was currently tracking down one such loner, it had gone a suspiciously far distance from where the other trolls had apparently been dwelling, and according to Gerdur the one tracking the beasts movements it had been moving at a run.
Trolls were lazy, they did not run unless something really scared them or they were angry, so why a troll had been running out here was a bit of a mystery.
Naython personally didn't know, but he had heard that one poor girl had already been caught by the trolls and justice was surely about to be served when they found this particular troll.
Naython couldn't abide by the murder of children, and the girl who had been captured was supposed to be barely a young woman.
He would enjoy unleashing his magic on such vile child molesting beasts.
Naython was a mage and one of the eight people who made up the team known as 'headcase', his role, as mages often was, was to support his team with his protective wards, wards that were critical to fending off the mind rending attacks that creatures close to, and in a dungeon often possessed.
Naython was not leading from the front, that privilege went to another, no he was instead directly in the center of the formation of his party, guarded on all sides by his teammates.
Naython looked at his companions, some he had not known long but others he had known for years.
Leading at the front of the formation was Gerdur the shank, the wizened leader of the party and a dammed good ranger, Gerdur was a woman who tracked like no other, she could lick a tree and tell you the weather the next day, that's just how good she was at being a ranger, she was a reliable leader and was very careful, out of all the members she was by far the oldest and most experienced, her gray tightly bound hair and wrinkles being an indicator of that.
Personally, Naython thought, considering her age and success, that the old woman had more than enough funds to retire and live comfortably, Naython himself a man of 30 years of age planned to retire soon, But Gerdur was clearly over 60 and yet was still moving about doing guild requests. the fact that she was still doing this meant that it wasn't for the money and was for other reasons.
Just behind Gerdur lumbered a well-muscled but stout man, Patreek, a slow-witted but reliable man who made for a good warrior and expert shieldbearer, Naython liked Patreek, he had a gentle soul despite his coarse appearance.
On Gerdurs other side, another man slinked, this was Carstah, he was a massive pain in the rear, he was loud, boastful and prideful, the only thing Naython liked about him was that he was no coward and could often back up his raucous claims, he was firstly and primarily a warrior, wielding a spear as his primary weapon.
After Carstah came Jaquesin, Jaquesin was a sober guy, Naython enjoyed his presence, he was a pragmatic thinker but preferred to keep to himself and also was by far, the best cook in the group, Naython's main reason for liking the sullen man.
One the few things that made Jaquesin become animated was his fascination with his craft, he was a fanatic for study and preferred that most of his funds went into powering his research, he was always looking for new materials.
Jaquesin was an alchemist and an ex-soldier, he carried many vials and concoctions around with him and mostly used a strangely curved axe in one hand while usually wielding a vial in the other.
Two younger men, Nox and Jerrel trundled behind Naython, bringing up the rear, they were the newest members, they were freshly elevated from the rank of bronze and their talents were certainly visible, both were sword users and were skilled in one on one duels, Naython knew that Gerdur had taken them on because of a promise she made, but other than that, he knew very little about them.
And last but certainly not least, was Heather...
Naython's heart warmed looking at her honey blonde hair and sharp nose, Heather wasn't classically beautiful, her nose was a little too pointed and long for that, she being more pretty than gorgeous, but to Naython she was beautiful.
He had known her for over ten years now, and their relationship had only grown more close and intimate as the years passed, she was his anchor, his love.
Much like himself she was a mage and specialized more in attacking than defending, unlike himself.
Both she and he were one of the two mages that made up this team despite its size, and that made them important members, if he or Heather were to fall during a battle that involved residual dreams or the dreamspawn, then all would be lost, the entire team was likely to get slaughtered.
The dream spawn and the creatures born of such monstrosities were not to be taken lightly, and dungeons always had an excess of those foul things skulking around, the dungeon below the sewers wasn't a particularly active one but that did not mean it wasn't producing a steady stream of the horrors.
Thoughts having drifted toward what may lie beneath his feet, Naython shivered, his skin forming goosebumps.
Thinking about the vile creatures made unwanted memories surface.
Unable to move, restrained by coiled loops of milky skin, a predatory and sensual smile on its lips, as it slowly began to tear his fingers off, laughing and giggling as he screamed.
Clenching his right fist, the three remaining fingers on his hand straining, Naython shuddered at the echoing thought of cold pale flesh on his own, it was not a pleasant one.
He had been lucky to have survived that encounter, dreamspawn were not known for their mercy and he had only lived because that horrible bitch had let him live.
One of his teammates, his dear beloved colleague and lover, Heather noticed his discomfort and came over, her own glowing sphere hovering above her head.
" This place reminds you of it, doesn't it?" his colleague said gently moving in to take his left hand.
"Yes" Naython said admitting his discomfort " It reminds me of that other dungeon all that time ago..."
Heather squeezed his hand reassuringly and moved in close even as they continued walking,
Looking up from the floor Naython smiled at his lover and hugged her briefly, before splitting off but staying close, his steps no longer heavy and burdened.
So long as he had Heather, the past couldn't weigh him down.
Shaking his head clear of the past, Naython looked to his future.
He and Heather planned to retire after this request, they had been discussing it in secret ever since he had learned that he might have a daughter or son soon.
All those nights on the road together had not been spent idle.
It was still early so Heather had not yet begun to show obvious signs of pregnancy, but Naython Knew that wouldn't last.
He would have to give Gerdur both the good and bad news later, she would understand, other members had already retired after all.
While Gerdur was likely to congratulate the two on their parenthood, Naython was sure to feel a little guilty about leaving the team behind, but the team was secondary to Heather and his developing child, he had to look out for his family.
As a mage, employment would not be hard to come by, mages were always in high demand and Naython was an experienced castor, he even had some ability to enchant things.
He and Heather had already purchased a small but comfortable cabin not far from the city of Octaal, it was an ideal location, among nature's beauty, but close to civilization, in the wild, but tamed, it was the perfect place to raise a child.
Naython's mind was filled with images of a golden future, where he and his wonderful wife played with their darling child.
Naython squeezed his future wife's hand and pulled her close again, he could almost feel the life beginning to bloom in her abdomen.
The two lovers shared a quiet moment even as they walked, Naython was at peace, after this request he would retire.
The peace was sadly broken when Carstah turned his head around and snorted in bemusement, having spotted their affectionate huddling.
"Eh you love birds are always doing one thing or another." The man said with a furrowing of his brows " Its not very professional."
Carstah was looking annoyed, he didn't much like the sewers, no one did, and his usual boastful nature had simmered down into little more than indignant irritation, with no onlookers to gasp and gawk at his moves, Carstah quickly ran out of patience for menial work.
And that irritation was showing quite blatantly on Carstah's face,
"Take this job seriously love birds," Carstah said with a slight hint of agitation "I want to be out of the sewers as soon as possible, these putrid halls are not a place any of us should be lingering."
Naython felt a spike of annoyance rise up in his chest but suppressed it when Gerdur spoke out before he could, her head turned just ever so slightly, eyes still scanning the floor ahead diligently as she spoke.
"Carstah isn't wrong on this occasion Naython," the old woman said in a raspy voice without turning around "we should take this job very seriously, the troll we are tracking either was chasing something or was being chased."
The old lady continued voice low in earnest, "I don't know which occurred as the tracks have been trodden over by the movements of many other creatures since they were made but..."
The old women paused and crouched down, brushing a piece of debris off a clear footprint.
An obviously human footprint or at least something that wore shoes Nathon thought eyeing the imprint on the dirty stone floor.
"I believe a person passed through here," Gerdur said scratching at the whiskers beginning to sprout from her lips in her old age, before her hand traced the curve of the imprint.
"Yes, a small light person, probably no larger than Heather, possibly smaller," the matron said matter of factly already straightening and grabbing her short spear.
"It heads the same way as the troll's footprints," the woman said simply moving forward following the trail
"You think that we might have found the trail of that fledgling girl?" Jaquesin asked with a soft voice.
"Maybe" the old woman shrugged neither denying nor confirming Jaquesins question."I don't know, but if I were to guess I would say so."
"Hmm," Naython heard Jaquesin grunt before becoming quiet.
"Could we save the girl?" Patreek on Gerdur's other side said, blinking.
"Unlikely," the old lady said shaking her head, "you know just as I do that trolls are rarely ever gentle with their prizes, the girl even if she still lives, will be broken."
"Ohh..." Patreek said slowly, his mind sluggish on the uptake.
"Even so," the gruff lady said, "there is a small chance she still lives, so we shall make haste for that slim chance."
"Oh..." Patreek said again his eyes brightening just as sluggishly.
"Just as well," Carstah said firing up, "The faster we are the quicker we can leave."
The whole team picked up its pace, the brisk pace turning into a moderate Jog, everyone here was fit, you couldn't reach the rank of iron without that much at least, even Naython and Heather who were not frontline fighters had to manage at least this much.
With Jerrel and Nox quietly jostling behind him, Naython kept up with the rest of the team, Heather right beside him.
The sewers were symmetrical and unchanging, the team traveled the landscape and despite the distance they covered it seemed the same, the water choked with fetid waste, and the floor strewn with dirt and occasional rat droppings.
Nothing of interest broke up the monotony, save for at one point when a group of dire rats spotted them and quickly sprinted in the opposite direction.
The dire rats were not stupid, over time the rats of the sewers had learned to avoid large groups of people, Naython was just glad they had not run into any Rattarvahn, small humanoid ratmen that walked in a bipedal fashion and had some truly absurd belief's, those creatures were a nightmare to fight, if only because they would only fight dirty and swarm in large numbers, individually they were usually weak and stupid.
With no creatures daring to challenge the team, 'headcase' moved forward uncontested.
It was when Naython had gotten into a good rhythm that Gerdur finally stopped everyone.
"Stop!" she called out raising her hands as she slid to a halt in front of everyone, preventing them from running past.
"Something is different here," the old lady said with narrowed eyes that were scanning her surroundings," I'm not sure what but we should slow down, be careful."
Naython looked around, sending out pulses of his spirit searching with arcane eyes and finding nothing, Gerdur was not capable of using magic, but he had learned to trust her senses, she had an uncanny ability for sniffing out danger.
The surroundings looked no different to any other part of the sewer, more lichens and mosses grew here than normal but that wasn't that unusual, patches like this were not uncommon.
Unlike Naython's level response, some others were less understanding.
"Careful?" Carstah said frustrated, "didn't you just say we would make haste?"
"I did," the older woman said seriously "now we take care instead, something smells off and I don't like it!"
"Everything smells off," Carstah grumbled unholstering his spear, but he knew better than to argue with Gerdur, she was never wrong, her sense of intuition was impeccable.
"What is it Gerdur? what are you feeling?" Heather asked openly, trying to extract more knowledge from the old crone.
"Like I said I don't know," Gerdur said massaging her temples, "but I do know Its ill, incorrect, not quite right."
"What do you mean by that Gerdur?" Naython asked already preparing to cast a ward.
"You will know soon enough if we keep going, it gets stronger the further we go," the matron said pointing forward, into the distant darkness.
"The question now is, do we keep going? or do we turn around and go back?" Gerdur said solemnly, turning to face all of her companions with questioning eyes.
Immediately Patreek said "Yes! a girl's life might be depending on us!"
Patreek was a simpleton, but a sweet one.
Carstah scowled at Patreeks simple reasoning but said proudly, "hmmph! I'm not going to back down from a little bad feeling, no one shall know me as the man who fled from the sewers!"
Boastful as ever Carstah could not back down from a challenge.
The two newcomers Jerrel and Nox nodded at Carstah's words, eyes glinting, clearly they too believed in his way of thinking.
Jaquesin looked at all the positive answers and rolled his eyes before he too said "I hope we find some interesting plants at least" and stepped forward.
That just left Naython and Heather undecided, as all eyes turned to them.
Naython wanted his last request to be a success so he and his future wife could leave in high spirits, knowing they did one last good turn for the team.
Glancing at Heather, he gave her an inquiring look, in response she smiled and nodded.
They would finish their last request together.
"Us lovebirds," Naython said speaking for both him and Heather," Would like to finish the job."
"So it is decided then," Gerdur said hoisting up her spear, "We move on, but everyone stay close, something isn't quite right here, I don't want anyone disappearing on me."
The tough old lady waved her hand gesturing for everyone to follow and cautiously moved forward, her fellow team members right behind her.
Soon the party was moving through the sewers at a vigorous pace again, and gradually much to Naython's Alarm the sewers changed.
The stone brick walls disappeared, as vines and greenery smothered it, the empty hallways were crowded with ferns, small trunk-like plants and tall fungus dominated the heights, looking like trees, and vines were strung over everything.
Unlike the barren stone of earlier, this place screamed life, Naython could hear the quiet chirps of small animals and the movement of tiny creatures moving to and fro.
And the ceiling! the ceiling was like the night sky, peppered with slight blinking lights.
'What the heck is this place.' Nathan thought to himself.
Was this something no one else had uncovered? was this New ground?
Even the floor was not spared the drastic change.
The floor went from stone to dirt then to moss and then finally to... grass?
This place was strange and Gerdur was right about that feeling, this place felt off, not sick or diseased but foreign and unwelcoming.
Naython could feel a sort of strange unpleasant pressure on the edges of his mind that put him ill at ease, it felt like something was watching him from all sides, but every time he tried to catch the fleeting feeling it slipped away only to return.
It was unnerving but bearable, it felt like the growls of a beast on the other side of a cage, threatening, but hollow.
Reaching down Naython called to Jaquesin who was already scribbling rapidly in a little notebook his eyes reeling," have you ever seen plants like this Jaquesin?"
Nathon plucked a blade of the red grass from the floor.
"What is this?" Nathan said looking at the weird red grass.
Walking up beside Naython, Jaquesin took the piece of grass turning it over and over in his hands, sniffing it with gleaming eyes, before reaching into his bag and pulling out a small dripper.
Naython watched as Jaquesin made a makeshift alchemy station on his chest, mixing and stirring fluids even as he moved, before finally taking the mix and dripping a drop of it on the blade of grass and holding his breath.
The grass after a moment turned blue and released purple smoke.
"Rex sanguineam," Jaquesin exhaled with excitement, before reaching down and pulling a clump of grass into his pack.
"What now?" Naython said nonplussed
Rex sanguineam, blood grass," Jaquesin explained, "this stuff is used in some of the top end potions," Jaquesin said before he looked at Naython and added dryly, "it's valuable."
"How valuable?" Nathon asked curiously.
"very," the smiling alchemist said stiffing more of the grass unceremoniously into a herb bag.
As Jaquesin stuffed a bag full of grass, Naython felt a sharp rise in that unpleasant feeling before it dissipated, the feeling was similar to that horrible memory he still sometimes relived.
It made him shudder involuntarily, moving closer to Heather He took comfort in her presence, he did not take her hand, as he needed to be ready to cast in heartbeat, but he did bump shoulders deliberately with her.
"Hey," Naython said.
"Hey," Heather responded with a little smile.
"Odd place" Naython said casually.
"Yeah," Heather agreed, her own eyes wide and staring, as she took in the forest.
Close to his love again, the pressure faded into background noise.
Gerdur, ahead of the pair, lead calmy with a guarded expression, her posture showing just how wary she was.
"Remember to stick together don't wander off!" she called out, looking back briefly at her team before moving ahead.
Naython and the others obeyed and Jaquesin reluctantly stopped bagging grass, catching up with the team, Jerrel and Nox making haste to hold the rear.
With Gerdur leading, Patreek and Carstah guarding her sides, the three made a convincing vanguard, like this the team pushed through the alien forest, insects, and critters hurriedly moving out of their way, the noise of the forest positively deafening, as many creatures sung their bestial hymns and mating verse, despite the humans pushing through the undergrowth.
Team headcase kept moving forward, deeper and deeper into the forest, the birdsong of chittering insects following them the whole way, it was beginning to annoy Naython, it made his ears prickle.
Along the way they saw an explosive diversity of animals and exotic plants they had never seen before, Jaquesin kept trying to stop and grab samples much to Gerdurs anguish, Naython ordinarily would have liked to stop and investigate these strange new plants too, but something about this place made him not want to linger, the whole forest had eyes.
Tiny eyes belonging to small animals, but many, many eyes, eyes that resembled tiny little orbs, each one regarding the humans almost eagerly.
It was unsettling, it was almost as if the tiny creatures were waiting for something, the pressure from earlier hadn't disappeared either merely lessened, but as he walked deeper into the forest it was getting harder to ignore.
Naython wasn't as confident as hed been earlier, it might be time to leave.
As Naython was about to mention his desire to leave to Gerdur, they broke through the tree line of fungus and trunks, coming to a clearing in the woods.
Stepping into a place that felt almost lit up by the sun itself, Naython was dumbstruck by what he saw.
What Naython saw made him blink in disbelief, this place was... beautiful, how was this in a sewer?
The ceiling almost looked like the midday sky, blue and seamless it fooled the eye into thinking the roof really was the sky.
Below this blue sky, the waterway that ran down the middle of all sewer passages was diverted, flowing into a small pond surrounded by vibrant flowers and decorated by floating lily pads.
The clearing was hollowed out, having been bored into the stone making it a significantly larger space than most sewer passages.
A hollowed-out cave entrance was partially obstructed by flowering vines in the distance but behind that Naython could see more glowing lights, were those crystals?
Even as Naython looked harder he realized those crystal were growing all around this clearing.
The whole clearing made Naython think of open plains and magical forests mixed together, it was serene, almost holy.
The most accurate way to describe this place would be, sacred glade.
The party advanced cautiously, staring up at the false sky in wonder or monitoring their surroundings with wide eyes, this place was not normal.
Unlike in the forest prior, almost no animals were present, the constant birdsong of the forest muted, only a few mice and pythonpedes scurried about, hiding in cracks and crevices when the party drew near.
The glade was unnaturally quiet compared to the rest of the woodland, it felt almost reverent.
Or it would have been if Naython didn't notice the enormous pile of bones beside the Viney flap to the cave.
These were not just any bones, while the majority looked like those of dire rats, a large variety of other bones were heaped up in it as well, and near the surface of the pile, Naython could see the skeletal remains of what had surely been a hulking beast in life, its skull was still intact, jaw hanging open.
It was a troll's skull.
The team held their breath collectively as Gerdur stepped forward to examine the skeleton of the dead behemoth, Gerdur ran a finger up a femur, tapping her nail against a visible break in the bone where the marrow had been sucked out, before her hand came to brush against the skeletal feet of the corpse.
Persevering on her examination, Gerdur leaned back eventually and held her spear aloft and said with a wary whisper.
"This is the troll we were tracking," the elderly matron said "and it was killed a few days ago."
"Where is the girl though," Patreek said scrunching his eyes up and blearily peering at the pile of bones.
"Don't know," the old lady said gruffly "her tracks vanished ages ago, I have barely been able to follow the trolls trail as it is, too many animal paths crossing it."
While it was sad that the girl was not here, there were more pressing concerns currently.
Naython inhaled, the troll had been a large one, a mature adult if the size of the skeleton was telling, trolls didn't have a lifespan as far as anyone knew and they never got sick, so that only left...
Gerdur spoke again confirming Naythons belief, "This troll was killed and judging by the breaks in the bones, by something just as large and with a powerful bite."
"Another troll's work," Carstah asked eyeing the treeline and cave entrance.
The team was well stocked with anti-troll vials and weapons, so it was understandable that a larger troll would not be a problem.
"No," Gerdur answered still sizing up the broken bones even while she held her weapon ready "The bite in the bones is more of clean-cut than a crushed in hole, it looks more like.. no... that couldn't be right..."
Gerdur's sentence slowly became incoherent as the old woman muttered to herself, rubbing the hilt of her spear anxiously.
"What kind of bite is it? which animal?" Carstah said worriedly at Gerdurs uncharacteristic behavior.
Naython was worried too, the old lady rarely ever was this rattled.
Gerdur took a steadying breath before she gave the party a coherent answer.
"The bites here match that of the cuspid cockroaches you find everywhere in the sewers," the old lady said her wiry hands griping her weapon tight, "but unlike those tiny things the bite here is massive, I think we have a mutant running around closeby."
"A mutant?!" Naython said aloud, mutants were bad news they were faster, stronger and often more cunning than their regular counterparts, and a mutant cockroach large enough to eat adult trolls was not something he wanted to fight.
"We should leave," Heather whispered urgently, "The troll is already dead we have completed our mission."
Naython agreed with Heather wholeheartedly, fighting an unknown monster was always a poor decision.
"What?! leave so soon?!" Jaquesin said with an exasperated voice, "Look at this place!" Jaquesin said pointing all around himself, "its a treasure trove of plants and minerals, we could gain so much from learning the secrets of this place."
Naython frowned, Jaquesin's hunger for research and resources was playing up at a poor time, who knows when that mutant might show up.
Gerdur clearly thought the same as she spoke harshly.
"Jaquesin! You know as well as I do that treasure troves are never unguarded," Gerdur said sternly still sending wary glances all around her, "we must leave now!"
Jaquesin stopped gesturing at the exotic plants and minerals and sighed, his shoulders slumping.
"Alright, your right, but first let me take a sample of this formation here, I think it is crystalized soul stone."
Before anyone could caution him otherwise, Jaquesin reached out and touched one of the luminous crystals embedding the glade floor.
Naython felt a spike of Malicious intent jolt through his being like a heavy smog over his heart, and he could almost swear he heard a sinister rustling voice say.
No one steals from me...
Sweat broke out on Naython skin and that of the rest of his party as the feeling intensified, it was only then that Naython and the rest of the party noticed that it was silent, completely silent, not a chirp or squeak out of the previously noisy residents of the forest.
The glade was dead quiet, the hairs on Naython's neck began to rise as goosebumps formed on his skin.
Everyone looked at Jaquesin and Gerdur said, her voice loud in the deathly quiet.
" Jaquesin... put that crystal down."
Gerdur said this in a calm fashion, but her voice was strained.
Jaquesin having felt that malevolent will, slowly put the chunk of crystal on the floor, his own eyes scanning the glade rapidly.
Everyone stood unmoving for a time holding their breath.
After a little time of nothing happening, Carstah said in a joking if quivering manner.
"Heh- Heh w- well, I guess we can go now."
No sooner than Carstah had said that did something awful happen, a sound unlike any other entered Naythons ears, a soul tearing screech that made Naythons vision dim and his concentration wane, it was like a demented cacophony of broken instruments were playing while inhumane screams played opera, the twisting melody filled the air, the entirety of the glade trembling at its power, the crystals on the walls thrumming and brightening even as the false sky above darkened as if in response to the unearthly wail.
The unholy cry of rage began to fray at Naython constitution and without hesitation, he cast a MInd shield over the entire party, having difficulty weaving his energies while being bombarded with the shrieking attack.
HIs spell took the edge of the unnatural fear and confusion creeping over his mind and now Naython could think clearly once more, they needed light.
In the suddenly pitch dark of the sewer again, the pseudo sky having blackend, Naython lit up his simple moonlight spell, shedding some light on his surroundings, Heather next to him doing the same.
It was dark and in that dark, the glade no longer looked inviting and serene but inhospitable and sinister.
There was no doubt, the mutant had found them, a fight was inevitable.
The whole party pulled closer together, some fear in their eyes but hardened resolve as well, this was not the first time the party had been caught in a bad place, and hopefully, it wouldn't be the last.
Naython looked at the nearby Heather and squeezed her hand briefly which she returned in kind with a determined if nervous smile.
If nothing else Naython had to make sure Heather survived, she was not allowed to die, he could not bear it if she did and left, taking both herself and their unborn child away.
Gerdur her voice full of steel said bracingly, "The beast is almost upon us ready yourselves and face down death!"
Now that they were about to enter the thick of a struggle for life and death all apprehension had fallen from the crone's figure, she stood straight and tall, her hair tied into a practical bun gleaming against the two glowing orbs and torches that her companions wielded.
"Do not run," Gerdur said spinning her spear "I feel this beast will not give up easily,"
The ungodly screeching gradually died down, and waiting in the darkness, Naython was the first to spot it, but only for a moment, it was huge and fast.
Gerdur had said it was a cockroach, but how could that be? , even hidden in the darkness Naython could tell it was massive, mutants among the insects never grew this large, it was obscene.
Two pale yellow orbs moved rapidly about the ceiling, winking in and out of visible existence, the light dimming and growing seemingly at the creatures will.
Everyone watched with bated breaths as the creature approached, still shrouded in darkness, only its eyes visible, unhealthy luminescence leaking from its yellow depths.
Soon the creature was directly in front of them albeit on the roof, from there Naython could see its form even as its triangular head evaluated them in turn.
It was a mutant, it had to be with eyes like that, Naython thought, gripping his own weapon a shortsword as he prepared to cast a spell with his free hand.
It was enormous, tall as a horse but four times wider and twice as long, its body was covered in a thick sheath of feather-like crests that ran down its carapace resembling blades of rotting grass, each one of its six jointed legs ended in a wicked pair of claws and spurs, it was armored, the chitinous exoskeleton all insects possessed covering it from head to claw, but it looked thicker heavier, able to deflect a glancing blow from even a maul.
Its head was nothing short of nightmarish, Two, not one, but two pairs of jaws flexed on its triangular head, the larger mandibles overshadowing the smaller, the jaws were large enough to fit comfortably around Heather, Jaquesin and Carstahn all at the same time with room to spare, Naython had no doubts that It could bite through a trolls femur, with jaws like that, it surely could, on the top of its head two extremely long and feathery antenae twitched and twisted testing the air, detecting fear.
But its eye were still the beasts most captivating and terrifying feature, they seemed bottomless and filled with endless voracious and wrathful desire, glowing with the inner light of malice and hunger, Naython could not bring himself to look into its bottomless eyes and looked instead at its body again.
The beast had completed its examination of the party at the same time as Naython had, and left the ceiling with a thrumming of colossal wings landing directly in front of them, blowing dust and grit in their faces.
The dust cleared and the monster still remained, watching, waiting, standing in front of the party as if daring them to attack first.
Gerdur pointed her spear at it and the giant insect reacted, tilting its head and making a low clack with its Jaws, feelers waving about frantically, the monstrous invertebrate not moving forward to attack.
Naython had a niggling feeling that something was wrong, but he was unsure what.
The giant bug was the only creature around and the glade was silent save for the strained breathing of his fellow members.
For a brief period, the group of adventurers looked at the unmoving bug uncertainly, what should they do? the insect had not attacked yet and if a fight was avoidable it was best to take that chance.
The adventurers stared at the large predator, its glaring eyes locked onto each movement of the party.
That niggling feeling came back again, 'what is it waiting for?' Naython thought anxiously.
Unable to fully grasp the situation, it came as a shock when a scream echoed in the cavernous air, causing Naython and many of his fellow members to turn and stare at the source,
The source was Jerrel, the new recruit was lying on his back blood streaming from his throat as he gurgled, a bony bladed appendage wrapped around his neck tearing it open, the bladed appendage flicked and pulled the dying man deeper into the darkness as he let out wet gurgling screams.
"Alp Meeeeuurgg!" Jerrel cried out in the darkness before a wet 'thwack' sounded and his calls went silent, a second pair of glowing but crimson eyes hovering off in the direction Jerrel had been dragged.
The whole party went still, one of them had been killed already and the fight had not even begun, and there was more than one monster facing them.
Naython saw more movement in the shadows, it seemed there was more than just two monsters here.
Praying for a way they might pull out of this with everyone else still alive, Naython gripped his sword in an iron grip, preparing more wards.
"Salaar help us" Naython choked out, more swirling shapes moving to surround the party.
They were no longer the hunters, but the hunted.