Chris was going to die. He’d tried everything. His Beast Soul Weapon, the one shaped like a khopesh on a pole, which he had dubbed the Beastblade since having two Beast Soul Weapons would make things confusing… His Beastblade would not summon inside the tomb of living creatures that bore down on him. He got the same story from his newly acquired javelin.
And even if he did, he didn’t know what came next. There was no room to swing a cat, much less a javelin. [Danger Sense] was going off all around him, so he was forced to turn the skill off or risk draining his limited mana supply.
The Dao of Suppression did nothing, it lifted off his fingers, cohering to the bodies of the Gnolls, but little else. He was buried beneath an increasing weight of dirty, stinking bodies, the claws of the Gnolls scrabbling against his armor, teeth closing around metal before sudden release and reattachment. He was going to die.
Not even the overwhelming feelings of power from his unchained mana was enough to shake that conviction. More and more frequently, the Gnolls’ claws found exposed areas of flesh; only the close-packed quarters and the solid density of Chris’ body prevented them from sinking deeper. Small mercies, if a death by a thousand cuts could be considered a mercy.
He struggled with the futility of the unwillingly and inescapably doomed, and as he wriggled around, trying to extricate himself from a living tomb of talon and tooth, his right gauntlet came free.
Suddenly he felt claws scoring into him. It wouldn’t be long now. Maybe he could use his arm to off himself and some of the Gnolls around him. He felt dizzy.
Was it getting harder to breathe?
Yes it was. Even metal was slightly elastic, and the armor soon began to bend and warp beneath the weight of heaving Gnoll flesh above him.
Well, no time like the present.
“Fuck you, Bruce,” he wheezed. His arm liquefied into green goo—not that he could see anything in the warm, fuzzy, foul-smelling darkness. From around him he heard shrieks and snarls of agony as their flesh melted.
“You get a scar, you get a scar, everybody gets a scar.” He giggled. That’s how he knew he was getting delirious, misquoting some celebrity icon from the days before the diginet. He had no idea he even remembered that. It must have been years ago.
His arm kept spreading, the Slime eating away at the Gnolls around him. “Good boy, Sid. Good boy.”
At least he’d take these bastards to Hell with him.
As the last of his Slime spent itself—it seemed to have more difficulty consuming living flesh—he felt the pressure intensify tenfold then lift. Not long now. It had to be like hypothermia, where you felt warm just before you were about to die. At least that was good. Not long now.
He gasped as he suddenly saw light leaking in from above. Then he realized he could actually breathe again. He was not okay with this. He was not okay with this!
He struggled upward, pushing against the Gnolls with strength born of desperation. The tomb of Gnolls heaved up around him and he saw a ball of rock swinging from a metal chain, held firm by what must have been hundreds of people on the wall. More hurled down simple spear-like projectiles that vanished into smoke as soon as they struck something solid, then reappeared in the hands of their user. Beast Soul Javelins.
The stone was coming back now, having knocked the summit off the mountain of Gnolls on the first swing. Chris ducked, feeling the rock scrape against his helmet. Where the hell had those glorious bastards found a stone that size? How had they gotten it onto the wall?
“Hiii, Sir Christopher!” it shouted as it passed by.
Chris nearly gave up the struggle as he recognized the voice. “Bruce?”
The stone swung back, knocking away more Gnolls as they tried to leap onto Chris. “Hey!”
Yeah, that was definitely Bruce, except he seemed to be encased in stone.
But Bruce’s momentum was slowing and now rocks piled on. Quickly, those on the wall heaved up as more and more Gnolls leapt on to bring Bruce down. The humans heaved upward and Chris was once again alone as defenders scraped away Gnolls clinging to Bruce’s stone-encased body.
He summoned his Beastblade and lashed out at the Gnolls nearby. He had the high ground and the speed advantage. The pile beneath his feet was surprisingly stable, at least to his high dexterity, most of the Gnolls had been crushed to death or killed with acid.
Using [Sunder] repeatedly, Gnollish heads were cleaved clean off, the Beastblade gliding through gristle and bone like a malicious whisper.
The big Gnoll was close now, though, and Chris doubted he could take it on with an arm missing. He looked around. How could he get onto the wall? Those up top struggled to bring ropes near to help haul him up. They wouldn’t get there in time, not before the big Gnoll could bring him down. Time for a Hail Mary.
Wincing, he vanished his Beastblade and jumped. As he soared upward, not high enough to reach the top, he summoned his new Beast Soul Javelin, his hand near to the head. He rammed it into the wooden wall and pulled himself up with one arm, vanished the javelin, re-manifested it, and—while he still had upward momentum—slammed it into the wall even higher.
A howl of outrage cut through the air behind him and he looked back to see the boss Gnoll break out into a four-legged lope. Chris repeated his javelin climbing technique. Again and again. Lesser Gnolls leapt at him, but they didn’t have the height or the strength to catch him.
Chris rose higher and higher. He was almost there, one more javelin leap and then he could grasp the top. Then the boss Gnoll hit the pile of bodies beneath him like it was a ramp. It took twelve javelins to the face and back, but they barely fazed it—the broad heads caught in matts of dirty, armor-like fur.
Chris stopped staring and pulled up with the javelin one final time. His fingers caught the lip of the wall and strong hands seized his own and began to lift him.
The boss Gnoll leapt, sharp claws reaching for him. It pushed off the pile, scattering Gnoll corpses in all directions. It got closer and closer, claws gleaming wickedly. Chris was almost over the wall.
One clawed paw caught.
Those holding him strained as the boss Gnoll grasped Chris’ leg with a victorious grin. Its claws tightened, sinking slowly into the armor with a horrible rending of metal. Its other arm reached around, readying to clamber farther up—or take off his leg. Chris didn’t know. He didn’t want to find out.
Then the boss Gnoll’s eyes widened comically. Chris looked up. He saw a blur as Bruce, wearing nothing but his torn starter clothes and a chain around his waist passed over him. Down, down, down.
Chris didn’t have time to shout at him to wait. Not after the moment of hesitation when he realized what Bruce was about to do. That was suicide. But Chris wasn’t a hero, so he didn’t have time. Heroes didn’t hesitate.
Bruce curled into a ball as he neared the boss Gnoll’s face. Layers of rocky armor formed around him, merging together wherever it touched, turning into a wrecking ball of solid stone.
The boss Gnoll yelped once, and then stone met flesh with a gut-churning series of squelches and cracks. The monster fell back. Its paw released its grip. Bruce’s chain went taut and he swung to the side before being heaved back up. The boss Gnoll slammed into the corpse pile beneath it, lying there stunned, its face smashed into a pulpy mess—Chris winced in sympathy, that would leave a mark. More javelins rained down, vanishing into smoke after finding their targets, returning again and again in a rolling barrage of Beast Soul Weapons.
And finally, feeling as if he’d gained a few inches from being stretched between the Gnoll and the hands that clung desperately to his own, those on the wall finally managed to pull him over. He lay there, gasping. Then his raging mana demanded he stand and fight, so he did.
He peered back over the wall. The boss Gnoll had started to heave itself to its feet. Well, that wasn’t how enemies were meant to behave. He summoned his javelin, charged [Sunder], and shunted in plenty of Dao for good measure. His mana almost hit zero. The javelin just had to last until it hit.
With all the strength he could muster with his non-dominant hand, he loosed the javelin into the Gnoll’s body with an intense grunt.
The javelin passed through the monster’s gut, the monster staggered then continued to rise. Then the black motes of Suppression began to cling to bleeding flesh as the javelin passed cleanly through the Gnoll.
The blood seemed to stop around the site, the tissues drained of color, and Suppression sank into its body. The monster’s arms and legs trembled as its rise halted, as if a mountain sat across its back. It collapsed back down with a wheeze, still breathing as color began returning to its body. Javelins from other humans continued to rain down, but mana was running low across the board and the barrage was slowly decreasing. Even then, they failed to pierce the monster’s thick fur.
Chris lay back against the wooden wall walk. Spent as he was, he could do no more. He was out of mana and energy—the running and fighting had taken it out of him. He felt stretched to breaking and his chest ached. His arm was gone for now, but at least it didn’t hurt—the Slime always pinched his nerves closed whenever it detached.
He smiled woozily as he saw Bruce, unarmored once more, leap off the wall one final time. Yep. That Gnoll was definitely having a bad day.