Dwarves of Appalachia

by

Blackguard

Chapter 22: Creepy Craftsmanship Craves Chitanous Comestibles.

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     The group looked horrified at the chamber of darkness. The ashen skinned creature in the middle who was soothing the dolls, turned.

     “Ah, guests, guests, welcome!” The man-like creature bowed with a flourish.

     “Uhm, hi.” Billy Joe responded, holding up a hand weakly in greeting.

     The creature strode forward, his robe never even rustling as he traveled along the ground at an unseeable speed. Standing right in front of Billy Joe, he was maybe five foot six and wearing a robe that didn’t look too different from Ned’s.

     “Uhm, whys this guy wearing the same clothes as you?” Jamie asked, their eyes not leaving the vampire-like form.

     “Who? Me? I just bought these from some seller on the way here! Apparently this was the big style right before the sundering, one of the mage… These are mages robes…” As the clarity dawned on the sickly adventurer the creature smiled.

      His teeth were razor-sharp, looking more like a shark than a vampire, his mouth extended far longer than a human's, riding up the jaw bone, giving the visage of someone constantly smiling. With his predator’s grin, the creature continued. “I am Gruescheth, welcome to my parlor.”

     “N-n-n-Necromancer’s r-robes,” Ned whimpered.

     “Yes,” Gruescheth bowed.

     Mark and Gus had already strewn around the undead-like creature. Looking at the cage, Gus spoke first, “so, uhm why the creepy crying dolls?”

     “Oh, Themmmmmm?” Gruescheth asked, drawing out the last word with a massive sneer on his face, or that could just be how it normally looked.

     “Yes them, these.” Gus said, pointed at the caged, crying baby dolls.

     “Oh, it’s time for their lunch. I am so glad you asked. Over half of our esteemed guests attacked me on sight, then swiftly moved to the terrordolls.” Gruescheth said calmly.

     “I… wait what? What do they eat? And please… don’t say us.” Billy Joe stuttered, the creepy-crawly nature of this room sending sickly shivers up her spine.

     “Oh, noooo, they don’t eat solids yet,” Gruescheth stated, his mouth making a sickening visage every time he pronounces an O. His lips curl to make the motion, however the sides of his snear do not close, making them unleash a hollow whistling noise every time he pronounces one.

     Mark spoke up, “then what?”

     As if to answer his questions, one of the centipedes from the wall comes into view of the group. Its segmented armored body being carried by almost countless tiny legs. Long feelers prodded the ground and air in front of it, however, when it started to turn around, something new was noticed…

     “Does… Does that bug have a baby bottle for a butt?” Jamie sputtered.

     “Indeed, The formula for my precious class is held inside of those roaming beasts.” Gruescheth somehow smiled wider, his eyes had a glint in them now. “Bring me twelve of them and you may pass to the next room.”

     “Alright, pretty basic collection quest…” Just as Gus said that, a small dinging noise sounded in his head, and an icon appeared in his upper right vision, below a red, blue, and green bar in the farthest corner. “Huh?”

      “What happened?” Billy Joe asked.

     “One second let me… Huh, looks like me acknowledging it as one added it to some sort of list. I have an open quests tab apparently… let's see…” Gus looked at something only he could see as everyone around him waited.

     “Looks like it’s called ‘Ichor for the Infants,’ says its level eleven and the reward is something called a ‘rare passage chest.’” Gus said aloud, causing small scroll-like screens to appear in everyone else’s vision.

     Ichor for the Infants

     Quest level: 11

     Gruescheth, the teacher and administrator of the Terrordolls has asked you to obtain food for his class. Return with twelve Formulapedes.

     Reward: Passage chest, Passage Chest (Rare), Sigil of Horror Friendship (Epic)

     “What? Do we get just one of those or all of them if we win?” Jamie asked.

     “Not many have completed our challenge, instead of attacking on sight. It seems Majesty has over-prepared the rewards, originally yes it would be random, but with less than thirty percent of the adventurers taking time to listen… well, it seems you will be receiving the full reward.” The undead-like being spoke, pausing every so often and tapping his chin.

     “Nope, not doing it, all on you,” Mark spoke, sitting beside the crying porcelain doll cage.

     “What, why?” Billy Joe asked.

     “Mark has a thing about creepy crawlies. Just let them sit this one out if it’s a problem I’ll just give em part of my share of loot.” Gus said.

     “I uhm, I can help with this one. I don’t mind bugs too much.” Ned spoke up from the back of the room.

     “Perfect! Ned, you take the far right, I’ll take the near-right corner. We both go inward and any that escape will rush right at the cage.” Billy Joe said excitedly, even these long crawly bugs with their disgusting ichor dripping mouths and chittering noises did not bother the Fomorian woman. Mark swiftly moved himself to the other side of the cage, however.

     Ned did just as Billy Joe asked, a smile on his pale sickly-looking face as he scrunched down. Something about his expression made Billy Joe smile as well, his skin, his gaunt features, something about Ned reminded her of her Nana not too long ago…

     The first Formulapede Ned lunged at dodged quickly, curling its body into itself to avoid his half-hearted grab. “Looks like they’re smart.”

     Gus joined in the hunt for the bottle-bugs as Jamie sat down on the other side of the cage next to Mark.

     The other side of the cage was quiet. While the dolls did cry they didn’t make any noise, or even act that aggressive, they were just terminally creepy. Gruescheth watched the other three intently as they hunted down the bugs. Ned falling on his face more than once before catching a small handful, just two, but it was a start.

     Jamie leaned back against the cage, not really worried about the dolls anymore. “So, I heard a lot of changes happen when one goes through rebirth…” They said to no one in particular while relaxing.

     “Yeah, I mean, I didn't expect to come out green.” Mark said with a blush.

     Jamie just let out a chuckle and half-sigh. “I didn’t mean that, but fair enough. You know, it’s probably very odd and disconcerting going into the event all ‘pink’ but coming out ‘green.’ Living as ‘green’ probably feels super different too, wholly unique yet oddly similar. Unexpected changes are just that, unexpected, but do you not like being ‘green?’”

     Mark looked confused but realization slowly dawned on them, “Uh, y-yeah, being green or whatever is really different. I mean, I was pink before but… I kind of like being green.”

     Jamie’s smile got just a little wider, “I’m so happy for you.”

     Mark blushed again, hiding their face, “Thanks… I didn’t think I would want to be ‘green’ or anything, I mean we all have fantasies in high school. We all talk about it and make characters for games and stories but… I like it, I don’t think I have a problem with it.”

     “GOT EM!” Billy Joe announced with a gigantic hand holding roughly six of the small bugs, all squirming around. Tossing them in a small cloth bag they haphazardly threw together the three bug-catchers returned with their bounty.

     “Ah, with this my class will be refreshed. I thank you.” Gruescheth bowed deeply, extending his arm with a flourish and letting his grey robes fly out as he does.

     “Huh… Icon’s gone.” Gus said, and just as he did two medium-sized wooden chests appeared in the room. One normal and wooden, the other glowing a soft blue.

     “Wanna open the easy one first?” Billy Joe asked, rubbing her hands together at the prospect of new loot.

     Gus obliged after Ned tried to open up the common chest. Inside it were ten more bars of heavy steel, intricate black lines marbled the metal making it look like rings in a tree. “Looks like we have more Damascus.”

     Billy Joe walked over to the blue chest, waiting for everyone’s eyes on it she flew the lid open. Inside of the chest was odd however. Pitch black, a vast nothingness where even the bottom was obscured.

     “What a rip!” She yelled.

     “Now now, reach in and pull out your prizes, it’s not like everything just fits in a non-magical chest.” Gruescheth chided.

     Billy Joe stuck her arm in and slowly pulled out… a small bag. “Huh? A ba…. Oooooh now this is interesting.”

     “Let me see!” Jamie said, putting in their Dungeoneer’s glass.

     Bag of Poppins.

     DO NOT TURN INSIDE OUT!

     This bag will allow you to hold the approximate amount of a 12X12X12 room on your belt loop. Reduces weight by 40%

     Bag is inhospitable to organic life, living matter placed in bag will be instantly frozen in time, resulting in death. Item must be fully submerged in bag for it to be taken to dimension. (User counts as item)

     “Wh-What?” Billy Joe squealed. “We have a dimensional bag!”

     “What else is in there?” Jamie asked, and she pulled out two more items.

     Bronze Sword of Dedication.

     When assigned to a user, pick three items for your ‘Honor Code’

     As long as Honor Code remains unbroken…

     +25% Perception
     +25% leg strength/movement speed
     +25% reaction speed
     +25% strength

     Bonus: If your ‘Honor Code’ matches someone else’s morality, they will feel a sense of peace in your presence. Skill Name: Righteous Protector.

     And the listed item, or rather, five of them.

     Sigil of Horror Friendship.

     Magically created beasts which fall under the ‘Horror’ or ‘Abomination’ category will consider you neutral at worst. You are an ally to those who hide in the dark, for not all who shy away from the light are evil.

     Extra Bonus: +5% Darkness damage to Melee attacks.

     Gus let out a long whistle. “Hey, I’ll give you all the metal from this room and the last if I can take the sword.”

     “Throw in whatever the hell that ‘indium’ bar is and you have a deal,” Billy Joe responded and Gus picked up the sword, smiling to himself.

     “Aren’t you going to tell us what your Honor Code or whatever is?” Jamie inquired curiously, inspecting the sword in Gus’ grasp.

     “Nah, you can find out through my skill.” Gus Grinned and reached out a hand to help Mark up off the ground. “Ready for the next room?”

     Mark smiled up at Gus, tusks framing Mark’s smiling green face. As the hero helped his friend off the ground, Billy Joe handed out everyone the small silk talismans of horror friendship.

     “So, that’s all you need from us?” Jamie asked Gruescheth who just bowed in response, raising his arm to show them the way to the next door.

     Billy Joe fastened the Bag of Poppins to her belt, taking everyone’s metal and offering to carry the bars while they walked through the door to the fifth room.

     Gold glittered softly in the dull light, the long thin branches of the metal looked like they had been grown more than carved or shaped. The metal circled inward, making less of a door and more of an obstacle as the golden roots intertwined in a circle blocking the passageway.

     As soon as the group stepped near it the golden roots began to untangle from each other, in a beautiful display of what appeared to be celestial roots dancing, the pathway was once again open.

     Stepping through the door they find themselves confronted with… pigs.

     Over ten snorting, pacing wild boars walked around the interior of a small coliseum. On one of the highest parts of the stands, one person stood, yelling, hooting, and hollering.

     “WOOOO, YOU CAN DO IT Ho.me..team… huh. Looks like we’re starting another one up.” The form stopped bouncing around and screaming as it traveled around the stands of the coliseum, eventually standing above the group in the audience section as they make their way into the arena. A portcullis separated the boars from the group, and for their part, the pigs seemed disinterested in them while it is down.

     “Oh, looks like you solved Gru’s room. Good for you, had a lot of lameos come in complaining how the creepy room didn’t give them any loot.” Said the fan.

     They wore a baseball hat with a pair of cupholders attached. In one a name brand root beer, in the other a clear bottle of seltzer water. The woman sipped from the joint straw, letting out a long drawn out belch. She has dirty blond hair and a tan complexion. She wasn’t overweight but she also didn’t fall into skinny… all in all, just like the woman at the grill she didn’t look like she belonged in a Dungeon at all.

     “And you are?” Ned asked, trying to be polite but still sounding annoyed at yet another weird room-master.

     “I am head-mistress Jed.” The woman wearing a grease-stained black jersey with a big 3 on it. She let out a long loud belch, laughing afterward.

     “Greetings Head-Mistress Jed, we are here to challenge your room!” Gus said, both hands on his hips.

     “You can jus' call me Jed. Huh, still got all fivea ya? Most groups are down to four, some even three er two.” She said while picking her nose in full view of the group.

     “Yes mam, we haven’t had much trouble honestly.” Gus responded.

     “Heh, that’s bout to change. So listen er. Ya got three rounds, firstn’s these here piggies, they’re tougher than they look and they look damn tough I’ll tell ya. After that yer gonna havta fight the shield monkeys, I’m not too sure bout them but Majesty likes em so my hands er tied.” She said, taking a big sip from her drink hat while the group waited.

     “Lastn’s gonna be fightn’ the deer, Only bout one in five groups makes it through these, so good luck! Me n Walrus are takin’ bets on which groups make it to Galatea. I hope ya win, I’ve got three chocolate bars on you.” Jed said with a large shining smile, her hair waving in the breeze almost making her look beautiful.

     “Alright, sounds like a plan, after all, how hard can fighting some pigs be.” Mark commented.

     Billy Joe, after living for a short time in both Oklahoma, Arizona, and Florida looked at him with her mouth open, “Oh, now you’ve done it.”

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A note from Blackguard

Greetings Dear Reader,

     I normally write these expecting them to be read the day of the release. But I want this one to stand for posterity's sake. If you are reading this note, then you have made it to chapter 22 of "Dwarves of Appalachia." To do so, you likely are someone who is different or accepting of those who are as many of the characters in my story are LGBT.

     If you have made it this far you likely have a good heart and in an era like the one we find ourselves in, that is not something to take lightly.

     For whoever needs it and finds these words: You're loved, It WILL get better. I hope you find a place that accepts you and if your blood rejects you, then I wish for you to have the power to make your own family. No one deserves to be alone, to feel alone, to feel like you're the only one 'different' and that somehow makes you wrong.

     I guess what I am trying to say in this rambly author's note is: Be you nonbinary, gay, trans, bi, pan, asexual, anything LGBT or even an ally who is made fun of for being a decent human being. You're not alone, no matter what anyone says, no matter what your country says. You aren't broken, You aren't even that different, You're you and you matter.

     This story would not exist without me reading "Dreadnaught," "Mask of Shadows," or "Dominion of Blades." And no matter what some rando says, or (hypothetically) comments on the first chapter. Representation matters, even in a dinky little web-series with only 66 followers.

Best Wishes,
Blackguard.


About the author

Blackguard

Bio: Amateur writer and ravenous reader. I do my best to keep consistent if not generous updates, comments are welcome and encouraged. Nonbinary Zebra.

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