Dwarves of Appalachia

by

Blackguard

Chapter 33: Homunculi Vs Dungeon. Part 2.

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     The armor-clad otter shot his arm forward, trident in hand as the lobsters D team had expected; surged out of the tide. The crustacean’s orbs of magic flew past Clarence’s shoulder, causing the entire squad dash toward a small segment of what appeared to be forest, also missing from the dossier.

     “What’s going on? The last few rooms we could chalk up to an event or bad intel. This? This is entirely different!” Tyler squealed, not the greatest under pressure.

     A green orb of writhing energy shot over Charlie’s shoulder, impacting a tree behind them and growing wild vines, lashing out and attacking anything that got near. “I normally don’t follow his lead, but Tyler has a point. What the hell?”

     Clarence kept his jaw shut firmly, however, not risking letting anything slip. “Alright, Charlie, you take Grant and circle around. Reqeem was it? Well, I saw his health bar, it’s only a little over one hundred. It may be because he’s small, but the little lobsters also look a lot weaker. This may be a horde version of the fight the other divers…“ Clarence grabbed his throat, letting out a sputtering cough.

     “Divers?” Tyler asked confusedly.
 
     Charlie quickly surmising the situation, “I guess dungeon divers, the other people who come in here. They must have fought a higher health, fewer enemies version of this.” Charlie paused, while slow the lobster were coming on land and nearing them, they didn’t have long to make a decision or plan.

     Clarence, regaining his ability to speak and letting out a cough to distract his team, “As I was saying. Charlie, you go around back, try to get a clean shot on our lord of the ocean and his mount. If you have to, use one of your grenades.”

     Both of the soldiers nodded at their captain, instantly going into action and circling around in the very sparse treeline just as the first lobster peaked round the hiding spot for the rest of the group. It spread its claws and crackling black energy appeared between its pincers, pushing forward as if shoving the projectile outward, it fired the ball of concentrated death energy right at Clarence’s chest.

     Clarence fell back into the arms of Tyler. The third member still with them, Sharon, fired off her weapon in immediate retaliation, reducing the small lobster to fleshy, chitinous bits on the floor. “You okay cap?” she asked after re-holstering her weapon.

     Clarence took a moment with his dungeoneer’s goggles. “Yeah, looks like I only got hit for forty points. I had around 420 health before, so it’s not that bad.”

     Tyler smiled, “Wait, we can get hit ten times or something before we go down? This is going to be a cakewa…” Right as Tyler was about to finish his statement; a roaring ball of fire slammed right into his face, causing him to fall forward and grasp at it.

     The lobsters were upon them, now in force. Clarence could see the tiny armored otter directing them by giving commands using its magical trident. Under his breath, he muttered, “Well, let’s see if Charlie pulls another miracle out.”

     Charlie and Grant made their way behind the trees, dodging some random orbs of magical energy, they had made it to the far end of the beach unscathed. No lobsters seemed to be nearing their current point and if they were to get their feet wet in the tide, they would be directly behind the enemy forces.

     “He said we could use grenades,” Charlie said with a smile.

     “Yeah, but I doubt they’d just let it go off. That leader seems to know what it’s doing, it would likely throw it back or have its minions pile on it.” Grant returned in a hushed whisper, stepping out of the tree line along with Charlie.

     “Not If I stun em’ with my throw,” Charlie chuckles quietly, readying herself in a pitcher’s stance. She was the star-pitcher of the inter-squad M.A.R.S. baseball league and today, she would prove it.

     Reqeem pulled back on his staff, turning it toward the artificial sky as three large water cyclones appeared surrounding him. Many of the lobsters getting caught up in the water, blindly firing off their magi-cannon pincers. With a tiny evil grin almost none but the visually enhanced could likely see, the otter thrust his trident forward again. The three cyclones surged toward strip of land hosting the rest of Charlie’s team.

     With determination in her eyes, she raised her forward leg, taking aim right at the otter on top of the gleaming armored seal. Pulled the pin, waited just a few seconds, and then stepped forward, releasing the ball from her grip in a mighty throw. The grenade flew, while not straight, true to target. Instead of hitting the tiny beast in the head like Charlie had planned, the grenade impacted his body; tossing the tiny warlord from his mount as he grasped the explosive.

     Reqeem was sent tumbling, his sea lion turning to look at the two flankers and letting out a loud, furious bark. Many of the rear guard lobsters turned, right as a new threat emerged from the water.
 
     Charlie’s mouth fell open as what appeared to be hellspawn rose from the waters. Long spindly legs with long slender arms, massive claws at the end of them. Each of the carapaced crabs having four arms and pincers each. Several smaller things stood on the back of its body but Charlie and Grant couldn’t tell what they were.

     “Spider crabs… It just HAD to be spider-crabs, didn’t it?” Grant half-screamed, exasperated from all of the surprises so far. While normally terrified of crabs, especially these demonic-looking beasts, he was just tired at this point, missing his warm bed and wishing he had just slept in this morning.

     Reqeem didn’t even have time to think as he looked down at the round package of death between his paws as he exploded into a fine red mist in the water, taking at least ten of his lobster infantry down with him.

    The cyclones, however, were far too late to stop. The massive vortexes of swirling water impacted the treeline, destroying many of the wooden barriers. Entire trees ripped out by the roots, sent flying and slamming into an invisible barrier back near the entrance. Three purple energy balls flew like curveballs in the air, slamming into Tyler’s back as he ran, knocking him to the ground.

     Clarence quickly turned around, his mind not comprehending the non-fatality of the situation. Just as he had gotten Tyler to his feet, a large branch slammed into his right arm, then spinning and smacking him in the head, almost causing him to tumble. Regaining his balance with the help of the one he sought to rescue, the two quickly ran from the path of chaotic destruction caused by the now-dead mini-boss.

     The crabs, however, turned their attention entirely on Charlie and Grant. The tiny prawns on the back of their body each lighting up a different color. First red, then blue, then finally green as a massive orb of chaotic magic launched from each of the spider-crabs backs.

     Charlie and Grant quickly ran as fast as they could back to cover. Only half of the crabs began moving or aiming after however, the rest retargeting to the team on the beach.

     “Looks,” pant, “Like that was the boss,” Wheeze. Charlie fell forward against a tree, running in wet, loaded down pants was not her idea of an easy Christmas mission.

     “Yeah, they’re less organized now, most of the lobsters are just rushing Clarence and the team. Problem is those surprises.” Grant replied, quickly yanking Charlie away from the tree as another ball of mixed-mana slammed into her resting place, reducing it to a withered ancient fossil.

     Charlie blinked twice, looking at the damage. “Well… That’s just horrifying.”

     Grant nodded, pulling her along, deeper into the thin line of trees and accidentally slamming face-first into an invisible wall. “What?!” he screamed, grasping his bleeding nose.

     Charlie touched the odd event, running her fingers over a flat surface that was seemingly made of nothing. “Well, we are inside, aren’t we? It’d be weird if all of this went on forever.”

     “Fair poooooiiiint!” Grant tried to reply, instead barely dodging yet another multi-mana attack.

     “Fight now, talk later.” Charlie laughed, steadying her rifle and taking aim at the nearest squad of three crabs. With a few short bursts of fire, the magical artillery was no more. “Remember, they don’t have much health.”

     Grant pulled out one of his own grenades. “Think you can sink this in the middle of that big mess of them?” Grant asked, pointing at the large group of spider crabs surrounding the sea lion mount of the now-dead Reqeem.

     “I don’t see why not.” Charlie took the grenade with a smile, walking forward, out of the treeline and taking aim.

     With the release of her hand, a few mere seconds later the water was dyed a purple-red from the blood of the magical crustaceans. Clarence finished up the shattered and damaged lobsters left over from Reqeem’s final attack and stepped forward out of the trees himself. “All Clear?”

     Grant and Charlie both held their thumbs up with the biggest of smiles.

     ***

     Hero screamed into the void. His chance at vengeance had been denied, however, he did succeed in one part of his task. Not a single member of the invaders was now entirely unscathed. In-fact their leader was now down to less than half-health. Bordering on 200.

     Hero decided to take that as a win. There would be more challengers, and just like the day before, every loss was an important lesson.

     Staring at the screen, he let out a mental sigh.

     Maximum Attempts used. Please wait for new Divers.

     ***

     “Aint you gonna check your chest?” Anne called from hiding behind her grill.

     Clarence decided to ignore the annoying woman and her accent, she reminded him too much of his aunt. The group of five walked forward to the door to room four, pressing their hands to it, the web of almost tangible darkness fell away, leaving just an arch of stone connected to an invisible wall.

     As the five members of the team walked through the arch they were all met with all-consuming darkness. Not a shred of light was visible to any of them and Grant grabbed on to the back of Charlie’s backpack, both of his advanced eyes rendered useless. He was in fact terrified of the idea of returning to the permanent darkness he had barely escaped prior.

     “Why can’t we see?” Tyler voiced his opinion first.

     “That would be my test,” A voice came from seemingly the middle of the room, directly in front of the group. “My upgraded test does not increase the violence, at least, not by much. Mostly it has to do with your reflexes.”

     “I take it you would be Gruescheth?” Clarence asked.

     “That I am.” the voice replied. “Fear not, the information you have gathered is not useless in my room, The rules have merely… changed slightly.”

     “What do you mean?” Clarence responded, hand on holster.

     “I only require you fetch me five formulapedes this time. As you can tell, this task’s difficulty is much increased from the sensory deprivation. Secondly, you may find that these formulapedes are rather… large up close. Please do mind the legs, they are quite sharp.” Gruescheth replied from the dark, a low cackling following his voice.

     Charlie heard a chittering and moving all around her, causing her to sink deeper into the group of five. None of them wanting to admit that somewhere in the back of their ape-brain that they were quite terrified at the volume of these noises.

     “Uhm boss? Are tiny bugs supposed to be this loud?” Grant asked, his voice quavering.
 
     Clarence shook his head, “No, I don’t think they are.”

     Five unsettling minutes later and several shallow cuts to everyone’s arms, legs, and hands; the five man-sized forumulapedes were all tied up and tossed towards where they had heard the voice earlier.

     “Yessss, these seem to be correct. You’ve completed my challenge, please check the chest on your way out."

     A soft yellow glow appeared on the far end of the room in the shape of a chest night-light. As they got closer they noticed the door cracks spilling just the faintest bit of light from the next room.

     Unable to look at the loot they had just acquired due to the darkness, Clarence opted to throw the majority of it into Grant’s backpack.

     “So, aside from some small cuts, anyone that bad off yet?” Charlie asked. Looking over each of their heads gave her their health bars however, even in this darkness. She knew the entire squad could see that the captain was down to his last hundred twenty hit points, near his last legs. The other two who had stayed on the coast with him weren’t much better off either.

     The five of them stepped forward out of the darkness, into the entrance of the grand redneck colosseum. Now that they could see, before walking forward Clarence took check of his own supplies. “Alright, I still have my glue-grenades, everyone else?”

     The five of them searched their belts and found that most of them had their equipment intact, all, save for Tyler. “Dang lobster must’ve sniped it off when the small horde of them was climbing on me.

     “It’s better than we were expecting to be honest,” Clarence replied. “Truthfully I thought myself or at least one of you would be back in the spawn room already.”

     “Well, time to get serious.” Charlie nodded, taking a few of the glue-grenades from the others.

     “Yeah, home stretch now,” Grant chimed in.

     “...Could you just… you know? Let people talk without commenting on it? Having to get the last word in is pretty rude you know.” Tyler spoke up.

     Clarence raised his hand, signaling for silence. “We’ll talk about manners when we’re back at the base and not getting ready to jump into an arena full of magical boars who want to trample us. Fair?”

     The other four members nodded to their leader, all getting ready for their next battle.
 
     Jed let them through once they got to the gate without a word, Charlie felt that if the woman could kill with a look then all five of their runs would have ended in just this room.

     “Uhm, what’s that?” Grant asked, pointing to the single massive pig in the middle of the herd.

     “Smasher. Does what the name says. I wouldn’t sit still if I were you.” Jed said, laughing from her seat as she takes a big swig from her flask.

     Clarence smiled. “Looks like this room will be a bit of a cakewalk. Think our plan will work on that one too?”

     Charlie smiled, pulling a grenade launcher out of her pack. “Shouldn’t be a problem. Alright, every one, two a piece. Let’s get em before they notice we’re here.”

     Taking two of the glue grenades from each of her group she loaded eight of the chambers in the launcher. standing back and taking aim directly above the hoard of pigs she steadied herself. Taking a deep breath; she pressed the trigger and didn’t let go.

     The automatic launcher did its job, firing each grenade with only a half-second delay between them. The timers on the explosives ended right as they flew over the group of pigs, causing massive globs of sticky glue to burst outward, covering all of them. The beasts were stuck to each other and the ground as the first few grenades combined with the surprise was just enough to make sure none of the boars got away.

     Calling up to the stands, Clarence laughed, “We don’t gotta kill em if we win completely, right?”

     Jed looked down at the group with surprise and confusion evident on her face. “I uhm… I suppose not. They’ve all clearly lost.” As she spoke, Smasher tried to back up, to gain some momentum for a charge, but he couldn’t free himself from his kin.

     “What about the prizes?” Grant asked.

     “They aint dead, no prizes. But I also can’t deny you won… Rules say I gotta let you on to the next room, no matter how much I hate it.” Jed replied, grumbling under her own breath and taking an even bigger swig from her flask.

     The five members, beaten, bruised, cut, and slightly singed all gathered at the far end of the colosseum. The grand golden and silver gates awaited them. “Everyone ready? No one fire first, we’ve read from reports what happens if the fight starts with no warning." Clarence reminded his squad.

     “Yeah, some sort of cloning. I doubt we could handle five of her in our current shape.” Charlie agreed.

     As the five of them all stepped inside of the portal-like gate they came out in a beautiful paradise of flowers, trees, and a small bridge connecting the two landmasses with a river running under it.

     Looking around they saw what they expected, an impossibly beautiful woman in a thin but still modest dress. Yet, when Charlie looked down and to the left of her she noticed someone familiar.
 
     “Uhm, Captain isn’t that?” Charlie asked but got cut off.

     “Colonel Zippy, as I live in breathe!” Clarence said happily, a massive smile on his face. Motioning for the rest of his squad to do the same, they all lowered their weapons and moved their hands from their holsters. “I take it you got the message?”

     Zippy smiled, floating forward on his small purple cloud. “Loud as ever, you know the brass will blow their tops at this right? I doubt M.A.R.S. can stay secret after Brandon’s little outburst.”

     Clarence scratched his back nonchalantly, looking away. “Never was that good at keeping secrets,” A sly grin appeared on Clarence’s face.

     ***

     Outside, Jerome had gotten the three soldiers relatively under control. Two of them seemingly had a conscience since the third one’s rude behavior had sort of guilted them into helping the sheriff restore a sense of order to the long line of hopefuls.

     “How did we get roped into this?” Oscar asked Mike, completely exhausted from running around and getting chairs for the more sick hopeful divers.

     “The little girl with no hair looked up at you with big sad eyes.” Mike responded.

     “Oh yeah.” Oscar nodded, then took a moment, slowing down from his run, setting down the six folding chairs he had been carrying. “We have to come up with a better reason for Hasenfeffer don’t we?”

     Mike laughed. “That grinch? Of course, yeah, he’d just ask why we didn’t kill her ourselves or something.”

     Oscar looked dejected. “Everyone says there’s a genie in that lamp, granting wishes and healing folks… If cap comes out with it, doesn’t that mean we have?”
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A note from Blackguard

I would like to apologize to anyone who saw the 'update' or 'announcement' or whatever I did. It's been rough, yeah, but I should believe in myself more. I'm hopefully on track to regain my backlog of chapters, I felt I'd written myself into a hole, down a completely different path.

As a sort of thank you to all the readers still around, here's a bonus chapter, been a while since I put one of these out.

Turns out, I just needed to look at it from another perspective. Next chapter will close out the Dungeon Invasion arc and will begin Jamie's transformation.

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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