Chapter Three – Follow the Instinct
I raced through the tunnels, unnerved by the well lit area. Until today, the light from the torches that lined almost every hallway had always been a muted blue. Now the tunnels were bright, illuminating the stalactites and stalagmites that littered the ceiling and floor. The red flame cast eerie shadows that somehow made Dungeon Home seem foreboding and frightening, where before it had been peaceful and calm.
I floated into the stairwell on the third floor. The great steps had always been beautiful to me, highlighted in their blue torchlights. Now they were majestic. The floors and walls were marble on the lower levels, even and straight where above they were barren caves. The stairs led down to the fourth floor, the royal crypt, where Ghoul usually resided.
Lying crumpled on the ancient steps, disrupting the spiderwebs that had lingered there longer than my memories, were the bones of Skeleton and Skeledog. I resisted the urge to go to them. That went against the instinct. My color became a deep blue-violet, my sadness radiating through, with a burning red anger beneath it. What had Skeleton and Skeledog ever done to deserve being made inert like Crumbling Bones?
I didn’t wait to see if they would disappear, holding in my emotions. The instinct had always been there for me. It wouldn’t fail me now, and I didn’t think I could handle watching more of my family evaporate into the air.
Could it be that the rest of my family felt that way about me whenever I went invisible?
No. Surely not. They never worried. It was the invaders that had changed them. Besides, I hardly ever camouflaged myself fully, preferring to glow with the colors of whatever emotion I was feeling. Most often yellow joy.
I passed by the chamber Ghoul inhabited, but it was empty of everything except the treasure chest she kept in there. That was opened and emptied of whatever it had once contained. I continued on down to the oval chamber where I’d seen her go when I’d been rushing to the top of Dungeon Home. That was where I caught up to them.
All five of the creatures were arrayed around Ghoul in a lopsided circle. I’d initially considered Beardy Wall my favorite, and had named him in my head before I realized he’d hurt my family. Now I wished I’d given the monster a more sinister name as I watched him bash his shield into Ghoul’s face.
Behind him stood the only one of the creatures whose covering wasn’t that pink malleable shell. Instead, his – skin? Yes skin – was greenish and he had fangs that looked dangerous like Momma Bossbear’s, though not nearly as big. The first thing to come to mind was Green Tooth. He wore long white robes and held a staff, which he kept using to hurl waves of sparkling green light at… pretty much everyone in the room, including Ghoul.
The lights would’ve been beautiful if they hadn’t been coming from a monster. They clearly were evil though, because every time they hit Ghoul she screamed in rage and redoubled her efforts to attack. Her attacks were useless though, each one warded away by the massive hunk of shield Beardy Wall wore.
‘Get em, Ghoul! You can do it!’ I exclaimed in my mind, excited to see her change targets and knock Beardy Wall off his feet in frustration. Unfortunately, Green Tooth finished his weird chanting and another, more powerful burst of green light surrounded Ghoul.
Ghoul screamed, but her scream was abruptly cut off when Red Hood jumped in, slicing her throat.
I wanted to shout a warning but the instinct had other plans. Before I knew what was happening, I darted from my burning hiding place while the others were distracted. Beardy Wall was on the ground, unsteadily trying to get back to his feet, and completely unguarded. The instinct guiding me, my shocker sparked with electric fury.
I jabbed him in the back of his neck and heard a satisfying scream that was almost drowned out by the static zap from my shocker. He flopped back to the ground, listless, and I stared in wonder at my shocker. Had I made that terrible sound? I’d always called it a shocker, but never really knew why. Now I did.
His body was twitching, but I didn’t wait around to find out if he was broken or not. I hid myself before turning to view the results of my actions, instinct overpowering any desire to linger.
Beardy Wall was down, either unconscious or broken; his body wasn’t moving. A strange, murky angel was hovering near him, but it was barely visible. Transparent, like Bugbear and the others had been just before disappearing completely. Next to the short man’s body was a little gravestone.
“Oh son of a… Germ, you’re supposed to focus on healing, not dps! You let Egs die, you idiot!” shouted the tallest one, the man with the silver metal clothes and the big hammer.
“Ahh shud’up, Toby!” Green Tooth’s voice didn’t match his stature. He sounded… small. Nasally. Unnatural. How could such a weak sound come from such a mighty creature?
“Come on, I never get the chance to attack! Besides, he’s fine! Right, Egs…?” Green Tooth trailed off, looking at Beardy Wall’s body.
I flashed yellow for a moment, anticipating the same horror I’d felt when they’d broken and disappeared my Bugbears!
“Son of a bitch, did he get hit that hard? My bad. Have him up in a second!” Green Tooth responded with a flippant grin.
‘Wait, what?’ I thought.
Where was the despair? Where was the mind numbing chill? They’d broken my friends and I’d barely been able to move! The hurt was so raw and fresh it was all I could do not to run away screaming. I wanted them back! I wanted to hurt these people!
But breaking one of their friends didn’t seem to have the same effect on them as it had on me. Were they just… so cruel? Did they not care about their own?
What did he mean by ‘have him up’?
Green Tooth began chanting again and a strange symbol appeared glowing on the ground in a circle around him. His words were low and guttural, but loud enough that I could hear that they were complete gibberish. But that gibberish was having a definite effect on the land around.
My desire to jump out and shock him just like I had done to – Egs? – to Beardy Wall warred with the instinct. Unlike Beardy, Green Tooth was being watched by the others. I would be spotted and then maybe broken just like my family if I tried now.
I held back and watched as more glowing white lights appeared far above, along with tiny cherubim, floating around in the vortex. Then I watched as the gravestone and the transparent angel disappeared, instead leaving a dazed but very much alive invader pulling himself to his feet.
“Did she hit you that hard? Dav is doing just fine, and you’re higher level than him! What the hell, Egs?” Green Tooth asked the newly revived creature.
“Wasn’t the ghoul at all! There’s a… assassin jellyfish or something in here! It insta-merked me!”
I growled. How? How had it seen me? I’d been so fast, and had never let myself be seen by it! I was behind it the whole time!
“I didn’t even see it, cept in the replay!” Beardy Wall continued, oblivious to my quivering fear at these immortal monsters, who could see while broken and be fixed by shiny lights. “I think that might be why this dungeon is so hard to reach. I think it's a secret mob!”
“Hey! Little help with the pissed off ghoul!?” shouted the tall metal one who Ghoul had focused on after he’d shouted at her. “I’m off tank, you assholes!”
Not questioning my first thought, I decided to refer to him as Tall Metal, and hoped Ghoul would knock him away like she had done to Beardy Wall. No such luck though. Tall Metal would let Ghoul attack him, which kept creating openings for the Red Hood to come in and stab her over and over again. Watching the girl move, I mentally renamed her Red Thorn. She was so fast, her hands moving with those daggers at speeds I couldn’t follow.
“Hey… did you change your name?” Green Tooth asked Beardy Wall. “Hah! That’s great! Beardy Wall! I love it! Way better than that longass auto generated bullshit you went with.”
“What the hell are you talking about? Also, watch Toby’s health yeah?” Beardy Wall exclaimed before diving back into melee range and bashing Ghoul with his shield.
On the other side of Ghoul, Tall Metal was still letting Ghoul whale on him, striking with his sword occasionally, but mostly hiding behind his huge shield.
“Newbie dungeon eh!?” Tall Metal shouted as he took blow after blow without falling, green light from Green Tooth seemingly restoring him before Ghoul could do any lasting damage.
“Well! The first few floors were, anyway!” Red Thorn exclaimed, dodging a wicked claw that might’ve raked her in two, had it connected.
Ghoul was fighting for her life and these… these… jerks were laughing about it! How could they be so cruel?
I resolved to break them all. No. To… to kill them all. That was the word. That’s what they had done to Bugbear and the rest. Killed them. Not broken. Killed.
If I could take down Green Tooth then maybe the rest of them couldn’t come back. Then… maybe at least I could still have Momma Bossbear with me.
‘Oh, Bugbear,” I thought with grief.
Like a neon sign in front of me, my opening appeared. Green Tooth was completely unwatched by his fellow monsters and I dashed forward like lightning, shocker bearing down on the green-skinned creature.
I struck true, and while Green Tooth screamed, he only slumped to one knee instead of falling to his death. Was his green skin resistant to my shocker? He was much bigger than Beardy Wall but he also seemed flimsier. I thought he would’ve gone down easier.
I dove for the safety of the lamps to the sound of Green Tooth’s agony.
“Oh my god, get that fucking thing! Watch my back, Egs! Low on mana from rezzing you!” he hissed as he was once more enveloped in green light.
I waited patiently for another opening, but unfortunately, Ghoul didn’t capitalize on Green Tooth’s injury. Instead, she single mindedly focused on bashing the metal plate out of Tall Metal’s hands. For a brief moment I was baffled by her complete unwillingness to change targets. Did Tall Metal’s armor just make her mad or something? Could she not see that Green Tooth was vulnerable?
I examined Tall Metal for a while, but almost leaped out of my sconce when a massive fireball hurled through the fighters and slammed into Ghoul. Ghoul’s body was tossed around like a pebble and landed a few feet away, smoldering as she screamed in agony. I was horrified, but almost glad when she collapsed into silence, a charred ruin of her former self. She looked just like Crumbling Bones now, except her bones were black and burned. Her dark aura was gone and the purple rags she wore were nothing but ash.
“No!” I screamed mentally, careful not to speak aloud, lest they kill me, too. “No…”
I turned to the last member of the party. She’d been chanting for a long time, but hadn’t had any pretty lights like Green Tooth. I’d… ignored her. Stupid Gell! I should’ve known better. Green Tooth’s chanting always did something! Why had I assumed her’s wouldn’t?
Fire Tosser. She could throw fire with words! How… how!?
“Great fucking shot, Aira!” Tall Metal shouted exuberantly. “So… maybe not such a newbie dungeon after all?”
“I mean, the thing was still pretty weak. Resistant to stabbing, otherwise I’d have taken it out easy,” said Red Thorn. “But Toby’s right. Good shot, Aira. You didn’t kill any of us this time!”
Fire Tosser blushed, her pink cheeks turning red like mine did when Bugbear growled at me after singing to him.
‘These monsters regularly kill each other?’ I thought frantically. What sort of devils were these?
“Oh, shut up, puny human. If you were an Elf you’d be resistant to magic,” Fire Tosser replied imperiously, though there was an edge of laughter to the tone.
The word struck me like a bolt. Human. Red Thorn was a human. They weren’t all though. The names had come to me before, but I didn’t want to apply more words that might make me sympathize with these murderers. Dwarf. Orc. Elf… Human. All the same monster to me.
But… they talked. Even as they killed the only family I’d ever known, I yearned.
Were they… were they a family, just like me and the Bugbears and Skeletons and Ghoul? But even closer? Why had these horrible creatures been allowed conversation and laughter while I’d been living with nothing but growls for my entire life, starved for so much as a smile?
I immediately felt guilty for the thought. I loved my family… but they never seemed to love me back. I hated these invaders even more. Their easy conversation as they recuperated after killing another one of my family members just made me more and more resentful. I would kill them. When they fought Mama Bossbear, I would be ready. I’d target Green Tooth first. Then they’d all die.
Support "Artificial Jelly"
- United States
I'm Materia-Blade. I've been a long time fanfiction writer, and have recently decided to toss my hat into the original fiction arena. I love fantasy, sci-fi, and Lit-RPG's and have read hundreds of books from each genre.
My new story Artificial Jelly has released and is currently being pretty well received! Excited for it to hit trending! Thanks to those who support it, and me, and I hope it continues to impress!
Hope to hear from you soon!