Chapter Four – Fighting the Tide
“Where the hell is it? Does it pop out of the ceiling or some shit?” Green Tooth exclaimed. I was quickly realizing that Green Tooth was by far the loudest of the invaders. Fire Tosser, by contrast, hardly ever spoke. Instead the Elf girl was content to be directed to throw fireballs at random spots in the ceiling over and over again, while I shuddered within the torch flames.
“It isn’t here anymore, Germ. Just get over it already,” Red Thorn said snidely. “I bet whatever it is doesn’t show itself until the boss room. Did anyone think that Ghoul was the boss of this dungeon?”
“I kinda hoped,” Beardy Wall replied.
“So no. Good. Then we continue on.”
She flicked the air and my eyes widened as a strange transparent screen appeared in front of her. She poked at it a few times. To my shock, I could understand all of the symbols, despite having never seen them in my life.
Name: Red Thorn
“It's possible we may have found a Deep Dungeon,” she continued, seemingly uncaring as she glanced over the phenomenon in front of her. “Not likely but possible, so lets… hey. What the hell?”
She pointed frantically at the screen. “My name changed! Red Thorn? Is that a feature of the dungeon?”
“Hey, mine too! I’m Tall Metal!” said the tall armored man as he, too, pulled up a strange window with statistics listed on it. “This is fucking awesome! I wonder if it's permanent? I was getting kind of tired of being Cut-Off-Your-Socks-97. To get a name like this you’d have to have played in the beta!”
“Green Tooth here,” Green Tooth said. “And I did play in the Beta! I liked my name just fine. Does the dungeon just automatically do this?”
‘Did I do that?’ I thought, curiously. I had given them those names, but only in my head.
“Maybe it reverts after we leave the dungeon? Perhaps these are just temporary monikers assigned when you come in?” Fire Tosser suggested speaking for the first time. “Fire Tosser. Heh. It's like a kid saw what we did and decided to label us based solely on that.”
“I’m a Beardy Wall!” The Dwarf guffawed. “Ahh, a dungeon with a sense of humor! I love it!”
“I’m… actually partial to mine too,” Red Thorn said. “Better than Andisarei Lavanaiya. Do you know how long it took me to find a name that didn’t have numbers in it?”
‘These creatures choose their own names?’ I thought, becoming interested in their conversation and hating myself for it. They’d just killed my family! The instinct insisted I try to kill them myself! But… they were interesting.
‘And since when did any of your family ever care about you anyway?’ I shied away from the thought. They might not speak the same way I did… they might not do anything new, and maybe I was deluding myself about Bugbear’s growls, but they were mine. All I’d ever known. I’d grown with them. So what if I’d grown beyond them?
‘Dammit, Gell. There’s that arrogance again,” I thought, frustrated with myself. Frustrated with my own interest in these creatures. The kinship I felt just because I could actually understand them, while my family… didn’t have anything to say.
The group began to gather up, collecting bits and pieces from… ugh. They were looting Ghoul’s body. Disgusting creatures. Awful. Had they done that to Bugbear!?
My own desire to strike warred with both the instinct and common sense. If they could beat Ghoul they’d have no problem chopping my gelatinous membrane into bits. I was fast and I could be invisible. If I lost that... Then I’d end up just like Ghoul. Just like Bugbear. Just… gone.
There weren’t many rooms between Momma Bossbear’s throne room and the oval chamber where they’d killed Ghoul. They’d banished their screens during my bout of introspection and were now cautiously advancing. Their eyes were peeled, but I found that avoiding detection was surprisingly easy, flitting behind them from flame to flame as the instinct directed.
I silently prayed they would leave. Just go. Leave Momma Bossbear and I alone. Hadn’t they taken enough? But I knew they wouldn’t. The greedy creatures. They’d stolen my family. Hell, they’d probably stolen the precious gift of conversation they displayed so readily.
I wondered, if I stopped them… could I maybe take their ability to converse? I’d give it to Bug…! But no. Bugbear was dead. I could only give it to Momma Bossbear. If I could even figure out how to take it. I didn’t think their language would be lying around on their corpses.
If it was though, I would take it. I would take it and never give it back!
They continued on, down through the last few corridors. Momma Bossbear roared once more between the short journey and I realized that she’d been angrily challenging the invaders ever since they’d entered. I scowled a little at the thought. Momma Bossbear could’ve helped Ghoul. Why didn’t she?
That didn’t matter though. I focused, making certain none of the monsters spotted me as I dashed behind them. They kept shooting wary glances back, and there were a few close calls where my shocker might’ve been spotted entering or leaving the flames.
They didn’t attack though, quietly conversing out of my hearing range. They laughed occasionally, merrily clawing their way through my home. I quaked in quiet anticipation as they neared Momma Bossbear’s lair though. She would show them. Surely she would.
Large stone doors opened, sliding seamlessly across the ornate flooring of the lower levels of the cave, revealing Momma Bossbear and her throne. With all the changes happening today, it shouldn’t have shocked me, but when she stood, her head rising halfway to the top of the cave’s vaulted ceiling, I marveled. Momma Bossbear was moving, and she was huge!
I zipped passed the open door and into another flame while the invaders were distracted by Momma Bossbear’s enormity. The instinct pushed me whenever I let it so my mind was free to gape in wonder at her too.
“Newbie… dungeon?” Tall Metal said, eyes wide underneath that helmet he wore.
“Alright, alright I get it! I was wrong! Holy fuck, it’s level seventeen,” Red Thorn replied, her own eyes riveted on Dungeon Home’s undisputed leader.
“Yes,” I whispered, glad that they were afraid.
“Did you hear–!”
Whatever Beardy Wall had been about to say was cut off entirely by Momma Bossbear’s roar. Rage filled her eyes and drool dripped from her mouth. If she weren’t my family even I might’ve been scared of her.
She charged on all fours, barrelling down the massive chamber towards the party of disturbed invaders. She had two weapons on her back, a halberd and a battleaxe, but she didn’t draw them. She didn’t need them.
“Scatter!” Red Thorn shouted, before dashing away from Momma Bossbear, her speed incredible.
The others were… significantly less incredible. Fire Tosser screamed and hurled a fireball towards the ceiling which missed Momma entirely in her mad flight. Tall Metal got mostly out of the way, but on her way past him Momma’s huge arm clipped his shield, sending him sprawling to the ground.
Green Tooth got out of the way in time but Beardy Wall tripped and screamed as he was crushed under Momma Bossbear’s huge claws.
“Oh my god, again, Egs?” Green Tooth groaned.
I wouldn’t get a better chance. I blasted from my hiding place, a tongue of flame licking the air behind me as electricity pulsed between the small tendrils that made up my shocker. I heard a yelp of warning from Red Thorn, but she was too slow to warn Green Tooth. I caught him completely unaware and stung him right between his armor and skull. He flopped to the ground, clawing gingerly at his neck, a sizzling electrical burn scalded into his green skin.
The scream drew Momma Bossbear’s attention. Perfect.
“It's that damn Jellyfish! It got Germ!” Red Thorn shouted. “Toby! Voke it! Voke the fucker!”
Tall Metal was still on the ground, dazed. He was trying to get back to his feet but he was too slow. Momma Bossbear was closing in on Green Tooth, drawing the huge halberd off her back.
I yelped as a blade just missed slicing through my membrane and darted back into the fire, then flashed as fast as I could to the next and the next, then back. The flame from each of the torches danced in wide arcs, obscuring which torch I was hiding in.
‘I didn’t know I could do that!’ I thought.
Green Tooth was chanting, but he kept twitching, lingering damage from my shock interrupting his ability to speak. I saw his eyes go wide as Momma Bossbear swung.
That was all it took. The halberd cleaved Green Tooth’s belly, slicing his robes and spraying Momma Bossbear with his blood. He toppled backward and Momma stomped on him with her colossal foot.
One invader down. No. Two. Beardy Wall had died again from being trampled.
“Shit. Shit. This is a freaking wash! Healer’s down,” Red Thorn called out, annoyed.
Annoyed. Not afraid. Not at all what she should be. I couldn’t figure it out. They were facing certain defeat. Probably death. The person who could bring them back to life was now gone. I could see the transparent angel and the stone that marked where he’d died. His body was already disappearing, just like Bugbear’s. But they weren’t reacting like it mattered. Instead they were just… annoyed. Like this was a minor inconvenience!
Somehow that made me even more angry.
“Don’t give up yet, Red! We can take it!”
“Not with that damn assassin jellyfish striking when we don’t expect it. Aira! Use water or ice magic on the torches! It’s hiding in them!”
“I know!” Fire Tosser shouted indignantly, obviously lying.
‘Wait, water magic!?’
She lifted her hands and began to speak in a soft monotone, the same gibberish that Green Tooth had used.
‘Oh no you don’t!’ I thought. This time when I fled the flames, I did so directly at her. She’d shown she would panic at a head on attack, when Momma Bossbear had charged her. Something about realizing this made the instinct scream that I should take advantage. Sure enough, she squealed and lost focus of her spell when she saw me coming. She’d apparently said enough words in that other language though because her flailing sent a jet of frozen ice from her outstretched hand. The bolt missed me, but by luck managed to hit the torch I’d just vacated, snuffing it out with a hiss of smoke.
I abandoned my attack, rushing for the nearest torch and following the instinct as I flitted between them, obscuring which one I actually resided in again. Fire Tosser didn’t stop though. She recovered and again began chanting, this time staring at one of the torches on the far side of the room.
‘Oh no!’ I thought, realizing that as long as Fire Tosser could toss water too, she could whittle away at my hiding places!
Well. Not all of them. I could turn invisible, but that went against the instinct.
‘But… I glow,’ I thought with a rising panic. If I couldn’t go invisible, I’d be unable to hide in the darkness!
Was… was it worth it to die to follow the instinct?
I decided at that moment that it was. It definitely was. I did not want to be like these people. They had ignored their instinct. I didn’t think they could even hear it anymore. I would follow my instinct, and if I was broken…killed... at least I might go to the same place Bugbear had gone.
Fortunately, that didn’t seem likely today. Tall Metal had managed to stand, and had drawn Momma Bossbear’s attention away from Beardy Wall’s corpse, but unlike Ghoul, Momma was strong. Each swipe with her claw sent Tall Metal sprawling.
Only Red Thorn remained unhurt. She danced and dodged between Momma’s cursory strikes faster than I could believe. As active as she seemed to be though, peppering Momma with thin stabs that didn’t seem to do anything, it wasn’t enough to distract her from Tall Metal. The man was flagging. His shield looked battered and one of the straps that held it to his arm was broken. When he was dead like Green Tooth and Beardy Wall, and then Momma could bring her full attention to bear on Red Thorn. Then even she would fall.
So my job, obviously, was to keep Fire Tosser from throwing more fire.
Red Thorn made it her mission to hover near the spellcaster, preventing me from attacking her, flipping between distracting Momma from Tall Metal and keeping me from taking out the mage, which allowed her to throw ice bolt after ice bolt at my diminishing torches. That was okay though.
If I couldn’t get to one of them…
I circled around the room, taking longer and riskier runs to get into a good spot to ambush Tall Metal who’d been left out of position while the Thorn kept protecting Fire Tosser.
Momma Bossbear didn’t even seem tired as she struck the tall armored man over and over again, never allowing him the opportunity to do anything but block with his crumbling shield.
“Toby! Watch out,” Red Thorn cried, in seemingly the same moment as I saw a perfect opening. Already committed, I dashed forward towards the metal man, hoping to catch his hand or neck with my shocker. As if anticipating my move, he grinned and held up his hand.
I tried to change course but moved far too slowly. A bright flash blasted out from his gauntlet, blinding me. I stabbed my shocker wildly where I thought he’d been standing, but caught only air.
I panicked, but the instinct protected me, taking over my movements and guiding me while I was lost.
I flailed and my body undulated through the air in a mad tumble that the instinct insisted upon. Fortunately, if attacks came while I was blinded, I didn’t feel them. I didn’t have eyes in the same way as the bugbears. Yet, I could see. I could be blinded. How did that even make sense!?
I… blinked metaphorically, as my vision slowly recovered and realized I had reached the safety of one of the torches. Momma Bossbear had distracted all three of the remaining invaders to cover my escape. Tall Metal stood in a corner of the chamber, valiantly standing between Momma Bossbear and his companion Fire Tosser.
Red Thorn was constantly dancing around the battlefield, but she seemed unable or unwilling to realize that her strikes were doing nothing to Momma Bossbear.
Fire Tosser had extinguished almost half the torches in the room while I’d been blinded and they fought on the other side of the room, far from any of the still burning ones.Unfortunately, I couldn’t attack any of them with any chance of ambushing them.
‘Unless I break the instinct again,’ I thought.
But… why? I didn’t feel in danger anymore. The invaders were faltering. Breaking, like they’d broken my family. Breaking like the instinct they either ignored, or never had. Breaking like the rules.
I just… I just wanted things to go back. I didn’t want all this excitement. I didn’t want invaders. I didn’t want Momma Bossbear angry and frothing. I wanted her on her throne like she’d always been. I wanted to fool myself into believing Bugbear’s growls were at me and not… not part of the cycle again.
I didn’t want this…
“Just go away,” I whispered, feeling guilty. “Leave us alone!”
“Huh?” Red Thorn paused, turning back to look at me.
That split second of distraction allowed Momma Bossbear to rake her claws across Thorn’s back. The human didn’t scream, but tumbled to the floor, her leather armor taking the brunt of the strike. She rolled along the ground, seemingly uninjured, and was back on her feet in moments, snarling in my direction.
“Hey! Just let it kill you! I’ll meet you at respawn! The bear’s no threat to me, but I can’t hurt it! I’m going to try to take down that damn jellyfish!”
“The bear will kill you while you’re hunting it!” Tall Metal yelled over the clang of claw on shield.
‘Goodness, how was that shield still functional?’ I thought, staring at the scrap of metal that had once glistened with beauty. Now it only glistened with bloody gouges, more chunks cut out of it than there was metal remaining.
“Then if you distract it, your death won’t be in vain, you putz!”
I smiled. Then… then I yearned. Would I ever get to talk with anyone like that? Would I ever get to joke? To laugh? The bugbears never showed any inclination of speaking back to me. But… they were my family, weren’t they? And Momma Bossbear was the last of my family.
I shoved down the longing and followed the instinct. Tall Metal screamed as he accidentally stepped into the way of one of Fire Tosser’s fireballs. Momma Bossbear tore through the broken man, aiming to sink her Halberd or her claw into Fire Tosser’s fragile flesh.
The instinct pushed me, and I blurred forward. Fire Tosser was distracted. She was wide open, but Bossbear might get hurt attacking her. I had to stop her!
“Hah! Got you!”
I only had a moment to turn in horror before I saw the edge of a knife gleaming in the torchlight. I screamed. Agony ripped through my body as the knife impaled me straight through my membrane. I gaped as it took me with it and pinned me to the wall.
I struggled but that only made my body burn where the knife was stabbing me. Liquid was leaking out of me.
It hurt. I whimpered.
“Yes! I got it!” Red Thorn exclaimed gleefully, grinning at me.
It hurt so bad.
“Oh. Still alive?” the voice was filled with a delighted glee. She enjoyed this. Enjoyed hurting me.
“We’ll fix that.”
I never knew that words could be so terrifying.
Another blade flashed from her outstretched hand.
The pain ended.
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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!
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