Chapter Seven: Dexterity Check
I was much closer to the top of the dungeon when the torches lit red again. Invaders. What had happened outside to make them come so suddenly?
I’d been alone with my family for hundreds of cycles. Thousands. Maybe more.
Then all of a sudden the invaders came. Now, only a few cycles later, more had returned. Well, at least I wouldn’t have to deal with those jerks that came the first time. This time, I would be ready. I would be there when Bugbear and the others were attacked, and I might even be able to stop it.
I knew what I might find, and was prepared for it.
I reached the top floor, making sure to follow the instinct and stay well hidden. Electricity ran through my shocker as I saw Bugrimace on the ground already, but none of the others seemed to have arrived yet.
Following the path further down the hall, pleasantly surprised that the instinct was directing me off the usual path of my cycle, I flitted to a torch around the first corner of the cave.
I froze, staring in shock.
How? How? How could she be back? Momma Bossbear had killed her! I’d been so sure! No one had been in the cave after I’d woken up! I was so sure that Momma was stronger than the invaders! She was faster and bigger and stronger than all five of the invaders together!
So how could Red Thorn be standing before her now?
The hooded rogue was engaged with two of my Bugbears, and she seemed to dance around the wild swings of their clubs with barely a thought.
‘These invaders can’t be stopped,’ I thought with despair. ‘They’ll kill us over and over again. We…’
Then, another thought occurred. I’d seen my family broken – dead! – and they’d come back too. Just like the invaders. Death wasn’t permanent. Maybe… maybe even death was beholden to the cycle and the instinct. That was good though! The invaders might be unstoppable… but maybe my family was too!
Red Thorn moved with grace, poise, and deadly purpose all blended into one. Her arm flashed and I saw a glint of metal dance in the torchlight. Her blade sliced Overbear’s fingers, forcing him to drop the club he’d been vainly trying to smash into her. He screamed in pain, backing away.
‘Oh no… Overbear!’ I gasped inwardly. Then I grimaced as rage flushed through my body. It was lucky the torches were red, because I was burning with the red color of rage and fire. How dare this invader hurt my family!?
Red Thorn didn’t follow up with the attack, as I knew she could’ve. In fact, her eyes weren’t even on the Bugbears. Instead, she gazed almost longingly at a torch on the opposite side of the room from me. She was looking at the torches, where I hid! She was looking for me!
Terror welled up in me, as she casually disarmed Butterbear without killing him either. Instead, she grabbed his arm after another wide clumsy swing with his rusty broadsword, and casually plucked the weapon from his hand. He scrabbled wildly, clawing at her with his free hand, but Red Thorn bopped him on the head with the flat end of the rusty sword, sending him plummeting to the ground. He moaned in pain, trying and failing to rise, just like Buggy.
“Come on, come on, where are you? Show yourself,” the human creature mumbled to herself. “Don’t tell me you only show up in the bossroom. I know I saw you outside the boss fight so you must be in here…” She was mumbling under her breath. Why would she do that?
I thought about fleeing, and never going near her. She’d just told me she was looking for me, and she clearly wanted to kill me. But fleeing went against the instinct. Fortunately, attacking did too. She was wary and armed, and it seemed like the instinct only wanted me to attack distracted or busy enemies.
To my shock, she lowered her daggers and turned to face an empty wall.
“Come on, I’m wiiiide open,” she said aloud.
If I’d had eyes I might’ve rolled them. Did she really think that I would–!
My instinct took over before my mind could keep up. I blurred forward, Shocker ready to strike her unprotected back.
‘No! No! Instinct, this is wrong! I…!’ I thought, too slow to do anything as my body acted.
Red Thorn turned and grinned, whipping a dagger around towards me. I watched her expression morph from joy to shock as I flashed towards her. She was too slow! I was faster than her! My shocker caught her right in her face, while her menacing dagger slipped from paralyzed fingers. She screamed and dropped to the floor, writhing and twitching as electricity coursed through her body.
The instinct… maybe it knew what I didn’t? Had it somehow known that I would be faster than her?
I felt a wellspring of belief growing within me. The instinct was watching over me. It was with me! Guiding my movements. Protecting me.
‘But then… why didn’t it protect my family?’ The thought crossed the back of my mind, but I didn’t allow it to gain purchase. Instead, I focused on the paralyzed girl as she tried in vain to rise, but seemed unable to.
The bugbears could though.
I didn’t feel any happiness as the invader was beaten by the recovered bugbears. I didn’t feel joy. Just relief. Relief and sadness. She could speak to me. Why did she seem so determined to hurt me then?
The lights of the torches faded back to their usual blue as Red Thorn faded from existence, her battered and bloody body disappearing without a trace. The angel and the stone marker appeared near where her corpse had lain, and I stayed around to watch them, recovering with my Bugbears. They disappeared a short while later as well, and soon the instinct was pulling me back into the cycle.
To my immense relief I found Bugrimace alive and well when my cycle next intersected his. As if he’d never been hurt. He didn’t seem to remember the event, or care that it had happened.
Just… content to follow the instinct. I passed him on and said nothing. I smiled inside, letting my color shift to a happy yellow. The instinct was there for us.
That was the moment the torches turned red again.
My shocker twitched.
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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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