Chapter Nine – Hidden Gell
I stared hard at the battle below me, cowering despite my earlier resolve to become her nightmare. Just like I’d thought I would.
Red Thorn was mad. As mad as Momma Bossbear had been the only time I’d seen her fight. Apparently, she was growing frustrated with my continued absence from her battles. The instinct called and I did not answer. I couldn’t help but follow her though. She was far more interesting than anything else in my life.
So I watched her… and looked away whenever she killed the bugbears.
For once, she didn’t seem to be on the lookout for me. Instead she was just enjoying dancing between Bugrimace and Overbear, stabbing them with an absolutely reckless flurry that seemed more rage than grace.
I’d decided to stop following the instinct, but if I were still planning to ambush her, I could almost think I’d catch her, acting like this. She was leaving openings that she normally didn’t, rushing where she was normally careful. I watched the Bugbears almost catch her more than once, but she was just too fast for that to actually happen.
She killed them all, Bugbear included. I grimaced at that, though watching my… the bugbears die was no longer horrifying to me. Even him.
Bugbear had looked at me after I’d broken the instinct, and for a moment I thought he might break free, too. Unfortunately, he remained one of the Bugbears. One of the family that I’d never really belonged to.
Whatever mild struggle he was managing, I didn’t see it again. He followed the instinct. And… I no longer would.
Somewhere along the way I’d stopped referring to the Bugbears as family. I didn’t remember how many cycles it had taken, but in all the time since Red Thorn’s attacks had begun, none of them had ever expressed any dissatisfaction with their lot in life. Even in death, they were content. Somehow, unlike me, the Bugbears were satisfied with dying over and over again.
They never tried anything new. They never did anything new. At least the instinct allowed me to attack from different directions but the bugbears were… plain stupid!
I resented that about them. I resented the ease with which they seemed to accept being murdered. The lack of any attempt to protect themselves or change their lives.
I couldn’t be like that. I couldn’t follow like that. Not when it so often led to pain, and the nothing afterwards. That terrible sensation of waking and not remembering how I’d rejoined the cycle. No. I needed more for myself. I needed more from those I would call family.
So… the Bugbears became just that. The bugbears. Only Bugbear himself held a special place. The one who tried. The one who dreamed of breaking the instinct but just didn’t seem to be able to do so.
“Fuck you, you damn jellybitch! Where the hell are you!?” Red Thorn screamed below. I jumped, startled out of my thoughts. I almost leapt out of the crevice in the ceiling I’d been hiding in. It wouldn’t have mattered if I did, though. I was completely invisible at the moment, but she’d still scared me.
‘Jellybitch?’ I thought, delighted by the new word. ‘Was that a pun on my name? What’s a… bitch?’
“Bitch bitch bitch!” I hummed to myself, too low for her to hear.
Red Thorn screamed in frustration before turning for the exit and leaving the dungeon. A new yellow joy swept over me. She might come back, or she might not. Either way, this was far more enjoyable than getting killed every few cycles!
I flitted about in the air, casually breaking the instinct like I used to, wondering how I had ever thought it was something sacred.
Still, in the back of my mind, I feared becoming like the invaders. Even if I wasn’t following the instinct anymore, I didn’t want to be like Red Thorn. Attacking over and over again, hurting others, even if they didn’t seem to mind overly much after the fact. Looting their corpses.
Not for me. No way.
Unfortunately, whenever Red Thorn wasn’t here running herself ragged trying to find out why I had disappeared, I was left with nothing to do, and nothing new to entertain me.
Now that I’d decided to discard the instinct, I was no longer bound by the rules, but that didn’t mean I was brave enough to break the big ones.
I found myself at the exit to Dungeon Home, staring out into the Great-Open, wishing I could gather the courage to actually float into it.
I wouldn’t. I knew I wouldn’t. But every cycle I got a little closer. It was so beautiful and bright out there. What would it be like to blend into the green of the forest outside, rather than the blues and reds and browns of my Dungeon Home?
Would it be different? Would it be the same? Would I meet other people out there who could talk and think and break their instinct?
I didn’t know. But I could dream.
A few cycles later, I was so bored that for the first time in a long time, the torches lighting up bright red filled me with excitement instead of dread.
I wouldn’t be participating in the fight, but I would get to watch again. I would get to see the different things Red Thorn did. The different ways she acted. I would get to see something, anything new.
“That Bugbear boss destroyed us, Red. And it's still level seventeen. We’ve all gained one level, and you’ve only gained two. Are you sure we can do this?”
‘Oh god. It's all five of them again!’ I thought, bubbling with excitement as I hid in my usual crevice near the great-open and peeked out on the invaders.
I hadn’t seen the other four since the very first time, when I’d died before Momma Bossbear could finish them. Finally! I had proof that she had actually beaten all of the invaders! I wasn’t too surprised. Momma Bossbear was amazing.
“Trust me. I got this,” Red Thorn said. “I might not have gained any levels but I’ve improved a shit ton. I soloed the Ghoul.”
‘Shit… ton?’ I salivated over the new pieces of language as they flowed like water down a cave wall. Wait. What was… soloed? She’d used that word before but I’d been too busy at the time to worry about it. Now, with time to think and listen, I could puzzle out the meaning.
So by saying she “Soloed Ghoul,” did that mean she’d managed to kill Ghoul on her own at some point, after killing me?
I was still frustratingly unsure of how many cycles passed until I came back after dying. Was it just one? Two? Five? I had no way to know for sure, though now that I wasn’t engaging every time she entered, I knew it took about a cycle for the Bugbears to return. I wished I could ask Bugbear how long it took me to come back, but he only ever growled.
“That’s a lie. It took all five of us to kill that thing, and even then we lost Egs. Twice!” Green Tooth exclaimed irritated.
“Things are different now. Trust me. I’ve been playing a lot these past few months!” Red Thorn exclaimed.
As I examined them, I realized that they weren’t quite the same five. Tall Metal was gone. Instead there was a woman, wearing similar metal armor. She was an Elf, from her face and ears, though I couldn’t tell much more than that. She carried a tall shield like Tall Metal had.
Actually, the shield she carried was huge, even compared to Tall Metal’s. Taller than her own body. A giant hunk of metal that gleamed silver.
It was easier to enjoy these invasions when I didn’t have to worry about dying. The relative relaxation I felt watching them now was a drastic contrast to the time before Red Thorn’s attacks. How many cycles had it been since the torches changing color had been enough to send me into a panic? A hundred? Five hundred? How many invasions had I endured?
I’d never know for sure.
I was smarter now. Plus, seeing Red Thorn blow up when she couldn’t find me was… actually kind of fun, in a morbid sort of way. I couldn’t kill her, but she’d kept returning to this cave for me. Denying her what she wanted was the best revenge I could think of. Plus… she was still the only source of entertainment I had.
“Here they come…” the new girl, Metal Hunk, declared. I could hear the apprehension in her voice.
“They weren’t too tough last time, but they are quick to take advantage if you make a mistake. Watch out for the clubs. They can knock your shield right out of your hands,” Beardy Wall told Metal Hunk.
“Alright. I’ll… keep… hey, what the hell!” Metal Hunk shouted in alarm.
Red Thorn dashed right into the middle of the six bugbears like she usually did. Her anger from her last visit was entirely gone. Her movements were fluid and graceful, every strike landing precisely where they needed to in order to most efficiently destroy my… the bugbears. I shuddered in sympathy for them as they were slaughtered with brutal efficiency.
Beardy Wall, Fire Tosser, Metal Hunk, and Green Tooth stared at Red Thorn in dumbfounded shock.
“Sorry,” Thorn said as she casually sliced her blade through Bugbear’s throat, bringing the cave into sudden silence. “Didn’t figure you guys wanted to waste time here.”
“That…” Beardy Wall said, dumbfounded.
“Wow,” Fire Tosser exclaimed. “I… uh… I mean. You’ve gotten faster.”
“I have!” Red Thorn preened. “Thanks for noticing!”
“How the hell…?” Green Tooth asked, annoyed. “You were not that fast five weeks ago, and two levels should not make that much of a difference! What changed?”
Red Thorn grinned like she had a secret. I supposed she did. I could still hear her telling me about looting crystals from my body. About how useful they were.
I shuddered. Well, I was no longer following the instinct that let her kill me. Instead, I’d be the one using them. Learning from them. Learning new words. Maybe even learning about the Great Open.
I was about to follow them down the hall when Metal Hunk screamed.
“What the hell happened to my name?!” she screeched in a voice that could wake the Bugbears.
“Oh, did it change too? What did it…? Heh. Heheh. M-Me… Haha! Oh my god, you’re a metal hunk!” Green Tooth guffawed, clutching his middle and laughing so hard I wondered if he’d somehow found a way to make his own personal Bugbear talk back to him. That was the only thing I could think of that might make me so happy.
As he continued laughing at the name I had chosen, I began to grow a bit offended.
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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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