Chapter Nineteen – Another Kind of Flight
“O… Overbear?” I asked, tentatively. “It’s me, Gell. You know me, right?” I asked, gingerly gripping a stalagmite for balance as my new legs wobbled.
Overbear didn’t hesitate. It wasn’t in his instinct. He charged, bellowing like he always did.
“Overbear!?” I squeaked, not really believing what I was seeing.
The creature was upon me in moments, and it was only my long time spent dodging invaders that gave me the ability to slide out of the way of Overbear’s crashing club.
I darted backwards and the club smashed against the ground where I’d been standing, leaving the bugbear overbalanced, but somehow managing to hold steady myself.
I could’ve shocked him. I could still feel the power of my shocker, now in my hands instead of an actual appendage, but I didn’t.
I couldn’t. I was one of them now… and the instinct told Overbear to attack me. I had hurt Momma Bossbear. How could I have done that? How could I have shocked her? She hadn’t done anything to deserve that. She’d just… followed the instinct. Just like Overbear was doing right now.
I jumped, again barely dodging the bugbear’s one-handed side-swing. I realized mid-movement what he would do next — the same thing he always did.
I stepped to the side and watched the club light up as he used a power attack that left streaks of red light in the trail of the weapon. It smashed into the ground, breaking like it always did if he hit it against a wall or floor too much.
He growled and screamed at me.
I… pitied him. Unfortunately, he was trying to kill me. I couldn’t hurt him, but I wouldn’t let myself be killed by him if I could avoid it.
The instinct was gone. The instinct was gone. I didn’t know how to describe the feeling. It felt like a failure to beat the instinct this way. To have broken and become like the invaders in body as well as soul, but if anything could have removed the geas keeping me in Dungeon Home, surely becoming human-like would!
I turned from Overbear and fled, only to leap in surprise as Buggy, standing behind me, swiped a deadly claw.
I screamed as the claw raked across my chest, but I didn’t die like I normally would have from such a strike. Instead, the tunic took the swipe for me. In my vision, strange numbers swam.
I rolled away from Buggy, only to be forced to continue rolling as Overbear joined in swiping at me with his claws.
I didn’t know how I was doing this, but my initial unsteadiness was gone. I seemed to be able to move as naturally in this body as I ever had in my old one, but that didn’t make me feel any less sick about it.
“Buggy… you too?” I breathed through the pain in my chest, clutching at the deep wounds that… didn’t seem to hurt as much as they should.
He didn’t even seem to notice my horror, attacking again with reckless abandon. Suddenly, despite knowing I’d seen this a thousand times before, the bugbears seemed anything but robotic. Instead, they seemed vicious, deadly, and terrifying.
One more roll took me around Buggy, and Overbear tackled him in an effort to get to me, sending them both to the floor in a tumble of fur and muscle. I’d seen Red Thorn do this before, leading one bugbear into another. I grimaced at the thought, disgusted that I was now emulating Red Thorn, even if I hadn’t done so intentionally.
I rolled to my feet, hoping they would even start attacking each other, like they sometimes did, but I had no such luck. The two Bugbears recovered quickly, getting to their feet and growling at me.
I fled, bolting down the hallway as fast as my legs would carry me, wiping my eyes from the distracting liquid blocking my vision. That, at least, I could do something about. I couldn’t tell if the gnawing hole in my heart was from Buggy’s claws, or my own grief.
The bugbears had betrayed me – or had I betrayed them? I was an invader now. No longer one of theirs. I no longer belonged. I finally was on the outside what I’d always secretly feared I was on the inside.
An invader. An outsider. A wretched murderer.
I fled, but the stalagmites that were once trivial to glide through now slowed me down. I stumbled awkwardly, forced to walk around bumps and cracks in the floor that I’d never noticed in my old form. The rugged terrain hurt my ankles when I landed oddly and I had to take care where I placed these feet.
I adapted quickly though. I reached the door, and stopped horrified. The door. I had to wait for Skeleton to open the door!
I stood, anxiously looking behind me, hearing growls and howls through the hall that had once comforted me. No longer. How far into the cycle was it!?
I waited, bouncing from foot to foot, wringing my hands in a way that felt…
Wringing my… my hands.
Awed, the growls of the bugbears behind me temporarily forgotten, I placed my teal skinned fingers against the door.
I pressed, and the door slid just a crack, old stone grinding roughly against old stone. I… I could open doors!
My joy was muted as a growl sounded, louder than the others. I looked back and saw Bugrimace staring at me from the tunnel’s entrance, his eyes filled with rage. I moaned, a raw guttural release of despair and shoved hard on the door. I didn’t have time to wonder at this!
The door slid far enough open for me to slip through and I did so just in time to dodge the slice of a sharp sword. Sparks from the metal sliding against the rock of the wall burned my face and I yelped, toppling into the room beyond.
Rather than pushing the door open all the way and chasing me, Bugrimace tried to shove his face into the thin opening my smaller body had been able to fit through. The door moved slowly but the bugbear couldn’t get in.
‘H-he… he looks like a monster,’ I thought, frantically scrambling to get to my feet.
I turned around and leaned this body’s hands against the door and pushed, causing a strange tingling sensation to radiate through my arms and shoulders. It felt like wind from the Great-Open but stronger. Not painful, just difficult. Straining.
Bugrimace squawked as his body was squeezed between the stone door and its frame, growling angrily at me before pulling back. I shut the door the second he was no longer jammed into it and breathed a sigh of relief. Bugbears had never followed the invaders through the door. All I had to worry about now were the ones on the way to the exit. Bearington. Busterbear.
I glanced around the cave, still amazed by how small it looked now. I could touch the floor and the ceiling at the same time in some of the tunnels. Unfortunately, I had no time to marvel at the strange new perspective, as growls began to echo from the left tunnel and the lower right. That told me that it was Bearington and Bugbear, and that the cycle had probably begun when I’d woken up. If they were behind me, only Busterbear should be able to catch me.
I ran, the yipping howls of bugbears following me as I raced through well familiar, yet untrodden tunnels.
I almost made it too. I ran through four chambers, tripping only twice as I did. The bugbears’ vicious snarls accompanied me, echoes making it hard to tell where they were. Just behind me? Chambers away? Whole floors below? I couldn’t tell. All I knew was that they were behind me.
Until I reached the final chamber. The exit… No. The entrance to invaders like me. I moaned as I saw Busterbear standing there, axe poised to strike.
He came at me wildly, dragging his axe along the ground which created a mad shriek. I covered my ears, and I only barely managed to dodge to the right before Busterbear’s axe cleaved the spot I just vacated. The axe whirled in the air, unhindered by the missed swing. Busterbear had always been the most effective of the Bugbears, despite being weak compared to the likes of Ghoul and Momma Bossbear. He raised the axe, preparing to cut me in two. Would I live? Would I return, now the victim of invaders and my own kind alike?
The world seemed to freeze as I saw my opening. Hands held high above his head, Busterbear couldn’t possibly stop my shock if I darted in now. I knew I could still use it, even in this strange body. My hands were the conduit now, but it would stun him just as it had so many invaders before. I had moments. Less than moments.
But… I couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t! He was just following the instinct! Trapped, yet still better than me. He’d never killed one of his own. A part of me thought I deserved to die again. Deserved the pain.
Lying on the ground on my back, I let my shoulders slump. Busterbear approached with no mercy or recognition in his eyes. Cycles and cycles spent together and he didn’t even seem to remember me. I was just an invader now. Just another invader that the instinct god demanded he kill.
“I… I’m sorry, Busterbear…” I said softly, closing my eyes.
I heard the whistle of his axe falling.
A sharp clang resounded throughout the cave, but no pain came.
I opened my eyes, and saw a coat of brown fur I would know anywhere standing defiantly between Busterbear and me.
Bugbear. My first friend. The one who growled at me. The one who saw me.
“B-bugbear?” I whispered, hesitant to believe my own eyes. My vision again filled with tears and I irrationally thought the strange liquid was distorting reality.
It wasn’t. Bugbear stood, wielding his mace menacingly against its now defenseless kin. The block had apparently shocked Busterbear so much that his weapon had wrenched from his hands.
Busterbear looked confused, focused entirely on me, and seemed unable to even see Bugbear between us. Bugbear used that moment to turn his head to me.
“Rrr-Rgg…. Ruggnnnn,” he commanded before turning and swinging his club for the distracted Bugbear’s head. It connected with a resounding clang, but Bearington was right behind Busterbear now, dashing straight towards me.
“B-Bugbear…!” I breathed. Awed. He really had seen me! He could defy the instinct too!
More tears came to my eyes as he intercepted Bearington’s body, fully lifting the running bugbear and tossing him to the floor. Busterbear had recovered and took the opportunity to tackle the new threat to the ground.
I turned, glancing at the now unblocked exit to the cave and back to Bugbear.
“I… I’ll come back for you! I swear it! I swear it, Bugbear!” I screamed, knowing that the fighting would only continue while the invader was still here. While I was still here. I no longer belonged in Dungeon Home.
Bugbear didn’t even seem to notice as his two kin overpowered him. Instead he fought with a ferocity I’d never seen in any of them. He adapted. He moved in ways the instinct had never directed him. He… protected me.
And I fled, my heart burning with hatred for this cruel world that would only now give me the friend I’d dreamed of as I was forced to flee.
I almost didn’t notice when I crossed the threshold the instinct had once chained me to. Into the Great-Open.
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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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