“Are you at peace?” Claire asked as she flew next to Anadine’s moving form. The two were making their way through the pixie tunnels back down to the 26th floor.
“I believe so,” Anadine nodded resolutely, “while I regret being unable to see my parents one last time, I am blessed to have been able to give a proper good-bye to my family before parting for the last time. Not everyone gets that chance after all.”
“I agree,” Claire sighed, “My father was also lost before we could properly say good-bye. It’s something so little, so insignificant, yet when it happens it becomes the most important thing.”
“Indeed,” Anadine cocked her slime head, “Forgive me, but to you hear shouting?”
“Doc, what’s going on down there?” Claire asked once she verified that she too could hear raised voices from the tunnels ahead.
“I’m not entirely sure,” Doc admitted, “but I think Rowen may be getting murdered soon. That adventurer girl is waving those explosive daggers around pretty threateningly.”
“Are you going to stop her?” Claire inquired.
“Not really planning on it no,” Doc said non-chalantly, “After all, Rowen will just come back to life and we’ll all continue with our lives.”
“But he’ll be a lich!” Anadine protested, “How are we supposed to explain Rowen dying and turning into a dungeon lich after we just saved everyone else?”
“Uh . . . .”
A small boom shuddered through the dungeon tunnel
“Doc!” Claire and Anadine screamed together.
“Alright, alright, I’ll interfere. Let’s see, non-lethal attack . . . non-lethal . . . non-lethal . . . ah, here we go.”
Claire and Anadine popped out of the pixie tunnel just in time to watch an infuriated Milly get covered in flower slimes. The helpless girl was dog-piled and surrounded by the soft, cushioning slimes and their pleasant, flower scented bodies. Since Doc was using them non-lethally, Milly was safe as the slime tension of the slime prevented any part of from entering any of the monsters. Not that any part of the situation was making Milly happy.
“Let me go!” she screamed, struggling to grab hold of her throwing knives while being buffered by slime, “By the nine hells, you slimes had better release me I’m blowing you all to high heaven!”
“Milly, Milly calm down,” Anadine urged as she reached the trapped girl and began throwing slimes away, “Hold on, I’m digging you out. Please don’t start throwing daggers!”
“No promises,” Milly vowed, but stopped reaching for her weapons. With the help of Claire, the three girls worked together to free Milly from her odd predicament. Meanwhile, The Twins lazed about on the thrown slimes and Rowen hid himself behind one of the testing trap rooms.
“Okay,” Milly growled out once she was free, “now, someone is going to give me a very good explanation about why I was knocked out! And then, I’m going to murder the bastards who killed my father!”
“Please Milly, allow me to explain,” Claire flew over to land on the younger girl’s head, “To answer your first question, Doc enacted a large mana draining field, somehow, and depleted you of your magic, resulting in you falling unconscious from mana-sickness. Also, your father isn’t dead.”
“What, are you speaking the truth?” Milly gasped, her fury reversing in an instant.
“She is,” Doc declared happily, “See, I have this new idea for a slime evolution, but needed to experiment with the magic that would cause it first, so I used it on you and . . .”
“Not that,” Milly interrupted Doc, “Did you really mean it when you said my father was alive?”
“She did,” Rowen agreed, walking out from behind his cover toward Milly, “You were unconscious when it happened, but Anadine successfully persuaded Doc to interfere and save both your father and everyone up there. Every miner, adventurer, baker, and other townsfolk who entered the mine survived.”
Milly stared at Rowen, her mind not fully comprehending what he had just said to her. With a cry, she threw herself in Rowen’s arms, sobbing her heart out as the relief for her father’s survival spread through her body. Rowen struggled to hold the older and larger girl, his face showing the strain.
“Milly,” he mumbled, “you’re starting, to crush, me.”
“He, he didn’t die!” Milly wept, “I saw him Rowen, I saw him die in my dreams! The evil man punched through his stomach and splattered him all over the floor!”
Well, that almost happened, Rowen admitted mentally. He patted his friend on the back, “He’s fine Milly, the pink slimes healed up his injuries.”
“He got hurt?” Milly screeched in Rowen’s ear, causing him to groan in pain from the ringing in his ear.
“He’s fine,” Anadine said, coming to Rowen rescue by pulling the young woman into her embrace, “Listen to me Milly, I spoke to him myself. He led the other townsfolk out of the dungeon and met up with the army and church. That guild-master of yours spoke with him and the other leaders, and they all ran into town to apprehend the other villains. Everything is all right for now.”
Taking deep breaths, Milly slowly calmed down. She looked up into Anadine’s eyes and smiled sheepishly.
“I’m sorry,” she apologized.
“No harm done,” Anadine winked at her.
“Sorry Rowen, for attacking you,” Milly turned and nodded.
Rowen waved her off, “Don’t worry, I would have been fine. You don’t scare me that much.”
“Oh?” Milly raised an eyebrow, “then who was hiding behind a wall a few seconds ago with barely an eye peeking out?”
“Whatever,” Rowen chuckled.
“Don’t fret over Rowen’s health,” Doc assured her from overhead, “Even if you killed him, he’d be right back up.”
“Yeah, about that,” Milly narrowed her eyes, “Every time you all have broached on that topic, something or someone interferes. No more secrets, no more games, and no more misdirection. Rowen, are you immortal?”
Rowen frowned and picked a loose stone, “Perhaps.”
“That’s not good enough of an answer,” Milly crossed her arms at him. The other dungeon monsters backed away to give the two some space.
“That’s all I can tell you,” Rowen admitted, “I’ve never died before. It’s not something I particularly look forward to doing. Do you run towards death?”
“Fine then, do you age?” Milly pressed on, her eyes staring into Rowen’s. She walked forward toward him.
Rowen took a step backwards, “From what I can tell, in the small time that I’ve known you, my body has not aged significantly. It’s why I haven’t grown in the last three months even though I just turned 11.”
“Alright,” Milly said, standing right in front of Rowen, “You didn’t tell me this before, back when we spoke to Mr. Bubbles. Why didn’t you then?”
“Mr. Bubbles, you mean your skull?” Rowen asked, confused, “I told you before, I don’t remember sharing with you that I was a part of this dungeon, nor any other bit of that conversation.”
“Was what she said true then?” Milly mumbled under her breath.
“Who’s she?” Rowen asked, confused, “Milly, I’m not understanding where this conversation is going.”
Milly grabbed Rowen’s shoulders and knelt to look him in the eye.
“Final question,” she almost whispered, “What do you think of me?”
Rowen struggled out of Milly’s grasp and stared at her. “Uh, um,” he mumbled, “Well, you’re my good friend, and uh, you’ve taken care of me really well, like the big sister I never had. Eh, I mean, you’re special you know, and uh, I really like you and Fred and the tavern uh.”
Milly sighed and turned around, hiding her face from Rowen.
“I’m glad to hear that,” she said evenly, “I just wanted to make sure you’d be all right with my engagement.”
“What?” Rowen asked in bewilderment, “Huh?”
“Yeah, you remember Rolf right? Yeah, his dad and my dad have been talking for awhile now about marriage between our families. I mean, I’ve known Rolf since childhood and he’s always really liked me. I wanted to make sure you’d be alright with it, and it seems you are. Once we get home, I’ll have my dad and Mr. Grecian draw up a certificate at the church and then Rolf and I . . .”
“No!” Rowen protested, taking ahold of Milly’s arm, “You can’t!”
“Can’t I?” Milly wrenched her arm out of Rowen’s hand and marched towards Anadine, “After all, I’m just your adopted sister. Anadine, can you take us back to the tavern before my father returns home?”
Rowen clenched his teeth, frustrated beyond measure. His balled up his hands into fists at the thought, The Thought, of the arrogant and gloating Rolf handing Milly a ring. The image in his head changed abruptly, replacing Rolf’s figure with his, startling him greatly.
“Hurry up,” Doc complained in Rowen’s mind, “Even I, the literal crystal-head, can see where this going. No one likes an indecisive person, and I’m getting bored.”
“But, I could die at any time,” Rowen protested, “We’d never be able to . . . be together again.”
“So?” Doc asked, “Do you know how many couples I’ve devoured in my one year of life? You adventurer types aren’t well-known for a long lifespan anyway; best get a move on while you have the time to spend. Or, you know, I could try doing to her what Anadine did. Not sure if it’ll work, but it would be an interesting experiment.”
“Anything but that,” Rowen refuted,” But, thanks.”
“No problem,” Doc chuckled.
Rowen opened his eyes and yelled, “I won’t let you marry Rolf!”
Milly paused before Anadine and turned around, raising an eyebrow at the younger boy. “Oh, and how do you plan on stopping me?”
Rowen marched up to her, pulled her down, and kissed her deeply. Milly’s eyes opened in surprise, than mellowed as she enjoyed the moment.
Rowen released her and snorted. “I’ve lived over a century, and yet I’ve never met a girl like you.”
“Good,” Milly flicked his forehead, “Now that you’ve finally realized it, let’s go home. Have to make preparations after all.”
“You’re planning on getting married now?” Anadine asked in surprise, “Wow, things have really changed in the last year haven’t they?”
“Yeah right,” Milly scoffed, “Have you seen the muscles on this weakling? I had to loosen my muscles so he could pull me into a kiss. I’ll just have father agree on our engagement until Rowen here turns 15, the legal marrying age. I’ll go to the church for a few years for schooling while Rowen will learn the tavern and adventurer trade. I want to see some real muscles on you at our wedding!”
“Wait, hold up,” Rowen protested, “This isn’t how I imagined it would go. Don’t I get a say in this?”
“Do you have the bridal price, a family to back you and help pay for the wedding, or a single coin to your name?” Milly asked sarcastically, “No? Then be quiet and live with it.”
Rowen slumped down and sighed.
Blushing, Milly took a quick look around before whispering something into Rowen’s ear. The 11-year old jumped onto Anadine and cried, “Let’s go home! Right now!”
“What you say to him?” Claire asked, depositing herself in Milly’s shirt pocket.
“Oh, you know,” Milly blushed, “just a little promise after this whole mess is over.”
“Right,” Claire giggled, “Oh hey, you smell like flowers!”
In the tunnels that connected Doc to his openings into town, an odd cocoon shuddered in a hidden alcove above the tunnel. With this cocoon, there was a small mound of severed heads, all in a state of fear. The cocoon shook, and a tentacle made of slime erupted from it, followed by another. They grabbed a decapitated head each and dragged them back into the cocoon, the slime hardening again.
It began to squirm, as if something was being born within. It shuddered one last time, and broke open like an egg. A slime oozed down out of the shell, colorless and weak.
Suddenly, the slime turned purple. It exploded into action, devouring every remaining head in the alcove.
“I . . .know . . . who . . . I . . . am!” The slime growled, it’s body swelling up.
“Revenge . . . is . . . coming!”
Within the dungeon town, everyone had gathered around the army headquarters. Cries of anger and denouncement filled the air as the townspeople cried for blood. Even the army released its bloodthirst, furious at being tricked into becoming mind controlled puppets. Their new armor glistened dully under the noon-time light, as if coming to life after being buried for centuries.
The leaders of this mob stood at the front: Mary, Grecian, Fred, a newly healed Orso, Hilda and Shiva, a recently recovered Gran, and a new person, Colonel Frost. Frost glowered at the makeshift tent base.
“The army is ready to storm the base your majesties,” he announced, bowing to the princesses, “our only wish now is to rescue the prince and bring those responsible for this betrayal to justice.”
“That’s assuming the prince isn’t involved,” Orso spat on the ground, “Uh, no offense intended your majesties.”
Shiva glared angrily, but Hilda patted her head calmly and replied, “The brother I know would never perform such a deed, but our enemies have been known to take the minds of men and control them as you would a doll. Whether the people within this tent are enemies or pawn, we will soon know.”
“Master Mary, Sir Orso,” Hilda said suddenly, “Neither my sister or I have any experience with wartime matters or tactics. With our blessing, please command the troops.”
“Yes your highnesses,” the two leaders bowed.
“My people have taken position along the walls,” Gran announced as he listened to a leaf-shaped magic tool, “Their bows are prepared to counter any ambushes from the air.”
“Then, it’s time,” Mary took a deep breath, “All troops, storm the base!”
With a war-cry, Colonel Frost rushed into the base.
“Are we to follow?” Fred asked Mary.
Mary shook her head, “No, let the army do the job. I suspect what we seek is long gone anyway.”
She said nothing more under Fred’s questioning eye.
“Sirs,” a man came out a few minutes later, “The entire base is empty. There is no one inside, but the men have found a hidden passage leading to the noble district.”
“Why would they flee to the weakest part of the town?” Orso questioned, “The palisade there holds no battlements, and the buildings are still mostly in disrepair.”
“Their real base must be there,” Gran put forth, “With minimal guards under the control of the crown, the enemy would have amble time to hide.”
“Then we go there,” Mary said resolutely.
Before she could do anything, Gran received a sudden magical transmission.
“An army of demons and fleshlings have been spotted on the horizon south of Tent City,” he reported, “It’s massive and heading this way.”
“It’s begun,” Fred gripped the handle of his sword, “those traitorous generals said their mistresses would feel their deaths. I t appears they have decided to end this waiting game.”
“Orso,” Mary turned to her comrade, “Please take the army, your knights and priests, and the elves to the Tent City Battlements. You must hold them off for as long as possible.”
“I’ll do that, but what do I tell the men?” Orso shook his head, “Our numbers are too few, and there is nowhere to retreat to. Our morale will be abysmal.”
Mary bit her lips. She too knew that this endless army would be the death of them; there were no reinforcements coming, and no place to run.
“Tell them that their families are here,” she raised her voice, “Tell them the children, wives, and husbands are here in town, counting on them to hold the enemy back for as long as possible; make them pay for every step they take! Tell them, that our only hope is to buy enough time for rescue to come. Tell them . . . to pray for a miracle, and fight for a tomorrow yet to come!”
Orso nodded and saluted the Guild-Master.
“Master Mary,” Orso smiled, “In the beginning, Father Jonas and I both had misgivings about you. However, I know you see possess most noble a spirit, and it has been an honor to fight alongside you. Farewell.”
With that, Orso took his temple knights into the tents to retrieve the army and head to the palisade.
“Master Mary,” Grecian spoke up next to her, “While I agree with your decision, who will take the fight to the noble district? The townspeople?”
“No,” Mary refuted his thought, “You take everyone who cannot and should not fight to the Elvin Quarter. Not only does it lie between Tent City and the Noble District, if everything fails then you all can escape into the forest. Perhaps a few will make it in such a scenario.”
“By your wish Master Mary, but then who will follow you?” Grecian asked again.
Mary looked over at Fred, who smiled, and Gran, who nodded.
“Don’t worry Master Grecian,” Mary grinned, “Before those pink slimes disappeared from existence, we put them to good use.”
Behind her, adventurers began pouring forth from the streets, led by a freshly healed Fiora and company. The red-haired adventurer grinned and bowed to her master.
“Master Mary, everyone is here,” she announced, and the adventurers raised up their weapons with a cry.
Ganus and the three receptionists walked up to Mary.
“Mary, I was unable to locate the children,” Ganus reported, a worried look on his face, “They are not in the town.”
“Then may the gods watch over them, where ever they are,” Mary sighed, “For now, everyone! We march to the noble district!”