Their steps were cautious, slow, and bridled with exhaustion, but with no other choices, the pair could do nought but continue their walk through the dungeon. Unable to tell how far they’d gone in or even if they were going in circles.
Rohl was really starting to hate dungeons, especially this one. The dungeon had not once done away with its disguise and still looked like a typical forest. Including the thorny plants and sharp prickly branches which cut away at his skin. At least it looked pretty in the early morning sun. Rays of light peered through the thick forest leaves installing him with some semblance of hope that they’d get out of here.
Hope that remained as they finally came across their first monster. A hydra and to Rohl’s relief a very small one that barely reached past his head. A hydra could grow taller than a house, becoming divine ranked threats, one as small as this was only experienced rank most likely. Hydras were known for their ability to regenerate but when young this ability was limited, if you can cut off all its heads within a few seconds then they lose the ability to regenerate. Still, that didn’t mean they were to be taken lightly; five snake-like mouths, filled with jagged teeth were still a threat even without the possibility of being poisoned.
All this flashed through Rohl’s mind as he observed the beast who had yet to notice them, bushes made decent camouflage as it turned out.
“Hey Ell, I think the lamia strategy could work well here. As long as you don’t mess it up.” Rohl spoke. A joking tone in his voice which Ell seemed to take as a challenge.
“Mess it up. Me? Are you sure you aren’t mad from starvation? Ill handle this and you be good bait.” With that Ell bolted up a nearby tree as Rohl positioned himself.
“Here hydra hydra, who’s a good hydra.”
Within seconds the hydra had dashed in his direction, its bulky body preventing it from going faster than jogging speed. Rohl drew his sword and braced himself as he released his blessing once again having forgotten too earlier.
Once the creature passed under the tree, Ell struck. All of its eyes were too focused on Rohl, not noticing Ell until it was too late. She dropped down from the tree, blade at the ready. Turning through the air as to build up force, arm outstretched, her blade pierced straight through four of the creatures’ flimsy necks. Beheading them in a spurt of blood. With a soft thud Ell landed neatly to the side.
With just one head left, Rohl didn’t hesitate ad quickly dispatched it with a stroke of his sword. The necks flailed around in pain and confusion for a short moment before the creature finally dropped down dead.
“Huh, it actually worked,” Rohl began as he tried to wipe its blood off of him, there was no stream to help this time and he would not waste what water they had left on this.
“Of course it did, only a fool would have doubted me.”
“You’re very confident you know that.”
Ell only smirked in reply.
“So let’s cook it and hope it doesn’t poison us.” Rohl couldn’t bear to wait any longer, he rushed to create a fire. At a frenzied pace, he rushed around, able to collect branches at a pace he hadn’t managed in days. Ell only shook her head at his crazed behaviour.
Once his fervour had faded, they had no choice but to sit patiently waiting for the fire to catch and finally grow big enough to cook upon. Ell cut off some of its meat in preparation, and a short while later it was cooked and ready to eat. The hydra steak sizzled with flavour and possibly poison.
“Rock, paper, scissors. Loser eats first.”
Rohl lost and hesitantly nibbled at the cooked hydra steak.
“If you pretend to be poisoned and die then I will stab you,” Ell said as she gazed at the food with a barely contained hunger.
“It’s actually not that bad, tastes like chicken if chicken tasted like mud,” Rohl replied as he swallowed the nibbled-on hydra steak, after 15 minutes of not dying, he finally gave Ell the all-clear to eat as the pair began to devour the cooked monster.
“Thank the gods this was a natural-born monster; I didn’t fancy dying of starvation,” Rohl said as he devoured another chunk of the meat.
“Very few do,” Ell replied as she devoured the meat in a slightly more refined fashion than Rohl.
After several minutes of feasting the pair hurriedly packed whatever meat they could before fleeing the corpse, no doubt the smell would attract more monsters soon and Rohl didn’t fancy testing his luck twice.
That was one problem solved temporarily, now just came the dungeon killing. To Rohl’s surprise, that came much sooner than he would have liked and without any theatrics. No ambushes or hidden traps that led them to the dungeon heart. One minute they were cautiously stalking through the thick forest undergrowth, doing their best to avoid a gryphons gaze as it flew overhead. The next they walked into a wide-open clearing.
A clearing upon which, a regular looking tree with thick roots stood proudly at its centre. It looked completely benign and natural.
But Ell’s sorrowful resignation, that this was where she had been leading them to brought them out of that belief. It looked nothing special, rather lacklustre compared to what they had been through.
It was obviously a trap and both Ell and Rohl knew so, but what choice did they have, this trap would have to be sprung. But not before they prepared themselves, drew their weapons and gave each other one more look of reassurance as they finally stepped out into the clearing.
Once they did so, everything changed. Every single tree around the clearing began to shift and turn, only to reveal wooden faces. They were dryads that had undergone the change that transformed their human-like forms into more tree-like creatures. Gryphons, wyverns, and bats filled the sky and, in the centre, where the tree had stood was suddenly a large seemingly human heart, but one that had become dark and twisted. Instead of red flesh it looked almost crystallised.
It had been an illusion, one that had hid not only the heart but the grotesque monsters that filled the clearing as well. Golems, wendigos, dryads, troll’s, hydra’s, chimaera’s, giant spiders, and ogres to name just a few. There was even a lamia, a monster brought out just to mock them. A show of force to display just how pitiful Ell and Rohl were in comparison to it, he could almost feel the malicious laughter that radiating from the heart.
Even Rohl’s attempt to use his blessing to force the monsters to attack each other proved fruitless, it seemed monsters born and controlled by a dungeon were immune, to his annoyance this did make sense given they were all controlled from one source.
This only added to Rohl’s despair, and when he gazed at the sight that stood before him, he could feel his will to fight vanish. With a slow stumble, he collapsed to his knees. It was a completely hopeless situation, there were too many for even a divine rank adventurer, never mind Rohl and Ell. Death was all that waited for them here, death and misery.
Death and destruction that would soon claim Elmon and his family. There was nothing he could do. As he continued to stare at the monsters, his will drained, his courage fled, it was as if he was just the same person who hid up a tree from a mimic back in Shrewsborough.
The heart seemed to enjoy his hopelessness as if crushing someone’s soul was a favourite pastime of its. With every second he stared at the heart was an another second of lost hope. This was until he felt a sharp pain erupt from the back of his head. Ell had slapped him, the blow seemingly freeing him from his spiral of despair, he turned away from the heart and looked at the elf. Her own eyes displayed the same hopelessness as his, but she had not given up yet.
“Get up, don’t be so pathetic, you showed me you were better than this. Don’t embarrass yourself now just when I was starting to tolerate you.” A desperate anger reached out to him through her voice as Rohl stared at her in amazement. After another slap, Rohl reached out to stop her from doing it again. He stood up, stared into her eyes, and nodded.
Ell had the right of it, the situation may be dire but that was no reason to succumb to despair, if they were going to die then they would go out fighting, not collapsed on the ground overcome by their situation. No part of Rohl would accept going out like that, he would not collapse like he did in Shrewsborough, not let the ones he cared for suffer, not again. He had come too far to allow it. Had come too far to be brought low just by the sight of the heart.
With his resolve returning, the hopelessness that had been devouring him disappeared. He would not die like a weak coward, too afraid and overcome by hopelessness to fight. No, if he and Ell were going to die, then their deaths would be worthy of legends.