“What IS that thing?” Melody whispers as we crouch down behind a large stalagmite. She sounds frightened, but then that is never a surprise. Everything scares Mel; I’m amazed she manages to get out of bed in the morning.
“It looks like a preying mantis had an angry orgy with an alligator and a gorilla.” Chase replies. I chuckle at his comment as I study the creature ahead of us. One could always depend on Chase to lighten the mood. I’m sure it’s easy to be flippant when you get to stand at a distance and chuck arrows at a monster.
It did indeed have the bulk of a gorilla, the tough, leathery exterior and tail of an alligator, and four of its many arms were folded in the iconic style of the aforementioned insect. It also has huge, ugly bug eyes. Ugh.
“I dunno what it is, but it’s going to be dead here in a minute.” I grumble in response as I shrug my shield down off of my shoulder. As the defacto leader of our little threesome, it fell to me to keep morale high. I never considered myself anyone worth following, but someone had to be in charge and I was always in the front.
“Are you sure we have to kill it?” Mel asks. She’s so soft-hearted sometimes. Or maybe she’s still scared.
“You can’t be serious.” Chase demands, turning to face her. “Look at that thing; its whole purpose in life is to look ugly and be mean. Of course we have to kill it. Besides, there’s a chest behind it. I bet it has a ton of loot.”
“Ok, we’ll go on the count of three.” I announce to the others. “I want you two to focus on its eyes.”
“But William,” Mel protests. It’s always something with her. “Your back isn’t finished healing yet!”
She is referring to the long gash I caught from a floating sword at the beginning of the dungeon. I arch my back and bend to the side to test her accuracy. Ouch, dammit, she’s right. It hasn’t healed all the way. But I’m not going to admit it, even if she is the medic. If I let on once that she might be right, she’ll never let me live it down. I hope the stitches will hold.
“I’m fine. On the count of three..” I repeat, my eyes focused on the target ahead. “One… Two…”
“You’re gonna die!” She wails, hugging her crossbow to her chest.
“Dammit, Mel! Just shut your trap and shoot it!” Enough of this crap, I got me a monster to kill. “Three!”
I charge down at the creature, my shield held forward and my calloused hand pulling my double-headed axe from its loop on my belt. My legs are pumping so hard that each time they hit the ground my spine slams into my skull. Adrenaline is pumping through my veins and burns like lava, the throbbing of my heart is so loud that I can’t hear my own battle cry. I practically throw myself into the beast, chopping at it with my axe. It roars at me and shoves me back, but I recover my footing before I fall.
I have its attention now and I circle, trying to position it to give Chase and Mel clean shots. I never want to experience a bolt in the arse again, no matter how good her hands felt on me afterwards. Twice is two times too many already.
The creature lunges for me, striking out with its top two mantis-limbs. I block with my shield, but the hit is powerful and I slide back under the force. Out of the corner of my eye, I see a pair of blurs fly at its big, ugly head. One hits, but then bounces off, unable to penetrate. The other flies wide. You’d think with all her practice with it, Mel would be more accurate with that crossbow. Her arms were probably shaking.
It comes after me again and I start to feel that I will soon be backed into a corner. I can’t squeeze past it to the left, so I’ll have to dance around it to the right. I watch its movements closely, and just before it throws its bulk at me, I dive to the floor and roll around to the side. I hear a scream behind me as the creature hits the wall.
I spare a glance to see what’s going on behind me, only to see that Mel dropped her crossbow. Chase is rolling his eyes as he nocks another arrow. I run across the cave to put some distance between myself and Ugly. I raise my shield as I turn back to face the creature. Chase fires his arrow, and it slams into one of the big, shiny bug eyes. The beast roars in pain, so while it’s distracted, I move in to attack.
My axes bounces back on my first two strikes, so I aim for a joint on my third swing. As I pull my arm back, I feel the stitches in my back pull loose. The pain is intense, but I’m so caught up in the moment that I don’t hesitate. The blade sinks in between the tough armor at a knee and the beast stumbles, the leg buckling under the attack. I jerk the weapon back before it can get stuck and then tumble away from the falling creature before its bulk squashes me into the floor.
Chase lets loose a loud whoop behind me and I don’t bother to hide my grin. Combat is exciting. I strut over to the fallen creature and kick it with my boot. I see the arrow sticking out of its eye like a some sort of weird lever and I wonder when Chase had managed to get that shot off. The beast was clearly dead, so I holler towards the other two and wave them down. The movement reminds me that my back is hurting again.
They come down from the ledge and I can see the concern on Mel’s face. She must see the blood and knows I pushed myself too hard. I try to grin reassuringly, but I can tell by her expression that she isn’t buying it. It doesn’t matter. We did it, and the treasure is right there; that’s all that matters. I drop my axe into my belt loop and shoulder my shield.
A sudden look of horror crosses her face, and I hear Chase shout, “Look out!”
Something slams into me from behind and before I know it, my face is in the cold stone floor of the cave and my shield slides across the floor. Ugh, I hate getting body-checked like that. My eyes open to darkness. Mel must have dropped the torch again. I stagger to my feet and turn to confront my opponent with just my axe. But there’s no one there; my axe is gone too. What the hell?!
I pat my chest and sides, trying to find something. But my equipments all missing. I call out into the darkness of the cave. “Mel! Chase!”
I search frantically for something to light the darkness. Slowly a light begins to glow in the darkness. I blink several times and my eyes focus on a pair of torches, held to the walls of the cave with brackets. There are two additional brackets, but they’re empty. This space tickles my memory; it seems really familiar for some reason. I call out again for the others. “Chase? Mel? Are you guys there?!”
“Ugh, not so loud! We’re right here…” I hear Chase complain behind me. “What happened to us?”
“The last thing I remember is another one of those monsters coming up behind William and then we appeared here.” Mel supplies.
They come into the light, and I notice that their gear is gone too. What the hell is going on here?
“This place looks familiar… “ Mel adds. Oh good. If she noticed that too, then I didn’t have the sense knocked outta me with that fall.
“Let’s see of we can find our way out of this place. We don’t have any supplies, so we can’t stay here.” As always it falls to me to give direction.
“Alright then!” Mel forces out. She’s so easy to read sometimes. She reaches for one of the torches, and I’m suddenly struck with a feeling of deja vu. Alright, this shit is getting weird now.
I take the lead, keeping my hand on the wall of the cave as it starts to narrow. The light of the torch shines from behind me, lighting the way without blinding me. We come to a fork in the tunnel, and I examine the two tunnels. That deja vu feeling is back, like a bad itch, and I’m getting irritated. Then I see something on the ground that shocks me.
I see the broken remains of the floating sword we encountered earlier in the day. Without thinking, I reach around to touch the wound on my back, and instead I encounter the tough, ropey feel of scar tissue. I’m ready to freak out, but I can’t let the others see me like that. I gotta get my shit together for their sake.
“This way.. “ I choke out as I step forward into the space. At least I know where I’m going now. We move quickly, which makes the others nervous, but I already know what’s ahead. What’s the point of lingering.
It doesn’t take long for us to reach the boulder, and from its vantage point we see my metal shield reflect back in the torchlight. From the startled noises they make, I figured that they’ve connected the dots now too.
“You all stay behind me. I’m going to go down there and get my shield, then I want you guys to find your weapons and we’ll take out that ugly rat bastard, get our loot, then get the hell outta this damnable place.” I have a plan in mind and I’m gonna make this work.
I don’t bother to wait for acknowledgement before I slide down the gravel strewn floor and race toward my shield. I hear a grumbling sound as I reach for my shield. My hand makes contact with the handle before I go flying into the nearest wall, courtesy of our resident unfriendly.
I grunt in pain on impact, but manage to keep my grip on the shield. As I try to recover my footing, I’m certain that one of my ribs is broken. I wheeze as I hold my shield high to repel the next strike. As the creature rains blows down on me, I see Mel and Chase run forward cautiously and grab for their equipment.
As soon as he has his quiver, Chase is firing at the monster. Mel is so clumsy she can’t load and move at the same time, so she scrambles back up the gravel to the boulder again. I suppose I can’t blame her too much. Screw it, yes I can! I’m the one with broken ribs!
“Oi, William! Catch!” I hear Chase call out as a metallic gleam skirts my vision. Bless his cynical heart, it’s my axe. I catch the weapon, throw off Ugly’s next attack, and drive the axe right between the two armored plates on his chest. It roars and falls back from me, but I don’t relent.
I kick out at its closest limb, then pull my shield back before slamming it heavily into its shoulder. Chase continues to fill its back with arrow shafts. I rip my axe out of its chest as it collapses onto the ground, then deliver the death blow to its neck. With one last gurgling gasp, the beast dies.
I wipe the sweat from my forehead as I pant, catching my breath. I hear Chase give an excited shout from across the space. He and Mel charge the chest like a pair of excited children with a present. I follow them at a more sedate pace, nursing my injuries; at least they have the decency to wait for me. Chase inspects for traps, then flings open the lid.
“So who gets first pick?”