Underground Quest: Because We’re Crazy and Xana is an Evil Jerk
A large piece of debris fell to its side deep into the underground, pushed away by a familiar green-haired swordsman, clearing the path for him, Tamar, and Ben. The air was thick, and an irritating heat permeated the area.
“This is such a waste of time,” Ben complained, mostly to herself. “Apparently we’re Pest Control now?”
“Come on, Ben, giant infected rats! That sounds like fun.” Hector laughed, cracking his knuckles as he stepped over some of the debris strewn about in the room.
“It sounds like back pain,” she grumbled, knowing even as she said it that the man would have more trouble bending over to stab rats than she would.
“Hector, I think all your ideas of fun involve stabbing things,” Tamar mumbled. “Um... also rats are small, right? And so are bugs. Stabbing them seems like it wouldn’t work very well...” He paused, glimpsing around a bit like a frightened bird in a dark wood. The first time in the Underground always left you feeling as if you were being watched from around every corner. Probably because you usually were
. In this case, by the beady black eyes of a thousand vermin, which he was trying not to look as creeped out about as he felt. Seriously, the bear was tougher, right? Nothing could conceivably be any harder to deal with than the bear.
Anyway, the point was, it seemed people were getting ill overground, and everyone who fell into that category had, apparently, been in the Underground at some point or another in the last couple of weeks. Seemed a logical enough assumption that whatever it was came from there. The logical assumption was rats. And there certainly seemed to be no short supply of them.
“I don’t need to stab something to kick its ass,” Hector retorted with a snort.
Tamar visibly resisted the urge to roll his eyes. “Well, stabbing, hitting, or kicking things then. How are
we supposed to get rid of them, anyway? Like I said: stabbing isn’t all that good when your target is tiny, and faster than you are.”
About to make a snappish reply, Ben cocked her head. The boy had a point. “I suppose we’ll have to improvise.” She paused. “Please tell me you’re at least wearing leather or something which will keep out bug bites."
Tamar hesitated. “Well... the shirt is. That counts, right?”
“It’s something.” She settled into a crouch, sword ready at a height which should be eye-level for the oncoming rats. “Just... try not to get eaten or something. It would be inconvenient.”
“Yeah, inconvenient for me
,” Tamar gulped. When he’d realised he was being dragged into the Underground, as in the place pretty much everyone he knew who had been down there described as one of the most horrible places in the Castle, fighting rats hadn't exactly been what he was expecting. Training
, Hector called it. Unnecessary mental scarring
seemed a more accurate description to Tamar, but hey, if you had to do what you had to do then you had to do it... or something.
This place didn’t even smell all that weird... That was confusing. You’d have thought that a place presumably housing a tonne of rats and bugs would have smelled worse but instead it just smelled... old. Ancient, even. As if the rocks had been here so long they’d developed a scent all their own.
He mentioned this, and got a strange look for his trouble.
“Don’t worry,” Ben assured him, “The rat smell will come. In about, oh, thirty seconds.” She based the estimate on the sounds she heard, which could only be a swarm of rodents headed their way.
Tamar... did not panic. But he didn’t panic in that very specific way some people have wherein they realise that if they do
give into their natural instinct to freak the hell out , they will likely never hear the end of it because that was a lot
of rats. He’d been expecting oversized mice or something. These were not
oversized mice, these were apparently a species very much their own and not shy about demonstrating it. Ben, however, went for the swarm as if they were just some other random thug in the street. Hell, the swarm practically looked
like one being anyway, and Tamar could imagine her picturing that enemy as she struck, the way an actual professional swordsman would. Tamar dragged the sword clumsily from its scabbard and watched it glint in whatever thin light they had. It was going to need cleaning after this.
Wide sweep across, then rotate her blade to deflect another wave with the broad side. Rotate again; sweep across, slicing two-handed through rodent fur and flesh. She grimaced at the thought of having to clean rat’s blood off her sword later, but at least that wasn’t the present problem. Right now all she had to do was keep the pile of headless rats mounting before they got too close.
Hector followed right behind his guildmate, swinging Ivory like the sword was some sort of massive golf club into the pile of creatures that charged down the hall. To say limbs flew in all directions would be an understatement. Unlike the other two, Hector had his usual grin. Plague rats were dangerous, and just what Hector wanted to fight. His companions didn’t seem quite as thrilled by the altercation.
It did not make sense that there were this many rats in such a confined area. Tamar remembered reading somewhere once that you always had a problem when rats started coming into the light. It meant there were just so many of them in the shadows that there was no more room for the others and-- “Ew, ew, ew, stopping that train of thought right now, get off!” He smashed the blade of the sword through another half dozen of the disgusting little things, imagining all those tiny little shrieks were one unified scream. Which didn’t exactly help
his current frame of mind. The hilt of the sword (still nameless, but hey, he was working on it) felt hot in his grasp. That kept happening lately. Ignoring it was becoming more and more difficult, but hey-- swarms of rats! Now there was a good distraction if ever Tamar saw one.
“Hector!” Ben remonstrated. “If they’re spreading disease, do you have
to try to spray their innards all over us?”
“Oh, huh. Yeah I guess you’re right...” Hector realized his mistake, lowering his head in embarrassment. “I can’t help it. Ivory is one tough lady. Asking her not
to smash things is like asking Tamar to stop reading those books.”
“What’s wrong with my books?” Tamar blinked.
“Not enough pictures...”
Ben wished she could bury her face in her hands, but both hands were currently occupied with curtailing the steady stream of rats. “Both of you. You are making me ashamed to be found in your company in the presence of A SWARM OF PLAGUE-INFESTED RODENTS. This is a hint that you are doing something wrong.”
“Oh come on, Ben, I’m sure I can find books with pictures somewhere,” Tamar didn’t sound fully convinced by that.
“The one Anji showed me about the giant egg man was pretty entertaining, until that twist where he fell. Real shame.”
Tamar was obviously trying not to laugh, which would have distracted him from trying to cut rats to pieces with a sharp blade. Sometimes, his life was just this surreal. He had every faith in Hector’s skills when it came to the battlefield, but the more time he spent around the man, the more it seemed like he was going to have to start giving lessons of his own someday. In basic vowels and sentence structure. “It’s okay, I hear there's a sequel. They put him back together.”
“...You know what? I’m not even going to ask. My own brother reads books about potash mining for fun. Who am I to talk?”
Hector swung his sword to his backside, and, with a heave, slid it across the ground, batting the rats it came into contact with to the other side of the room, safely away from the trio. Taking Ben’s words, he tried to hold back a little, trying to prevent the poor creatures from exploding all over them by using the broadside of his sword.
It seemed to take forever, but at some point, the single mass of rats became individual rats, and the individual rats became fewer rats, and the few rats that were left joined their brethren in the foul mess covering the entire floor of the corridor. Tamar swallowed back an obvious urge to throw up. “Ew... okay... so I guess it is
possible to stab them to death.”
“It was more like smacking, really.” Hector rubbed his chin.
“Speak for yourself, Hector.” Tamar swallowed, brandishing the bloodied sword in his hand, the gold blade tarnished red and dirt brown. “Hey, maybe this thing's name is Rat Killer
.” He paused for a moment, as if actually hopeful of something happening, and slumped a little when it didn’t. “...Guess not. Oh well.”
“I remember fighting a man once who called his sword the ratbane...” Hector paused, thinking back on the unusual circumstances for the fight. “He claimed I was the biggest rodent he had ever seen. Very odd guy, honestly.”
Tamar nodded sagely. “He sounds it...” He paused, seeming to think of something. “Hey, Ben? What did you name your sword?”
Ben raised a gold eyebrow. “I don’t even name my horse
; why the hell would I name a sword
“Uh... still trying to work that out actually,” Tamar laughed shakily and glanced in Hector’s direction. “But it’s important. Right? Anyway, that’s not fair, you should name your horse, otherwise how does it know to come to you when you call it? You can’t just yell ‘horse!’ in a field FULL of horses. You’d end up with a hundred horses all coming to see you at once!” Tamar considered the possibility that this train of thought was slightly hysterical, but what the heck. He had been trying to name the sword they’d gotten for him for a while now; nothing ever seemed to quite fit.
Ben fought the urge to laugh. Hector did not. “If you have to call for your horse’s attention, you are definitely
doing something wrong.”
“I don’t know, I think he’s got a point there, Ben.” Hector grinned. “Besides, naming things is a great way to feel an attachment to them.”
“Which is another great reason not to do it. Lances shatter; swords break; horses get injured and die. If you get to thinking you can’t carry on with a replacement, you’ll find yourself in a very tight position sooner or later.”
Hector sighed. “If you don’t have any attachment all, your weapons or horses or whatever it may be will only ever just be a tool. To some that may be good enough, but they can be so much more than that. A little compassion goes a long way. It may not last forever, but you give its moments so much more meaning.”
Tamar watched this debate go on for a few moments. They so rarely seemed to agree on anything at all, sometimes he wondered how they managed being around each other all the time. The heat rose up again directly under his fingers and he frowned slightly. Maybe it was a sign he was getting closer to figuring out its name... or maybe it was just static from the metal, who knew. He shook blood off the sword and shuddered. “I-I dunno, Ben, I’m feeling pretty attached to him right now. He’s keeping the rats away.”
“‘He.’” Ben shook her head. “You’re both crazy. More importantly, we should find where these beasties came from to get to the bottom of things.”
“Come Ben, it could be fun...” Hector edged closer to his friend. “Let me see your sword, maybe it’s a He?”
Ben gave Hector a Look. “Maybe its name is Hector Is An Idiot Who Talks Too Much. Or would you like to see it very
close-up?” she threatened.
“... Sounds like a boy’s name! Hey, maybe I was right after all--” His sentence was cut off abruptly as Ben smacked him with her gloved hand. “Ye-ow! Okay, okay, sorry.”
Tamar stepped gingerly through the mess that remained of dead rats. Ben was right. Now the tunnel really did
smell. A few shapes shifted in the remaining pile and he hopped back, watching as a few remaining rats scattered into the corridors up ahead-- all of them seeming to spread out, before suddenly veering back into a group, and turning to run in the same direction, vanishing into the darkness beyond.
Tamar frowned. That wasn’t right. “Hey... did you see that?”
Ben matched her line of sight to his so she could see what he was commenting on. “Looks like we’d best follow.”
Hector nodded along with the others. “I’ll lead the way.”
They had been walking for only a few minutes when there was the sound of an explosion.
Well okay, not an explosion. A sneeze. But coming from Hector, it sounded
like an explosion. “Aaaachooooo!” The sound echoed throughout the hallway. “Augh.”
Tamar pointedly tried not to let on how close he had just come to jumping out of his skin. That was less a sneeze
and more of a concentrated explosion of sound that made his ears ring. The thunderbolt
he had gotten hit with once had made less noise than that. “Um... bless you?”
“Shut up,” Ben hissed.
.” Hector pouted towards Ben. “Anyway...” he went to say, before clearing his throat of some accumulated phlegm, “I think the tracks are leading over there towards the right path. It’s weird though... some of these tracks are definitely not like the rats we were fighting before, the footprints are far too big.”
Tamar shuddered. “Don’t say that, they can’t possibly
get any bigger than they were... Did you see
the size of those things?”
“I don’t know...” Hector challenged, “I’ve heard a myth of a type of rat so big, it’s nearly the size of a cow.”
Tamar blinked, purple eyes wide in the darkness. He glimpsed downwards at the tracks vaguely visible in the torchlight that seemed less a source of light, and more a way to break the world up into varying degrees of shadow. “Seriously?” he whimpered.
Ben snorted. “Cow-Sized Rodents? I don’t believe they exist.”
“Well one thing’s for certain, these tracks are not just the ones we were following, they must have met up with other swarms.”
“Question is, where are they going?” Tamar asked.
“My guess... towards whatever is causing that sickness,” Hector reasoned. Suddenly, however, Ben and Tamar would be surprised to see the man swat at the air almost randomly. “Ah!” he called out, flailing his free hand around his face. The man looked around, annoyed. “Something just flew by my face.”
Ben pinched her temples. “Something winged and carrying disease, or something imaginary causing you to twitch?”
Hector looked around, clearly upset. “I know it’s in here. I hate bugs.” The man clenched his fist, showing an an unusual amount of paranoia. “... Always crawling around and doin’ THINGS. Why can’t they just fight me like everything else?”
Tamar gave Ben a look
that even in the shadows clearly stated something along the lines of ‘What the heck?’
“Well, much as I can imagine you’d love to engage in fisticuffs with a fly, right now you’re just going to have to try to not
get stung or bitten or something, and go after the things that you can
fight. We’ll just... deal with the insects later, okay? Unless they force our hand.” Privately, she felt the same way as Hector; she didn’t like the idea of something too small to fight, while still big enough to cause trouble, but honestly, he was acting so childish
“All I’m asking is for a fair fight,” the man groaned. “Is that so mu... mu... Achoo! Ahhh, I think I’m getting a damn cold here.”
“Then cover your mouth,” Ben snapped. “Last thing I need is your germs making me sick, too.”
Hector just sniffed in response. The three remained silent for a moment, before finally starting down the path once again. Every so often a squeak was heard, or the pitter-patter of little rat feet on the cold stone, but nothing approached them. “Come on, CSRs...Come ooooon, CSRs,” Hector chanted quietly to himself, with a hint of excitement. “Wouldn’t it be great if we found out they were real?”
“I don't think they’re real, Hector,” Tamar muttered, perhaps slightly hopefully. “I don’t think ANY rodents grow that big.”
“That’s not even--” Ben broke off, trying to find a way to explain to Hector why his statement was completely insane. She considered, and came to the conclusion that Hector’s skull was thicker than most walls, and to argue with his silliness would be an exercise in futility. Also, she was cut off by the appearance of some truly massive rodents.
“Hey-hey! Look!” Hector beamed, nearly jumping with excitement. “Those look pretty big... aah, not cow-sized though...” The man’s enthusiasm left him as the creatures got closer. While still big, they were about half the size he was expecting.
“Bigger than a breadbox,” Ben observed, remembering childhood word games. “...Much, much bigger than a breadbox.”
“Can we discuss that later, please?” Tamar snapped, sword out again, seeming more than ready this time for the onslaught of rodentia (maybe he was learning, after all). “Giant rats attacking NOW.”
“On it!” Hector charged forward, intercepting the closest one with a heavy kick to its face. “Hyyaah!” he yelled, as he punted it across the chamber the trio was in. It bounced to the back of the room and out over an exposed wall, falling down into the watery abyss far below.
Tamar... coughed, seeming perhaps just a little disappointed that the other rats had clearly decided this was not
the way they wanted to go out, as they changed directions almost immediately, retreating further into the underground. “Um. Okay... that works too. I guess.”
Ben just stared at Hector, her face totally deadpan. “What. The hell.” The rats were... turning tail and running now, scarpering back down the corridor. “What the absolute hell.”
“Did I do something wrong...?” He looked at the other two, a little confused. Another heavy sniff. “Augh... come on, we need to follow these things quickly.” The man took a heavy step forward, before stumbling a bit, woozy. “Damn...” He groaned, balancing himself against the nearby wall.
Tamar visibly flinched. “Hey, you all right?”
“I... ” He shook his head, visible beads of sweat forming toward the top of his head. “I’m not sure.”
Ben passed a hand over her forehead again. “Can we please cut the talking? Whatever it is, I’m sure it will pass; let’s just get a move
Hector lifted his head up, a stern look as he fought back the sickness that was affecting him. “Right, we have a job to do.”
Ben took a heavy swig from her canteen. What was it about this place that she always ended up with headaches? Last time it had made sense
, at least; sleep-deprivation does that to a person. This time... not so much.Huff. Huff. Huff. Huff huff huff huff huff huffhuffhuffhuffhuffhufff ARGH.
“Can you STOP that?” Ben snapped.
“I have a migraine the size of this entire Underground and you are breathing SO LOUDLY. Both of you! Can’t ANYONE breathe at normal volumes these days? My GOD, I can’t even hear myself think! Just... just be QUIET, okay?”
“Achoo!” Hector flailed as he let out another colossal sneeze.
“Ben, don’t you think you’re being a little unfair?” Tamar argued. “He’s not feeling well.”
Ben growled. “I JUST mentioned I have a headache; WHY would you go and sneeze like that? And no, Tamar, I don’t think it’s unfair to request that we just have an OUNCE of quiet, maybe once in three years or something. God knows things are loud enough at the moment!”
“... Yeah, with all your yelling,” Tamar muttered sheepishly under his breath.
Ben whirled on Tamar, an angry glint in her eye. “For God’s sake, my head is being used as an anvil to beat out blocks of ore into bleeding FOIL, this is NOT the time to-- hang on...” She broke off, listening to the reverberations of her voice bouncing back from the passage walls. “That echo didn’t sound right.”
Hector sniffed. “Something about the chamber that way... bleh. The sound is being blocked on the way back somehow.” The man pointed out as he wiped some of the accumulating sweat on his head. By this point the spikes in his hair were starting to fall, making his large clump of hair start to interfere with his vision. “Stupid green hair...” he muttered.
“Your own fault for not tying it back.” Ben glared at Hector for being a source of noise yet again, as she peered into the chamber, trying to see past the spots that were starting to invade her vision to make out what was there. “Ugh.”
Tamar looked between the two, worried. Clearly they were being affected by something, and if it was anything, it was probably the same sickness that the other adventurers had gotten recently. Of course, that didn’t explain why he was, so far as he could tell, completely fine. Jumpy, sure, freezing, also sure, but hey, they were in a really scary place Saints only knew how far beneath the ground. Fear, in such a given situation, was pretty natural.
He opened his mouth to say something, but... really, what would he suggest? That they go back? That they come back later, or send somebody else? Okay fine, so nobody had actually died of this yet, but the way the priests on the surface had been going on, it was only a matter of time. Oddly, the people who were getting off more lightly amongst the infected seemed to be the kids
Well. That made a nerve-wracking kind of sense. This was age-related. Which meant pretty much everyone here was on borrowed time for how long they were going to be able to function. “Damn it damn it damn it, where’s Marcus when you need him?”
“So... so there’s something back there.” One hand tightened on the sword hilt while the other reached out to touch Ben’s arm very
gingerly, as if she was a skittish cat that might bolt at any second. “Ben? A-are you sure?”
“If I wasn’t sure, I wouldn’t suggest it. No going back either way.” The voice was cold and snappish.
“I don’t think that’s such a good... I mean maybe you should, um...”
“We’re going. And what part of BE GODDAMN QUIET don’t you understand!?” Ben stopped walking to lean against the wall for a few moments, holding her head in pain. “My bloody head
Breathing heavily, Hector struggled a bit to lift his sword up against his shoulder. “Ben’s right.”
...Yeah, the odds of them listening to him were fairly low when they were both fully coherent, much less now. Tamar glanced at the sword in his hand, because it was sinking in now that he was going to have to use it, and probably well at that.
And neither of his teammates were in any way close to peak physical. Tamar had actually never imagined he’d see the day when Ben
would double over in pain. “Okay, look, maybe--”
“Would all of you shut up over there!?” A fourth voice echoed back from the chamber further ahead. “I’m trying to work, damn it!” The trio all paused, looking at one another confused.
Not wasting any more time, the three entered through the archway into a large open room. The back area was open, like some of the other rooms, revealing the foggy innards of the underground. The floor around the room had pipes and other such plumbing materials to pump the ever-flowing water out toward that abyss. Columns held up a balcony, which served as the roof for the area, with two sets of stairs leading down it toward the first floor where the trio of heroes stood.
The light stood out among the other details. Dim green and silky, it coated everything like a thin layer of grime in the darkness. One wouldn’t have thought it possible for light to look dirty, but this light was, and they could recognize the source of the age-old smell now-- it was coming from the balcony. Atop the platform lay an altar, reflecting the light against its obsidian stone.
“....What in the Saints...” Tamar started, before trailing off in obvious disbelief. Then his brain put two and two together and rapidly came up with four. Magic. Of course it was magic. It’s
always friggin’ magic.
Insects swarmed around the large open area, and on the ground floor were two rats. Massive in appearance; one might even say cow-sized. “Heeeeeey!” Hector called out in excitement, slowly turning his head over to Ben.
“Don’t even think about it, Hector!” she growled, still clutching her head with one hand, and her sword with the other. She had a full visual aura now, and was blinking rapidly as though that would help her see.
“Are you kidding me? I told you guys to shut up!” a whiny voice called from next to the altar. It was a lone man, scrawny in appearance, covered in a puke-green robe that fit perfectly to his body. Which was kind of a shame, because most of his body also had the appearance of somebody who had been living underground with rats and bugs for company for a long time. And said rats and bugs were everywhere
, crawling across every wall, beady eyes shining from every crack in the ancient, rotting stone. “Augh, for real? More adventurers? Really? Really. What’s the matter with you people!?” The man threw his hands up in frustration.
“More adventurers?” Tamar snapped. “What do you mean, more adventurers? Who the heck are you?”
“Ohhh hoho ho! Aaaah hohoho.” It wasn’t quite a laugh when they could actually see
the vowels forming. “Don’t know who I am?”
“Uh...” Tamar frowned.
“I hate this guy already...” Hector sighed.
“The other mages, they called me crazy! Fire Magic, Ice magic! That was the way to go, why the flub were you learning magic over the Vermin!?” The mage threw his hands about in frustration.
“Um...” Tamar repeated, feeling sure the rest of the sentence would form at some point.
“Because I’m the Vermin Lord, I said! Ya know what they did when I said that?”
“They laughed me out of the friggin’ palace! Buncha dicks.”
The mage gestured again, and the stone behind him shimmered ever so slightly. Tamar tensed. Okay, so odds were they were dealing with a lunatic, but those rats were huge
, and that thing clearly had power. And a lot of it. Enough to keep affecting people across an entire city. Tamar knew lunatics. He knew not to underestimate them. Even when they had an affinity with rats.
”No one on the surface ever respected my talents. They wanted the streets CLEAN of vermin. Can you believe them!? Up here, though, in this castle, vermin are everywhere for me to control. Rodents, Insects, BIGGER Rodents, BIGGER Insects!”
“Oh god,” Ben muttered under her breath. “Can’t he rant and rave more quietly
“Really, there’s not much else besides those two categories, is there...?” Hector groaned out.
“I don’t need
anything else! Didn’t you hear me!? Veeeeeermiiiiiiiiin Looooooooord!” He stomped up and down. “I’m not gonna be some two-bit mage here; with this altar, my control over the creatures of the dark has grown exponentially. And with the plague I’ve infected them with, even the strongest of warriors fall to my knees! Aaaaahohoho!”
...Of course, there is
such a thing as overestimating the intelligence of your opponent. By this point, the entire room seemed to have started... swarming around the edges, nothing but rodent and insect for as far as you could see in the dark. Seriously disgusting, but not half as disturbing as the giants that hovered around the altar, alien light glowing in their eyes. Tamar glanced back and forth between Ben and Hector for a moment. “...So, altar, right?”
“Of course the bleeding altar,” Ben snapped in response.
“Um... yeah, I’ll get the altar.”
“All right. We’ve got... we’ve got...” The man held onto his nose, trying to let the moment pass. “Whew... we got the CSRs.” He pointed over toward the large creatures, which looked ready to strike at a moment’s notice. Tamar ran ahead toward the steps. At that moment, the Vermin Lord commanded the Rats to charge him, but Ben and Hector stood in the way of the two massive creatures, and Tamar slipped between them, only stumbling slightly, ignoring the way the entire floor seemed to be swarming with the creatures. ”Altar, get to the altar!”
The mage wasn’t the cleverest of foes they’d encountered, but he wasn’t a total idiot. He knew exactly where Tamar was going the moment he dodged between the rats the size of farmyard animals and made for the stairs.
He had seemed such an anticlimactic idiot when he first appeared, that Tamar really hadn't expected him to be any good at wielding any kind of weapon, even compared to him. It was a bit of a surprise then, when a strike to the side knocked him off his feet. At first he seemed to be using a whip or something, but then the cord disintegrated on contact, breaking into a thousand insects all at once. Tamar tried not to yelp in disgust as he shook the things away from his sleeves. “Okay, leather shirt, definitely good move!”
He could just about see Ben dodging out of the way of a giant claw below, before the mage was between him and the altar, and this was where it started to get really disturbing. The insects swarmed in what might have been a nice display if they’d been, say, butterflies, or something, gathering around their host in a virtual living shield, so when Tamar tried to strike again, the insect swarm forced the blade away. The man laughed like a schoolgirl as he danced about. When Tamar went for another strike, the man threw his hands forward, firing the insects off at him in a swarm. Too many of them to possibly have a prayer of blocking.
And honestly, Ben and Hector weren't being all that helpful.
“Don’t fall over!” Hector yelled up from the bottom floor. “Remember your balance training! Cut through and catch him defenseless!”
“No! Don’t listen to him, duck and roll!” Ben countered, as the two, fatigued from the sickness, rolled across the ground, nearly getting trampled by the two large rodents. “Go around them and strike!”“Oh for the love of...”
Tamar winced, staggering away from another explosion of insects this time aimed directly for his face.
“Duck and roll!? You want him lying on the ground for this guy!?” Hector retorted, as he attempted to block a mighty blow from one of the CSRs, but in his current state was easily flung upward. Tamar hesitated when he saw it, and that was enough for him to miss the next strike coming. He barely caught it in time. “Just like the bear, think of it like the bear, they’re just BUGS, treat them like what they are!”
“You want him standing up and getting devoured by bugs!?”
“Guys, seriously, mixed messages here!”
“Do the thing... hrrng, with the thing!” Hector attempted to advise, but his advice had gotten a bit delirious from the sickness. Honestly, Tamar didn’t think that advice would’ve made much sense anyway. He managed to control the next swing enough to throw the insects back, but they dispersed well before they got anywhere near the Mage.
“Auuugh! Look, if you’re going to die, just do it quickly and quietly!”
“Ben, we’re trying to support him here, that’s not help-ACHOOO-ing!”
“What? I do NOT want to hear someone screaming in agony for twenty minutes with this godforsaken migraine!”
“Well, next time you get this job!” Tamar ducked beneath another strike, almost ending up on his hands and knees as he skidded toward the altar. The sword in his hands flared with a brief burst of pain and he flinched, wondering where it came from for one second too long. That was all the mage needed. The swarm leapt up between Tamar and the altar, a solid wall of movement, crackling with the magical energy that controlled them. A visible aura that practically screamed “You-do-not-want-to-walk-into-this.” Tamar took a step back, swearing. No getting through there, not like this.
When he turned, the mage was walking towards him, smirking. At least, it was probably a smirk. Hard to tell, what with all the bugs. Tamar lifted the sword, mage to one side of him, wall of bugs which he really did not want to walk into on the other.
“ Are you getting bored of this, pipsqueak?” The mage chuckled. “I’m getting bored of this. Nowhere to run. Like a peasant like yourself could even harm the masterful Vermin Lord.”
“...That name is moronic!” Ben yelled upward, moments before being blindsided by a rat the size of a cow.
“OH shut up!” The Lord flailed at the insult. From there, it didn’t take long before more advice was being shouted Tamar’s way.
“Don’t give him a chance to use that magic, stay on the offensive!”
“No, get behind him and attack him where he’s weakest!”
“That’ll never work!”
“Why the hell would your plan be any better!?”
...Honestly, neither plan had any hope of working. The Vermin Lord lifted a hand toward Tamar almost lazily, and what could only be described as a solid whip of insects slashed forward. Tamar blocked, a rush of anger bursting in his chest as the sword struck...
The second attack came too fast for Tamar to have the opportunity to wonder about this, and this time, when he blocked, Tamar could actually smell
smoke, could see the spark as sword collided with a whip of exoskeletons. The hilt under his hand was burning again, hotter than before. The Vermin Lord shrieked, as if he himself had been struck.
pissed him off.“Stay light. Movement is key, your body needs to move with your strikes; he’s off balance: use that!”
There was no way to avoid so many insects all at once, so Tamar didn’t try to. He blocked instead. The Vermin Lord, whatever his name was, struck again. Tamar grabbed the whip and pulled the attack toward him instead, ignoring the flash of pain as he tugged the confused figure. This resulted in a brief tug-of-war between them before the insects thought to disperse, and this time, Tamar was forced off balance.”Can’t avoid falling, so fall RIGHT.”
He rammed his elbow directly into the Mage’s neck. He fell backwards, his swarm of insects going with him, all of them humming as if in one united shriek of anger as the mage crashed to the ground. The sword hilt was still burning under his hand, and, suddenly, something in Tamar’s brain clicked.
Or... no, it wasn’t a click
. It was more like.. the feeling of a page turning. Of something being there that hadn’t been before. Inside of his head. When he sucked in a breath, it burned in his throat. He could hear Ben yelling in rage as the creature she was fighting tried to tear her throat out, could see the shape of Hector in the corner of his eye being knocked off his feet, and that seemed to be the push Tamar needed.
Tamar looked down at the sword. There was fire creating a sickly stench as it burned away the blood. That was what fire did, right? Marcus had told him. They used fire to cauterize wounds on battlefields. Fire purified.
Tamar turned to the virtual wall of insects still blocking him from the altar and swung the sword. The air hissed with the sound of burning exoskeleton and shrieking insect as fire leapt and tore through them. Tamar didn’t wait to think, or wonder what the hell he had done or where this fire was even coming from. He went for the altar, lifting the burning sword and bringing it down to the obsidian surface. ”Thank you, Marcus!”
Tamar didn’t expect to get blown back by the swing, mostly because he didn’t expect the altar to explode from the release of energy within it. With a flash, it split open from his attack, releasing whatever magic the mage had been using to bolster his power.
“NOOOOOOOOO!” The Vermin Lord shrieked out as he saw his precious relic destroyed before his very eyes. He took a moment to catch his breath, and then another, “NOOoooooOOoooOOoooooo... Ooooo! Hah...hah....oooooooooooo! AAaaah, what the hell did you do, you little brat!? Aw, I can’t believe this! My altar! Do have any idea how hard it was to borrow it from that succubus!? Awww, crap, I promised to give it back to her! Seriously. Worst day EVEEEEEER! Thanks a lot!” The man stomped around once again, clearly having recovered from being smacked in the chin, and Tamar would have had a witty comeback, probably, but his ears were still kind of ringing and it was just starting to sink in that ”Oh god, I just set a sword on fire how in the name of every saint of the Bloody Veil...”
Finally, the man came to a stop and glared at the boy. “Grrr. No one puts Vermin Lord in a corner. You’re going down, kid, right here!” The man proceeded to extend his arms outward, as if to call the insects to him once again. The moment never came, though. Awkwardly, the man’s eyes shifted to the left, and then the right, before he swung his arms back again to try to activate the spell. However, the altar destroyed, his control over the creatures had gone completely haywire. “Come oooon, damn it! Why the hell isn’t it working? You worthless insects, would you do something USEFUL for a change!?”
At that, the creatures decided to respond, and swarmed the man. This time, however, it was far from pleasant for him, as he yelled out in fear and pain as the insects attacked his body, rebelling against their master. “”WAAAH, oh spirits does that HURT!” The body flailed around, almost comically at this point, until finally it fell from the balcony and collapsed onto the bottom floor. He remained there, motionless, as the insects continued feasting upon his body. He had been killed, done in by his own power.
Hector found himself still pinned by the gigantic rodent above him, however. When the mage’s body landed with a thud, though, something happened. Hector felt his energy surging for a moment. A second wind? Perhaps, with the mage defeated, his sickness was leaving his body. At this, Hector grinned toward the beast as he felt his strength returning. With a yell outward, he pushed his arms against the creature’s belly, managing to somehow lift the beast off the ground, even while he himself lay on the floor, and, with a mighty toss, launched the monster right off the floor and out into the fog like the last rat. “Now we’re talking.” Hector chuckled as he rose back to his feet.
Ben was having a much better time as well, as her migraine faded from being skull-burstingly distracting to a mere irritation which continued to dissipate. A few blinks and the spots in her vision were ebbing away, leaving her with a clear view-- finally-- of what was actually in front of her. With a carefully placed kick to the neck, the massive rat’s head was forced back before it could bite at her, giving her enough time to pull her sword arm free and stab it in the chest. The creature struggled for a few moments, but the injury quickly claimed it, and it, too, died. Hector helped push the massive creature off his comrade, and the two finally took a moment to catch their breath.
“Uh... everyone all right down there?” Tamar had meant to yell, but it came out a little muffled. “Hector? Ben?”
Hector looked himself over; none of the wounds were anything serious. “We could certainly be worse...” Looking up toward Tama,r he waved for him to come back down. “Nice work, Hotshot.”
Tamar would have smiled, but he was still a little bewildered. He looked around to find his sword, lying where it had fallen. The hilt was cold beneath his fingers, no sign of the earlier heat that had surrounded it. “Could... I have imagined that?”
“Your legs stop working or something?” Ben called out, as the two waited.
Tamar shook his head, reclaimed the sword, and made for the stairs, taking them two at a time. He hadn’t even realised the malaise was lifting until it actually had. When he finally reunited with the others, Hector grinned and gave the gray-haired boy a thumbs up. “Nice work following my advice.”
“Be serious, the only reason he’s alive is because he knew how to fall like I taught him,” Ben challenged, the two narrowing their eyes at one another.
“...Um, if I say I followed both of your advice, can we leave here any faster?” Tamar shuddered, glancing back at the... well, body, of the former Vermin Lord. It was... not a pretty sight, and he had to look away after a moment.
“Hmm...” Hector walked up beside Tamar, and looked over at the body, insects still all over it. “Man, this guy sure was sad, wasn’t he?”
Tamar opened his mouth, possibly to ask exactly what had just happened, then thought better of it. “I don't think anybody deserves to go like that... I didn’t kill him.” He remembered at the last moment that pointing this out might be a good idea. “It’s just... the altar was broken, and they all went crazy
“It’s all right, I don’t think either of us started believing you could control giant bees all of a sudden.” Hector laughed, patting the boy on the back, the force of which nearly knocked him on the floor. The status quo was clearly restored. “What a way to go, though... falling from up there, a lot like that egg-guy, huh?”
“...Um... I don’t think Humpty Dumpty came with quite that many rats.”
“You’re both idiots. Can we go now?”
“Yeah, yeaaah... looks like everything’s back to normal, at least. If you can really call anything here normal, anyway... Let’s get back and see if the other infected adventurers are okay.”
Lead by example. Get lost in a swamp.
AS DICTATED TO INSTANTIATION 17-01-18-01.