Chapter 163: Slowly Pressing Forward

 

Since we have been cut off by the outside world it has been a tough couple of weeks. We are still encountering monstrosities and the Oni Generals, but we have even started to run into some normal looking monsters as well.

We don’t know if that is a good sign or not though, because it might mean we are going the wrong direction. [Communication] is still not working though, so it maybe I am looking too much into it. The normal monsters are a bit more predictable, and after one or two battles with the same type they are easier to deal with, but until then they are no less difficult then the monstrosities.

These normal monsters do seem to respawn however, because we had to backtrack yesterday after hitting a dead end and ran into another group of them. We have also discovered the walls are moving quite frequently, and it is making it hard to judge where we even are.

We think we have passed through areas that Inari and her group has passed through, but with the walls shifting we can’t be certain it isn’t a group we didn’t kill ourselves. We followed the trail as long as we could just in case, but a wall ended up cutting us off forcing us to go a different direction.

Chika has proven to be a pretty good map maker, and in an effort to make sure we aren’t just going in circles she has dedicated most of her time she isn’t fighting into making map that is detailed as possible. Since that time we have discovered we pass over a single area 2 or 3 times before another path opens up.

The fact that it can move the walls behind us, the dungeon could just block us off and we would be stuck, but after the second or third pass another path always becomes available, so it seems like the dungeon is just trying to slow us down.

It may just be a way for me to occupy my mind during our down time, but I have taken to using a piece of communication parchment in which Belinda holds the other copy of to let her know what we are doing and how things are going.

Of course the block on [Communication] stops it from working, but once we leave the blocked area all the things I have written should appear on her copy, and she will at least know how much I have missed, and thought about her and Rory. It will also allow her to get an update if we pass outside of the block in [Communication] even if it is only for a second.

I plan to continue until there isn’t any parchment left to write on. If things keep going like they are however, I am afraid I will run out of room long before we find Inari or a way out of here. We are now finished with our break however so I pack up the parchment and we then move out.

As we round a corner we can see a small group of the monstrosities down the tunnel a ways. They are not the toughest variety we have faced, with one ant looking creature and another praying mantis like creature.

They are not even the most grotesque looking ones we have seen but after the ant spots us it quickly starts scurrying our way, it causes Chika to scream in fear. Her scream quickly rattles the group and we quickly realize the reason for her distress.

Each of these monstrosities vary slightly, with different amounts of human and insect like parts. This one is no different, but the human-like body has a large bushy silver tail, and the human like head with large crushing mandibles has silver ears sticking out the top of its head and a familiar face.

Beastkin: “It’s….Yuji…”

Beastkin 2: “I thought you said these things weren’t undead?”

Chika: “What do we do…?”

“It doesn’t matter! It could just be a trick, but even if that used to be Yuji, it isn’t any longer. If we don’t kill it, then it will kill us.”

Beastkin: “But it’s the Mistress’s boss monster.”

“If it is Yuji, then Inari wouldn’t want him to be used in such a way.”

We had plenty of time to cast a few spells before the monstrosities had reached us, but everyone’s panic allowed them to get right up on us before anyone even draws their weapons. I quickly send my shield to its limit to block a blow from the ant like creature, while casting a spell sending a large boulder into the side of the creature trying to push it back.

Azami, Zoey, Poppy, and Lynx quickly spring into action as well, but all the beastkin including Chika draw their weapons but seem hesitant to act.

“We don’t have time! If you can’t handle the ant, then you deal with the other and we will take care of it!”

Chika: “What if it is one of Mistress’s monsters as well?”

Azami’s spriggans quickly start battering the ant, but the lack of fresh dirt or mud over the course of the last few weeks has left them quite thin and not as strong as they once were. Lynx summons several fiery blades launching them at the ant doing small amounts of damage.

With the bow Azami made Zoey, and the arrows we have been making with [Elven Crafting] in our free time, Zoey could probably fire and arrow straight through a tree, but still as her arrows pierce the tough carapace of the ant, they stop short of doing any real damage.

Poppy’s fighting style is pretty basic with sword and shield, so she tries to move in getting between the monstrosities and the others of the group. All the beastkin however are only now starting to move, but most are taking a step back rather than entering the fight.

Chika still looks quite hesitant, but she at least acts by attacking the praying mantis like monster with her spear.

Azami’s “friends” take the blunt of most of the attacks trying to defend the shaken up beastkin, but if they don’t pull it together quick people are going to start dying.

“I understand how shocking it is, but we can’t afford to worry about that now, we have to defend ourselves!”

They finally begin to move, but they avoid the ant instead focusing on the praying mantis. While the fox beastkin attack the praying mantis the rest of us attack the ant. Azami’s spriggan serve as our front line while Zoey uses her bow and the rest of us lob spells at it.

I do the best I can with my shield, but Azami’s spriggans are taking a massive beating. Replacing the spriggans is quite easy for Azami outside the dungeon, but in here the best she can do use [Elven Crafting] to repair them, so even though they are not sentient losing one of them is as bad as losing a member of the team.

I then move forward to help take some of the strain off of the spriggans while using shield, sword, and spell to bring this thing down.

Even though they are battling the praying mantis and are avoiding the ant the beastkin are still shaken up, causing them underperform, and it looks like they are taking quite a beating themselves.

I can’t afford to break off of attacking the ant, so I can only hope they can hold on long enough that we can take it down and move over to assist them.

Before it is all said and done we manage to kill the monstrosities, but not without paying a heavy cost of the lives of two more of the fox beastkin and three of Azami’s “friends”.

Azami gathers pieces from her fallen spriggans to reinforce the ones that remain, but even though that battle should have been simple we have effectively lost about a quarter of our fighting strength.

Chika: “Oh Yuji…” –She says rubbing the cheek of the fallen ant monstrosity.- “What do we do now…?”

“These monstrosities are put together like undead even they don’t seem to be. If that really was Yuji, I don’t see any other way for the corrupt dungeon to take control of him like that, so to be on the safe side we need to burn the corpses of the fallen, so they can’t be used against us.”

Beastkin: “You are going to burn the bodies?” –One of the beastkin says obviously upset.-

Chika stands up wiping a tear form her cheek as she says. “He is right. If not for our own safety then for our friends as well, if you fell in battle you wouldn’t want to turn into one of those things, so we need to see to it our friends can rest in peace and not be subjected to something like what happened to Yuji.”

Beastkin: “What about Hiro, and Masato? We just left them behind when they fell.”

“We did the best we could for them, but we can’t do anything about them now. We just need to mentally prepare ourselves that we may encounter them again as we did Yuji…”

Even though we just started our day not long before the battle, I don’t think it would be wise to push anyone at the moment, so we give the beastkin plenty of time to mourn while Zoey, Azami, Lynx, Poppy, and I deal with the Oni Generals that attack.

That evening we try to get a bit of rest, but the smell of the burning remains of our fallen comrades still linger in the air keeping the events fresh in everyone’s minds. Unable to rest we decide to get a move on, but our path forward is going to be much more difficult.

Things don’t get any easier the next few days even though we take things much slower, we still lose another fox beastkin, leaving only a female beastkin named Yui left. Luckily we haven’t encountered any more monstrosities that resemble people we know, because I don’t think Chika or Yui could handle it again.

Being so shorthanded has made us have to get quite creative with the way we handle combat. Azami, Zoey, and I have been using [Stone Wall] spells to separate the monsters we fight, trying to make things more manageable.

We have also not encountered any more signs of Inari or her group, but with our progress getting slower and slower, I am sure we are only getting further and further behind them. Our reduction in numbers has increased the amount of xp we are acquiring however, and Yui is catching up to our level quickly.

Chika wasn’t far behind to begin with and she has already reached the same level as Lynx and Poppy, and even I have gained another level. Chika, Poppy, and Lynx’s last level gain put them all at level 40 giving them all a new skill and a boost to their strength with the ranking up of their skills, so that helped a great deal.

After making a circle for a second time a new path opens up to us and finally brings a bit of hope, but also a bit of discouragement when we discover a makeshift camp with the charred remains of what appears to be two beastkin and one of the monstrosities.

We can’t tell who the remains belong to, but if the monstrosity is another from their group, they not only have lost Yuji but at least 3 more. If we don’t find each other soon neither one of our groups are going to be strong enough to get out of here alive.

Chika: “They are so burned up I can’t even tell the sex of the remains, but I can tell they were burned only a few days ago at most.”

“That means their progress has slowed down considerably as well, we have got to find them quickly…”

Yui: “Who do you think is left?”

Chika: “I don’t know, but if Yuji fell then anyone could have.”

“We can’t do anything about those who have fallen, we have to focus and find them so we can help the ones that are still alive.”

Yui: “But what if we are too late?”

“If we don’t find them soon, we aren’t going to make it out of here either, so we better hope we find them.”

Staying here isn’t going to get us anywhere so we continue on our path forward. I manage to keep all of the sentient monsters alive, but we have lost the last of Azami’s spriggans in a difficult fight. Then again every fight has become a difficult fight except those against the Oni Generals.

Things only get harder as we enter combat against a large scorpion like monstrosity that we haven’t encountered before. Azami, Zoey, and Lynx are all ranged and Chika is a melee fighter, but she isn’t the defensive type, so that only leaves Poppy, Yui, and myself to keep this scorpion’s attention off of the rest of the group.

That should be enough but this thing is large enough that it is taking each one of us at its pincers while the third one is defending against the monstrosity’s tail. I don’t know if I should be thankful or if I should find it unfortunate that instead of a poisonous bard at its tip, it instead has the upper half of a woman’s torso complete with arms that are being used to cast spells at us.

The monstrosity’s appearance is quite grotesque, but at least as far as we can tell the humanoid remains that make of parts of its body don’t have any distinguishable marks that would leave us to believe are from someone we know.

Poppy is managing to hold one of the pincers at bay, but Yui is struggling quite a bit, while I try to deal with the tail. Zoey has filled the torso that makes up the tip of the monstrosity’s tail with enough arrows that were they removed you could probably shine light through them, but that still caused no break in the spells being cast.

Using spells Azami and Lynx are able to remove the arms from the torso, but then instead of casting spells it swings its tail around like a maul hitting the struggling Yui’s shins knocking her legs out from underneath her.

I quickly try to come to her aid, but the scorpion’s pincer catches her around the neck, and it is already too late to save her. I quickly take her place against the pincer but even though Poppy was able to hold the other pincer at bay, with the tail whipping around us both it is making it twice as hard.

We finally manage to kill the monstrosity, but the loss of Yui is more then we can afford right now. The battle leaves us completely drained making the Oni Generals that quickly follow a difficult battle as well. After we deal with the Oni Generals Poppy looks like she can barely stand, but Chika looks to be in even worse shape. That doesn’t stop her from gathering Yui’s remains with tears in her eyes.

Chika: “This is all my fault, I was the one that insisted they all come. You tried to tell me to leave them behind, but I didn’t listen.”

“They knew the risks, so don’t put this on yourself. Inari gave them to me, and I was their master. If anyone is responsible for their deaths it is me, but even though their deaths were tragic, we never would have made it this far without them.”

Chika: “But what do we do now? There is only the 6 of us left.”

“It is clear the corrupt dungeon won’t let us go back, so our only choice is to go forward. We can only hope we can find Inari soon, and that her group is faring better than ours is.”

We take care of Yui’s remains, and then rest there for a few hours, before we set back out, but out progress has slowed to a crawl. After a few more days of pushing forward we have had more close calls then I can count, but so far the 6 of us have at least made it through alive.

If it wasn’t for being dungeon monsters none of us would have made it, because for the number of limbs we have had to use magic to replace or reattach, that kind of damage would probably kill a normal person on the spot.

Even I wasn’t immune, losing a leg during the battle with another one of those scorpion-like monstrosities. That battle was an exceptionally close call, if it wasn’t for Azami’s almost endless supply of magic, we wouldn’t have made it.

The crushing pain of one of my legs between its pincers, or even the most excruciating pain I have ever experienced when it ripped the leg from its socket, was only secondary to the unnerving sound of its crushing jaws as it ate my leg.

By the time the creature was killed there wasn’t enough of my leg to salvage, so a new one had to be grown from scratch with magic, which was quite time consuming. Even though my leg is brand new, and is not even part of the one that was ripped off, just the thought of the monstrosity eating my old leg is enough for a chill to run down my back and give me an odd feeling.

Poppy has lost a limb twice now, and although we were able to re-attach her arm the first time, a complete new one had to be regrown a second time, so I ask her. “Does it get easier…?”

Poppy: “What having a limb torn from your body… How can you expect to get used to that feeling? If I ever do get used to that feeling, then that is the time in which I throw in the towel and retire as an adventurer.”

Chika: “What do we do now though? We have been lucky that every time we run into one of those scorpions they are by themselves, but what will we do if there is more than one?”

“We are not going to starve, or even age, so we could essentially wait them out forever, but there is so much of Rory’s childhood that I don’t plan to miss, so I don’t plan on giving up just yet.”

Chika: “I don’t plan on giving up either, but we can’t keep going like we are… We have to find Mistress Inari.”

“I don’t disagree, that is the whole reason we came here after all, and everything we have done up to this point was to that end, but if you have any suggestions I would be happy to hear them.”

Chika: “I don’t… But I don’t want to die in this place.”

“Then we have to focus, and keep moving forward.”

Chika: “We haven’t seen any sign of Mistress Inari in days, with the way this place keeps changing, and with the fact we have had no breaks in the monsters we have been fighting, we might have even gotten ahead of her.”

“Then we can only hope they can catch up to us, but we can’t afford to sit around and do nothing. I don’t know how these corrupt dungeons work, but every day we stay here it is only putting us further at a disadvantage.”

Chika: “I know you are right, I am just scared…”

Poppy wraps her arm around Chika’s shoulder and says. “I am too, but if you trust in my Master, I promise you we will get through this.”

I am actually quite worried myself, but Poppy’s words manage to calm down Chika a bit so I don’t say anything. We continue on for another day before Chika’s worries become reality. We find our path forward blocked by two of the massive scorpion like monstrosities.

We see them before they saw us, either that or they do not plan to leave the spot in which they are standing to come after us, but in either case we are able to maintain a safe distance while we decide how we wish to proceed.

“We could put us walls to separate them like we did with the other monstrosities and monsters, but I just don’t think the walls we could summon would hold one of these creatures back long enough to deal with the other.”

Chika: “I know you have no desire to wait, but maybe we should at least give them some time to see if they separate on their own.”

“Even if we do try to take them, we should be fully rested, so might be a good idea. Just in case they don’t though, while we are resting we need to try to come up with a plan to deal with both of them at once.”

We give them a few hours, but we don’t have any luck. The monstrosities don’t even seem to move during that time period. They don’t even twitch, and that is enough for Chika to ask. “Are they even alive?”

“I don’t know if you can consider those things alive or not, but if you are asking if they will attack us if we get closer I think the answer is most certainly.”

Zoey: “How we going to do this boss?”

“I’m not saying this is a good plan, but separating them is still our best bet.  I say we try to lure one away from the other, and see if we can them to attack one at a time, but if not, everyone that can cast the [Stone Wall] spell needs to charge it with every skill you possibly can, and we can try to deal with them one at a time.”

Chika: “What if that doesn’t work?”

“I don’t know how far this dungeon will let us go back, or how far these monstrosities will pursue us, but our only option then is to try to retreat, so we can only hope this works.”

Poppy: “That is awfully risky.”

“Trust me, if I had a better idea…”

We then check and recheck everything before we lay out a few runic magic stones to slow them down just in case we have to retreat. I have everyone stand back a bit while I move forward to try to lure only one of the monstrosities.

I cast a simple spell that is far from flashy or that will even cause any damage to these things, but as soon as the spell hit both monstrosities quickly begin charging straight at me. I then quickly use every skill I can muster to cast a [Reinforced Wall] spell to block one of the monstrosities off, and the others quickly follow suit.

The walls block one of the creatures off completely, and we then begin focusing on the other one. The spells work quite a bit better than I had hoped, but trying to maintain the wall and fight the second monstrosity is easier said than done.

Each of these monstrosities are unique, but we have fought enough of them now that we have the basics of their abilities, and tactics down, so we slowly begin to stack up damage against the monstrosity.

I don’t know if the other monstrosity gave up when it was blocked off by the walls, or what it has been doing behind the wall, but I can tell my wall is still intact behind all the others, and here I thought we would at least have to keep recasting the spells as it broke through each layer.

After the monstrosity we are fighting begins to start suffering major damage, I start feeling confident this might actually work, but it was premature because I feel the fade of my magic as my wall collapses. Much to our surprise before I even can cast the spell again, the second monstrosity crashes through everyone else’s walls simultaneously.

We franticly try to recast our spells, but they no longer hold it back as it keeps crushing through them one after another. We then use stone wall in creative ways, having them drop straight on top of the scorpions, but they don’t really seem to mind it and just squirm from under them or break them. Trying to pin them down worked for a few moments when we had pillars grow from the roof, until they broke them with their tails.

“Damnit, we almost had one. We need to get some space between us, everyone retreat!”

We then quickly start to disengage from the battle, and we make a run for it. As we do we can hear the sound of the runic magic stones going off, as the monstrosities pursue us. We get a bit of distance on the monstrosities, but would have liked to get a lot more, but the path in front of us is blocked off.

We don’t know if they are still behind us so we quickly prepare for battle, but after a minute passes there are no signs of the monstrosities. Before we have a chance to lower our guard however both monstrosities making their way through the cavern towards us.

“This isn’t good… Everyone focus on the wounded one! If we can cut it down to just one, then we should be able to make it!”

We are already pinned, but we don’t want to fight without any room to move around so we put a bit of space between us and the blocked off path. As soon as the monstrosities come into range I try casting [Reinforced Wall].

That still doesn’t stop them this time as it crashes through it like it isn’t even there. I give up on the wall focusing all my attention on casting spells to damage the injured monstrosity, but once they approach things really start to look grim.

Holding off both of them would be impossible, but with the one being as injured as it was we are able to finally drop it, but not before suffering quite a bit of damage ourselves. Even Zoey and Chika have switched in to try to spread some of the damage out.

Azami was able to disable the remaining scorpion’s tail, but it is taking everything we have to hold back it’s pincers. While Poppy and I have shields, Zoey and Chika don’t, so we focus our healing on them until one of the pincers grabs ahold of Zoey’s leg.

Instead of trying to rip her leg off like the ones have done in the past it starts to club her against the ground. The loss of her leg will not kill her, but if the scorpion doesn’t release her it surly will, so I make the decision to cut Zoey’s leg off myself freeing her from the scorpion’s grasp.

I quickly cast a healing spell on her, but she has suffered enough damage that it doesn’t even allow her to regain consciousness. I don’t know how much danger her life is in at the moment, but if I don’t focus on those still capable of fighting, then none of us are going to make it out of here alive, so I turn my attention back to the others.

The battle continues, but there is not a second that goes by that I am not casting a healing spell, so my magic is starting to run out, and Lynx’s magic already has so he moves forward with his staff. The monstrosity is starting to show signs of damage, but nowhere near as bad as our group.

The monstrosity grabs ahold of Lynx around the waist with one of its pincers, and Poppy desperately tries to pry him free, but not before it nearly tears him in two. I hit him with a healing spell, but there is so much damage to him I don’t know if he is even still alive or not.

It isn’t long before Poppy, and Chika are down as well, leaving me to fend off the monstrosity on my own. I see a rush of blue metal next to me as Azami joins in taking sword in hand. I have never seen her do anything more than cast spells and use her spriggans, but I don’t have the luxury of being in awe right now.

She never stops casting spells as she jabs at the monstrosity with a thin mythril blade, and for a mage she is managing to hold it back quite well, but it is still not enough for us to be able to down the monstrosity ourselves.

I am about to lose hope when I see a flutter of feathers as a winged figure comes crashing down into the center of the scorpion’s back. It takes me aback for a moment, and that is all the time the scorpion needed as it slams me with the side of its pincer knocking me backwards to the floor.

The winged being has its back to me, but even though the wings threw me off, and even in the muddled state after crashing to the ground I would recognize that figure anywhere. She is not alone either as I can see others quickly approaching the scorpion pulling its attention away from us.

Inari: “Azami, you take care of Daddy, and we will take care of the rest!.”

Relief washes over me, and I lose consciousness.

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One thought on “Chapter 163: Slowly Pressing Forward

  1. Might want to change the numbers of the burned remains they find and believe to be part of Inari’s group or add some other details, because otherwise it’s an exact match for the type and numbers of people their own group just lost and burned, and allows the possibility that it’s their own leavings and they haven’t noticed or even thought of the possibility.

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