Chapter 25 – You Fought a What?
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As I stepped through the archway. My vision blacked out and a piercing chill ran through me. I was now standing in a graveyard with Lucas's group. A grey fog hung low to the ground with shabby tombstones poking out like broken teeth. A catacomb stood on a hill in the distance. A rusted gate, barely hanging on, swung back and forth. I could see what probably was a staircase leading down behind the gate. The angle was bad, so I was not positive. The wind blowing between the tombstones made a whistling noise. With the banging of the rusty, squeaking gate, and the eerie wind, the area definitely had a 'horror movie' vibe.

They immediately formed moved into a formation with William in the front, James and Phillip flanking and Lucas in the rear. Nobody talked. They just did it without a sound. The formation looked like a plus sign with the middle empty.

I moved to be in the middle while pulling up their health windows so I could see how much damage everybody took at any given moment. "What's the plan?" I asked Lucas.

He looked around, frowned and said, "This is weird. The dungeon changed. From the time that they found it over a hundred years ago, nothing has ever been different, until today. Everything I knew about it will no longer be valid. It seems obvious that the entrance is there but what is down there …" He trailed off. We all knew the risk increased because we would be going in blind.  He made a gesture and we began to move through the graveyard. I could feel Lucas's eyes on my back as we advanced. 'Another pervert', I thought and tried to ignore his staring.

As we moved forward the ground became muddier. My slippers that passed as girls' shoes in this world were lost somewhere in the muck after a few steps. They were so covered in gunk that I could not even see them.

I could feel the slimy substance going between my toes and felt things wiggling around my feet that I told myself were worms. Yup, just worms and not something that would burrow into my skin or some kind of parasite that would attach itself onto me like a leech. The bottom of my white dress had turned a blackish brown from the mud.

Much to my surprise nothing crawled its way out of the graves or hid in the fog. I was expecting something to happen and I was jumpy because of it. My jumpiness was a stark contrast to their calm collected actions.

I jumped when I heard the rusty gate fall with a clatter. Behind it was a staircase leading into darkness. I saw Phillip fasten a yellow crystal into an indent in his leather armor. The indent looked like it was made to hold it there securely.

I was going to ask about it but heard Lucas whisper "fire sprites"  which distracted me. I saw red glows being cast onto the dirty walls before us and the darkness receding. The stairs were wet, and I could see little streams of water along the edges dribbling down. 

With a command from Lucas, our formation changed into a single file line with me being second to last and Bill leading the way. His tall frame taking up most of the passageway leading down. I heard Lucas say something in a strange language and saw a little flaming squirrel shoot past me and scamper it's way by everybody until it was between Bill's legs. I giggled at my silly thought of 'balls of fire' as I saw the squirrel's tail waving in between his legs. The other's glanced at me and I got an "Are you ok?" from Phillip to which I gave a nod. I figured that there must be multiple of fiery squirrels because the light was coming from behind us as well now.

We moved down the stairs cautiously. The wet stones were cold and slippery, and I made a mental note to pack extra shoes into one of my pockets for the next adventure. I eyed the boots everybody else had on with envy.

The bottom of the stairs opened into a massive swamp; with a freaking sky! I mean there were moons and everything. I do not even want to try to figure it out. How does one go down below the earth to a swamp with a sky? I am just going to chalk it up as 'magic' because otherwise I may just go crazy trying to figure it out. The swamp was dark and gloomy. Shriveled trees clung to the mounds of dirt that managed to break free of the sludge that might have once been water. The smell of decay and stagnant water was everywhere.

Out of curiosity, I cast purify on the ground and water near me. The brown tuffs of grass near the concrete steps brightened to green briefly and then slowly faded back to brown. The water became clear but soon more stagnant water replaced it. That is about what I expected to happen given what we were taught in class about the environments of dungeons having an auto regeneration feature to put them back to whatever their "standard" was.

As a precaution, Lucas had James tie a thin rope around my waste "Just in case something pulled me under", which just so you know is not reassuring. James for his part said nothing but his face was cherry red as his hands reached around my waist to loop the rope. It finally clicked that James might like me. Either that or he had zero interactions with women. I made sure to thank him. No reason I could not help him adjust to being around women and if it was the other reason, I would just politely decline any advances. 'I am such a great person' I thought.

I heard the squirrel near William squeak as water hit it. There was no way they would make it in this swamp. I was not the only one thinking that because shortly after that the flames began to die out and with a soft fizzle the fire vanished. Without the fires casting light, the area became more desolate.

I briefly thought of using my aura to brighten up the area but felt that we were too exposed. It was much brighter than fire and would act as a beacon. Thinking for a second, I cast 'Golden Armor' on myself. It produced a little bit of light and would also protect my bare feet. It also made me a target to range attacks.

William began to make his way into the murky water and the others followed spreading out into the formation we begun with. The water was cold and had a layer of something floating on top of it that, I for one, did not want to know what it was. So far the water only covered my ankles.

As we made our way through the swamp, the ground rose and fell causing the water to rise above my waist at times and at  times it would only be around my ankles. The water rippled as things moved through it and on the islands, the trees would rustle and move from time to time. I was unsure what was living in this swamp but there was no doubt that there were monsters here with us.

I could feel my dress begin to float upwards from the air pockets trapped inside and the light fabric whenever the water rose above my thighs. It would then cling to my body instead of falling back into place whenever the water dwindled. I had to tug it back down every time if I wanted to remain decent. When the water rose in the higher water. I could see a faint outline of my body below the water since the dress no longer covered it. Luckily, the water was dark and details could not be seen.

I was embarrassed but at least my underwear was darker. I just thought of them as swimwear.  I tried to ignore the fact that my dress was clinging  higher and that I was probably giving everybodyba free show. With all my clothing issues I really wanted Lucas to stop his incessant staring. At least the others were trying to be subtle and only glanced from time to time. But eventually, I got tired of being stared at.

Not sure on what to say to make them stop, I pulled out my mace. I saw all the others take a step away from me, glance in my direction and then quickly look away. Lucas's stare also vanished just like that. I had completely underestimated the usefulness of nutcracker's effect on men. I was just going to threaten him with a beating if he did not knock it off.

We continued moving. Occasionally Phil would give course corrections to William. The water had gotten so deep that at one point that it was over my upper chest. I knew how to swim so I was not too worried, but it was inconvenient to say the least. I made another mental note to demand pants after we saved the school. It was the least they could do.

I felt pressure from impacts to my armor. Judging from the 'poisoned' indicator that appeared in their health windows from time to time, I figured it was some type of water snakes that were attacking us. It drained my mana to keep removing it and I was glad to see that the ground starting to raise steadily.  It did not take long until we were back to muddy land with withered trees and puddles.

Lucas called a break. I welcomed  it and quickly settled down against a rock near one of the trees. I began resting to gather back my mana as quickly as possible. I had read about a meditative state that enhanced recovery, but it was an advanced skill and not something I could learn yet.

James's health decreased suddenly and when I turned to look, I saw a black shadow piercing through his upper leg. His mouth opened to scream yet he did not make a sound. I did it for him. Screaming my lungs out seemed to get everybody moving. I am sure I looked like a girl in a horror movie, but it was the quickest way to get everybody's attention, so risked it.

I started casting once I saw them moving. I kept looking back and forth between James and his health window. The letters within it were slowly changing into question marks and then fading making it harder to read. I cast my strongest instant heal spell 'minor heal' and saw his health improve. The shadow that now looked more like a tentacle, fizzled a little when I cast as if I had hit it with acid, and it quickly retracted back into the muck. When I looked again at his health window I saw the letters had snapped back into focus and a couple of the question marks returned to letters.

I was pretty pleased with myself since the others were up and in formation and James was moving. Sure, his movements were sluggish but still he was moving. And then, the earth started shaking! The tree I had just been beside began to move. Then I noticed the other trees moving, unfolding, and a suction sound emanated below us as the earth beneath our feet began to rise with us on it.

Black tentacles began to sprout like mushrooms after the rain and Lucas gave a quick command to jump off. The others did not hesitate and in one motion moved to the edge and one by one jumped into the swamp below. I waited for James to jump just to make sure in his slowed condition he made it and then I also moved toward the edge.

Black tentacles tried to pierce my armor only to recoil just as fast. My golden armor becoming thinner and fading with every hit had me concerned though. 'How long would it last?', 'Would the next hit get through?', and 'Should I recast the spell?' were all questions that flooded my mind so that when I neared  the edge to jump, it never crossed my mind to question how high up I was. Seeing multiple tentacles shooting at me. I leapt to "safety". Unfortunately, safety was now over twelve feet down.

I jumped without thinking or looking. My eyes were on the incoming tentacles that were trying to make me into a shish kabob. It was not until I was halfway down that I realized how high up I was and manifested my wings. I half fell, half glided face first into the marsh. Feeling like an idiot and spitting out the mouthful of mud, I gathered myself up as quickly as possible.

When I looked I saw a huge monster above us. The trees had become thick legs that towered above us. The branches now looked like tendons that attached themselves into a giant head, its body kind of looked like a tadpole. I would say sperm, but I am a serious monster killer and killing giant sperm just does not sound cool. The head was bulbous, but the tail was thin and long. There was black 'hair' sprouting along the top, no eyes, and a mouth that took up most of the "face".

It gave a screech that echoed around the swamp. Its mouth opened impossibly wide and had a long black tongue with a barb at its tip. A vicious drool dribbled from it. Wherever it splashed I saw little black threads slowly began to grow and wiggle about. 

Phil had his hands in the water. It took me a second to realize that the water bubbling and churning around them were plants rushing and rearranging around them. A vine wrapped bow slowly formed. When it finished he pulled out his hands, one hand held the new bow and in the other, his ring flashed and an arrow quiver just appeared in it. 

Bill pulled his war hammer and was swinging it at the nearest leg. His mouth gave a screech similar to the monsters just not as loud and its head tilted in his direction, the little hairs on the monster wiggling aggressively at Bill. It seemed pissed. Lucas was feeding something to James as fast as he could get it down his throat. It swung its tongue at Bill, and its tail at me while the little hairs began to squirm and shoot off heading right at Phil. 

Seeing Phil unprotected I quickly cast a 'golden armor' spell hoping that mine would hold up to the coming impact. I saw Phil begin to glow right before I felt something huge slam into my back. I shot off like a cannon ball skipping across the water and then sinking once my momentum wore off. My golden armor cracked and faded away. Pain coursed through my body, but I was alive.

 

Coughing out water, I tried to focus back on the fight. I was further away than I expected to be. Standing back up I began to move closer as I watched James jumping around like he was in a trapeze act. He clung to pieces that poked out of the monster's legs, that were barely visible, only to swing off them to land clutching at new pieces. With twirls and jumps he made his way up the monster and towards its head where new "hair" was beginning to form.

Lucas had summoned a dozen or more pure white birds that were attacking the growing black threads the saliva had formed. They looked as if they were eating worms for breakfast. Phil was covered with dog sized black tadpole like monsters that were more teeth than anything else. They had latched onto him in various places and were trying to gnaw though my armor spell without much luck. Unfortunately, they were slowing him down and the tail that had hit me was now coming at him like a whip.

Bill's shield was pierced through by the monster's tongue. The barbs at the tip causing it to get stuck. I saw skid marks as Bill fought a losing tug-of-war match and got pulled ever closer. The shield buckles he strapped to his arm now becoming a hindrance to his safety. The only thing saving him from being pulled up was the leg he had hit was bent at an odd angle, black blood seemed to flow, as if it was alive, out of the cracked joint and the monster could not get the leverage it had before.

I cast 'Blessing of the Goddess' on Phil. I crossed my fingers for luck because this was the first time I cast it. I was going to cast 'Aid' but for some reason this spell just felt right. I waited for something to happen. All my spells seem to have a visual effect, but nothing happened, and my nervousness grew. Did I just mess up spell testing in combat?

The tail whipped in and Phil lost his balance as he stepped on a tail of one of the tadpoles attached to his leg. Arms flailing, he tried to keep his balance only to fall right as the tail whipped across where his head just was a second ago. With a plop he fell in the slippery mud and the tadpoles continued to swarm over him trying to break through.

'That …. That was too close.' I thought. 'Was it my spell? Did he have a luck skill or was it just something that naturally happened?' I had no idea nor did I have time or the means to find out. Either way he was "Safe" if you did not count the things trying to eat him. I never stopped moving closer. I doubted my negligible mace skills would help but I will do my best.

As I got closer I saw the tadpole critters were still trying to eat Phil but the once huge teeth that took up most of their mouths had somehow melted and they were now trying to gum him to death. The once bright 'Golden Armor' was more faded but I did not think it would break under such silly attacks. Lucas was chanting and a vortex seemed to be forming in the sky above the monster. The monster seemed to sense the danger because it was trying to move into a position that would get it out from under the vortex while allowing it to whip Lucas with its tail. The struggling monster's tongue was deforming as it tried to pull him in. Bill's right arm had clung onto the rock I had been leaning on while his left arm with the shield was being pulled up toward the mouth. His body was hovering off the ground, his muscles bulging and his face red from the strain. I could see determination to hold on, trapping the monster in the spot, for as long as he could but there were cracks forming in the rock where his fingers had dug in.

I had lost sight of James until I saw him do a spinning leap over the back of the monster. As he spun, the ball shape he had been in extended into a spear shape with both swords becoming the tip. Like a god had cast him from heaven, he plunged down into the monsters skull. With a crack, I saw the swords disappear as he continued to roll, tumble and jump to safety.  The living blood shot out from where the swords had pierced trying to grasp at him but he was already summersaulting back into the swamp.

I thought through all that I saw and manifested my wings, flared out my aura and decided to field test an idea. Flying up so I could see, I cast my weakest heal spell on the blood that was whipping about still trying to find James. Like salt to a slug it sizzled and quickly pulled back into the skull revealing the hilts still sticking out from where they were left.

Wondering if my aura might be as affective I decided to fly closer but heard Lucas ending his chant. The vortex opened like an eye and a flaming bird was unfurling its wings as if it was hatching from it. Thinking better of my half-ass plan, I stayed away from that mess.

Instead I placed myself into a position to help Bill in case the rock he was holding onto broke. James had pulled two daggers from somewhere and was moving back into position. I glanced at Phil briefly just to check to see if the shield was holding. However most of my attention was on the gigantic bird that was now looking at the beast as if it was on the menu and while the bird was big so was the monster.

Looking at the two massive creatures, I thought of how nothing good ever came to the humans from the clashes Godzilla had with other monsters. Lucas Slammed his staff down and that seemed to be the go sign. The bird gave a shrill caw, opened its wings and with a downward flap sent hundreds of flaming feathers into the body of the tadpole with legs, sending flames licking up its body.

It screeched as the flames burnt it. It pulled its head back and the rock finally cracked. James leapt and sent his daggers flying. They buried themselves into the inside of Bill's shield and though I could not see it, the straps must have been cut because the shield went one way and Bill went the other. Not expecting such a thing to happen, my awesome 'save' ended up being me watching Bill smack into the muddy ground.

Seeing everybody busy, I refocused on the monster and kept casting healing spells on it. Chunks of it fell off with every cast. It tried rolling to put out the fire which would have worked if the phoenix, I mean what else do you call a flaming bird, had not continued to bombard it over and over again with flaming attacks. It tried crawling into the marsh but it was so wrecked that it only managed to get a few feet. It crumbled after ten minutes of continuous attacks. Phil even managed to fire his bow once and as he told the tale it was that arrow that really did it in, leaving us victorious but exhausted. I went around healing everybody that needed it and smiting any remaining black patches I saw. I was not taking any chances. The bird got sucked back into the vortex a little after ten minutes had gone by.

We reclaimed our equipment, took some of the monster and then rested for an hour. after that we began to move again. It was not too long before we all saw another stairway leading down.

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