Chapter 84
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Arrows fly by me, each just barely missing my scampering form. The ring of each silver-tipped arrow striking the metal gears I run across like the ringing of a crystal bell, each a deathly finger pointed towards my frantic heart telling it that they were meant for it. Each clink and toll is a sign of the midnight to come and I run, against the winding of the gear before jumping over across the span to the next.

 

  As I soar through the air for that second my eyes find their way down to the darkness below me and I realize just how high up this particular gear is. Grinding mechanisms of all manner, made out of bronzes and silver metals fill the room, clanking and churning all the way down to the distance below where the stone floor is just barely visible through the dark gloom that permeates the dungeon. A fall from here would mean to die. My feet land on the next gear and my eyes return forward again as I run; arrows flying just barely past me every other odd few seconds.

 

  Thankfully her aim is off today. But then I remember, I remember that her aim has never been perfect. The memory of watching her shoot at the skeletons in the Slippery Wet Tentacle Fun place, which yes, I am still insisting we call it that; that memory returns to me. How every other shot only connected with the skeletons. The memory of the arrows whizzing past me as Nichodemus on the chain high above the forest floor.

 

Then I understand. She has trouble hitting moving targets. Guess even our adventurers aren’t that perfect. At least she isn’t.

 

  There is a slight sense of relief in my core, that does little however to alleviate the fear. But not only am I small, but I’m far away on a moving platform and so is she. This is perfect for me. It couldn’t be better. I feel something, a lurch in my chest and I duck throwing myself down again to the floor and press myself flat. Just in time as the arrow whizzes past the top of my head, grazing the already missing ear.

 

I return to my feet and keep running. I seem to have good instincts about dodging those too I’ve noticed. Wonder if my stats have anything to do with that.

 

  And so this ritual continues and I wonder how many arrows she has left. Jumping from gear to gear I sink lower and lower, always fear of being caught in the mechanics, always fearful of crashing down and smashing into the stone floor below. No more arrows reach me however and I realize she must be running low or is already empty. I spare a glance over to the side out of the corner of my eye and watch as she nimbly leaps and runs across the many gears with an elf-like grace as she tries to find a path to cut me off in more ways than one.

 

  But I have an advantageous position and am already much lower than she is. I leap again to the next churning gear beneath me and now I am close to the floor below. Another leap with baited breath and I land with my own rat-like grace on the familiar warm stones of my beloved dungeon and scamper away into the darkness, listening to her angry shout behind me; listening to the sound fade away as I gain distance and vanish into the darkness of some passage.

 

  As I run I smell familiar smells. The smells of toxic fumes, of poison water and of sewer. Soon enough I see it as well. Metal piping running around the walls from this room to the great machine chamber behind me. Droplets of green-water sicker out at every odd joint, besmirching the stone floors with stains that I can only describe as nostalgic. Home-like.

 

  Steam rushes out around me, shooting from the many pipes and filling the hallway with a piping heat. I realize that if I were taller, these would have scalded my face off. I suppose the floor itself has traps of its own right. Not extras made by us mobs or by the dungeon-master, but just dangers borne of its very nature. Steam. Gears. Grinding. Crushing. All in all an unpleasant place. Though as a rat I can’t help but admire the aesthetic just a little. It’s industrial, but it’s more of an industrial-chic, you know? I kind of dig it.

 

  The sounds as well are… oddly pleasing. The grinding of the many mechanics and the gurgling of the pipes seems almost synchronized. Almost as if the floor itself were making a tune, some cultist chant or rhythm as the machinery hammers forward, lurching and smashing as if to summon some great entity from beyond. It reminds me of the purple cultists and their odd party-ritual. It’s loud and garish, but you kind of want to listen to it at the same time.

 

I round a corner and I stop. There is a squelching. My heart stops and I feel a freeze in my brain as the wet sound surrounds my one good ear, as the wet sound comes closer and closer as-

 

Oh.

 

  I look forward just ahead of me in the next room at the little blobs moving around. At the odd creatures. Slimes. Black slimes. Out of the pipework here leaks a oozy mechanical goo; some dark tar that’s probably incredibly unhealthy to even be around and from it crawl out little creatures. Slimes made of the stuff, of the ink. Tiny bits of jagged scrap metal and rusted bolts and filth float in their oily bodies. Hmm. Cool. Machine slimes? Gear slimes? No. Oil slimes? Hmm…

 

  I run through the room, looking at them with some interest but not really slowing my pace. They look cool. Sensing my presence, some of them wobble and turn over towards my direction, but then they stop and don’t even give chase. Do they not hunt critters? I wonder. Maybe they just live off of machine slop? As I span the room I take a moment to look back at them. They seem to be living a peaceful little life. Good for them!

 

  I run off into the next chamber where I am confronted by a deeply rolling heat. Just an intense, scorching burn that fills the air. Hotter than any of the previous rooms and it's easy to tell why by the bright orange-red glow that fills the space. A channel runs along the outer wall on the far side, a channel filled with lava that runs through the open space before going into another pipe on the opposite side of the wall.

 

  As I scamper-scamper through the room, I hear a whirring and a buzzing. The sounds of something heavy. Something large that shakes the room as it walks. The sounds of somethings smashing the stones with every step rings out, the vibration shaking my bones with an intensity that makes me understand how the eye-slug must feel when there is an intruder.

 

I look into the next room and see the heavy, massive humanoid creature. The construct made out of bronzed metal, steam shoots out of its many pipes every step as it patrols the chamber. A golem?

 

  I watch curiously. I remember golems. They’re basically what you’d expect. Some gigantic creature made out of a substance. The classic would be stones obviously, real nature types those golems. But this one is made out of metal. Poison water and lava trickle out of its feet in dribbles as it walks and I look at it in a vague sense of wonder. It’s pretty cool actually. Is this a trash-mob? I sure hope so, I wouldn’t mind being that once-

 

The sound of boots thudding out behind me brings my attention back to the more immediate problems I face. Uh… plan. Plan. She’s faster than me, so if I just run she’ll catch me pretty easily on even footing I bet. Uh.

 

I look at the golem and I know what I must do.

 

  Sprinting towards the creature, I brace myself just a foot before it and I leap, using my ability. Soaring a decent height for a rat my size I claw on to the sides of its upper thigh. The creature itself is probably about two minotaurs in height. So, like, three and a half humans’ish? He’s a big guy. For me at least.

 

  My little rat nails dig into some rough notches between the metal plating, thankfully the side which is leaking poison water and not lava and I climb up higher and higher, scurrying up the breast-plate until I reach a safe perch up on its shoulder. The golem turns its head to look at me. I nod. The golem nods back, otherwise indifferent to my existence and continues its pathing.

 

Hiding behind a piece of metal, I look into the darkness behind me with bated breath and look for the quivering of a shadow to give signal to the coming of the thief; wondering how she’s going to find me up here.


*~+---SPECIAL THANKS---+~*

Henry Morgan,  Shadowsmage, The Grey Mage, Spencer Seidel

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