Death Cap - Twelve - Picking Whether to Run or Fight
If I couldn’t run, then the entire fight-or-flight equation became very easy to work out.
I tugged my leg up as hard as I could, which did nothing but shift my foot around and make my socks bunch up uncomfortably in my boots. There was some sort of sticky white substance on the ground, I noticed. Just a few lines of it spread across the floor. Spiderweb?
A squeak next to me had me looking up. The spider rats were approaching.
Not quickly. The rats were still smaller than I was, and they seemed somewhat cautious. They spread out in a wide semi-circle, beady eyes locked onto me even as they slunked back into the shadows.
I moved my makeshift lantern around so that I could keep an eye on all of them. I counted twelve. Then I counted ten the second time I tried to keep track of them all. “Oh, come on,” I muttered.
I was afraid, yes, but more than that I was frustrated. This could have been avoided if I had been more careful. If I had gone slower I might have noticed the webbing on the ground. If I had brought better lighting I might have seen the spider rats in the centre of the room. If I had enough power, then this situation wouldn’t even be a concern.
Tossing my lichen vial to my free hand, I opened my satchel and pulled out my mask. I figured I had seconds to act before one of the spider rats decided to make a snack out of me, so I hurried to slip the gas mask on. It made it so that every breath I took had to be forced through the filters, and then every exhale made the mask warmer against my skin.
I didn’t complain too much. It was needed for what would come next.
“Hey, ratty-ratty-rats,” I murmured. The spider rats ticked and chittered. “Look, food.” I grabbed a [Brown Horse Head] and tossed it out ahead of me. The mushroom bounced on the ground and rolled to an ungainly stop a few metres away.
I waited, aware that the rats were still getting closer. Had some of them moved behind me? Were they using pack tactics? That was just... really rude, actually.
“Not taking the bait, huh?” I asked the spider rats. “That’s fine, that’s fine.” My hand squeezed around a large, puffy mushroom in my satchel, one surrounded by a thin layer of cloth to keep it safe. I pulled the [Dead Man’s cough] out and looked around me for the biggest concentration of spider rats.
It was to my left, partially hidden behind a rock tall enough to reach my knees. Spidery eyes glinted in the dark behind the stone. I pulled my arm back, then threw.
The mushroom sailed across the air about as well as one could expect a mushroom to fly. It flipped on itself, then with a hard smack hit the side of the rock and burst apart.
In my mind, I imagined a huge cloud of spore particulates rising from the impact zone in a perfect sphere. The reality was a lot messier.
Most of the spore travelled out in a line off to one side, missing everything except for the floor. A few though, burst upwards and hung in the air. There was a breeze coming from the rushing water that had a small dusting of spores travel across the room.
“Damn,” I muttered.
I don’t think I hit a single spider rat. What I did do though, was anger the entire lot of them.
They hissed and spat, and a few of them raced forwards towards me. In a panic, I swung my bag out towards the nearest and it jumped back and out of smacking range.
I pulled out a second [Dead Man’s Cough] then flung it hard against the ground ahead of me. It burst apart, leaving a starburst of spores against the ground but also throwing some into the air. I grabbed a third and squeezed it, the ball puffing out a cloud of swirling spores ahead of me.
A couple of the spider rats were caught in the cloud and they started to hack and cough.
I worked to keep my breathing steady and low, aware the entire time that my mask wasn’t perfect. It was made for someone with a lot more jaw than I had. It wasn’t impossible for some of those spores to sneak in.
My foot suddenly pulled free and I half-stumbled back.
Of course, I immediately stepped into another tangle of web. “Damn it!” I swore.
One of the spider rats jumped, and I screamed like the little girl I was as it tackled me. I batted at it even as its limbs tried to grab at me. Then I got my hands around its torso and pushed it away. Its mouth was open, hissing with mandibles covered in what I could only assume was poison.
I blasted it with [Blight].
The problem with that particular attack was that it wasn’t fast-acting. I saw the magic shove into the monster’s flesh, rotting it away, but it was moving along a millimetre at a time, and each little advance was draining my mana.
But only a little?
The dungeon! There was a lot more ambient mana in the dungeon than out of it. Which meant that I could push out more!
I did just that, firing off a burst of [Blight] all around me that had the nearest spider rats backing off. Then I threw the one that had jumped at me away. It landed on its back, then flipped around.
It’s only then that I noticed the scratches on my arms and sides. Its feet were tipped in nasty little claws that had cut right through my clothes.
“You bastard!” I shouted. I plucked out another [Dead Man’s Cough] and beaned the rat in the face with it.
It squeaked, head jerking back as it ate a mouthful of poisonous mushroom. I didn’t watch it choke to death. Instead I flung another mushroom down at my feet, creating a small cloud around myself. The next one to jump at me would regret it.
Ducking down, I looked at my boots, then the webs across the floor, then I focused. With [Aura of Growth] acting as a sort of aiming tool, I pushed mana under my boots, then switch that to [Blight].
The webs rotted, and just like that my feet came free with a disgusting squelsh.
It would have been easier to take the boots off, I think, but I wasn’t about to leave my boots behind. They’d been expensive!
I started to back up towards the entrance, watchful not to put my foot in more webs. There were a lot of them, but most were thin and probably wouldn’t do much to slow someone down. The spiders spat and hissed, following after me and matching every step I took.
A few had their hissing cut off by nasty coughs, and I saw a couple of them clawing at their throats near the back of the group.
Served them right.
The moment I was next to the entrance I pulled out a juicy [Dead Man’s Cough] and slammed it against the edge of the exit. A small cloud of dusty spores filled the exit before me, hopefully preventing anything from running after me.
And with that, I turned and ran.
I was not ready to take on more of those spiders. Not yet.
I retraced my steps through the previous room of the dungeon, following the hanging lights that illuminated the explored sections towards the exit.
Today hadn’t been a waste... but it wasn’t great. I hissed as I touched my arms. They hurt. The cottony material of my shirt was doing a good job of absorbing the bit of blood but... no, I needed to clean out the little cuts and bandage them.
My hands were covered in spores though. Very poisonous ones. Cursing my poor luck, I rubbed my hands against my pants and continued towards the exit. I came onto the room with the bridge in the middle. There were a lot more people milling around it now than there had been a few hours prior.
I kept my head down, whipped off my mask to avoid looking too suspicious, and slipped through with a group crossing the bridge in the opposite direction.
I paused on the other side. A man was looking over a pile of crates. Wooden ones, with rope handles on either end. He looked like an adventurer, but his gear was strange. He had armour on, but also an apron and a helmet with a lamp on it. Lots of vials too. What really caught my eye were the piles of dark blue mushrooms in the crates before him.
Moving to the side, I paused for just a moment, then took off running. He barely glanced my way, not until I swept by and filched one of those blue mushrooms and stuffed it down the front of my overalls.
“Hey!” he shouted.
I was already sprinting away.
I couldn’t have the entire adventure down here be a waste.