52: Attempt Number Two, ft Metal Pipe
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That metal bug looking bastard didn’t see me coming this time. My gauntlets closed, taking hold of one of its gangly fuckin’ stick limbs with both hands. A beat of my wings pulled me into the air in a storm of electricity. The sound I made was like a thousand sheets of paper being torn at once, more than enough to draw the attention of my captive’s friends as they looked up, just in time to see their doom approaching.

A few meters above them, I shifted my grip to take hold of the creepy metal bug thing by the neck, then activated one of my new abilities. This one was sorta complicated under the hood, but hilariously simple in practice. The resulting boom of thunder shook dust from the old stone around me as I rode the fucker down into his buddies, like a drunken piggyback ride in a barfight. The impact was spectacular, chunks of molten steel spinning off in every direction as my first victim was charged with massive amounts of energy, essentially turning it into a bomb.

The other creepy crawly things were thrown in all directions, charred chunks of their friend tearing through them, snapping and fracturing their spindly bodies. I stood at the center of the carnage with a grin on my face as the short duration, high capacity shield flicked out of existence from where it had been protecting me.

Dawn had also done some work on her abilities, basing the changes on what we’d figured out about our new enemy. The others were calling them Blade Demons, because that was apparently their name, but they just looked like metal bugs to me.

Thanks to wikipedia, she’d looked up the average melting point of steel, then dumped as many of the other stats as she could in order to increase the heat that her beam generated. The result was a short ranged and absolutely devastating inferno that burned through the stupid bug thing like it was made of toilet paper.

“That… was amazing,” I said with a delighted chortle.

Dawn sauntered up to me as we turned to look out into the space we’d just entered. It had only been that one group guarding our immediate exit, so we had a little time to plan our next move. I glanced over at her as she placed one hand on her hip, the other holding her sword loosely at her side.

She made a vague motion with the blade. “That’s… wow. That’s why I play this game, look at it,” she sighed, her head tilting slightly as her eyes drank in the vista before us.

It was one hell of a view too. 

We stood at the edge of a vast circular cavern, the floor of which had been turned into a massive city. Like an inverted wedding cake, tier upon tier of artfully carved structures flowed down in a symphony of carefully designed lines until they reached the center, where stood a large obelisk of blood red metal. From the platform which we stood on, a massive bridge extended out to the point of that massive obelisk where it reached a level with our position.

The whole place was done in the same elegant too-tall aesthetic as the massive entry hall had been, stone and bronze woven together like lace to create a delicate masterpiece in architecture form. But in much the same way that it was beautiful, it held an atmosphere of dark melancholy.

The evidence of this once great civilisation’s downfall was everywhere. Pieces of the mechanical citizens that once called this place home now lay in drifts in every corner, cut to ribbons in the same way the deceased king’s party had been. The very walls and floor had been ravaged by the metal beasts that could be seen stalking below, thousands of the bastards crawling over the ruins like flies on a bloated carcass.

“This place must have been incredible when it was a thriving city,” Dawn murmured, her eyes shining with wonder. “What do you think their culture was like? They look like they valued art for art’s sake. See how the whole city has been turned into one big work of art?”

“Yeah, it looks like some sort of… tribute, to that thing in the middle,” I agreed, squinting to try and see what was on the platform in the middle. There looked to me some sort of dias there, something odd wrapped around it, but that was all I could make out at this distance.

My girlfriend gave a sigh, drawing my eyes from the awe inspiring scene. Her hair was aflame again, flickering and dancing to the faint beat of the breeze that flowed around us. She was so beautiful, the way her warm, intelligent eyes surveyed the city beyond.

Without warning, I was leaning over, my large gauntlet coming up to rest on her shoulder, turning her towards me slightly. She was surprised at first, but as I leaned in she got the picture pretty quickly.

Lightning flicked out to meet her lips in the microsecond before we came together, causing her to let slip a slight gasp. I took my chance and dipped my tongue into the softness of her mouth, finding hers more than ready to meet me. My goodness the heat coming off her was intense, fire surging into me, the very real flickering flames of her elemental form lighting yet more passion within my heart.

“You’re so beautiful,” I whispered into the kiss, feeling a smile come to her lips in answer.

She was pressed against me now, molding her robe and leather clad body to my armoured form and I lost myself in that heated embrace. She was so insistent, needy as her hands laced themselves through my dark and sparking hair. Feeling her fire lick its way into and over me while not being burned by it was a strange sensation, exciting and alarming all at once.

“Hey you two, we have a dungeon to clear,” Taylor called with a laugh.

Dawn gave a grumpy little huff of indignation and leaned back to give me a searing look with her gorgeous eyes. “Just when they stop streaming,” her lips pressed into a pout, “now they want us to actually get a move on.”

“Oh, so that’s where all that hot and heavy came from,” I whispered, nudging her nose with mine. “Thousands of eyes aren’t watching anymore huh? My shy little girlfriend coming out of her shell.”

“Oh, shut up,” she laughed, giving me another little kiss. “I love you.”

“I love you too,” I grinned, feeling my heart swell with happiness. I was vaguely aware of the others fanning out to explore the little gate square around us, but my eyes were still for Dawn. 

As I smiled into her loving eyes, an idea struck . Since Ryana was a SAI… maybe I could get May to babysit her every now and then? It would be a win-win too, since it would also give May someone to keep her company.

“Whoa… ouch, that hurt!” Millie said in a tone of voice that had me doubting if she’d felt any pain at all. “Why is there an invisible wall here?”

That piqued both Dawn and my own interests and we turned to have a look at what she was talking about. As I turned my head to look at the short platinum haired elf girl, I instead caught Civette staring at Dawn and I again. Her eyes rushed to find somewhere else to land, even as her cheeks heated rapidly into an adorable shade of pink. Interesting…

“Yeah, there’s definitely an invisible wall there,” Taylor commented, tapping her sword on the mentioned wall. “Oh, a pop up… let me read… Uh, Warning, Raid zone. This area is restricted until the initial clear of the preceding dungeon has been completed. Holy moly… Yes!”

The wall in question was blocking our access further down into the city, our only clear path being across the huge bridge to the podium that sat atop the huge blood red obelisk.

Taylor went from intrigued to vibrating with excitement in about two seconds flat, pumping her fist in the air and immediately going for what I assumed was her guild chat. “They are going to be so excited… fuck. They were excited before, because like, the quest and stuff could mean real estate for the guild… but this is awesome! A new raid!”

“So long as we make it across that,” Rusti pointed out helpfully, and our eyes were drawn to the big ass bridge. A bridge that was beginning to swarm with those Blade Demon things, dozens of them pouring up onto it from below like the freaky looking bugs there were.

Briefly, my thoughts went back to the first time I had met Dawn as Rora and the way the spiders had swarmed us. Guess we were going to get a little nostalgia, upgraded with even more limbs and a metal sheath to boot. Fucking lovely. No wait, the lovely fucking had come later.

“Best get to it then,” Dawn said, releasing me properly and picking up her sword where she’d apparently dropped it on the ground in the heat of the moment.

“Me first, remember?” Taylor asked, raising a teasing eyebrow at me. “Tanky DPS second.”

“I get it, I get it,” I sighed. I’d gotten a lecture after Taylor had calmed down about the proper way things were meant to happen in a dungeon. That meant the tank was the one who started the fights. I mean, I knew that stuff… I’d just been taking a little peek out the door, I hadn’t expected to get shanked. Plus, me making the opening shot had worked out pretty well so far.

A thought occurred to me. A wild one, the kind that would have the game balance AI getting frustrated with me. The kind where I mixed pieces of their game in ways that they were definitely not meant to be mixed. “What if you’re in front of me, but I make the first hit?” I asked, an evil grin spreading over my face.

“No,” she said with a roll of her eyes, pretending to be a stern party lead. She wasn’t fooling me though, I saw that little smile. “They’re swarmers by the looks of things, so we’ll get Dawn to do that. Make them all angry and get them in a big ball so you and all our other DPS can explode them.”

“Well…” I frowned, clenching and unclenching my fist, watching idly as lighting rippled over it. “I think I have to speak to a little dragon then. Give me a second… Ryana!”

She popped into existence on my shoulder, her face snaking around to sniffle at mine in a way that had me giggling and scrunching my nose up. “Stop, that tickles. Okay, so I need you to turn back into the bashy thing alright? We’re going to wait for our friends to group up all those bad guys and then we’re going to break them, sound fun?”

Rather than any sort of intelligent reply, I got licks to my face, her little forked tongue flickering out to graze my cheek.

“Oi, are you listening, you little gremlin?” I grumbled, picking her up off my shoulder and holding her out so I could see her properly.

“I really hope you have real kids one day Tami, I can’t wait to watch you attempt parenting,” Taylor laughed, shaking her head in amusement.

“Hey, I’ll have you know that little Ryana is a SAI. May said so,” I said with a glare. “She’s a real girl, just like us.”

“You really believe that?” Rusti asked, ears forward and focused. “The real part?”

I saw Civette open her mouth to speak, but I shook my head at her before replying to them. I highly doubted Civette had anything good to say on the matter, and I knew my little girl and May were listening. So if my nod was a little emphatic… well, “Yeah, definitely. Sure, you don’t have physical bodies that actually house your whole beings, but you’re still people. Regular old humans are just used to the word person being applied to a sack of meat instead of… well, a sack of digital meat.”

Rusti’s eyes flicked this way and that for a moment in time with their tail, then they gave a single nod. “Good to know… thank you.”

Odd reaction there, but okay. We’d unpack that later, for now I had a squirming dragon on my hands.

“Look, Ryana, I need you to work with me here,” I asked gently. “We need to kill things, together… as a team. You got that?”

She blinked at me for several moments, tongue flickering in and out of her snout. “Squaaa!”

I took that as a yes, so carefully holding her in one hand, I reached out with the other as though I were already holding her in big mace form. She stared at the hand for several moments before her little eyes lit with understanding. There was a flash of light, lightning crackling and hissing before she was there, no longer a small dragon but instead a massive hunk of metal made to crush our enemies.

“Right, I think we’re ready,” I said, grinning up at the group.

“So cute, mother and daughter bonding time,” Civ laughed, with a bemused look.

“Come on, banter time over,” Taylor said, corralling us all towards the bridge. “Dawn, I assume you have something long enough ranged to piss that lot off?”

“Sure do,” replied my girlfriend, bringing her sword to the ready, and once Taylor was in position with shield up, she began to send bolts of fire down the bridge to strike our enemies.

The small, irritating attacks had the desired effect in a big way, dozens of the strange insectoid demons almost clambering over each other in order to reach us. Their limbs shone by the light of the hundreds of still functioning streetlight thingies around the city, and as I readied to unleash destruction, I idly wondered how they worked that they were still burning.

“Get ready!” Taylor called. “Millie, the slow bombs you made!”

“Aye aye, captain!” the smaller girl replied happily, and with a throwing arm that probably surprised even her, she threw a cluster of bombs out and over her girlfriend. They landed scattered in front of the charging horde and after a few moments, detonated into a strange clinging cloud of black muck.

Time to shine! I hefted Ryana and slammed her once on the ground behind me, just for emphasis. Using my lightning charge ability with the stuff, I pushed power into the dragon, feeling her take it and add her own to the mix. The charge built and built, raw energy arcing through my body and then down into the massive mace behind me.

My movements were slow with Ryana as I swung her underarm into the air, as though the sheer power within her had gained a weight all its own. I let go with one hand as she reached the apex of the arc, holding her aloft in salute to the enraged storm of lightning that had begun to coalesce above our enemies. Only for a moment though, because when my free hand came back to grasp at the bottom of the handle, I pulled down with all my might, activating another ability I’d created earlier.

A rippling crackle shook the air, tiny bits of masonry and molten hunks of metal flying in all directions as a storm of lightning lashed down into the first group of enemies. I felt a little disappointment as I saw that many bugs survived the attack, I’d been hoping for some sort of cataclysmic explosion if I was honest.

“Alright, hit them,” Taylor called, readying to take the first wave of them on her shield. “Kill as many of them as you can before the melee starts.”

Ryana very helpfully popped back into dragon form and then out of existence, looking very tired. I guess the poor girl was still a baby after all. Still, we’d had no idea what would happen if I used her to cast that thing.

I raised my gauntleted fist again to do my part, calling down lightning from above to splash down among my very conductive adversaries. Dawn did the most work however, her heat-based abilities melting everything she pointed them at. Millie’s bombs were very good at separating limbs once they were nice and warm and ripe for breaking. Civette and Rusti on the other hand didn’t have a whole lot to do until the enemy actually got here.

When they did arrive, their numbers had been whittled down to a much more manageable number, and Taylor met the first one with the edge of her shield. Her sword was all but useless here, but the frost of her attacks was extremely effective. She laid about her with ice, freezing and stressing the metal that our enemies were made of, then hammering into it with her shield.

“I hate fighting things made of stone and steel,” Rusti grumbled as they dodged an attack from their first foe. “It’s why I hung out in that city for so long! Even the big armoured dudes had nice fleshy bits to stab if you knew where. This is just… not very fun.”

Taking the wrist of one metal critter as it tried to rush past and get to Civ, I yanked the thing down and hammered it in the head with a closed fist. “Yeah I have to agree on that one. You need the soft squishy bits to make it satisfying. You need the squish as well as the crack.”

“Yes! Exactly!” they exclaimed, sounding like someone had finally understood their plight.

“Taylor!” I called as I stomped down on the persistently writhing enemy on the ground. “Us damage dealers are forming a union! We demand squishy enemies!”

Taylor didn’t hear my hilarious little quip however, because Rusti began to make the most godawful racket. It took me a second to realise what they were even using to beat the bug. They were using a metal pipe. Just like, a plain old metal pipe, and they were going to town on that thing like a three year old attacks a toy xylophone after their older sibling had told them it was hiding the cookies.

Come to think of it, punching them was pretty loud too I realised as my gauntlet pinged the dented head of the one underneath me that just would not fucking die.

The brawl continued for several minutes as we managed to stay mostly un-stabbed, with the exception of Dawn taking a nasty slice up the arm. Civette was almost happy to have something to do at that point. I had definitely learned my lesson. Look out for at least eight pointy limbs at any one time.

“Rusti!” I called after it was over. “Rusti!”

“What?” they growled, ears flat against their head as they whipped it up to glare at me. Their metal pipe was looking slightly worse for wear, bent in many places while the tip had sort of flattened out at the end.

“It’s dead, they’re all dead, we can move on now,” I said, trying to calm them down.

“Actually, there’s a really big one over there,” Millie said, rather unhelpfully pointing out what was probably the last boss of the dungeon at the end of the bridge.

“God, I hate these things,” Rusti hissed, tossing their munted pipe away, then summoning a new one out of their inventory. Just how many of those things did they have? Oh crap, they were off, running at the big bastard in the center at full tilt.

“Shit!” Taylor exclaimed, taking off after them. “God damn DPS!”