“It’s a giant rat,” Garen growled as he eyed the creature warily.
It may have been a rodent, but it was more than large enough to be dangerous, and it was no normal animal. Underestimating any sort of mutant was stupid. You never knew what they were capable of.
“It is a divine being, and your doom!” Obdehi screamed fervently. What was he doing beside that glowing barrel? Blacknail didn’t like it.
“We should kill this mutant quickly. The priest is up to something,” Blacknail told Garen.
“Agreed, delay does not suit our purposes. Let us attack!” Garen replied as he raised his weapon and stepped forward.
The rat hissed menacingly and bared its fangs again as Blacknail moved to flank it. The creature didn’t like being surrounded. Its hackles rose as it watched both its opponents, and its eyes shone with bestial rage.
“I wish I had a spear,” Garen muttered. He seemed to be having difficulty deciding on the best way to attack the beast.
The rat solved his problem for him. With a furious hiss it threw itself at Garen. The vympir reacted quickly, but the rat was faster than it looked. It came in under his blade and barreled into him, knocking him over and disarming him. He hit the floor with a thud but wasn’t stunned. Instead, he immediately began punching the creature in the face repeatedly, as he tried to throw it off. The rat reacted by biting down on one of his arms and scratching at the vympir’s face with its claws. Garen screamed in pain and rage, but he kept using his free arm to punch the rat and try to knock it loose.
Fortunately for Garen, he had an ally. Blacknail lunged forward and stabbed the creature’s side with his sword. The blade sank into flesh almost to the hilt, and the rat screeched. This meant it let go of Garen’s arm, so Blacknail took the opportunity to kick the creature as hard as he could. His boot hit with enough force to send the rat rolling away and free Garen.
“Thank you for your aid,” the vympir said as he quickly picked up his sword and jumped to his feet. He didn’t seem to be too badly injured. His armor had absorbed most the damage, although there were some nasty looking scratches on his face.
“I like stabbing rats anyway,” Blacknail replied with a grin.
The giant rat didn’t stay down long. Even though Blacknail had given it a deep wound, it quickly scrambled back onto its feet and spun around to face its attackers. It was large enough that it would take more than a single attack to kill it, and it was a mutant as well. That always made combat uncertain.
Garen glanced at the hobgoblin. “Quickly, let’s attack it together before it has a chance to recover.”
“Are you okay?” Blacknail asked him. He’d just been mauled by a rat that probably weighed as much as he did.
“I’m fine. Let’s go.”
Blacknail nodded, and they both lunged at the rat at the same time. Their steel blades swept toward the monster, but it didn’t stay still. Hissing, the rat jumped sideways. Garen’s blade sliced across the creature’s side and cut through the thick black fur, but Blacknail’s missed. As the hobgoblin’s blade swung harmlessly past it, the rat leapt straight for him. The creature was fast, but so was Blacknail, and he had skill and discipline to back it up. Twisting around, the hobgoblin pulled out a dagger and rammed it into one of the rat’s eyes, before spinning away.
The blade sank deep into the eye socket, scraped against bone, and then penetrated into the soft brain matter beyond. Shrieking in pain, the rat trembled, and its back legs gave out, causing it to stumble and fall onto the stone floor of the cave. That was when Garen lunged forward and decapitated the beast with a swing of his sword. The blade sliced through the air and cleaved the rat’s head from its body with a single strike. Thick black blood splashed against the rocks as the body tottered over. A moment later, the head hit the ground with a wet thud.
“Should I take a trophy?” Blacknail mused as he walked over to pull his knife out of the creature’s eye. A rat tooth necklace might look dashing.
Meanwhile, Garen was already striding over toward Obdehi. The priest was still standing near the shrine. During the fight, he’d continuously glanced back and forth between the fighters and the shrine.
“Put the mana stone down and you we won’t kill you,” Garen told the priest. He was undoubtedly lying.
At his words, Obdehi hesitated for a second. He seemed uncertain of what to do next, so he nervously glanced back at the shrine. At that moment, the green glow within the shrine’s confines flickered and grew brighter. In response, the tension seemed to flow out of Obdehi. He reached down and carefully placed the crystal he’d been holding up on the ground.
“…Alright, good,” Garen remarked in surprise as he slowed his approach.
Ahead of him, Obdehi suddenly stepped over to the shrine and threw open its small ceremonial doors. This revealed the source of the light. It was a round crystal on a cushion. The priest wasted no time. Hurriedly, he grabbed it and moved to place the chasm in the floor between him and his assailants.
“Less good,” Garen grunted sourly.
Obdehi sneered at him and raised this new glowing crystal high. “You may have defeated the herald, but that means nothing! You have simply prolonged your suffering, instead of accepting Dev-Methi’s mercy, fools. The great god’s power remains endless and undiminished by your pathetic struggles. You have simply earned his ire. Now, he comes, and you will be devoured! Your time is nigh.”
Blacknail really wasn’t liking where this was going, and his suspicions were confirmed a second later when the ground beneath his feet shivered ever so slightly. Instantly, the tiny hairs on the back of Blacknail’s neck stood straight up. Every instinct he had was telling him that something bad was about to happen.
As Blacknail readied himself, Obdehi tipped over a barrel, and dozens of cabbages rolled out. Um, what? Why cabbages? Never mind, they were probably just a distraction. Blacknail turned his attention back to the priest.
Garen also sensed danger, although it was rather hard to miss at this point. Throwing caution to the wind, the vympir sprinted straight for Obdehi. The width of the chasm was the only thing between him and priest, and after putting on a burst of speed, Garen launched himself right over it.
Right before Garen’s blade could come down and slash Obdehi, something burst out of the chasm below him and knocked him aside. The vympir was thrown against the cave wall next to the now empty shrine. He hit it with a thud and then fell down on top of the tipped over barrel and amongst the spilt cabbages. Blacknail winced. At least the vegetables were soft.
Focusing, Blacknail starred at the thing that had come up from the crack in the floor and assaulted his ally. It was hard to see in the dark, since it seemed to reflect the green light that was radiating from the crystal Obdehi was holding. Was it some sort of limb or tail? Actually, it looked transparent, and as Blacknail watched, the thing’s shape flexed and expanded in a way flesh couldn’t.
Wait, was that slime? It was. Obdehi began laughing as another wave of transparent slime surged out of the crevice and splashed onto the cave floor. Instead of going soft, it formed itself into a rigid blob. Then, light shone out of the crevice for a moment as another glimmering crystal emerged and floated into the center of the blob. It was smaller, but the crystal was definitely glowing the exact same color as the one Obdehi was holding.
Groaning, Garen got back up and quickly retreated away from the slime. He seemed to still be a little dazed and confused. As the ooze chased him, it sucked up all the fallen cabbages and tore them apart.
“What hit me?” Garen asked as he stumbled toward Blacknail.
The hobgoblin spared him a glance. “Looks like a slime. The priest is controlling it somehow, probably with his glowing rock.”
It looked like more and more slime was flowing up through the crevice. The blob just kept getting bigger and bigger. How big was this slime? How big did slimes get? Blacknail could easily imagine a truly massive slime living deep under the ground, maybe even city-sized.
“Yes! You are powerless before my god!” Obdehi laughed. “His might is without limit, and he is as vast as the oceans! He will devour you as he devours all.”
Blacknail groaned. The priest was undoubtedly just making fancy noises, and the slime was probably not nearly that big, but it was better to play it safe. More and more slime was seeping up from below. Soon, it might fill the entire cavern.
Thinking quickly, Blacknail sheathed his sword and pulled out his sling. After loading it, he spun the weapon and hurled a stone at Obdehi. Instead, of dodging the priest scowled disdainfully and made a dismissive gesture with his free hand. Immediately, a wall of slime rose in front of him and blocked the shot.
“Rat blood!” Blacknail cursed as he stepped back and almost slipped in some rat blood.
Unfortunately for him, Obdehi didn’t stop there. The priest made another sweeping hand motion, and the blob of slime next to him began to change form. A thick tentacle formed and shot toward Blacknail. The hobgoblin sidestepped it and jumped back. As the tentacle reformed to attack again, Blacknail drew his sword. Just as it moved to lash out at him, Blacknail cut right through the tentacle with a slash of his sword. Immediately, the severed portion collapsed into a pool and began to creep back toward the main blob.
“You’re just delaying the inevitable! Your doom has already been decided,” Obdehi yelled at them.
“He’s not wrong,” Garen remarked as he stepped up beside the hobgoblin. He was looking better now. “We can’t remain defensive. We need to take that crystal from him. We should try a coordinated flanking maneuver.”
Blacknail shook his head. “We’re not mages. Even if we take the crystal, we can’t use it. The slime might still eat us.”
“Then what do you suggest?”
“Running away. This is a very bad place for this fight, and the slime keeps getting bigger.”
Garen grimaced angrily. “I won’t run from a false priest and his pet ooze.”
“Alright bye,” Blacknail replied as he turned to leave.
Garen grabbed the hobgoblin’s shoulder to hold him in place. “What if we destroy the slime’s core?”
“How are you going to do that? It’s inside the deepest and stickiest part of the blob!” Blacknail replied. “You can go swimming if you want, but I like breathing.”
Garen scowled. “Fine, we will perform a defensive withdrawal to lure the slime and the priest after us. That should cause the slime to stretch out and render its core more vulnerable.”
“Sounds good, I’ll withdraw first!” Blacknail said as he tugged himself free from vympir’s grip.
At Obdehi’s command, a wave of slime surged toward the pair, forcing them both to stumble back. Next to the priest, the main blob of slime had shrunk as a result of the attack, although more slime was still pouring up from the ground to replenish the fluid that had just been used. Garen’s plan just might work.
Sighing, Blacknail began to slowly back away from the sludge and toward the exit. He kept his sword up defensively and one eye on Obdehi as he moved. Beside him, Garen was doing the same thing.
“Ha, look at how helpless you are before the might of my god!” Obdehi laughed. “Soon, you will see that running will earn you naught. There is nowhere you can hide from his terrible hunger.”
As he laughed, the priest began walking forward at a leisurely pace. The main blob of the slime shivered and moved to follow alongside him. It remained connected to the chasm in the floor by a thick tendril of flowing ooze.
“Pick up the speed, but try to stay in sight. It’s working!” Garen whispered as they approached the door.
Nodding, Blacknail glanced back over his shoulder as he backed through the cavern’s entrance. He wanted to make sure he wasn’t about to walk into a wall or trip other some rubble. Garen followed him and then took up position right in the center of the door, as Balcknail picked up the lamp they’d left on the floor. Without its light, they wouldn’t be able to see in the dark cave.
“That’s no god!” Garen yelled at the priest. “It’s just another foul monster, and you’re a mad pretender to power.”
“The words of an unbeliever mean nothing to me,” Obdehi shouted back. He sounded very angry for someone who supposedly didn’t care about what Garen had said. “You’re just like all the other doomed souls who stood in my way! They couldn’t see the majesty of the god, and so their souls were consumed.”
As the priest was yelling, a trio of tentacles formed out of slime and reached for the vympir. Garen was forced to jump back and scramble out into the corridor. The tentacles tried to follow him, but the further they got from the main blob the slower they became. Blacknail watched from a safe distance.
A few moments later, Obdehi stepped around the corner and emerged into the corridor. His face was red with fury as he glared at Blacknail and Garen. “Until the revelation of the great harvest god, no one gave me the proper respect, but I showed them. Everyone who slandered me or refused to bow before the divine was devoured by Dev-Meshi. He then consumed their families as payment for his blessings and the crops grew bountiful once again. Thanks to me!”
“You’re completely insane and a murderous menace to all civilization,” Garen replied coldly.
“And your god smells terrible,” Blacknail added.
Obdehi’s eyes burned with rage as he glared at Blacknail and Garen. Blacknail grinned back. His insult seemed to have hit home.
“Enough prattle, now you die!” the priest hissed as he thrust the glowing mana crystal he was holding forward.
Instantly, the blob of slime containing its core rolled into the corridor, and then it exploded forward. A dozen tentacles shot toward the vympir and the hobgoblin with startling speed. Surprised, Blacknail jumped sideways and cut down the closest slimy appendage. He could only use one arm since he was still holding the lamp. Unfortunately, one of the tentacles he’d dodged swerved at the last second and grabbed his leg. It tugged him off his feet, but as Blacknail fell, he managed to cut himself loose with a slice of his sword. The impact of the fall made the light of the lamp flicker, but it didn’t go out.
At the same time, Garen was back up, but he quickly noticed the hobgoblin’s plight. He dashed forward and unleashed a flurry of attacks against the tentacles that were now turning to grab Blacknail. Slime splashed against the floor as his blade cut through the transparent tendrils.
“Your god doesn’t seem like much to me. It’ll have to do better than a few tiny tentacles if it wants to get us,” Garen remarked loudly as Blacknail climbed back to his feet.
“Just die already, you heathen maggots!” Obdehi screamed.
As if in response to his anger, the main body of the slime spasmed for a moment, and then a wave of slime exploded out from it. The churning surge of ooze filled half the confine of the tunnel as it rolled forward with startling force. It was more than large enough to drown both Blacknail and Garen.
“Now’s your chance. Go!” Garen yelled urgently to Blacknail as he pointed to the creature’s core.
Hesitating, Blacknail threw the vympir an annoyed look. Why was he the one that had to charge in there? It was Garen’s plan! Before he could point this out though, the wave of slime threatened to slam into him.
Growling in displeasure, Blacknail burned some of the Elixir in his blood and put the lamp down. As the power flared up within him, he jumped up and over a corner of the incoming wall of slime. Flipping through the air, he landed safely atop a rock on the other side of the wave. As soon as he’d regained his balance, Blacknail went down into a sprinter’s crouch and eyed his target. Next to the now startled – but still red-faced – Obdehi, the slime’s main body had shrunken noticeably in size. The blob of protective ooze around its core was much thinner now. The entire thing was only about three feet tall.
Much of the floor around Blacknail was covered by ooze, and it quickly began to churn in response to his presence. However, the hobgoblin didn’t give it time to take shape. He launched himself forward using the slant of rock beneath his feet as a block. Sprinting with all his might, and with a hungry grin on his face, Blacknail charged straight for Obdehi.
The priest yelped in fear and stumbled backward, which caused him to fall on his ass. However, the slime reacted as well. Three new tentacles shot out of the blob to block Blacknail’s charge. That was fine with the hobgoblin, though. Kicking off another rock, he swerved out of the way of the tentacles and right toward the blob itself. As he zoomed toward it, he held his sword out like a spear.
“No!” Obdehi screamed as the tip of Blacknail’s sword penetrated the ooze and hit the glowing core within.
The impact of the blow shattered the crystal. Its light went out as it fragmented into over a dozen pieces. Then, Blacknail’s body hit the slime. There was a loud smacking noise as it absorbed the momentum of his charge, and he sank several inches into it before coming to stop. Thankfully, with the core dead, the slime quickly began dissolving around the hobgoblin and he was easily able to free himself.
Shaking himself clean, which threw slime in every direction, Blacknail got up and turned to look at Obdehi. “I just killed your god, and now it’s your turn.”
Book 3 is Out!
The third novel in The Iron Teeth series is now out on Amazon. Please support the author and help promote the book by purchasing and reviewing A Bloody Road. Every review and purchase helps a lot!