A mess of ash, crawler guts, and skeletal limbs lay in front of the party as each of them checked each of their belongings. When he was finished, Durrus walked through the mess, his greaves squishing through the fluids scattered about, stopping right at door. With scutum and shield in hand, he clanged both of them together, allowing a metallic ring to echo throughout the facility. He paused for a few moments, waiting for the sound to die down completely, before turning back to the group.
“Looks like it’s all clear.”
While Cleo and Horrus followed suit not long after, Curi still stood at the edge
“Um… Cleo? Could you please carry me over?”
“Hm? Is something the issue?”
“Well…” She glanced at the mess. “I don’t really want to get those bugs all over my boots.”
She cracked a smile. “Well, I guess that’s all right.”
She walked back, scooping up Curi in her arms to her delight. Squishing her way through the aftermath, she came face to face with a disappointed Durrus.
“You know, you can’t really pamper the kid like this out here.”
“There isn’t any harm in it, right?” She softly dropped her to the ground. “She’s still… How old are you Curi?”
“Still fairly young, it’d be wrong to treat her like an adult.”
“Well I’m sure whatever else is in the wastes will think the same thing, right? Cmon, nothing wrong with getting a bit dirty. When was the last time you had a bath anyways?”
Curi suddenly looked down at herself with disgust.
“O-oh no… I swear I’ll take one once we get back to our camp! And wash all of my clothes as well!”
Cleo kneeled down to her level. “Don’t fret too much, I could clean my gear and scrub some dirt off as well. I’m sure with Caelos’s help, getting enough water shouldn’t be an issue at all.”
Durrus coughed. “We’ve got more to worry about right now than personal hygiene. Let’s take formation everyone!”
Reforming, the group worked their way back towards the Almu’ard, taking caution to make as little noise as possible. Only a few minutes of navigating the maze laid their paranoia to rest as Durrus turned to the rest of them, saying they can loosen up. Soon they traveled back into the massive gouged-out hole in the wall, staring in the face of the titanic beetle. Durrus halted, holding up his hand, motioning the rest of the party to a halt. He clanged his sword and shield several times, receiving no response once more.
“All clear it seems. Caelos, before we find our way in, should there be anything else about these nests we should be aware of?”
“I’m afraid I cannot say. I do not think any Ya’Chosh has been this close to a Titan before.”
He sighed, gripping his gladius and scutum tighter. “Reassuring… Well, if they really didn’t want us in here, they’d have some other measure to keep us from getting this close right? Everyone, split up, try and find a way in.”
The group split off, Cleo, Curi, and Caelos moving along one side, Durrus scanning another, while Horrus tried to climb up some of its appendages. As Caelos and Curi gazed wondrously at the being, Cleo constantly thwacked her kilij on the side of the beetle, leaving not even a scratch on the titan’s carapace. She stopped to feel it, knocking on it occasionally, only to get a heavy thud in response. After a lengthy scouring of the beetle’s massive body, Durrus finally found a hole, yelling to the others. The rest of the party grouped around without much delay. The hole itself was three fourths the height of Durrus himself, wide enough to only fit one person at a time. It ran deep into the beetle, the surrounding layers of muscle colored a fleshy pink, with a somewhat slimy sheen. He moved towards the entrance of the tunnel, turning towards the party.
“Our formation this time is going to be much more simple. I’m going to take the lead, Curi behind me, then Cleo, then Horrus. Cleo, keep that rifle of yours pointed at our rear, same thing with that tool of yours Horrus.”
“You know” interjected Cleo, “we should call it something other than the ‘tool’ now. Just to make communication easier, right?”
Horrus frowned. “I’m going to name it something later, don’t you bother calling it anything else, or I’m not listening.”
“Fine, just let me know what you want to call… the tool or whatever.”
Slinging his scutum over his back, he crouched down and took his first step into the tunnel. His greaves sunk into the ground, a clear residue sticking to them as he took his next step. The inside of the tunnel thankfully had no rotting stench, but still reeked strongly of a room full of raw meats. Noticing something off, he turned around, noticing Curi still standing at the entrance. She stared with disgust and hesitation with Cleo next to her, muttering something out of his earshot.
“Come on, we aren’t going to find anything without getting a bit dirty, right?”
Curi shut her eyes and took a step forward, her boots becoming soaked by the viscous fluid. She visibly clenched her teeth, before rushing forward. Squinting her eyes open, she reached out using her free arm to hold onto Durrus’s scutum, before closing her eyes once more.
“Just knock it off already kid, it ain’t that bad.”
Once Cleo and Horrus took their positions, they all began making their way upwards further into the Almu’ard. The tunnels constantly turned and curved, many branching off into different directions that more than often lead to dead ends. After traveling through several twists and turns for many minutes, Durrus halted the party at the sound of chewing. Not far out of eyesight, another large bug creature was busy eating away at the walls. It had a very bulbous body supported by six stilt-like legs. Its head had a reverse cone like mouth that seemed to vacuum away chunks of the wall at a time. It paused from the chewing, gyrating a bit before spraying a clear fluid all over the newly chewed wall. Durrus edged closer to the bug, giving it a quick poke. It didn’t even bother to deviated from its current job. He motioned for the rest of the party to follow, Cleo pausing once she reached creature. She whipped out her flask, chugging the last of her water, then scooping up a puddle of the creature’s liquid with it. She got back to her position, staring back at Horrus as he gave her a look of utter disgust. With nothing more than a quick ‘hmph’ the two continued on.
After more dead-ends, backtracking, and more turns, the party finally arrived to a massive chamber. It was several times their height, the walls looking horribly rough and jagged, marked by massive scratches. Several other similar tunnels dotted the walls around them at different heights. Curi’s stafflight reflected off of something that made Durrus and Caelos very happy about this excursion: A massive pile of various golden trinkets and decorations, along with a staff exactly like Curi’s wedged in the center of the pile.
“Would you look at all that!”
“Caelos look! A root staff!”
Cleo gave him a quick tap on the shoulders, snapping him out of his trance. She pointed upwards, showing off a massive crawler head staring down at the party. A quick glance around the room revealed that the massive creature practically encompassed the room as a whole. To the sides were two massive skeletal-like arms planted on the ground that extended upwards and towards the body of the thing. It stretched further to the other end of the room, connecting to a pale green translucent stomach, burrowed into the ground. Near the stomach were four more smaller appendages. The group quickly drew their weapons as the creature let out a room-shaking howl, forcing them to their knees as they covered their ears. The queen merely stared as they gripped tight onto their heads, still recovering from the assault on their ears. As they began to recover, the queen eyed the tunnels surrounding her. As everyone’s hearing returned to normal, Cleo broke the silence.
“Hold on… I don’t think it can actually attack us!” She pointed to its much longer arms. “It can’t support itself and strike at us at the same time!” She started to laugh.
“Well that’s a damn relief… I saw my life flashing before my eyes there, I swear!” Durrus let out a chuckle.
Curi got up from her feet. “Y-yeah… I mean, we still would have won or something, right?”
“Maybe with a few broken bones and a few lost limbs. Either way, just be thankful it can’t really do much to us.”
“Durrus, please, will you quit speaking to her like that?” barked Cleo.
“I’m just telling her how it is, ain’t nothing wrong with that!”
As the two argued, Caelos hovered close near Curi.
“Don’t worry now. Remember, I won’t let anything happen to you, I promise.”
Horrus moved towards the creature. As he began to draw his axe, moving closer to the pile of treasure, the four smaller appendages suddenly lunged outward, smashing right into his side, launching into the wall. He let out a yelp, and with a cough and a grunt, suddenly fell limp
“Kid, what the hell are you doing?”
With his shield pointed at the beast, Durrus charged over, grabbing him by the neck of his gambeson. The beast’s arms thrashed and flailed, trying all they could to reach him as he dragged Horrus back to safety. Curi charged forward, dropping to her knees over him as Cleo watched with concern painted on her face.
“Oh no… Horrus? Horrus please wake up! Please be okay! Please…-”
A few coughs escaped his mouth. He coughed and hacked much more, until his eyes slowly climbed open with the face of Curi in view.
“I thought you said that thing couldn’t attack us…”
Cleo’s concern turned to anger.
“I didn’t mean that! That was no excuse for you to just stupidly walk up to it like that!”
Curi offered Horrus a hand, helping him back up to his feet. The two hugged each other as a few tears streamed down Curi’s face. Embracing her, he took the time to shoot a quick sneer at Cleo before returning his focus on his friend.
“Come on, ow, careful hugging me there… It’s gonna take a lot more than that for me to go down.”
The two separated.
“Now, how do I kill it?”
Cleo threw her hands down. “You dirt-for-brained idiot! If you really wanna die that badly, there’s easier ways than trying to kill that thing!”
Caelos quickly hovered between the two. “Please, he has a point. We cannot rescue the Di’Chosh otherwise.”
“Well if it can’t hurt us over here, easy enough. I can easily shoot it a few times in the head and that will do the trick.” She took the vermin rifle off her shoulder.
“You really want to do it that easily now?” Horrus crossed his arms. “It’s not gonna be that easy. For something that big, you have to get close and cleave it up. It’s a lot more fun too.”
“I’m not looking to have fun, I’m looking to keep us all safe. Maybe you should think about safety for half a moment if your brain can actually process it.”
He simply let out a ‘hmph’.
“Perhaps I could save you the effort. A few asteroids would deal with it easily.”
“Good point. Every extra bullet counts out here anyways.”
Caelos held her arm up, bringing forth an asteroid, and slammed it against the head of the beast. It let out another ear-splitting screech, bringing the party to its knees once more. As the screeching stopped and Caelos prepared another asteroid, a booming “STOP” reverberated throughout the room. The party quickly scrambled back to their feet, scanning the room. Suddenly, with an all too familiar bright flash, another ghostly figure appeared right in front of the other root staff. It was human in shape, but had six arms, having a similar form, carapace, and head to the compound crawlers. With a horrifying teethed face, It spoke with an ancient yet booming voice.
“What do you think you are doing to my queen?”
Joy suddenly overtook Caelos’s face.
“It has been centuries… Please, I am another Di’Chosh, like you! My name is Caelos, and we are here to rescue you.”
“Ahh…” The being calmed down, anger turning to staunchness. “Although there is no room for another here, I can at least offer some hospitality. Welcome to my kingdom Caelos, my name is Genitos. Although, why have you traveled here and assailed my queen?”
“Queen? Well actually, I believe it’s finally time we can return to humans. What I’ve seen thanks to Curi, it convinces me that the time is right. Human and Di’Chosh can enter a new age of purpose and prosperity!”
He glided closer to Caelos, anger slowly returning to his face.
“Humans…” He glanced behind her noticing the rest of the party. “Why should I return to the very beings who destroyed everything I created?”
“What… What do you mean?”
“Where were you when Chidetah was scourged? I saw what happened with my last few loyal priests. Grasslands were turned to deserts in a mere matter of moments, hills reduced to dunes, hundreds of my magnificent marble buildings swallowed by the earth, the very lake my people settled near evaporated in minutes from sudden scorching heat. All of my people fled from my haven due to the ensuing chaos, only very few giving up their lives to bury me beneath the earth. The last I saw was an unholy jagged thing rising from the earth before they shut me in and abandoned me! They barely lasted a week before they gave up on life, and none dared to come replace them! After all this, and you dare say we must reunite?”
“Humans couldn’t have done that alone however! They had to have help from… other Di’Chosh…” Her face turned sullen as the cogs in her mind began to move.
“Exactly. Humans as a whole are wily, irresponsible, and spineless when put to the test. They lack proper will to be true disciples. Surely you should have noticed that with those… things who I assume brought you here?”
“Even if humans were like that, what purpose do you serve down here with vermin?”
“These, ‘vermin’, as you like to call them, are my new children. Long after all the humans passed, they found me. Instead of the hostility I expected from them, they collected me. I was confused at first, but then I found where they had placed me: among the very treasures my previous followers had made for me, which was right below their queen. They chose me to be their god, don’t you understand? They continuously bring me tribute without question or fear of consequence. They work without complaint or need for incentive, far stronger than them, loyal to only me and their queen, and unshakably faithful. They do not despise each other or fight among themselves. They’re far superior to humans, the ultimate followers!”
Horrus suddenly butted in.
“What do you mean superior? They really suck at thinking and fighting you know! We lured all of your stupid ‘followers’ into a trap and killed them all like the stupid bugs they were! How’s that for your ultimate followers?”
Cleo quickly yanked him back as Genitos’s face molded to one of pure rage.
“And once again, you humans have attempted to rip my purpose for existing! Is that not why you are all here? To cause me more torment?”
His voice caused ringing in everyone’s ears.
“Caelos, you are no worse, bringing these vermin to me! You horrid, horrid…”
He glared at the party, beginning to motion his hands around. Suddenly, the floor around the party began to dissolve. By the time they understood what he was doing, the floor collapsed, sending them all deep into a pit. They continued falling until they crashed into a pit full of a green phlegm-like fluid, thankfully mostly breaking their fall. Curi rose from the goop first, flailing her hands about and constantly spitting. Horrus was the second, holding onto the side of him that was struck, coughing a bit, followed by Cleo. Durrus rose last, struggling as the fluids stuck to his armor. The entire party was completely soaked from head to toe with the substance as it slowly dripped off of all of them.
“Quite the friendly welcome we got there Caelos! Anything else you wanna tell us about the friendly, human-loving Di’Chosh?”
“I am sorry Durrus, I do not understand what happened…”
“BLEGH. Let’s just get out of this goop before we talk anymore!”
Cleo looked around the room, finding but it was a very small, round-roofed chamber with several mole-sized holes in the wall, and a large tunnel connecting straight back to where they once were.
“I’m with Curi, I don’t feel too comfortable at all either-YEOW!”
Everyone jolted over and stared as Cleo thrashed around.
“Something bit me on the leg!”
She and Durrus drew their weapons as they stared down in the fluid. Indeed, strange worm-like creatures were swimming around. Too many to count, they slowly circled them as the two wildly swung into the goo.
“We need to get out of here, right now! Any ledge, anything to get on or hold onto, right?”
Horrus began to breathe faster and faster until he remembered what he still gripped onto dearly: The mining tool. He placed the end against the wall, and pressed the switch, blasting away a massive chunk of flesh and muscle. Everyone flinched, staring over at a small part of land Horrus had blown out. He cranked the tool again and climbed out of the pit. The others followed, cramming themselves all into the small shore from the swamp of worms. As Cleo climbed out, one of the creatures was violently biting and thrashing at her leg. She carefully stabbed it, causing it to release its grip as its life passed. She picked up the thing and shoved it into her bag.
“Um… Cleo, you’re bleeding a bit.” Curi pointed at little bits of blood staining her pants.
“Don’t worry, it’ll heal up in due time.”
She smiled at her, patting the scratch. Durrus plopped himself down against the wall.
“I had a good feeling other Di’Chosh weren’t going to return all willy nilly.”
“I am sorry this happened everyone. I do not understand what happened to him.”
“I’ll tell ya what happened. He’s an ass who probably got pissy that people valued self-preservation over him.”
“Please, there has to be more to it than just that! You don’t know how horrible it is to be abandoned, rooted to a place unable to move or do anything.”
Durrus sneered. “I’ve seen his type. I’m willing to bet he didn’t treat his followers as well as you did Caelos. They probably didn’t do exactly as he wanted them to do, and now he has a grudge against humanity over it.”
“You have no right to say that! You have no clue the kind of hell we had to go through for centuries!”
Horrus walked between the two.
“You’re missing the more important part. How do I kill it?”
Both of them fell silent for a few moments, before Caelos piped up a bit.
“I refuse to kill him. Di’Chosh are already far too sparse.”
“I don’t see any issue. He’s in our way, he needs to go, simple enough.”
“It isn’t simple enough. Di’Chosh can’t die. When our staffs are powered off or shattered, we enter only what humans can describe hell. He would be forced back into the plane we once resided in: An endless expanse of nothingness. We would have lost all of our minds if the Ya’Chosh didn’t create the root staffs to save us.”
Durrus spoke up as well.
“I have to agree with ya, not because I don’t want the bastard dead, but because I don’t think any of us would stand a chance against him. You saw him dissolve the floor like that. What if he doesn’t want to be as generous towards us the second time around? I’d hate for him to fuse me with the wall.”
She turned to find Curi staring longingly into her eyes.
“If he’s a bad Di’Chosh, we have to make sure he meets justice, right? I’m sure we can find nicer one out there, right?”
Cleo finished tying a scrap of clothing around her cut.
“I don’t think we have much of a choice in this matter. That tool of Horrus’s can dig us out of here, but we only know of one room we can tunnel to.”
Cleo pointed above.
“That is, unless we want to pick a random direction and tunnel for god knows how long out of this place?”
“Fight with a former god or tunnel for eternity?”
“I say we fight! Kill the thing!”
“Yeah, he’s gonna pay for hurting you all!”
Caelos stayed silent as Cleo smiled at the two.
“I also got a plan for once, if you’ll allow me to Durrus?”
He nodded. “Go right on ahead.”
“We first have to work our way slowly tunneling below the thing, and once we surface, we need to split up as fast as possible. I doubt he can focus on all four of us at once. If we can keep him distracted long enough, I’ll try and hit the staff with my rifle. One of those bullets should make the thing history. Sounds good?”
“As long as I get to kill the queen after!”
“If we kill Genitos first, then I’ll let that be your reward then Horrus. But don’t come crying to me if you break a bone trying.”
“Hah, as if!”
He brought the tool up diagonally towards the wall, firing it off.
“As long as you get that shot off quickly, I’m fine with it. I’m feeling exhausted enough.” Durrus slouched against the wall a bit more. Curi leapt up and down, buzzing with joy.
“That sounds great Cleo! He’s gonna get what’s coming to him!”
The tunnel coiled up higher and higher continuously into the flesh of the Almu’ard. A small cave was dug out near the top of the ever expanding tunnel, where Horrus, Cleo, and Curi all rested. While Durrus was at the top, waiting for the tool to finish charging up, Horrus was lying down, slowly breathing, and Cleo was leaning back against the wall, her gloves off and hands red, sweat still fresh on her face.
A few moments passed and the red light lit up again, as Durrus pressed the tool against the roof. He fired it off, but this time a mess of gold and flesh poured over him and into the tunnel below.
“Crap, everybody hurry on up, we literally tunneled right below him!”
He dropped the tool, letting it tumble down the passage as he vaulted up and out, meeting face to face with Genitos.
“Back again? Killed my next generation of followers as well I bet?”
Durrus leapt out of the way as he made more motions with his hand, ripping a chunk of flesh out of the wall and launching it directly at him. It made contact, thankfully not breaking the armor, but still sending him flying back. As he regained his footing, Cleo soon leapt her way out of the hole with her rifle drawn, making a break for the back of the room. Genitos noticed and yanked out another chunk of flesh from the wall, launching it towards her back. Before it could reach her, Durrus sprinted over. He quickly yanked his scutum from his back, shielding it in front of him as he intercepted the piece of wall. His shield absorbed most of the impact, shoving him back a few inches. Cleo suddenly spun around, Durrus smiling and giving a brief thumbs-up.
“Hurry and get set up, he ain’t gonna give us a break!”
Curi struggled a bit, trying to climb out of the hole staff-first. Noticing her, he Di’Chosh re-set his sights, instead slowly forcing the hole to shrink. Curi found herself trapped as the hole slowly grew smaller and smaller. She noticed, and began screaming for help as panic settled in. Tears slowly began to stream down her eyes as she cried more and more desperately.
“Is she your purpose for existing Caelos? Perhaps you would like to know how it feels to have that ripped away from you.”
Caelos flew from below Curi with anger burning unlike anything he had seen in his entire lifetime. With a swift movement, she summoned an asteroid, launching it straight at the tip of his staff. The blow knocked the staff into a spin, sending it flying all the way across the room into one of the tunnels, suddenly jerking him away with it. The queen stared down at Caelos, letting out another ear-splitting screech. With fury still burning in her eyes, she held up her arm for several seconds, slowly bringing out a massive asteroid. She eyed the queen’s head, and then its stomach, before launching the boulder-sized object straight into it. Smashing straight into her, a sickening fleshy smack resounded through the room, the viscous juices splattering all over the room as the rock split the queen in half, embedding itself in the wall behind her.. The queen shrieked louder and louder, nearly threatening to shatter the eardrums of the party. It finally stopped, its two front large legs buckling, crashing her down. Curi was still sniffling and sobbing as Caelos approached.
“Don’t worry Curi, we’ll get you out soon.” She turned to the duo. “Durrus, get over here right now!”
“We got a Di’Chosh to kill first! Come on Cleo, he’s down here-”
As Durrus peered down the hole, he saw Genitos’s face, now tainted with despair. He didn’t move at all, just stared longingly back into the queen’s chamber.
“You… You are all beyond sick, beyond worth! This world is beyond redemption!”
He looked like he attempted to cry, but his form could produce no tears.
“All you foul beasts do is strip us of our purpose! There’s no hope here at all!”
He moved his arms around again, causing Durrus to run back, yanking Cleo with him, diving to the ground for cover. Nothing happened except for a loud snap emanating from the tunnel. He turned around, peering carefully at the hole before the two approached again. They peered in, seeing nothing left other than a now-shattered root staff.