Lead vs Fantasy 5-6

5-6  Something About Rocks

 

Erik looked down at his fresh set of black pants.  They were dry.  That alone, after all this time, made them feel warm and cozy.  After indulging in that sensation for a while, he shifted his attention to the pair he’d removed.  He hoped Champ’s advice of tying them to the rover’s railing wasn’t just a prank.  Using the wind to dry them seemed completely reasonable, but he’d noticed lotus’s pants weren’t going to join them.

“It’s been long enough,” Lotus declared, pulling her boots from atop the rover’s hood and shoving them on her feet.  “We should go get the others.”

Erik couldn’t help noticing Lotus’s little wince as she slipped on her left boot.  He almost opened his mouth to tell her he was right about the blister.  Then a memory of the pain on the back of his head stopped him.  He’d learned that it was unhealthy to press issues too hard.  Sometimes he wondered if the team was training him like a dog, but he quickly forced himself to stop wondering.  It was an unpleasant thought to dwell on.

After Lotus was properly booted, she turned a judgmental gaze Erik’s way and he quickly followed her example.  When he grabbed his first boot, he had to frown.  Then he obediently put it on without a complaint.  The sun had certainly dried the boots.  They weren’t soaking, but they were still damp.  As soon as they enveloped his feet, his wonderfully fresh socks were ruined.  As they marched back to the ruins, Erik dwelled on that ruination and didn’t participate in Champ and Lotus’s conversation.

“I’ve been thinking.  Maybe this place was a zoo,” Champ wondered aloud in their last few minutes of sunlight as they headed underground again.

“In what world would a jungle full of monsters constitute a zoo?”  Lotus asked coldly.

“It didn’t sound like it was FULL of monsters,” Champ responded, waving his hands in the air to somehow indicate the population density of fullness.  “It’s been a thousand years.  Their cages could’ve broken by now.”

“A cage for a monster that east metal,” Lotus remarked, raising an eyebrow poignantly.  “I’d like to see that.”

“I never said the cages lasted very long.”

“Yes,” Lotus replied with a deep nod.  “That is what the dwarves were known for, after all.  Poor planning and awful engineering.”

“That’s a good point…” Champ responded as they finally entered the darkness of the ruins again.  “Then, maybe it was a kink thing.  Like a really weirdly themed brothel.”

“I’ve never wanted to fuck an ostrich,” Lotus declared, her frigid gaze somehow growing even colder.  “I don’t even know how that’d work.”

“Neither have nor do I,” Champ replied with a broad grin and a shrug.  “but there’s got to be somebody.”

“There doesn’t.”

“There does.”

“Do you ever feel like you’re forcing yourself?”  Lotus asked, narrowing her eyes to give Champ an almost sympathetic gaze.  “Not everything has to come to a dirty joke.”

“It’s kind of become my thing…” Champ responded, deflating a little.  Then he quickly perked up again and declared, “But I’m going to stand by it.”

“Really?”  Lotus asked, her eyes widening into an incredulous stare.  “Metal ostrich brothel?  That’s the hill you’re going to die on?”

“You can’t deny it’d be interesting.”

“Interesting isn’t the right word…”

“Unique.”

“Yes,” Lotus replied, nodding her head, but rolling her eyes.  “If this was a metal ostrich brothel, I’d think it was the only one in all the universes ever.”

“The only of it’s kind.  That makes it interesting.”

“Just because something is rare, doesn’t make it valuable,” Lotus rebutted coolly.  “There are types of minnows whose populations can be measured in the hundreds.  They’re still just fish.”

“I’m sure there are some people who’d kill to protect them,” Champ responded, his tone becoming uncharacteristically serious.  “If they’re special cause they’re rare.  It’s a part of human nature.”

“That’s more disgusting than your monster brothel idea.”

“It wasn’t my idea.  It was the dwarves’ idea.”

Before Lotus could respond again, they were interrupted by the sound of bare skin slapping against stone.  The rhythmic reverberation echoed through the stone passage and seemed to be getting louder.  In an instant, Lotus and Champ had put on hard expressions and had their guns drawn and ready.

Erik was slower on the uptake and barely able to figure out he should be doing something when the intruder already appeared.  Once the approaching figure grew visible, it avoided an immediate hail of bullets by being human shaped.  That made Erik pause in the midst of drawing his own gun.  Champ and Lotus hadn’t fired, but didn’t put down their weapons.

“Who’re you?” Lotus called out to what now clearly looked to be a young, human girl.

The girl didn’t respond and kept running.  She was surprisingly fast and kept getting faster.  Before anyone could make the decision to fire, she had already ducked beneath Champ and Lotus’s guns and passed between the two of them.

For a second, she was in front of Erik.  A roughly ten year old girl with blond hair and an unblemished face.  She looked completely normal, but her presence in this place was so shocking that Erik hadn’t recovered enough to think it was strange.

The girl nimbly stepped around Erik and moved passed him.  As she did, he unconsciously reached out to stop her.  He didn’t know why.  To tell her that it was dangerous and she should leave the place she was already leaving?  That seemed about right.

Ultimately without any reason, Erik’s hand closed tight around the girls forearm.  He thought she would stop or maybe cry out at him.  However, she did nothing of the sort.  She merely kept moving.  As she did so, the arm Erik was grasping sort of separated from her body with a wet sucking noise.  Then she continued out of sight.

For a second, no one could comprehend what’d happened.  Then Erik looked down and truly saw what he was clutching for the first time.  It was a short, thin arm.  Pale and somehow lacking in flowing blood for a dismembered limb.  Hurriedly, he tried to throw it away.  Before he could, however, it melted into a black sludge.  Then it dripped through his fingers and onto the floor.

As Erik desperately tried not to feel the unpleasant, goopy sensation that clung to his palm, he stepped away from the puddle of ooze.  Then he turned teary eyes to his seniors and asked, “What happened?”

“You ripped her arm off,” Champ answered after a moment of stunned silence.

“Why’d you do that?” Lotus asked, recovering from the qhole situation surprisingly quickly.

“I-I I di-“  Erik looked at his hand, then at the ooze on the ground, then back at his teammates.  All the while, he flapped his mouth helplessly.

“Don’t worry about it so much,” Champ recommended easily.  “It must’ve been some monster.  Don’t know what type, though… You should probably wipe that off, anyway.”

At Champ’s words, Erik recovered some of his senses.  He moved to wipe his hand on his pants.  Then he remembered that this was his last clean pair and hesitated.  Then he scraped the ooze off on the nearest wall.  That wasn’t enough, though and he had to dirty his pants in the end, anyway.

“So, do we go after her to make sure she doesn’t steal our stuff?” Champ asked as he watched Erik trying to clean himself.  “Or do we go further in?  Check to see if there are more of her.”

As Lotus was about to give her opinion, their conversation was again interrupted.  This time by a horrible crashing that came from further into the ruins.  It sounded like someone was trying to tear apart a car with their bare hands… and succeeding.

Champ and Lotus met each other’s gazes.  Then they both took off in the direction of the noise.  Not the direction Erik was inclined to go.  Then he thought about the girl coming back and looking for her arm.  Then he quickly moved to follow them.

After a short run down the hallway, the trio emerged into the cylindrical room and found a scene of chaos.  The iron gate, which used to rotate around the room, was now shattered to pieces and strewn about the floor.  The large stone fountain, which was the rooms sole redeeming feature, was treated much the same.

In the midst of that chaos stood its presumed author.  A massive assemblage of stone and strange dark tendrils which took the shape of a man.  The only part that put effort into that guise, apart from the basic shape, was the head.  At least that had a face carved into it.  Everything else looked like rough stone.

When it came into view, Erik spent a few seconds staring at that construct.  It was strangely familiar, but he couldn’t quite say why.  He wondered if that was because statues in general all resembled each other in one way or another.  You can only look at so many humans before you notice the similarities.

After that, movement in his peripheral called attention to two, much smaller, figures.  Edge and the Captain.  They were moving around at the feet of the hulking statue and seemed to be getting in position for something.

As Erik watched, Edge ran straight in front of the golem and stood in front of the golem with his knife held at his hip.  The golem, almost lazily, raised up its stone fist to bring it down on Edge’s head like a falling meteor.  When the deathly stone drew near, Erik thought he heard a sharp in-taking of breath from beside him, but he didn’t focus on that.

Erik bit his lip and looked through squinted eyes as he waited for Edge to get crushed.  Then Edge’s body flashed with a white light and his arm moved with an unintelligible blur.  The golem’s fist met with the white arc that Edge’s arm seemed to produce and suddenly stopped.

The stony fist hung in the air for a few seconds before sliding about a foot off course and denting the bricks beside Edge.  Before the golem could recover from its shock at its failure, the Captain ran up from behind Edge.  He climbed up and leapt from Edge’s shoulders.

As the Captain sailed through the air, he looked down.  With both his handguns, he seemed to take aim at the golem’s inner elbow, where some of the black tendrils were exposed.  Before he could fire a shot, however, the golem swept over with its other arm.  The Captain was caught on his stomach and sent tumbling through the air.

After a few seconds spent airborne, the Captain crashed to a stop on the other side of the room and Edge quickly ran to check on him.  After a few seconds spent processing the situation, Lotus, Champ, and Erik ran over too.

“I’m fine,” the Captain was already declaring when the trio arrived.  Erik highly doubted that statement, but he seemed to be able to move ok after Edge helped him up.

“What is that thing and why are you fighting it alone?”  Lotus asked after making sure the Captain survived.

“Cause we were alone when we started fighting it,” Edge answered quickly.

As Erik listened to the conversation, he nervously turned his gaze towards the golem in the center of the room.  Strangely, it didn’t look eager to approach them.  Almost like it was hesitating over something.  When he turned his head back towards the wall beside them, Erik wondered if the thing could actually be worried about collapsing the ruins.  That didn’t seem right coming from a monster, let alone a golem.  However, it was the things house.  Erik wasn’t eager to make himself homeless either.  At least he wasn’t when he had a home.

When Erik was satisfied of their momentary safety, he turned his attention back to his colleagues.  It seemed he’d missed a whole argument about danger and risk.  He tuned back in just in time to see the Captain raising his hands to his chest, saying, “There was nothing to be done.  It followed us through god knows how many tunnels.  It’d catch up with us eventually.”

Lotus pursed her lips, but nodded to accept his words.  Then she asked, “What’s the plan, then?”

“We think the space between the rocks is the weak spot… cause… they’re not rocks,” Edge answered, his voice growing less definite by the second.  “I don’t know, shoot them for now?”

Before anyone could retort to that, a loud bang resounded through the room and drew everyone’s attentions.  At the source of the sound they found the golem.  More specifically, the golem’s fist.  Their statuesque enemy had extended both its arms to opposite walls of the room.  Then it started to rotate its torso.  This seemed to be the solution to its worries.

As the golem spun, a terrible scraping noise was thrown into the air along with an extending cloud of dust.  While the golem’s fist continually wore away the walls, its extended arms rolled along the ground towards the team.  It was as if they were about to be crushed by a necklace of massive, misshapen pearls.

After Erik spent a few seconds watching that scene, the closer arm had already crossed half the distance between them and the team was already moving.  By the time Erik noticed them, Edge and Champ had already taken position behind him.

“Think rigid,” Edge whispered in Erik’s hear as he grabbed at Erik’s left shoulder and thigh.

“Not down there, though,” Champ added, taking the same position on the right.

“This is not the time!” Edge reprimanded as Erik felt his body being lifted into the air and held horizontal.

Erik was left with a good view of the stone ceiling.  That was a mixed blessing.  On one hand, he didn’t have to stare down his own death as it approached.  On the other, he couldn’t tell how close it was.

“I know,”  Champ shouted, now underneath Erik, holding him aloft.  “That’s why I said.”

“Dammit Champ!”

With that last cry from Edge, Erik left the earth behind.  He started soaring through the air like… well, like a man being thrown.  He had a few everlasting seconds of weightlessness.  Then he recognized what he’d been hearing from the beginning.  It was the rumbling of the rolling stones.  It sounded like it was inches beneath him.  Instinctively he tried to arch his back.  Anything to widen the gap between himself and death.

Then gravity retuned and Erik struck the stone floor with an inelegant thump.  He landed on his ass and his entirely lower body exploded in pain.  He’d swear that he’d broken his tail bone.  Though, the fact that he wasn’t screaming testified against him.

Once Erik was able to collect himself some, he flipped himself over and started to force himself to his feet.  As he did so, he looked back towards the death trap he’d escaped.  He couldn’t hear anything from them over the sound of stone breaking.  That made a terrible thought cross his mind.  had they sacrificed their lives to save him?  Throwing Erik over in the last minute before they were all crushed under the massive stones?  Erik felt an uncomfortable stinging in his heart and he felt like he was about to cry.

Then all his worry was blown away.  Edge and the Captain each made their own elegant high jump over the man-sized boulders.  At the same time, Champ and Lotus slid through the frightfully small gaps between the crushing balls of rock.  The four easily managed to save themselves with their own power.  It was only Erik that needed to be literally carried over.  Psuedo-literally.

That thought made Erik’s heart sting in a completely different way.  Though the rest of the team paid no attention to that.  Once they were all back on their feet, they hurried forward and helped Erik the rest of the way up.  Then they started running towards the center of the room.

At first Erik didn’t understand why and was merely carried along by the other’s momentum.  Then he looked to the left and saw the golem’s other arm, already grinding towards them.  The golem’s arm had extended out and trailed along the floor in hopes of crushing them.  However, the golem’s shoulders weren’t flush with the floor.  That meant there was a little patch of safety between the golem’s shoulder and where its arm touched the floor.  The only question was if they could make it there in time.

Running was one of the few things Erik had confidence in.  It was one of the few things he had experience with before joining the team.  He was currently pumping his legs so much that he was worried his feet might fly off.  However, he couldn’t escape the constantly looming specter of death.

The golem’s arm was getting closer way faster than it should be.  Somehow it was accelerating.  He was sure of it.  At this rate, they’d meet their end right in front of their goal.  Inches from sanctuary.  That wasn’t fair.  That wasn’t acceptable.  Erik put all he had to make it the last few feet.

Then, everything stopped.  No.  Not everything.  Erik, for one, refused to stop moving unless it killed him.  The golem, however, that had stopped.  Its arms ceased rotating just before they reached its armpit of safety.  Then the golem drew in its arms and raised them up in the air with one fluid movement.

At that demonstration, someone cursed.  Erik couldn’t tell who.  It might’ve even been him.  The specifics seemed very trivial in that moment.  In fact, everything seemed trivial in that moment. He knew he should move, but he somehow couldn’t.  His body didn’t respond properly and time slowed down.

Before he could meet a very wet end on the stone bricks beneath him, someone grabbed his hand.  Then he was being dragged.  That was the only impulse needed to coalesce some movement out of him.  He quickly followed the others and fled between the golem’s feet.  Once they passed underneath the statue, the ground behind them exploded in a way only 20 tons of force can bring about.

As they kept running, the Captain spoke.  “It looks like the tendrils will be the weak spot.  If we can break them and cut pieces off of it, we can weaken it little by little.  Lotus, you think you can make good progress on the neck?”

“The neck?” Lotus asked as the team made a quick left to avoid another violent smash from the golem.  “Wouldn’t it be better to take out an arm?”

Erik eagerly nodded at that.  Less arms seemed good.

“They must’ve bothered carving a face for a reason,” the Captain declared.  “Cutting off the head probably won’t kill it, but there’s a decent chance it’ll go blind.”

Erik turned back to look at the golem as it carefully prepared another attack.  The idea of such a behemoth flailing around randomly didn’t sound good.  Then again, flailing around very specifically was much worse.

Lotus nodded at the Captains explanation.  Then she turned back to look at Erik.  “This is no place for the Newbie,” She declared, shifting her gaze back to the Captain.  “We should get him out of here first.”

Theoretically, Erik should be upset over that.  He was a part of the team.  Being directly told he was a liability wasn’t great.  However, right then, he would accept being useless.  He just didn’t want to become a pancake.

“No dice,” Champ declared with a nihilistic grin before anyone could say anything more.

Following Champ’s gestures, Erik looked towards the door they’d entered by.  Then his heart sank.  The door was made completely impassible by a mound of bricks that’d fallen into it.  Hurriedly, Erik spun his head around to investigate the other exits.  He found the same thing.

“It must’ve been done by the golem when it was spinning before,” Edge observed.  As drew close to the room’s wall again, the golem’s attacks stopped for a moment.  “We could probably dig it out, but I’m not in the digging mood right this moment.”

“We can only do what we can,”  the Captain declared, drawing their attention with a clap of his hands.  “Edge protect the Newbie.  Lotus, flank the golem and take its head when you can.  Champ and I will work on distracting it.”

“Just because I’m the most attractive one here, doesn’t mean I have to always play distraction!” Champ shouted bitterly.

“I won’t even start with your ego,” Edge responded with a half-smile.  “But the Newbie’s all yours if you can take responsibility for him.

Somehow, as Champ looked him over thoughtfully, Erik felt like a puppy being sized up for adoption.

After a few seconds, Champ responded. “Fine.  I’m a good distraction anyway.”

“You know, I feed myself and clean up after myself,” Erik declared, feeling like he should say something for himself.

“That’s not what we’re really worried about right now,” Edge responded with a light chuckle.

“The Captain does most of the cooking,” Lotus corrected sternly.

Then the golem seemed ready to extend its arms again.  So, with Lotus’s words standing in the air as the world’s worst battle cry, the team separated.  Lotus ran off to the left.  Edge grabbed Erik and pulled him off to the right.  Champ and the Captain stepped forward to face down the golem.

When Erik and Edge had moved roughly a quarter of the room away from the action, they stopped and turned to watch.  As promised, the Captain and Champ were drawing most of the golem’s attention.  They id that pretty easily by shooting at it.  Even if the thing knew enough not to collapse the building, it wasn’t neuroscientist.

As Erik watched, Champ emptied about half of his rifle’s magazine on one of the golem’s arms.  Most of the bullets sent up sparks as they ricocheted off of the stone and did little else.  That was enough to earn the golem’s ire, however.  It raised the targeted arm and took careful aim before bringing it down on Champ.  At least that was its intention.  Champ quickly bolted six steps to his left and was barely buffeted by the shockwave of the blow.  At the same time, the Captain was carrying out a similar process with the other arm.

From back where they were standing, the golem didn’t look nearly as intimidating.  Everything seemed so deliberate.  Like a bull in a china shop, except where the bull doesn’t break things.  With the golem being so careful, it was relatively easy to avoid its swinging fists.  Of course, if that wasn’t the case, they’d all be dead.  He’d hate to see the thing enraged.

After what was probably around a minute, Lotus was in position and seemed ready to attack.  She was on the opposite side of the room for Erik, standing with her legs wide and her rifle held against her shoulder.  She took careful aim at the golem’s swaying neck.  Then the familiar white mist gathered around her and she fired.

With a boom that filled the room to bursting, the white light flew from Lotus’s gun and straight towards the golem’s neck.  In a flash, half of the twisting fibers that made up the golem’s neck were cut.  Unable to adapt to the sudden change, the golem’s stony head fell limply onto its right shoulder.

Seeing the golem in such a pathetic state, Erik was filled with a sense of exhilaration.  He’d seen them take on huge monsters before, but that didn’t mean it stopped effecting him.  Every time he saw it, he got this sense of: yes, look at what humans can do!

After Erik spent a few seconds enjoying his feelings, he saw some movements in his periphery.  When he noticed what it was, he quickly followed Edge’s lead and readied his own rifle.  Now that the job was half done, it was time to finish it.  Erik had almost forgotten that the golem wasn’t dead already.

Everyone took aim at what was left of the bewildered golem’s neck.  Then its head started to move.  Slowly, it raised up again to hover around its previous height.  Then more black tendrils shot out of the base of the head and the top of the torso.

As the new tendrils met and wrapped around each other, Edge shouted, “Shit!” and let off a few shots.  Before the bullets could do any good, however, the golem’s neck had already completely repaired itself.

Back to its old self, the golem turned its head to look at the one who’d inured it.  Then it spun its torso, letting one rocky fist fly out with the sudden movement.  Lotus, who’d been attempting to use her arte a second time, was unable to dodge in time.  The whipping boulder struck her in the abdomen and sent her sailing through the air.

With an uncomfortably deep thud, she struck the wall a few feet away from Erik and crumpled onto the floor.  Without a second’s thought, Edge ran to Lotus’s collapsed body, calling her name as he moved.  Erik soon followed, the gunshots behind him signaling the renewal of the Captain and Champ’s work.

When Erik got to where Lotus had landed, Edge was already crouched beside her, calling for a response.  She gave none and stared blankly ahead, seeing nothing.  Erik’s blood ran cold at the sight.  He keep the question away.  Was she really gone?  He felt like there was something he should do, but he couldn’t think of anything.

After about a minute, Lotus finally blinked.  Then she winced and tried to stand.

Edge quickly helped her to her feet and asked, “Are you ok?  Do you recognize me?”

“I’m fine,” Lotus responded stoically.  Then she winced again and grabbed her side before asking, “What’re we going to do?  If it heals that fast, dismemberment won’t help.”

“I don’t know,”  Edge answered earnestly.  Then his expression became complicated and he quickly added, “You need to rest.  We’ll worry about that.”

“I’m not in the mood right this moment,” Lotus responded with what might’ve been an attempt at a wry smile.  Though her face was still distorted with effort and pain and it was hard to tell.  Then she looked past Edge and to the golem.  “I’ll be fine.  Just give me a few seconds.”

Edge looked as if he was going to respond, but he was interrupted by an explosion that erupted from the left.  As the sound of falling stone still rang through the room, Erik quickly spun to see what’d happened.  There, he found Not nonchalantly swaggering through the doorway he’d just cleared, his shotgun on his shoulder.

As Erik was recognizing Not, Not was recognizing a stone fist flying straight for him.  Without saying a word, he jumped back through the door he’d just entered.  Then the golem’s punch crashed into the floor where Not’d just stood.  A few seconds later, the golem withdrew its fist, leaving behind only sand which had once been the fallen bricks blocking Not’s hallway.

Once the golem failed its assassination, Champ and the Captain were able to distract it again and it turned away.  Then Knot and Caulilfower ran into the room and took a few steps to the side before they were satisfied they weren’t about to be atomized.

Then Not turned to Edge and asked, “What’s this!?”

“It’s what it looks like,” Edge answered impatiently as he turned, at first his head, then his body, away from Lots.  “We’re trying to figure out how to kill it.”

“Looks like the not rock parts would be a good place to start,” Cauliflower observed, stroking her chin thoughtfully.

“The ropey parts regenerate,” Lotus responded, pacing a bit to remember how to use her legs.

“Maybe we should just run,” Not suggested.

“And here we’d never thought of that,” Edge responded, his voice dripping with sarcasm.

“Can you stop talking and do something helpful?!”  Champ shouted as he dodged another slam from the golem.

Edge’s face immediately turned serious and he commanded, “Cauliflower, go be distracting with the Captain and Champ.”

“That looks awful,” Cauliflower remarked, frowning to where the Captain and Champ were still dancing around the golem’s fist.

“I wasn’t making a request,” Edge declared meaningfully.

After meeting Edge’s gaze for a second, Cauliflower reluctantly started towards the hulking golem.  Before she could cross half the distance, however, the Captain spoke up.

“There’s a limit to regeneration,” he shouted over the sound of stone striking stone.  “It’ll run out of energy eventually.  With all of us here, we can kill it with bug bites.  Everyone pick a spot and start shooting.”

With that order, everyone turned to face the golem.  After a few seconds, Erik joined the trend.  Looking down the sights of his rifle, he wondered if he was ready for this.  They were cut off from the car.  That meant they couldn’t afford to waste ammo… last time, Erik had been a waste of ammo.

But!  He’d been training!  Plus, he was able to help out Lotus before with the birds.  Well, bird… and it got away…

While Erik spent his time worrying fruitlessly, the rest of the team had already started the attack.  Once again, he was left half a beat behind and hurried to catch up.  He pointed his gun at whatever black part seemed biggest and pulled the trigger.

Then, something amazing happened.  His bullets didn’t bounce harmlessly off the stone.  Some of them did, but most of them struck fast into the black tendrils that would be the golem’s inner thigh.  It was an exhilarating moment of accomplishment that filled his entire being.

As Erik was having a moment, the golem had its own exaggerated reaction.  As its whole body took damage from all directions, the golem flailed its arms in the air and stumbled backwards.  It seemed unsure of what to do, and its flailing didn’t even need to be dodged by anyone.

As the golem retreated, the team was filled with the excitement of progress and they pressed forward the attack.  Then, as chunks were torn from all of its joints, the golem slowly found its footing and crouched down.  The golem quickly withdrew into the fetal position until it looked like little more than a pile of boulders.

Once all the tendrils were no longer visible and all their bullets were left to send up sparks against stone, the team stopped.  After a couple minutes of tense silence, the golem shot to its feet again.  Before anyone could begin firing again, the golem slammed its fist into the floor.  Then it did it again and again.

The first three attacks didn’t land near anyone, but the force of the blows shook the ground and made it hard to focus.  Then the golem sent a punch towards Cauliflower, which she nimbly dodged.  Then it punched the ground near the wall to its left, where no one was standing.  Then it sent a swing towards Champ.

It was like it was attacking at random.  It didn’t matter if it hit an enemy, as long as it could punch something fast and hard.  It made Erik wonder if a pile of rocks could get angry.  He’d always thought of golems as a bit more mechanical than that.

Erik didn’t have long to wonder before his train of everything was interrupted by the sight of a giant stony fist heading straight for him.  He had to dodge either to the right or the left.  However, once again, his body refused to move.  He knew he was going to die if he stood there, but he couldn’t do anything.  Why?

While Erik fought against himself, someone grabbed his arm and pulled him to the right.  The wind from the fist barely passing him by struck the sweat he didn’t know he was producing and gave Erik a chill.  He shivered unconsciously because of everything.  Then he turned to Edge and started to thank him for saving his life.

Then Edge’s eyes looked past Erik and went wide.  He shouted, “Knot!” and then pushed Erik away with all his strength.

Erik was sent stumbling backwards in confusion.  Then a furious boulder crashed into the space that’d just opened up between him and Edge.  A few seconds later, the golem’s fist withdrew and revealed Edge’s perfectly healthy figure.

Erik was so releaved by both their survival that he almost collapsed onto the ground.  Then something grabbed onto the back of his shirt and helped him with that.  In seconds, he was flat on his belly, taking in the musty, earthen scent of the stone floor.  Then he felt another chilling wind pass right over his head.

A few seconds later, the same, strong hand gripped his shirt and pulled him up to his feet.  Then he heard Not shout, “Shit!” right into his ear.

Then he was shoved forward a few stumbling steps.  He tried to ignore the horrible crash that sounded behind him and focus on whatever came next.  Unsurprisingly, that was another boulder fist.  It was straight and clear and true and it was coming for him head on.  He had to dodge it.  He had to so he could survive and he had to so he could stand on his own. He had to learn to move himself.  How to make his body work.  It had to happen if he ever wanted to stand with the others.  It had to happen if he ever wanted to stand in the future.

With all the force of his will, Erik made his right leg spasm out away from him.  He quickly fell onto the ground to his right.  Then he felt a familiar wind pass him by to the left and he nearly cried.  He’d survived.  He’d saved himself.  It was a bit unsightly and pathetic, but he’d done it.

Then he turned his eyes towards the golem and saw it quickly raise its fist for another attack.  Erik’s heart sank immediately.  This was the end.  He definitely couldn’t dodge like this.  He was still on the floor.  On principle, he tried to scramble to his feet, but he’d already given up hope.

Then, the golem’s rapidly rising fist roughly smashed into the ceiling.  With a great crash, the whole building shuddered.  Then dozens of bricks became dislodged from the ceiling and rained onto the golem’s statue head.  As the shower of bricks clattered onto the floor, the golem’s movements froze.  So did the movements of everyone else.  They all waited with confusion, anticipating the statue’s next move.

Then the golem slowly crouched down and withdrew all its limbs until it was reduced to a pile of boulders again.  After a few seconds spent like this, the golem stood up again, turned towards the Captain, and released a carefully aimed punch.  The Captain quickly ducked to the side, his face still contorted in confusion.

Then Champ fired a few rounds at the golem’s fleshy bits and it turned to give him an attack.  Like that, whatever rage had taken hold of the golem dissipated and it returned to its normally docile state.  Well, docile for something that was currently trying to kill them.

After a few minutes, everyone had confirmed the golem’s reset to its previous, Not hesitantly asked, “So, do we try that again?”

“I don’t want to die,” Edge shot back, still wiping sand and dust from his clothes.

“We need to do something.  I’m not a superman.  I’ll get tired eventually,”  Champ declared from in front of the golem.

“We believe in you!” Edge shouted back, his voice thoroughly unconvincing.

“Just do something!” Champ yelled before jumping out of the way of another pulverizing smash.

“Damn it,” Not cursed under his breath. “Where’s the core?  There must be some clue.”

“There is, it’s in one of those rocks,” Edge rebutted callously.  “If you have about ten tons of dynamite up your ass, I’ll blow them all up and find it for you?”

“What core?” Erik almost asked before being interrupted by someone grabbing his shoulders and spinning him around.

“Do you still have that paper?” Lotus’s voice asked before Erik’s eyes could adjust to how close her face was.

“What?” He asked at the entire situation.

“The paper.  From the room,” Lotus barely explained, but that jogged something in Erik’s head.

As ambiguous as the description was, there was only one thing he’d gotten in the past several weeks that could fit it.  That made him wonder if he was on the track to becoming illiterate, but he ignored those thoughts.  Instead, he focused on carefully rummaging through his backpack and pulling out the parchment from before.

As soon as the paper had left his bag, Lotus grabbed it form him with such force that it almost ripped in half.  Then she called over Not and Edge and unfolded the paper for them.  What was revealed once she did made Erik feel very stupid.  It’d only been a few hours since they’d first looked over the paper.  To forget in such a short time… the only excuse he had was that it was an eventful few hours.  Even so, he couldn’t help looking down on himself.

More literally, what he was looking down on was a detailed schematic of the statue that was currently trying to reduce the Captain to a red paste.  As Erik marveled at his own stupidity, Edge and Not simply marveled.

“Where’d you get this?” Not asked in an almost conspiratorial whisper.

“We found it,” Lotus replied quickly.  “This should accurate, I think.  So the core should be located here.”  Lotus pointed at a dark circle buried in the center of the golem’s back.

“So if we break that, it stops,” Not said, looking into Erik’s eyes.

Erik nodded his understanding.  He didn’t exactly understand the reason for anything, but he’d heard that some monsters like slimes and the like have cores that keep them together and moving.  It didn’t seem like a stretch to apply that to golems too.

Seeing Erik’s acceptance, Not continued, “How do we do that, then?  I don’t have the confidence to shatter rock with conventional weapon’s fire.  Lotus?”

“You want me to snipe a six inch diameter crystal buried in a moving boulder based on a blueprint?”

“Can’t you just smash the whole rock?” Erik asked hopefully.  “You did it with that bird before.”

“A golem is not a petrified monster.  A roc isn’t supposed to be made of… stone,” Lotus’s face froze as she heard her own words.  Then she shook her head and continued.  “A boulder is different.  The shape… everything.”

Not frowned.  Then he turned to Edge, “Did you bring any C-4 this time?”

“I used it, but Lotus should have some more,” Edge answered, turning another hopeful look towards Lotus.

A look she immediately shot down.  “I don’t.”

“What?” Edge asked, his face contorting in confusion and his voice taking on a bit of an accusatory tone.  “I thought you said you would bring some.”

“I have frag grenades,” Lotus answered simply, returning a cold stare to Edge’s betrayed accusation.  “That’s what you asked me to bring.”

“Never once did I say that!” Edge responded shaking his head vehemently.

“You asked me to pack some extra explosives from the red box.  That’s what I did.”

“Then I don’t know how you could’ve missed it.  It was on the top of the box right below my seat.  It should’ve been staring you in the face.”

“That’s not red.”

“What?”

“That box is blood orange.  I opened the red box.”

“What?!  Red is red is red.”

“Yes, and I opened the red box.”

“Can we not do this now?” Not finally interrupted the argument by stepping between the two.  “Focusing on the task at hand.  We have grenades.  How many?”

“Four,” Lotus answered, her expression still deadpan.

Edge and Not both looked at her in surprise.

Lotus simply illucidated, “It was what was in the box.”

“Four might give us something, but we’ll have to detonate them in mid-air,” Not observed with a frown.  “Is anyone good at cooking grenades?”

“Their fuses aren’t that reliable,” Edge responded with a shake of his head.

“I can do it,” Lotus declared dauntlessly.

“Like I said, they’re not-“

“I can shoot them,” Lotus interrupted.

“Out of the air?” Not asked, raising his eyebrows in surprise.

“It’s easier than shooting something I can’t see,” Lotus replied with a shrug.

“Still, whoever throws them is gonna be a pincushion,” Not observed, picking at his stubble.

As everyone fell into silence, Edge bit his lip and then nodded.  “I can do something about that, but I’ll need someone with a shotgun affinity to hold its arms back while I make my run.”

Not frowned at the golem and said, “I’ll manage for a bit, but I’ll need someone to pull focus for me while I prepare.”

“We have volunteers for that already,” Edge declared with a smile as he looked towards the three who were still diligently dancing with the giant statue.  Then he slowly turned towards Erik as he continued, “The only thing that’s left is breaking the core once it’s exposed.  It’ll need to happen fast.  If thing enrages again, I’ll be dead.”

Meeting the gazes of his three seniors, Erik swallowed his saliva.  Then he clasped his fist, took a step forward and declared, “I-I’ll do my best!”

Edge didn’t move a muscle on his face or look away form Erik as he raised his voice, “Champ!  Come here!  We’re making a plan!”

After Champ managed to extricate himself from the chaos on the other side of the room, they finalized the details of their assault.  Then they moved into their respective positions.  Not was standing behind the Captain and Cauliflower, who were still expertly managing the golem’s attention.  Edge was standing to a few feet from the golem’s back.  Lotus, Champ, and Erik were all standing with their backs to the room’s wall, as far from the golem as they could get while maintaining line of sight.

“You nervous?”  Champ asked form beside Erik.  “You look nervous.”

‘No…” Erik lied.  Then he thought of something a bit comforting and continued, “It doesn’t matter if I screw up.  You’re here anyway.”

“You never know,” Champ responded with a shake of his head.  “We need to be fast as soon as the rock breaks.  Depending on how the stone crumbles, I might not have an angle on the core.  Then, it’d be all up to you.”

“That’s not reassuring…” Erik complained, his stomach refilling with butterflies.

“It wasn’t supposed to be,” Champ replied, grinning.  “It’s fine to be nervous.  You just have to be nervous and focused.”

“I don’t see how,” Erik shot back with a frown.  How could he focus with his insides roiling like this?  The more he thought about it, the more he felt like he really had to go to the bathroom.

“You’re making the mistake of looking at things the hard way,” Champ declared, his grin taking on a warm feeling Erik hadn’t seen before.  “Sure, our job is to kill the golem, but that’s not what you should be thinking about.  All we really have to do is point our guns and then pull their triggers.  It’s Lotus and Edge who have the hard parts.”

“Isn’t Lotus also ‘just pointing her gun and pulling the trigger’?”

“Yeah,” Champ answered with a small nod.  “But she has to point it real good.”

“I don’t think your wisdom is helping.”

“It’s starting,” Champ declared, his loose atmosphere suddenly condensing into a sharp point.  “Just don’t think too much, Newbie.  And pay attention.”

Erik thought to rebut him, but Champ’s hardened face showed that it wasn’t time for that.  Instead, he faced the golem and waited his turn.

As Not prepared for what was to come, the Captain and Cauliflower danced back and forth in front of the golem.  They would take a few shots, then dodge the counter attack, then get in position to repeat.  A few seconds after Erik started watching this again, Not shouted, “Now!”

Then, just as the golem was striking down with both of its massive fists, Not fired.  A massive net of white light expanded from the barrel of Not’s shotgun.  The light wrapped around the descending fists and held them in midair.  Even though the golem redoubled its effort in its attack, it couldn’t force its fists any lower.  For at least a few seconds, it was stopped.

Before the Not had even fired the net, Edge had already started moving.  Holding a knife in his right hand and a small bouquet of grenades in his left, he did… something.  Then his body disappeared.  Half a second later, he reappeared several feet forward, moving very fast.  When Erik could see him again, he was throwing his knife away for some reason.  Then he tossed the grenades up towards the golem’s back.  Then, finally, he fell backwards into a slide and sped between the golem’s feet.

When Edge was fully obscured by the golem’s hulking mass, the grenades reached the apex of their arc.  They hung in the air for a second.  Then, just as they were about to fall, a boom rang out from beside Erik and the grenades exploded in mid-air.

The entire room was filled with this huge sense of pressure and noise.  Erik couldn’t keep himself from ducking down and closing his eyes for a second.  Then he remembered that his own job had come and he hurriedly looked up again.

When the chaos and smoke from the explosion had cleared, the golem was visible again.  Not’s net had already dissipated and the golem’s fists had succeeded in striking empty stone.  As the golem started to raise them again, Erik quickly shifted his view to the golem’s back.

In the center of the mass of stones, one of them had a huge crater gouged out of it.  In the center of that recess perched a glowing, red globule that stood out against the drab, grey background.  At least I know what I’m aiming at, Erik thought pessimistically.  Then he leveled his rifle, took aim, and pulled the trigger.

As the gun tried to revolt in his hands, Erik kept a stern grasp and refused to release the trigger before the gun refused to shoot.  Once both he and Champ had clicked empty, Erik was finally able to see what they’d wrought.  The red glow, whatever it was, whatever it’d been made of, had vanished.

The golem, having lost its core, stood stock still for a moment, its fists on the ground and its body hunched over.  Then, his teammates across the room started shouting and scattering as the boulders that made up the golem came tumbling to the floor.  After the heap of rubble refused to move for five minutes, the team gathered around it and were willing to call its time of death.

After they were satisfied in their safety, they spent a while scrounging through the rock pile in search of something valuable.  One thing they didn’t find was anything that wasn’t rocks.  Erik had no idea what happened to the black tendrils from before, but the rest of the team didn’t seem worried about it, so he wasn’t either.  He considered asking about it, but figured he’d get the typical, “that’s how it is,” kind of response.

As Erik shuffled some of the stone fragments around with his feet, Edge trudged behind him, wailing, “Where is it?”

That’d been going on for the last five minutes and Erik finally couldn’t hold back the question, “If it was going to be such a problem, why did you throw away your knife in the first place?”

“Cause I needed to,” Edge answered petulantly, clearly more worried about his search than being informative.

“I don’t know why you used the expensive one when you were going to toss it anyway,” the Captain lectured as he worked with Knot and Champ to lift up one of the boulders.

“It’s black.  I thought it’d be easier to find afterwards,” Edge complained.

“Turns out, it isn’t,” Champ observed before giving a final grunt and rolling away the boulder to reveal nothing in particular.

“I know that now…”

“Why did you have to throw it?”  Erik asked, giving up his half-hearted rummaging to stare at Edge in confusion.

The team waited in silence for Edge to respond, but he was still too focused on his search to care.  Eventually Lotus spoke up, “If you want to cancel an arte mid-way, you have to drop your weapon.”

“Why would you?” Erik asked after a bit of thought.  He imagined shooting half of a laser beam and then stopping.  That didn’t sound fruitful… or safe if you had to drop your gun to do it.

“It depends on what you’re doing,” Edge finally answered with a sigh.  “The arte I was using is one for attacking and moving behind an enemy.  When I get to where the move wants me to be, I turn around and all my momentum vanishes.  However, if I cancel it early I can keep my speed and direction.”

“Oh…” Erik breathed.  That somehow sounded both very simple and quite complicated.

Edge shrugged and Lotus said, “I’ve done it a few times.  It’s annoying to pull off.  When you use an arte, your body moves on its own, but not in an unnatural way.  Kind of like a reflex or an instinct.  It’s hard to go against it.”

“You just need to get the gnack for it,” Edge responded, looking away and giving anothr shrug.

“Are we basically done?  I want to be basically done,” Cauliflower’s impatient voice cut in over the conversation.  “This thing doesn’t have any artifacts in it… and its parts are very heavy.”

“I want to find my knife!” Edge declared, desperately turning his eyes back to the wreckage beneath his feet.

“You can afford a new one.” Cauliflower declared, crossing her arms under her breasts in a way that forced Erik to look away, embarrassed.  “I don’t know why care so much.”

“It has sentimental value.” Edge shot back.

“You’ve had it a week,” Champ observed skeptically.

“A week’s worth of sentiment!  It’s my other half!  My bride!”  Edge’s eyes met with Lotus and he uncomfortably added, “You know… in a knife way.”

“I really wish I didn’t,” Not responded begrudgingly.

“We all do,” Lotus declared, shaking her head.

“I don’t,” Erik spoke up.

“You will,” the rest of the team chorused simply.

After that, they managed to drag Edge away from his hunt and back to the rover.  Then they spent around 30 minutes carefully clearing debris from the ruin’s exit.  Once they finished, everyone was curious if they’d need to start the ruin investigation proper again, but the Captain declared that they were giving up the job.  Erik felt that usually the team would protest that, but the Captain said it with a tone that made his stance entirely clear.

On the drive back to Narabesque, Champ convinced Erik to try a shard of the golem’s core.  That he could suck on it like candy and it’d help him grow… somehow.  When he popped the crystal into his mouth, he found that Champ was half right.  The shard slowly melted away in his saliva, however, the candy comparison was just cruel.  It was so sour Erik felt like he was drinking battery acid.  Even after the shard dissolved completely, Erik’s face stayed screwed up for the rest of the drive.  That was something Cauliflower would never stop finding hilarious.

Like that, the team had survived for another day.  They might not have succeeded in the request, but Erik was able to help… a little.  He felt confident calling this the completion of his first real job as a mercenary.  He just hoped there were many more to come… some more… a reasonable number and then retirement.  He prayed he wouldn’t get punched to death by a boulder.

 

 

Dashing along the mountain’s foot, he looked down at himself and realized he wasn’t currently a ‘he.’  He was also missing an arm.  With a bit of focus, his flailing stump let forth a little more black ooze.  It slowly took the shape of an arm and a hand before condensing into a soft, fleshy appearance.

With that, the second problem was solved.  With a bit more focus, he solved the first as well.  The body of a little girl was convenient, but a tall, dark haired, non-descript youth was more his preference.  Rather than have a disarming appearance, he liked to leave no impression at all.

He looked down at his reformed body with the pride of a craftsman.  Then he thought back to his previous assignment.  He hadn’t expected any humans to be in the ruins.  That was the first surprise he’d received since he’d stopped dealing with those cold bastards.

He’d panicked a little at that.  Overreacted.  He wouldn’t report that to his superiors.  If he didn’t, no one would find out.  Humans had been developing fast lately, but such a small number shouldn’t be able to survive a dwarven masterpiece.  Especially after he gave it a little extra pep.

Besides, it wouldn’t matter even if they escaped.  The whole expedition was a waste from the beginning.  No valid samples survived after all this time.  Now he could officially declare they’d forgotten the old ways.  He couldn’t help wondering how they could let something so important fade into obscurity.  They could’ve at least written out the sequence somewhere.

Though, he didn’t have the right to question his superiors.  He wasn’t even three hundred years old.  Merely a middling spawn during the final waves of The Great War.  If someone like him spent time questioning authority, it could prove very unhealthy.  Between The King and The Duke, things could get hard for a small fish like him.

Still, that didn’t change the facts.  Someone in the past screwed up and now they’d have to find new ways of waging war.  For him, that meant more destabilization efforts.  More rampaging monsters.  More poking of defenses.  More tedium.  Sometimes he almost missed those frozen assholes.  At least they could get your mana pulsing.

 

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2 thoughts on “Lead vs Fantasy 5-6

  1. Pingback: Lead vs Fantasy 5-5 | Dakotah Sicking Web Novels

  2. Pingback: Lead vs Fantasy 5-7 | Dakotah Sicking Web Novels

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