Dungeons of the Abyss and the Unchosen Heroes
The flying insect that killed Conrad, it had come from behind. It came so suddenly that Joseph, who had already exhausted himself from holding back the horde, couldn't do anything but yell out a warning that ultimately came far too late. Even Auguste, who had been watching from afar, was surprised. He hadn't seen any of the winged insects at the back of Conrad's formation and neither did he catch any at the front managing to circle around.
It was Joseph, who was closest to the rear end that figured out what was going on. One by one, from within the horde of insects he had been holding back, there were those sprouting wings from their backs, and following the sprouting of wings, their carapace cracked wide open and their newer, lighter, and deadlier forms emerged from their old, hollowed shells. They were molting, and they were doing so at an impossible pace.
Suddenly, while in shock at what was happening and what it might mean, Joseph was grabbed on the shoulder.
"Come on old man, let's go!"
It was Tristan. Soon after Conrad had been downed, Muriel gave out an order in his stead, calling for Tristan to cut a path open while she would hold the rear on her own.
Wielding his shield like a battering ram and his sword like a bat, Tristan slammed into the grounded insects that had their wings scorched by Morganna's flames, forcing a way open. Meanwhile, Joseph, with his mystic arts, began to fling aside the insects one by one, trying to keep them from surrounding Tristan while urging Feris to stay close.
"Hear me, hear my plea," Muriel began to utter while standing against a horde of insects whose shells were harder than steel, keeping what few she could at bay with her shield and swatting those getting around her with her mace. "Grant me strength in the tide of adversity and let me shine for your glory. In the name of Delphi, may I stand firm against the darkness."
In response to her prayer, came a bright golden light blooming from within her as divine power coursed through her being. Muriel could feel it, the warmth spreading within her, her limbs filling with strength. She swung her mace across, and with but a single swing, she sent everything in its path flying into the air as if they were splashes of water. However, splash as she might, the insects continued to flood her, and though she had more strength than ever before, it was but a temporary measure, she knew very well that she'll only be able to hold out for so long.
Flames continued to light up the ceiling of the cavern. Morganna, against the rapidly increasing number of winged insects, had been flinging fireballs nonstop. If she did, then the insects would have an opening to fly in and easily finish off any one of Conrad's party with just one hit of their stingers. No shield or armor would be able to stop it.
"Argh! Damn it!" Tristan yelled out as one of the winged insects latched on to him with its claws. They may no longer have their wings, but their claws were still very much intact.
"Oh no! Oh no, oh no, oh no!" Joseph muttered in a panic as more and more hairy claws came upon him. And though he tried to throw them off with his mystic arts, they kept coming and coming, pilling up upon him.
As for Feris, she let out a silent cry as she felt something latched onto her rucksack. She tried to slip from the straps, but it was one of those with a buckle on the chest, and so she had a hard time getting out of it. Being more of a noncombatant, it was her job to carry the most valuable of their supplies and loot with her, so it was rare for her to have to take them off other than when she had to go scouting. Supplies were important if they wanted to survive the trip back and without knowing what tomorrow would bring, being able to make a profit helps. However, now she wished that she had the foresight to leave it all behind. She wished that she hadn't taken the risk of carrying the rucksack with her at this moment. If it weren't for the added weight on her, she should be nimble enough to escape. After all, she made it farther than Joseph and Tristan with all that baggage on her shoulder.
Tears blurred her eyes. It was all too late. Feeling herself being pulled in, she could only imagine how she'll die and pray that it'll be a quick one. Rather than being torn apart whilst still alive, she'd rather they crush her head first with their large pincers. Then, she felt something digging onto her shoulders and she held her eyes shut, waiting for it to end. Hoping for it to end.
Feris suddenly felt very light, as if all burden had been lifted from her body. She could no longer feel the horde of insects pulling her in with their hairy limbs, she could no longer feel her heavy rucksack on her back. At that moment, there was a feeling of liberation. The sensation, however, did not last long, as she soon felt herself being pulled downwards. In shock, she opened her eyes.
"Gotcha!" said a small figure, shorter than even Feris herself, as she caught the falling Feris.
Upon catching her, the small figure got Feris onto her feet and pushed her onward, towards the mouth of a tunnel, where a red-headed woman reached out and grabbed her as she was about to trip.
The lightness she had felt, the sensation of a great weight leaving her. That had not been death after all. She checked her back and as expected, it was not there, her rucksack filled with materials and supplies. All that remained of it was a strip of leather strap draped over her shoulder. It looked like someone had cut it off of her. Then, she turned towards the cavern, and there they were, rushing towards the horde, a large man who wore a helmet akin to those worn by a knight, a small figure wearing a bucket-like helmet, and the scout she had worked with just moments prior.
Was I saved? Feris question. Did they come to my rescue? Why? They should have ran. Why take the risk?
"Come on, reach for it!"
The scout, Auguste, stretched his hand into the insect horde, his face pale, but by sheer will kept it there in spite of the hairy limbs grabbing onto him. Then, from within the horde, a wrinkled arm plunged outwards, grabbing onto Auguste's wrist. Upon contact, Auguste felt a mysterious force surging up his arm, repelling the hairy insect limbs grabbing onto him.
"Come on! Come on! Come on!" Auguste yelled out and pulled with all his might against the strength of countless insects, the only things keeping him from being pulled it as well were his firm feet and the weight of the linen bag he had on his back.
Soon, the balding scalp of a middle-aged man surfaced, and though countless hairy limbs were clinging onto him, an unseen power had been repelling them one at a time.
"Watch out!" Feris shouted for perhaps the first time since entering the Dungeon. The reason for raising her voice was the approach of the winged insects rapidly approaching Auguste as they're rescuing her teammates.
A ball of fire shot out, erupting behind the approaching winged insects, scorching their wings and grounding several of them.
"Ugh..." Morganna grunted after releasing her spell. She had casted too much and was nearing her limit. If she does not rest soon, she'll be at risk of a 'Rebound'.
Following the fireball, arrows flew and smashed into the disoriented insects still in the air, popping their eyes and blinding them. In rapid succession, Gladiolus fired off as many arrows as he could, with as much accuracy and power as he could muster in an effort to make up for Morganna's fading firepower.
On the frontlines, Auguste was making progress while Finn and Henrietta kept the ground insects away from him, with Henrietta swatting at them with her massive shield and Finn swinging at them with his battleaxe. By this time, more than half of Joseph had been pulled out of the horde now and Tristan was right behind him, his arms locked onto Joseph's.
"Gusty, we ain't going to hold!" Henrietta yelled.
"A little longer, damn it!" Auguste replied, his panic could be heard in his tone as the insect horde came closer and closer to overwhelming them. "Finn, give me a hand here!"
"I- I can't, there's too many of them!" Finn shouted back.
Auguste was regretting his lack of forethought right about now. Perhaps it would have been better to have either Finn or Henrietta to try and pull them out. However, he was the first to rush in and was the closest to reach for Joseph and Tristan. If he had to stop to arrange for someone else, those two might be pulled out of reach. Not to mention, Auguste had not really expected help. He had rushed in rashly and it was only right for the rest of this party to leave this idiot to die. He did not expect that they'd come running in after him.
"Put you back into it!"
It had been Elaine, and along with her voice, Auguste felt a strong tug on his shoulders. Elaine had apparently grabbed onto his bag and started pulling.
Elaine was no stranger to physical labor. In fact, manual labor had been the name of her trade for as long as she could remember. And so, owing to that, she was deceptively strong for someone her size. With her help, along with the aid of Joseph's mystic arts, Auguste was able to drag both Joseph and Tristan from the insect horde.
"Alright! Let's go! Let's go! Let's go!" yelled Auguste as soon as he had gotten the two out.
Though winded, Joseph quickly took off running. Tristan, however, nearly plummeted to the ground the moment he tried, stopping only because Auguste caught him in time. There was blood dripping down from his left leg, or rather, what's left of his left leg. At some point in time, it seemed that one of Tristan's legs had been torn from him by one of the insects.
"Shit! Henri!" Auguste called out, pushing, almost tossing the one-legged man towards the short but incredibly strong girl. There was no time to be gentle. The insects were literally at their heel.
There was a shift in balance. Auguste could feel his weight tipping towards his rear. He could guess what it was without looking back. He had seen the same happen to someone else, to Feris, just a moment prior. It would seem that one of the insects had gotten a hold on his cheap linen rucksack. He tried to pull away, to slip out of the linen straps. However, even with all his efforts, the straps were too small and clung too tightly upon his shoulder for him to be able to slip away in time before the hairy claws clasped onto his body.
Time seemed to slow down in that moment and yet his heart only beat faster and faster. Auguste yelled at the others. He wasn't sure what he had said, but they were looking rather pale. Finn reached out to him, and Auguste considered grabbing onto his large hand. However, the situation has changed. No one was around to keep the ground insects at bay. Finn was trying to rescue him and Henrietta was busy with Tristan. Morganna seemed to be completely exhausted from casting and Gladiolus appeared to have run out of arrows. Without support from those two, the winged insects would soon be upon them.
In the end, Auguste grabbed onto Finn's hand. In the back of his mind, he knew that he was essentially dragging Finn down with him as well as the rest of the party. If they tried to rescue him while everyone either had their hands full or too exhausted to do anything, then they'll all surely fall. Yet, despite knowing that, Auguste grabbed desperately onto Finn's hand.
From the edge of his vision, Auguste saw the approaching winged insects. They were coming after Finn from both sides. He realized that his drinking buddy was going to die. At that moment, Auguste finally let go and yelled something at Finn while feeling himself being pulled further into the horde. He wasn't sure if doing such a thing would help Finn survive at this point, but there was nothing else he could think of.
Suddenly, the winged insects came to a halt, locked in place while they were still in midair. Standing at the mouth of the tunnel with Gladiolus, Morganna, and Feris, there was Joseph, his two hands outstretched, his face turning pale, and his breaths were haggard. For but a moment, however, he was able to still his breath, and with a single motion, pulled his two hands downwards, and as a response, the two flying insects crashed into the ground.
By Finn's side, Elaine was swinging her woodcutter's axe in a desperate attempt to ward off the ground insects as Finn reached into horde once more to grab a hold of Auguste. On the other side, upon dropping off Tristan with Feris, Henrietta rushed back to the frontlines, swinging her greatshield at the ground insects gathering around Finn and Elaine.
Another fireball erupted. Pushing herself past what was considered safe, Morganna casted yet another spell. With the blooming fire, the flying insects were unable to approach, granting the additional time they desperately needed. At the same time, Joseph reached out to none other than Auguste, pulling him with his mystic arts alongside Finn.
With the added power, Finn was finally able to pull Auguste free of the horde.
"Let's go! Come on!" Elaine shouted the moment Auguste was free as she took off running.
Finn, Henrietta, and Auguste took off after her, escaping into the tunnel and then just kept running. Feris looked back just for a brief moment as she ran, but she could see no sign of Muriel. The insects had immediately flooded after them, but due to their sheer numbers, they got into one another's way and clogged the entrance, letting only those ahead give chase.
The Henrietta Company and the remnants of Conrad's party ran and ran, with Tristain being carried by Henrietta, the blood dripping off what's left of his left leg trailing behind them. Soon, they could hear the large wings stirring the air behind them and they feared that they could not outrun it.
Then, Joseph, gasping for air as he ran, came to a sudden stop, turning around.
"I guess... I've got to do it," he said, nearly out of breath.
"Joseph!?" Feris cried out in surprise.
Without answering, Joseph simply reached his hands towards the ceiling of the tunnel. After taking in a deep breath, he brought both his hands down, swing them with all his might. Blood came spurting out of his mouth. At the same time, the ceiling came crashing down in front of him, sealing up the tunnel.
As soon as they heard the crash, everyone turned back to look, and upon seeing that the tunnel had been sealed, they came to a stop. The danger seemed to have passed, or so they thought, but then fissures began to spread from where the ceiling had collapsed, causing the entire tunnel to fall apart. They weren't done running, and upon realizing that, Feris grabbed onto the now unmoving Joseph and pulled him along as she ran after the others.
"Come! Almost there!" Auguste shouted as he lent Feris a hand with Joseph, the two making a run for it as they bore the weight of the middle-aged man on their shoulders.
In the end, they got out before the tunnel completely collapsed behind them, surviving by the width of a hair.
End of Chapter 10