Chapter Forty-one: The First Trial
They moved with quick, unhurried movements, cautious yet hasty. The goal was to make sure the fight did not get drawn out. Sieg, their only remaining ranger, and Coenbert led the party sweeping the immediate entrance for traps and enemies. The two warriors came in next followed closely by the dwarves. Bringing up the rear were the healer and mage. The boss chamber opened up in front of them.
Despite the entrance, the insides adopted the same grassy cavern motif of the rest of the dungeon. It was a big place, easily a hundred metres across just not as huge as some of the other chambers. About sixty metres in was a small copse of trees that stood hauntingly under the moonlight. It was the only distinguishing feature in the entire chamber. Clearly, that was where they were meant to go. Maintaining their formation, they hurried towards it.
Coenbert was very careful where he stepped and the rest of his party was the same. [Sharp Eyes], a skill he normally used sporadically due to its high mana costs were employed, scanned every square metre before he put a foot forward. While great from providing details on the things he saw, he knew from experience that it fairly poorly against things that were hidden, like traps. However, he was the only one other person with a chance to spot them. Unless they wanted the dwarves running around tapping everything with their fingers and tools. Thankfully, none of the traps he was so scared of was around, allowing him and the rest of his party to enter the chamber. Their first enemy chose that opportunity to confront them.
A giant wasp close to thirty centimetres tall flew lazily at the swordsman. It had a dark red colouration with the exception of its abdomen which was black. The wings were just as dark but its legs were an off yellow that stood out in contrast to the rest of its body. It stopped in midair as it approached before curling its abdomen and attacking with its stinger. The swordsman did not hesitate. A swift sword swing proved to be all he needed to cut it into two splattering its lifeblood everywhere. The mage screamed, completely destroying their quiet atmosphere.
“WHAT IS THAT!” she screeched.
“Giant wasp!” the warrior said matter of factly.
“Right, because all the other giant critter were not enough”, she said composing herself. Her voice quivered a little but stayed strong. “Just keep that thing away from me!”
The swordsman nodded, stepping in front of it and hoping it obstruct her view of it. He knew Sarah was afraid of bugs. Others were not so subtle or thoughtful.
“Is our implacable mage scared of bugs?” Sieg teased. “How did you become an adventurer if simple mosquitos can make your hair stand on end?”
“It is called a bug deterrent ward, idiot!”
“Sarah!” Coenbert yelled unable to believe his eyes. He was ignored.
“SARAH!” he yelled again, this time with greater urgency.
“…I will not…HEAVENS NO!” she screeched.
It was easy to understand why. Flying towards them was an entire swarm of the things, drawn in by the stench of their fallen sister. She acted quickly, firing off a hastily prepared spell that manifested as a gout of flame. In front of the party, Coenbert stood with his shield at the ready prepared for the coming battle. Absentmindedly, he counted the numbers they were up against. Noting at least fourteen wasps coming at them from different directions. His [Sharp Eyes] told him all he needed to know about their new enemies which was more than he wanted.
Race: Blightwasp Worker (Unique Species) | Rank: Two
Gender: Female | Affinities: Dark
Description: Unique to the Elite Dungeon at the foot of the Battlehammer Mountains, Blightwasps are a living breathing scourge. Anything unfortunate enough to be struck by their stingers receives a random curse, an affliction that can be worse than death. Enough those who are immune to their curses must be wary for a blightwasp’s powerful stinger and strong mandibles can easily tear flesh from bone and indeed they rely on them to hunt for prey.
[Sharp Eyes] was too weak a skill to glean anything about their abilities or parameters but the description told Coenbert enough. The worst part was the thing he could see suspended between the trees only forty metres away – a giant wasps’ nest.
“Don’t let them sting you!” he yelled to his party. “They are hex beasts!”
The healer cursed. Coenbert understood. The man was great with cuts, bruises, broken bones and colds but curses and other status ailments were his bane. He could counteract them but they took a lot of him.
By this point, what few wasps survived the fire barrelled towards them. Placing himself squarely in their path ensured that Coenbert was the first to face them. Swatting one aside with his shield he cut another down with his sword. Unfortunately, they were too many and despite their size, they were much faster than normal wasps. All he had done was injure one and kill another. Many more made it past him, discounting those who came from the sides and not the front. One latched on to his armour trying in vain to sting him through his plate.
Smashing its head with the pommel of his sword, he whipped around to see how his team was faring. The dwarfs were swinging their weapons uselessly, lacking both the range and agility to strike any of the airborne adversaries. The guardian could only breathe a sigh of relief when the healer enveloped them in her barrier.
“There are too many of them!” Sarah yelled.
Coenbert agreed. He was fast enough, strong enough but he could only kill so many at a time. Here, in this open space, surrounded. It was only a matter of time. Already, there were five wasps clinging to the surface of the magical barrier the healer had erected, trying to jab their way through. They had a better chance of chewing through steel. He had seen that thing stop a charging bull in its tracks. However, it could not be maintained forever.
“Our only chance is by killing the boss”, he said, thinking frantically. He had heard of these scenarios before. These were subordinates. They needed to defeat the leader to win. “We have to find the queen!”
Sieg chose that moment to yell something loud and dramatic. “TO THE NEST!”
Regrettably, whatever effect he was going for was undercut when one of the warriors screamed and grabbed at the back of his leg.
‘SHIT!’ Coenbert exclaimed mentally.
Thankfully, Coenbert’s party was very professional, exchanging nods the healer dropped his barrier only for the mage to put up another in its place one that included the fallen warrior. Quickly, those in it scrambled to kill the wasps whiles he rushed to the screaming man’s aid. Kneeling, he cut away the man’s breeches to check on the wound. The limb being eaten away. He watched in horror as the flesh around the wound festered and blackened before rotting away. Factoring what the guardian told them, he quickly diagnosed it as a necrotic curse. Left unchecked who knew how far it would spread. Working hastily, he prepared to cast a [Dispel].
The leader spared the healer and his patient a glance before conferring with his party. The standard tactic of protecting the vulnerable and having the warriors fight was simply begging for trouble in this case. All it took was one mistake. Being a rank four guardian specialising in strength and endurance, he was the only one who could come out unscathed but gather enough wasps and even he would fall. His eyes rested on the dwarves for a split second, some dark part of him realising that things would have been simpler if they were not forced to ‘carry’ the dwarves.
“We’ve got to rush it!” he said solemnly. “We get there as fast as we can and we hit that nest with everything we have!”
Everyone agreed. Everyone except Sanzur.
“UH uh! I am not going there!” he quivered. “I did not sign up for this.”
“Sanzur!” Bifund called.
The scared dwarf took a step back, ignoring his colleague. “You all saw what that thing did! I said I am not going. You can’t make me!”
Coenbert knew the time had come to step in. “Listen here you little shit! We did not come this far for you to chicken out. No one has got time to hold your hand. Leave for all I care. I, for one, will not waste manpower by having someone protect you if you do. You either come with us or stay here, your choice.”
The dwarf nodded fearfully as he fell silent, allowing Coenbert to get back to outlining his plan. First, the mage would cast a shield spell big enough for all of them. As mana intensive as the task seemed, they only needed it to last long enough for them to get close. Then, they could assail the nest until the queen came out. The healer would preserve his strength to help them after the battle. In his head, the matter was resolved and the party could push forward and so they did.
The first part of the plan went off without a hitch. The wasps buzzed in their ears but were helpless to do anything from the other side of the barrier. They, on the other hand, were free to book it coming closer and closer to their goal. They were barely five metres away when calamity struck. A new scream reached Coenbert ears alongside the thrum of the fluctuating barrier. It was the mage, Sarah. She had toppled clutching the back of her head, nearly taking the shield with her. Coenbert, confused looked around for her assailant. All his cousin did was point. He followed the direction and was greeted with the sight of a fleeing dwarf.