Feet pounding rough, cold stone, thighs pumping, I made my way towards what I expected would be a bloodbath. My freshly rejuvenated body proved stronger than ever, carrying me swiftly towards the fight.
When I arrived, it was both better and worse than I expected. The giant spawn were uncountably numerous as I feared, but the villagers looked to be mounting a surprisingly organized defense. They’ve been down here long enough, perhaps this wasn’t their first time fighting these things.
I hung back, spectating from behind a stalagmite. I’m ashamed to say it but I couldn’t yet tell who would prevail, and I didn’t want to throw my life away on a lost cause. As I looked on, villagers clad in armor fashioned from leather and bone hacked furiously at the giant spawn using bone blades they must’ve carved into that shape by hand.
Each time they split the creature in two, it formed two smaller ones. Which were then slashed in two, and so on, until they reached a manageable size. That’s when they were scooped up and deposited into gourd-like containers made from human skulls.
I laughed aloud, despite myself, at the ingenuity of it. If you can’t fully destroy whatever it is these creatures are made of, you can at least divide them into small portions and contain them apart from each other.
As I thought: this must simply be the latest in a long string of encounters with giant spawn, which drove the villagers to develop a system for defeating them. Yet the longer I spectated, the more numerous the spawn grew, overwhelming the armored villagers.
The containers quickly ran out, after which the villagers left standing found themselves waging an unwinnable battle against enemies which could no longer be contained, and which were never possible to permanently slay in the first place.
Having seen enough to know what would happen, I turned to leave. “Not my problem” I thought. “I don’t know those people.” But my heart stopped me. That isn’t true, is it? Of course I know them. The only friendly faces I ever ran into down here. The only ones who showed me real kindness, and acceptance.
How could I turn my back on them in their hour of need? I couldn’t abide it. There was no wriggling out of it either! Any way I looked at the matter yielded the same conclusion. I could do nothing except throw myself into the fray.
So I did, howling at the top of my lungs in a show of bravado I hoped would overpower my fear, or at least conceal it. All I had to bring to bear on the enemy was the bone knife, but it sufficed to slash open the throat of my chosen target.
It stumbled backwards, taken by surprise as it was in the middle of laying into one of the villagers when I butted in. The villager stood there stunned, but only for a moment. Between the two of us, chopping our shared adversary down to size wasn’t difficult.
But then the bits sprouted arms, legs and heads. They sought each other out and fused into fewer, and larger humanoid figures until all of our work was undone. The reformed giant spawn then started towards us again.
“You see?” the villager cried in exasperation. As I drove the giant spawn back with reckless swings, I asked how they repelled these creatures before. “There were never this many” the villager explained, severing its leg at the knee with a well placed slash.
To one side, I spotted the village chief in all his horrific glory. To see him properly, not concealed by the darkness of his tent, was really something. What a beast! What a mind rending spectacle! Tentacles whipping about, sending giant spawn flying this way and that. Thick, muscular limbs abruptly smashing their heads into splotches of black paste.
I left him to it, and amid the battle carrying on around me, sought out the bone cart piled high with hinged skulls. Keeping furtive watch to ensure I wasn’t snuck up on as I did so, I opened one of the skulls and plucked out the frustrated little figure within.
This place isn’t pure madness. There’s a certain logic to it. So while I couldn’t be certain of what I was about to try, I did have a hunch it would work. I pulled its head off, gripped the body in one hand, held it upside down and squeezed.
A spray of black blood at first, until most was out. Then a trickle. Then finally nothing. When I opened my hand and studied the crushed remains, they were motionless. More importantly, the mangled little body did not regenerate.
The blood. The black blood! That’s the key, isn’t it? It was always the key. From my first night here, I knew it held the power to mend broken bodies. To regenerate living tissue, albeit imperfectly. It’s all in the blood.
“It’s the blood!” I shouted. The villagers nearest me, startled by the outburst, gave me only brief notice. “Their blood!” I shouted once again, “Drain it and they won’t be able to fuse! They won’t be able to heal themselves if they’re fully drained!”
They ignored me. Except for one, whose particular deformity I recognized at once. The trunk sprouting from one side of his head and neck. The concentric rows of sharp little teeth. Eel mouth! He ran to my side.
“I knew you’d return” he gushed. I scratched my head sheepishly and replied “I didn’t.” He begged me to explain my plan to him, so I did. It wasn’t difficult, two against one, to pin down one of the giant spawn.
Eel mouth beheaded it with a bit of hacking. Then the two of us lifted the body by the waist, upside down, allowing the black blood to drain from inside. Crucially, we didn’t allow the body to rest in the pool of blood. Nowhere did the two contact one another.
Because of that, to my inexpressible relief, the body remained limp. The head reformed into a smaller humanoid and escaped, as neither of us had taken care to separate it from the blood which collected around our feet during the exsanguination.
After piling the drained body onto the cart, Eel mouth instructed the others by example. They caught on quickly, and soon bodies were stacked so densely on the cart as to overflow onto the cavern floor around it.
By this time we were few, as the giant spawn had already slain most of the villagers before I arrived. It wouldn’t matter if we won, everybody could be resurrected by the black pool. If we won. If not, it would all be for nothing.
The giant spawn would recover their own, perhaps in the same manner, but leave us to a permanent death. To a rest which I craved not so long ago. Absolute victory to whichever side could overwhelm the other, with no permanent casualties.
Experimentally, I dragged one of the slain villagers into a particularly large pool of giant’s blood. The wounds regenerated, but only partially. It just wasn’t enough without full submersion, and I couldn’t retreat to the black pool at the heart of the village with so few left to defend it.
All or nothing, then. Yet despite the abysmal odds, I felt a savage, erratic energy surge through me, as well as a deep sense of belonging. To be here, fighting for something which truly matters to my heart alongside the only friend I managed to make in most of a decade…it felt powerfully right!
I was, at last, exactly where I ought to be! For my own fulfillment, and to achieve the most good that a broken, corrupted wretch like me possibly can. Battling the forces of evil, back to back, with an unlikely but undeniable brother in arms.
Merry mutants are we, righteous and bold, fighting to save our precious home! Not the false homes we left behind, but the true home that we made together! From our very flesh and bone! Our bodies may be impure, but our hearts burn more fiercely than any human’s ever will!
The nine of us gradually dwindled to seven, then to five. But the method I devised worked wonders! The bodies accumulated until they engulfed the cart entirely. I retreated from the frenzy several times to relocate bodies, as the blood coating the cavern floor soon spread perilously close.
Stay Tuned for Part 24!