Chapter 9


Wildbow Owns Worm. Others own Other things. If I miss a disclaimer I will try and rectify that. I own nothing.


I gasped for breath as I slid down the sandstone block. The Super Rifle was laid across my lap as my arms laid loosely at my sides. The sand blowing in from outside, through the shadowed doorway, was rough against my skin. GM was getting better at this really quickly; if I hadn't known the sand wasn't real, I'd never have known the difference.

Fighting off the Beheaded Rocketeers from First Encounter had been an interesting experience. Dodging their rockets and yellow projectiles had tired me out, and I still wasn't sure how painful they would have been to get hit by. The Gnarr I hadn't been as lucky with. The one-eyed chest-face animal packed a wallop. I weathered it just fine. Whether it was the titanium on my bones or the bear and lizard genes increasing my endurance, the punches hadn't hurt all that terribly. I'd lost around 1% of my HP, the same as a solid hit from Rob during a spar.

The problem is that I knew what was beyond this doorway, and I didn't want to deal with the Beheaded Kamikaze dicks.

"GM? Drop the Serious Sam game?" I asked hopefully. Some part of me was worried he'd keep it going until I won, or something, even after I asked.

The Mario game over music began to play and suddenly I was hanging in the air, 4 feet off the grey ground of the planet. Gravity took over and I fell flat on my back. I grunted as I sat up.

"Thanks GM," I groaned. I pulled myself off the ground and began to jog back to the rainbow door.

"Pro. Make sure to coordinate with GM so that our sensors in the map display fake enemies and real ones. I would hate for someone to get hurt because they managed to sneak between worlds and got shot during a Metal Gear or Wolfenstein run."

"Excellent idea, Sir. I'm not sure how I missed that safety precaution, but I'm glad you thought of it."

"It's what teams are for," I said with a smile. "While I run, give me an update on the terraforming process?"

"Of course, Sir. The process is on schedule. The portal you put on Planet Dead MonCalamari at the bottom of the ocean is still functioning at max capacity. The 10 smaller portals you placed from the pocket dimension to the points around the planet are also functioning properly. I project that we will reach our planned water levels in three and a half Earth weeks. The Speed Seeds have reached and are terraforming 83% of the surface area we've selected. The other 17% of land above sea level will be seeded within the week. The Game Master seems to be aware of and is not impeding their sprouting. Beyond that, everything seems to be working optimally."

I smiled as I neared the gate. Stopping to pet a docile, friendly dog as I passed, I stepped through the rainbow arch and back into my workshop. Grabbing the receiver, I flipped it off and the rainbow door winked out of existence. I set that down on the workbench, then started around the fairly large workshop and considered it for a moment.

"Pro, how much energy would need to be diverted to give us 40 more acres in here?"

"A considerable amount, Sir. Especially if we wanted to use the time dilation field on that area as well."

"What are we looking at?"

"We would be able to utilize a 20 to 1 time ratio, Sir."

"Seems feasible." Using the PipBoy and its built in controls, I expanded the pocket dimension. The area before me twisted out in every direction, as if looking into a series of fractals. Random patches flared with some sort of magenta light, before settling into a much larger area, the extra energy expanding the edges of the workshop out almost faster than even my improved eyes could follow. I flipped on the time dilation field, which was a lot less visually stimulating, in that it had no visual effects at all.

Pulling up my inventory I slipped the Super Rifle back into its extra dimensional space. Closing that pocket, I opened up another that had only been used once before. I pulled out what looked like a gray, metal version of Hellboy's arm, then slipped it over my left hand and the PipBoy. I spun the arm portion a quarter of a turn and it locked in place with a satisfying click. With a thought, I ran a check on the gauntlet to make sure that it was functioning at peak condition for hand-to-hand combat. As always, the gauntlet was more than sufficient for the task.

"GM, I'm going in as I am. I want you to give me a challenge. Dealer's choice. Please and thank you," I said out into the large grey void of the new dimensional quarter mile cube of space.

"No armor, Sir?" Pro asked, sounding concerned.

"We'll level Con more without it," I said as the world rippled in front of me, GM having already seeded the area with game pieces. A rocky cliff face sprang up from the ground in front of me. Metal walls and door materialized behind me, locking the encounter space off from anything important that might have been caught in the crossfire. I looked up to see an opening in the cliff face 40 feet above me. Light classical music filled the world around me.

"Good thinking on the equipment protection, GM," I praised the young AI, hooking a thumb over my shoulder at the metal bunker, then I rubbed my hands together and approached the cliffside. I grabbed hold of a bit of rock jutting out of the cliff face and started hauling myself up, one handhold at a time. My climbing skill wasn't great, but the whole point was to train, so I did my best to scale the cliff.

It was slow going, but I managed to pull myself into the opening without any trouble. Whether it was an easy climb or the mountain goat nanites I had injected 3 months ago, workshop time, I wasn't sure.

The opening turned out to be a stone corridor, with large bricks forming an arching tunnel that stretched out in front of me into darkness. The music changed to a quiet, deep melody. The soothing ambiance didn't hide the more menacing sounds echoing from beyond my sight. The darkness was pervasive enough to overcome the low light vision I had gained from Miles and the other cats.

Walking forward slowly, I trailed one hand along the wall to keep my bearings, just in case GM wanted to treat me to a maze. I hadn't needed to. The classical music shifted to something with a faster, more violent pace, and I held my Gauntlet and metal Hellboy arm at the ready.

Out of the darkness surged four enemies, two leading the charge and two lagging a bit behind, the bone of their skulls artificially bright in the gloom. Their empty eye sockets and permanent fleshless smiles were disquieting. Skeletons. Naked and armed only with a single rusty short sword apiece, they closed the distance in seconds.

The first came in fast, sword low and pointed forward, attempting to use its mass and speed to drive the sword into my gut and disembowel me. I swung my left Hellboy-armored fist down and out as I stepped into the charge. The sword snapped out and into the wall, the bones of the monster's arm cracking and splintering. 30 or 40 pounds of bone had nothing on my augmented mass.

The second skeleton, barely a step behind, swung straight down with a two-handed cleave. I grabbed the first by a rib with my right gauntleted hand, stepped forward and planted my right foot well within its guard, then pivoted with as much force as I could muster and slammed my left elbow into the second's ribs as hard as I could.

The second skeleton lost its sword in the swing, which continued over my right shoulder and glanced off my gauntlet even as the monster's chest shattered and it was sent careening back down the hall, right into the second half of the assault.

I planted my feet and flexed, the ribcage of the first skeleton cracking in protest as I pivoted again and swung the creature in a massive arc. I released my unwilling projectile into the next two skeletons, and cheered when it crashed into both of them. Skeleton three had already been off balance after being knocked to the side by skeleton two, so having a skull smashed into its own had knocked it completely to the ground. Skeleton four caught the rest of skeleton one in its chest, taking it down as well.

The pile of tangled writhing bones, all focused on getting up instead of untangling themselves, would have been comical if it weren't still trying to kill me. Looking down at my sneakers I realized I couldn't stomp them like I wanted. I sighed and rolled my eyes.

'Inventory. Steel Toe Work Boots.'

The boots materialized and dropped into my hands. Leaning against the wall I pulled off my shoes and dematerialized them into my Inventory and closed it. I glanced over at the skeletons as I slid the first boot onto my left foot. One of them had pulled its top half free and had abandoned its legs to the pile. Its spine was trailing behind it like the Terminator as it pulled itself towards me.

It lunged as I tried getting my right boot on as fast as possible. More from trying to dodge than the attack itself, I fell over before I could plant my foot back down. Landing on my side I kicked out with my left foot, catching the half skeleton in the skull, shattering it.

Sitting up, I tightened the laces on my boots and quickly tied them. I stood up and brushed myself off before walking over to the remaining skeletons and stomping on their skulls. The bones kept twitching, but nothing happened beyond that. A few moments later, the drumbeats of combat shifted down to something a little more eerie, and the bones laid still.

Taking a breath, I looked over my victory. Then I let out a long belly laugh.

"GM?" I looked up at the roof of the cave, grinning like a loon. "You're fucking awesome."

GM didn't answer me with words, but the eerie music started fading out, and the combat drums slowly faded back in. I ran down the hall into the darkness, and if I could, I'd have smiled wider. 4 more skeletons changed at me in a closer formation, but these ones also had small round rusted shields on their right arms. I picked up speed and charged forward, shoulder down as I slammed into the first skeleton and kept charging without slowing. The first skeleton slammed into the second behind it as I pushed forward, their combined weight only a quarter of my own.

I carried them further down the hall on my left shoulder. Reaching across my chest with my right arm, I grabbed the leg of the first and threw them back to the right as I slid to a stop. It bounced off the right wall, dragging the third with them. It looked like the third's rib cage got caught in the first.

I left them behind me as I dashed back towards the other two skeletons I had changed past. Grabbing one's sword by the blade as it swung at me, I kicked the other as hard as I could in the knee as it moved past the other. Using my free hand I drove four metal clad fingers, two into each eye socket of the first skeleton and yanked down, removing the entire front half of its skull. The other was falling behind it, missing the bottom half of its left leg.

Pushing the faceless enemy onto its partner, I turned and jogged back down the tunnel. I took the time to stomp on the two rib-locked skeleton's heads, before continuing down the tunnel.

I continued to jog for a moment before I heard a grinding sound beneath my feet.

Traps. Damn it.

With the warning I had, I was unsurprised by the 10 foot oaken battering ram that swung down and slammed into my abdomen with crushing force.

As I bounced down the corridor, I glanced at my Health Bar. 57%. Not bad. It was beginning to fill up again, too. Guess between the titanium weave and subdermal layer of graphene armor, my Defense stat must be pretty good.

Feeling my shoulder tear out of the socket as I slid to a stop, I grimaced. Maybe not that good.

"Pro. Remind me to reinforce my joints." I said with a groan.

"Yes, Sir." Pro said with a hint of sarcasm in his voice.

I laid on the floor and waited for the nanites to put me back together. After a couple of moments I stood up and stretched. I rolled my shoulder a few times to get the kinks out.

Walking back down the hall I carefully avoided the pressure plate that triggered the trap, seeing as the 1 foot diameter battering ram was nowhere to be seen.

Getting beyond that, I moved forward more cautiously. After a short distance I found a set of cast iron spiral stairs ascending into an opening in the ceiling.

Climbing carefully, I made my way up into the darkness. Counting stairs, I reached a closed Iron Door at 300 steps. Hell of a climb. Feeling around in the dark, I found no handle or latch. Thinking through the problem and some of my new practical engineering knowledge, I began to feel the edges of the doorway. Eventually I found the hinges set into the right hand face. Using the Gauntlet's multitool function, I pulled the pins from the 5 separate hinges. Heavy door.

Easing it open as quietly as I could, I peered through the crack. The back of a throne greeted me. I looked to be in some sort of gladiatorial arena, at least as far as I could tell with the throne in front of me.

The weirdest part of the room was how it sounded. It reminded me of an empty hockey arena, with only a few players practicing on the ice. A hollow, echoing expanse, near silent but for the occasional sharp click of a stick hitting the ice or the puck. However, in this case the clicking was the sound of two figures I could just barely make out far below me on the sand floor. They may have been fighting with swords, but it was hard to tell at this distance. Looking around the arena I saw hundreds, if not thousands of silent skeletons all facing the combatants. As the figures moved in the arena all of the skulls in the room shifted to follow.

What the fuck inspired this? Props to GM's imagination. It was horrific without gore. Unsettling and creepy.

Suddenly something shoved me from behind and I was falling. I caught myself with both hands before my face smashed into the floor, but just barely.

Rolling sideways, I saw every eye in the stadium on me, including what looked like a giant skeleton with a crude iron crown peering at me from around its seat on the throne. Everything stopped for a long moment, leaving me standing awkwardly next to the throne in view of the entire stadium.

Suddenly the stillness broke. A wave of bone and iron made its way toward me from both directions of the stands. The Skeleton King pulled itself to its feet and grabbed a ridiculously sized battle axe from beside its throne.

The thunk of an arrow planting itself near my face broke me from my reverie. I rolled away from the throne and stood, glancing back to look for the entrance I came through. Unfortunately it was missing, which meant I was stuck in a boss battle with a ton of mobs. There was no sign of whatever had pushed me down.

My mini-map was just a mass of red, and everything was either charging me or shooting at me. It was a do or die moment, which really only left one choice.

"LEEROY JENKINS!" I screamed, ducking under a swing of a titanic axe and charging towards the line of approaching skeletons from the top rows of seats.

The setting was perfect for me, as it was going to be fairly easy to avoid getting mobbed. The stadium was a large circular cavern with levels carved out of the stone. Each level was 10 feet tall and ten feet wide with only 4 sets of stairs carved at the compass points. Sure, there were a series of cat walks far above me with archers doing their best to kill me, but I only had enemies coming from two directions instead of surrounding me. I just needed to stay on one level and avoid getting forced into a place where I could be surrounded.

I was running left, with a stone wall to my left and an open drop to my right, so when I got to the first skeleton I batted it to the right out into the lower stands and kept running. With the only noise being the occasional clicking of bones and clattering of inaccurate arrows, I could easily hear the crash of metal on stone as the skeleton and its armaments tumbled down in the direction of the stadium floor.

Shoulder checking another skeleton into the stone wall, I felt the bite of an arrow in my shoulder. The wound was shallow with my subdermal armor, but it reminded me to stay alert. I used the mini map to check where the King was, which seemed to be right on top of me, so I juked to the left, spun as fast as I could, dropped low to the ground in a sprinter's stance, then shot off back toward the throne, just by the Skeleton King's huge form. The crash of metal behind me sounded like I'd narrowly avoided a lot of pain. Hopefully this would put some distance between me and him. I needed to clean up the mobs before I tackled him.

Batting a second skeleton off the ledge, I considered my options. I wanted to stick to training hand to hand, but this was a terrible challenge for that. Maybe I should let them mob me? Train up my Con while trying to take down the King. Sliding to a stop, I dropped into a crouch and took off back towards the King. The bite of a sword nicking my back didn't slow me, and its effect on my health bar was minimal.

I hadn't gone far before changing my mind, maybe 20 feet, and I moved far faster than anything else here. The King was just turning around when I got back to him. I went wide, pushing a skeleton out of the way as I ran to the wall, pushed off of it as hard as I could, and Rugby tackled the 12 foot giant skeleton around the waist. My momentum easily carried us far over the ledge, where gravity took over.

The King tried to swing the massive axe at me as we fell, but I was far inside his guard. Before he could get a second swing in his back impacted the edge of a ledge a few levels below where we started. The jarring force nearly dislodged me, but I clung on.

We crashed hard into the level below that, my weight driving the King's skull into the stone where it shattered. I impacted the stone a beat after. I narrowly avoided the same fate by getting my hand against the ground before rolling over the next ledge and fell onto the arena floor. The sand cushioned the impact on my back. So much for keeping myself out of open areas.

Looking at my HP, I was pleased to see that my brilliant plan cost me less than the trap had earlier. I was roused from my thoughts by a loud grunt and a solid kick to my ribs. It sent me airborne and into a roll. My ribs would have collapsed if the weren't wrapped in titanium.

Scrambling to my feet, I quickly saw what I'd missed. The gladiators, well gladiator. The huge, most likely ork, gladiator and the nearby corpse of a former human gladiator. This work seemed like more of an appropriate hand to hand challenge.

He lumbered towards me, I moved to meet him. His hands came down to slam into me with an overhead hammer blow. I stepped forward and dipped to the left, punching him with my right where his kidneys would be on a human. I was rewarded with a grunt as he stepped back. I tried to follow but he moved his hands to grab me surprisingly fast. I hopped back. He bound forward, trying to bowl me over with his superior size and weight.

He succeeded. I was a breath too slow and was knocked back to the ground, where he pounced on top of me. As we grappled, I realized I had very few wrestling skills. He got a hold of my wrist and began to twist, seemingly trying to tear my left hand off. Rude. Then he turned it in just the wrong way, making me grunt and try to yank it back. The sudden burst of pain reminded me that, game or not, this was a fight I didn't want to lose, even if everything would heal in short order.

As my wrist contorted I grasped out, trying to find purchase. With him on top of me, I felt like I was getting crushed and he was having his wicked way with one of my arms. He roared in his apparent victory as I felt my entire arm twist and my elbow and shoulder tear, my hellboy hand preventing him from breaking my wrist. His mouth wide, slobber dripping down, I shoved my free arm forward into his gaping maw, The Gauntlet with it. His eyes widened in surprise as I forced my arm into the back of his throat.

He let go as he began to choke. He tried to stand, but I wrapped my legs around his waist. He tried prying me off of him, but I grabbed tight, looking for a handhold in his throat once I had pushed past his tongue and behind his jaw. My fingers sank into the meat behind his lower jaw, from the inside.

He was smacking my face now, the pain making my vision go fuzzy, but I focused and pulled harder, bringing my feet around him and pushing away from his chest. I felt his jaw begin to give as I pulled as hard as I could. The sharp pain in my back as he rammed me against the arena wall couldn't deter me. I pulled with every bit of strength I had and was finally rewarded with a wet pop and a gurgling wheeze as his lower jaw ripped off fully in my hand.

I dropped the bloody jaw on the floor and I brought a fist down on the wrist of the arm he was using to hold me against the wall. The pop of a broken bone was my reward.

He stumbled back.

"We good, dick bag?!" I shouted at him. Under all of the adrenaline, I felt bad. Logically, I knew he was a facsimile of life created by GM, but I hated hurting living things. Even if they were jerks who kick you when you're down.

He snarled, or what passes as a jawless snarl, and charged me. He grabbed at me with his huge green hands and I ducked back, my elbow scraping against the wall. He reared his right arm back, and threw a powerful, if telegraphed punch at my face. I snapped out, meeting his right wrist with my left metal clad fist. His momentum carried his now broken arm into the wall full tilt, and the wet dull splintering of his arm made me wretch. He gave into the pain and blood loss as he collapsed then and there.

The rest of the skeletons hadn't been idle as I'd fought the Orc Gladiator. The fight had just been swift and vicious enough that they were just making it to our position on the arena floor. I hadn't even noticed the few impotent stabs they had managed, nor the arrows. Now I was paying attention to them again and watched as they shambled as one calcium heavy tide around me. From all around, skeletons surged down on to the arena's sandy stage, and I prepared myself to take them all on.

It was really rather anticlimactic. Like, grinding for boars in WoW, anticlimactic.

The fight could be summed up in a few words: Good armor and regen beat the baby mobs.

The task was simple, if not tedious. The only part I thought was even a little interesting was climbing up to fight the archers; that was harrowing due purely to the height and fear of falling.

Looking around the hall of corpses and bones, I made my way to an opening in the arena I hadn't seen from the King's throne, following it out onto the side of a mountain. I saw down near the base, where I saw a tent which I made my way towards. Stumbling down the rocky path, I arrived at the flap of the tent fairly quickly.

Opening the flap the world disappeared in motes of light. I fell a dozen feet to the ground, but managed to stay up right, leaving me standing some distance away from my workshop in a light grey field of extradimensional surface.

"GM," I exhaled, chuckling aloud at the insanity of it all. "That was great! That whole thing was crazy, good job buddy." I wandered over to my workstation and grabbed a bottle of water, downing it in a couple quick gulps. Time permitting, I think I'd be happy to do this forever. "Want to try something else after I get healed back up?"

The triumphant blaring of Final Fantasy's victory theme music seemed to be a yes.

AN: Edited by jgjemmett