Surprisingly, Asta made the jump by a considerable amount. She came down hard, her knees slammed into her breasts very painfully and then she started to roll down the slope. She struggled to flatten herself, splayed her arms and legs which had the desired effect of stopping her uncontrolled descent. Gasping for breath she rolled over and noted that she had completely lost her right boot, she did not see it anywhere nearby. Loden was only twenty paces away, now slightly higher than her present position. She scrambled over using her hands and feet to move across the steep approach to where he hung, suspended like a fly captured by a spider.
A few paces below where he hung, Asta found one of Loden’s dwarven shooters, broken glass, as well vomit and a strange goo covering the ground below him. She picked up the weapon and stuffed it under her belt, it was sticky and the stench of vomit was strong. The mess made the slope under Loden slick, Asta struggled to reach him and slipped three times before finally getting up along the stone wall from which he was suspended.
Loden clutched a small stone jug, his left arm pinned awkwardly, his face was ashen, his eyes wild with madness and he made small gasping sounds that she realized, after a moment, was laughter. She could only reach his lower legs from her position and they, like most of the rest of him, were encased in the gooey substance.
She heard the strange warbling noise the creatures made, she froze and looked around. She could not see them. Asta drew the shooter, she had fired it a couple of time when Loden and Flint had been practicing with it, but she did not like the weapon, it was heavy and loud. She had nearly dropped it the first time she had taken a shot, it kicked ferociously. She pulled back the lever that readied the shooter for firing and waited.
Ropy, gelatinous tendrils slid down her shoulders, one looped around her neck, another under her arm. She shouted in frightened surprise and looked up. More of the creature’s limbs slid across her, they tightened and started to pull her upward. She nearly dropped the shooter and her screams were cut short as her neck was squeezed. One tendril slid around her body and others grabbed at her limbs, she was lifted into the air. Above her she could see the thing, near its centre, from where its limbs protruded was a darker mass, reminding her of frogs eggs, but maybe they were eyes.
Asta pointed the weapon at the dark mass, she pulled the trigger. The loud bang caused the weapon to jump and almost instantly the creature threw her to the side. She hit the ground and lost hold of the shooter, skid across the detritus, bones and gods only knew what else that was littered across its nesting area. She came to her feet, a bit unsteady with her footing and pointed at that creature, “I smite thee!”
Much to her surprise the creature shuddered, was briefly illuminated by bright light and then pieces of it flew in all directions. Asta staggered back, raised her arms to shield her face, then tripped over something and landed hard on her buttocks. She had never been able to that before. In stunned wonderment she hardly noticed the gooey mess that had sprayed across her upper torso and arms.
It took her a moment or two to process what had just happened. Her breathing was quick and shallow, “Thank you Goddess.”
Distantly she heard more warbling sounds. Getting back to her feet she was unsteady and shaking. She looked around and found the shooter, as far as she could tell it was still functional. She tried to turn the vaguely triangular tumbler that would place another shot under the little lever, it did not move. Then she remembered that she had to pull the lever back, then turn the tumbler. When that was done she noted that the lever was still in its ready to shoot position. Carefully she moved to the edge of the ledge and then towards were Loden was suspended, now just below her.
The stone under her feet was slick with goop and she could see the point where Loden’s cocoon was anchored. When she glanced over the ledge she could see his head a pace or so below her, not quite covered. “Hey, can you here me?”
He craned his head back and turned so that he could see her with one wild eye, he cackled and waved the small jug around then muttered something at her. She could not make out what he said. She looked around the area for the other creature but there was no sign of it. Carefully she set the shooter down and took out her knife, she started to cut at the cocoon. Her little blade did not seem up to the task and the material she was trying to cut seemed very resistant. She looked to where the goop was anchored on the stone, she tried the blade in that area to much the same effect. She sheathed the knife, picked up a stone and started to bash at the anchor point, this seemed to produce slightly better results. She smashed at it a couple more times with the heavy, jagged rock.
The warbling noise was much closer the next time she heard it, as she continued to smash at the anchor point she looked around in desperation. She spied a longer bone, perhaps a leg bone from some previous victim of the creatures. She stopped her smashing efforts and was gratified to see that there had been some separation of the goop now, as well, stone and dirt had been forced into it.
The warbling came again, she guessed the creature was coming up from the area that she had jumped over earlier. She retrieved the bone, tested its strength and then used it in an attempt to pry the anchor point free. The goo stretched, she could see little tears along the area she had been smashing, she leaned into her lever and pushed hard. Suddenly there was a loud pop and Asta stumbled forward then fell as she tripped over the lever.
With an odd echo the warbling sounded again, very close, then the creature undulated into view, rising above the nesting area. She pointed as it, “I smite thee.”
Nothing happened. Tendrils started to reach out as the creature floated towards her. Asta scrambled over to the shooter, picked it up and pointed it at the creature, she pulled the trigger. Nothing happened.
Desperately she pulled the lever back again, turned the tumbler then screamed as one of the gooey tendrils grabbed her by the leg. She was dragged towards the creature across the ground and more of the disgusting appendages grabbed her, wrapping around her other leg, her hips and lower torso.
She was under the creature, beginning to be lifted upwards. She had a clear view of the dark globular area in the centre of its body, she pointed the shooter and pulled the trigger. The weapon made its loud report, the thing backed away, tendrils flailing, as she fell back to the ground one of the tendrils slapped her across the face, she dropped the shooter and lay stunned on the ground.
A couple of moments latter she groaned and rolled over, the creature was nowhere to be seen. She reclaimed Loden’s weapon, though she did not think it would work again and moved to where he had been suspended. Startled she looked around desperately, both he and the cocoon were gone. She was beginning to think another creature had come along and carried him off, then far down the mountain side she could see that the cocoon had come to a rest after sliding part way down the slope she had originally fled along.
Asta looked around again for the monster. There was no sign of it and she did not hear the weird noises it made. She stuffed the dwarven repeater through her belt, picked up the long bone she had used as a lever and tossed it off the nesting wall to the slope below. She gave one more quick look around, saw nothing of interest and then carefully lowered herself to the slope below.
She felt very tired, worn thin and a bit dissociated from herself. She retrieved the bone and used it as a walking stick as she started down the slope towards Loden. Part way there she discovered the little stone jug and Ander’s hat a few paces apart. She put the hat on, carried the small stone vessel and continued downward. As she closed on Loden’s position she could hear him muttering, his voice was raspy and he sounded more than half mad.
“The moon… the moons… look at the moons, different now.” Asta did look to the moons as she sat down, the closer one had in fact moved part way across the face of the other. She glanced in the opposite direction, looking the stars over, once again she was left with the impression they were the stars that she had known all her life, they were just brighter and slightly shifted from where they should be.
She took off the hat and passed it to Loden. He grabbed at it with his free hand, clutching it tightly and looking from side to side with wild eyes. When she offered him the bottle his eyes went wide and he fumbled the hat to the crook where his neck and shoulder met, then he took the bottle, cooing slightly, “Oh baby, I thought you left.” He started to gnaw at the wax that covered the stopper.
She pat his cheek, “Don’t choke to death on that.” She sighed and through force of will alone rose to her feet, found the gooey anchor point which was mostly just gritty now and, using the bone for support, she started to drag Loden down to the cave where the Goddess had sheltered her.