Dungeon Crawler Carl Book 6: The Ghosts of Earth - Chapter 203
The three newcomers stopped dead when they finally realized who we were. They paused at the edge of the park. They started whispering amongst themselves. I sighed and moved toward them.
“Be nice,” I whispered.
The two guys were about thirty years old, and I couldn’t tell the age of the cat woman. In fact, I wasn’t positive it even was a woman, but she did have the curve of human-like breasts under her fur, almost like she was wearing a bodysuit. Both men were Hispanic. The woman looked like a bipedal, humanoid, shorthaired cat with glowing, green eyes. Her face had the long, thin features of a Siamese cat, but her fur was coffee-colored, almost black, and her vertical ears were much more rounded than a typical Siamese. Her fur rustled in the wind, and it looked soft to the touch. She carried a glowing trident over her shoulder, and her only clothes were a flowing cloak and arm bracers.
Donut hissed again. “That’s a Havana brown, Carl. A Havana! We need to stay away from her.”
“That’s a little premature, don’t you think?”
She scoffed. “There’s no getting along with Havana browns, Carl.”
I had no idea why the idea of a cat woman bothered Donut so much. She didn’t seem to care about Bautista, who was more of a tiger thing. She never really liked other cats, even before we’d come into the dungeon. Zev had once mentioned that there were a few cat girls out there, and Donut had been absolutely scandalized about the idea. I didn’t really get it.
I examined all three as we got closer. Based on their crawler numbers, it was clear they’d all come into the dungeon together.
The first man wore glowing, silver plate armor. At first I thought the guy was a little taller than me, but the metallic boots on the armor looked to be platforms, giving him an extra seven or eight inches of height. I’d only seen a handful of crawlers decked out in traditional, head-to-toe, medieval-style armor. It looked heavy and uncomfortable as shit. The only exposed skin was his head, which stuck out of the breast plate like a dude poking his head out of a tank. He wore a backwards baseball cap on his head, and he had a wide-eyed, scared look about him.
He had a glowing symbol over his head, indicating he worshipped a deity. The symbol was a palm frond.
Crawler #8,199,454. “Paz Lo.”
This crawler worships the God Ogun.
The second guy was a well-muscled, bald man in a leather jacket with knee-high boots and a black cape. He carried a crossbow that looked similar to Katia’s, though the front depicted an open-mouthed creature. Maybe a monkey. This man also worshipped the same god. His dark eyes bored into us suspiciously as we approached. Donut gasped in despair as we got closer. This guy was completely covered in old tattoos, even on his face. Prison tattoos. Real ones.
He also had a pair of player killer skulls over his head. He was the only player killer in the group. All three of them had a mess of boss kills, including a pair of city bosses. This guy also had a single dagger icon, indicating he’d killed a hunter on the previous floor.
Crawler #8,199,451. “Anton Lopez.”
This crawler worships the God Ogun.
The cat was indeed a woman. She did not worship a god.
Crawler #8,199,462. “Sister Ines Quiteria”
Race: Cat Girl
Class: Poet Laureate.
I pulled up chat.
Carl: Mordecai, who is the god Ogun?
Mordecai: For fuck’s sake, did you already summon another god?
Carl: No. Just met a group of crawlers who worship him.
Mordecai: Thank the gods. He’s a big one. A common god to worship. God of blacksmiths and protection. They can’t be charmed, and their weapons will pack an extra punch. The god itself is pretty grumpy.
Carl: They all are. Thanks.
“Sister,” Donut said. “Carl, is she a nun? A …cat girl… nun?” She spit the words “cat girl” angrily.
“Let’s find out.”
“Hey guys,” I said, approaching close enough to talk. “I’m Carl, and this is Donut.”
“We know who you are,” prison-tattoo Anton said, practically growling the words.
I was taken aback. I was anticipating them being suspicious or cautious, but the vehemence of his anger surprised me. Donut was about to spit something back at them, and I held up my hand.
Easy. Easy. “Uh, were you the only three in your group? We were the only two at the other stairwell.”
“Oh yeah?” Anton asked. He twitched a little, holding his crossbow at the half ready position. “Word is you were with that goat guy. The one who murdered Gimli.”
Gimli was a pet hawk that had gotten eaten by Bianca, Prepotente’s hellspawn familiar. That had happened at the end of the Masquerade, and I’d been knocked out at the time. Gimli’s owner was a guy I didn’t know named Osvaldo, and he was Brazilian. He was the one who’d looted the memorial crystal off Queen Imogen’s body. I had a quest to get it from him. I was pretty sure Prepotente had a similar quest.
“Word travels fast,” I said cautiously.
“We know what happened at the end of the sixth floor, and what happened at the beginning of the next. You ain’t the only ones who got friends. We hear things.”
“Wow,” Donut said. “I don’t think he likes you very much, Carl.”
“Stay back, cat!” Anton said. “Stay the fuck away from us!”
“Me?” Donut asked, incredulous. “What did I do!”
I took a deep breath. The guy in the armor and the cat woman both took a step back and away from Anton, who stood in the middle of their unit. It was subtle, but I recognized it for what it was. They were getting ready to fight. It was an interesting formation considering he was the one with the ranged weapon.
This was ridiculous. Fighting with the only other people in here was more than pointless. It played right into the showrunner’s hands. It had come out of nowhere.
I held out my hands as I took a step back. “Look, we didn’t have anything to do with Pony fighting that Osvaldo guy. And he left the party before we went down to this floor. He’s over in the Bahamas.”
“Bullshit,” Anton said. He cracked his neck. His attention, I realized, was laser focused on Donut. Behind him, Paz gave Sister Ines a nervous look. The cat woman’s whiskers twitched.
“Why would I lie about that?” I asked. “He’s not the easiest person to hide. Look, I don’t know why you guys are so jumpy, but if that’s how you feel, we have a big, wide area to explore here.” I pointed south into the city. “We’ll go that way, and you three can go fuck yourselves off wherever you want.”
Anton didn’t respond. He just glared at Donut angrily. I watched a single bead of sweat start to trace its way down the side of his bald, tattooed head. He’s scared. He’s scared of Donut. All three of their eyes were flashing, and I knew they were rapidly talking with one another in chat.
I was missing something.
Carl: Donut. Do you know why they don’t like you?
Donut: IT’S THE OTHER CAT. HAVANA BROWNS ARE UNTRUSTWORTHY MONGRELS. ALMOST AS BAD AS SPHYNXES AND SCOTTISH FOLDS.
Carl: Yeah, I don’t think that’s it.
“Why are you this cat thing?” Donut suddenly demanded of Sister Ines, breaking the silence. “A cat I can understand. Carl would’ve picked cat had the system allowed it. But why …this? And are you really a nun?”
The woman exchanged a look with the others. They were still talking privately. The terrified-looking, armored man appeared as if he was about to burst into tears.
The cat woman took a step forward and put a paw on Anton’s shoulder. She whispered something to him. He lowered his crossbow. The tattooed man remained anxious, but it seemed like the strange tenseness of the situation was finally starting to ease, as quickly as it came.
I found myself staring at the cat woman’s large paw. Unlike Bautista and Prepotente, who both had human-like hands, she had an actual paw, though she did have an opposable thumb, making her paws work almost like mittens. Grabbing things had to be difficult for her. I wondered how she fought with that trident over her shoulder.
“Hello, Donut,” the woman finally said. “We have seen you both many times on the program. I am a Mantellate Sister.” Like Anton, she had a Latina accent. Her voice was a little rough, like Elle’s. I had the sense maybe she was older.
“I don’t know what that means,” Donut said.
The cat woman chuckled softly. “It means I am a nun, yes.”
“Yes, but why are you a half cat?”
She shrugged. “It seemed like the best option at the time. When we had the choices presented to us, it was the only race that gave me a charisma boost for my Word Weaver spell, and our game guide insisted it would allow me to choose the Poet Laureate class, which it did. Plus, I always liked cats. We had several at the prison.”
The word landed heavy in the silence between us.
I reexamined the other two men. I could see it, now. The two men were cons. She was a nun, who’d possibly worked at the prison. I once again focused on Anton with his fugitive class, and his two player killer skulls.
At this point, several crawlers had skulls, and the sight of one or two wasn’t as terrifying as it once was. Donut had one. Katia had two. Imani had 12. That alone didn’t mean anything. The real player killers had dozens. Still…
Goddamnit, I thought. I hated this. I hated not trusting fellow humans.
“Then why did you choose a Havana brown?” Donut insisted. “It’s hardly a proper breed for a nun. Maybe a Ragamuffin. Or an Abyssinian. Certainly not a Persian, of course. But a Havana? That’s like an accountant choosing to be in the body of an English mastiff. Or a professional bodybuilder picking a Yorkshire Terrier. Unless you’re trying to be edgy and ironic.”
Sister Ines looked at her own arm curiously. “I didn’t get to choose. Is that what this breed is called? Havana brown? It’s just what happened. Maybe it’s because I’m Cuban.”
“Lies!” Donut suddenly shouted. All of us jumped. Even me. “The Havana brown breed originated in England! It has no association with Cuba at all! Come on, Carl. Let’s get out of here before they ply us with more filthy lies.”
I put my hand on Donut’s chest to calm her just as Anton panic-jerked his crossbow back up. His tough exterior was starting to crack. Sister Ines deftly caught the top of the crossbow as he yanked it up, keeping the bolt angled away.
It was then, at that moment, that I finally understood who was really in charge of this group.
“Like I said, Donut. I did not choose what I looked like.”
Carl: Holy shit, Donut, chill. There’s no way they let her choose what goddamned breed of cat she was. And nobody except you would know that a Havana whatever doesn’t come from Cuba.
Donut: EVERYBODY KNOWS THAT, CARL.
Carl: Just be calm, okay? We need to figure out why they’re scared of us.
She patted Anton again on the shoulder. “Now, we are all calm, yes?”
He grunted something inaudible.
“Look,” I said. “I don’t know why you’re afraid of us, but the last thing either of us need is to be looking over our shoulders the whole time. I was hoping to find you guys so we could work together. We are always stronger together. But if you’re not interested, we’ll separate here.” I held up a fist. “We should at least get into each other’s chat so we can talk in case of an emergency.”
“Your cat said she was going to kill us all when she met us,” Paz said, speaking for the first time. The armored man lifted a metal arm and pointed at Donut. “She said she was going to rip out our throats and feed us to danger dingoes and laugh while we drowned to death in our own blood.”
“What?” I asked, looking over at Donut. “No she didn’t.”
“It wasn’t danger dingoes,” Donut said indignantly. “It was brindle grubs. And I said that in confidence to Anaconda and Sledgie. I mean, really. So now you’re eavesdropping on my conversations? Carl, I told you Havanas are no good.”
“I… What?” I repeated.
“We went on a program at the beginning of the sixth floor,” Sister Ines said. “They showed us the clip.”
“Who the hell is Anaconda?” I asked.
“You know who Anaconda is, Carl. He’s the lead dancer at the Penis Parade in the Desperado Club. Anaconda told me he’d never met a cat before, only cat girls, and I told him what I’d do if I ever met one.”
“See!” Paz said, his voice squeaking.
“I said that ages ago,” Donut said. “I mean, really. I can’t be held accountable for everything I’ve ever said to a stripper. I also told Damascus Steel he was Mongo’s new daddy the last time I was there. Are you going to hold that against me, too?”
“Goddamnit, Donut,” I said. “Were you drunk?”
“Okay,” I said. “Everyone needs to chill. Donut is not going to attack anyone. She said that because she always says stupid shit, but she didn’t mean it, did you Donut?”
“I just don’t understand why it was even allowed to be a race.” She sighed dramatically. “I suppose I must get over it. It’s not like I have a choice.”
The three newcomers talked some more amongst themselves via chat. While they did, I delved back into my own messages. I’d been asking around if anybody knew these guys and if they could vouch for them. Katia revealed she’d been compiling a list of crawler names that weren’t to be trusted, and they weren’t on it. That didn’t mean anything in itself, but it was a good sign.
The only person who knew them directly was Tserendolgor.
Ren: I don’t know them well. I have Paz in my chat. Him and the other guy are cousins, and they’re really protective of the third one. The nun woman. Their party was bigger, but they had a rough time on the sixth floor. They’re good friends with Osvaldo’s group, but I don’t think they share a guild with him. They’re mostly loners. I know that Anton guy with the fugitive class is really good with the crossbow, and that he’d had to kill two guys from his own group on the first or second floor after they’d tried to kill the nun for some reason. Don’t know the story.
Carl: Okay, thanks.
Donut: OF COURSE THE CHEATER LADY KNOWS THEM.
Imani: I have someone on my list who says they were in the same bubble as Quan Ch on the fifth floor, and that they didn’t get along. So maybe you guys can bond over that.
“If you really want to work together, you can help us capture our first squad member,” Sister Ines said. “There’s a lot of them of them on the beach. We tried to fight one, and it almost took Paz out. We’d had to kill it. If you help us capture one, we’ll help you get one, too.”
“What are they?” I asked.
“Seals,” she said. “Monk seals.”