Cerberess breaks her chains! NSFW

The snapping of the magical chains was a quiet sound, not at all in line with the importance of it.

"She's loose!" Reina shouted, expertly parrying a blow and jumping back out of the way. The feral hound-woman lunged at Reina, seeking to close the gap - and given her much larger size, it would have been quite easy - but then suddenly Miah was in the way, the snapping of the gigantic monster girl's teeth just narrowly missing her arm.

Tala's visor flashed red. The latest in Ironworks magitech, it provided combat medics with a consolidated view of combatants' vital signs and aetheric condition, as well as any factors which had been computed to possibly impact combat performance. In this case, it was alerting her to the fact that Miah's armor had been damaged and would not be able to provide the same level of protection against bladed attacks. Like the claws the hellhound brought to bear against Miah, now that the fetters that had held them were broken...

Tala raised her planisphere, tilting it so that the angle was just right. A spark of light circled around Miah, temporarily fusing the ripped parts closed. She'd need to repair it still, but it bought them some time. Time wouldn't do much for them without a plan, though. She shouted to Katrja. "Sealing monsters is your thing, isn't it?"

Katrja shrugged, expertly spinning her staff and loosing another gout of flame at the creature through its tip. She'd gotten far more graceful about her spellcasting since spending some time honing her dancing, and even seemed to be showing off some. "Look, while you are correct that corralling hellish beasts is part of the job description, I tend to be the one who un-corrals them."

"I can vouch for that," Reina said, weaving between the hellhound's claws to slice at her face and channel a bolt of lightning down her sword. "I think I have a plan, though. Her skin is thick... out here. But she isn't protected like that everywhere."

Miah leapt up, bringing her gunblade down on the hellhound and spinning around before firing a shot at the creature's gut. "Leave it to Reina to come up with a plan that hinges on being eaten. But as big as she is, she's too small to swallow us, and I don't think any of us would like being chewed."

"No. But you know Mini, don't you?"

Miah laughed. "This isn't normally how I use it, but yes..."

"Be quick about it," Katrja said, turning her attention to the creeping leaves that surrounded the arena. "I have a feeling those vines are meant to be some kind of secondary deterrent. To us or to the hound, I'm not sure, but if I'm in her stomach, I won't be out here to burn them to a crisp for you!"

Tala inclined her head. "Right. We'll be quick. Kat, you lead, the rest of us are going to need your expertise with the void in there. I'll follow close behind. Miah, you've got Mini, so you're last."

"Shouldn't Reina lead? She's got the most experience with where we're going." Katrja froze a creeping vine solid with a flourish of her staff.

Reina nodded. "Yeah, I'll take point. Then Kat, then you, then Miah."

"I appreciate that you agreed with me about knowing stomachs best out of all of us," Katrja said, grinning.

Miah sliced a creeper in half, whirling around to block another swipe from the giant hellhound. "Reina's stomach mastery aside, I shouldn't be last. Some of what she ate might still be in there - if I'm last, I might be too late to protect you. And I'd hate if she got you."

"Why did you emphasize 'she'?" Tala wondered aloud. "Okay. Miah first for protection. Then Reina for... stomach mastery. Then Kat for void mastery. Then I'll come in last to keep you all in one piece."

"Let's go! She's getting more vicious by the second!" Reina shouted, nearly getting crushed by the hellhound's gigantic foot.

"Gather on me!" Miah called, planting her sword and raising her hand over her head. The Mini magic washed out the heroes' vision, replacing it with a boundless sea of white. When they could see again, the arena had gotten several times larger.

"Scatter and attract her attention!" Kat called. "Make yourself look appealing! Reina, this is all you!"

"What are you trying to say?!"

Miah fired off a few shots in the hellhound's direction, earning her a quick snatch off the floor and a toss into the hound-girl's cavernous maw.

Reina was the next to go, an array of elements pummeling the doggirl's shin until she had no choice but to take notice. She was dangled by one leg over the hound-girl's slobbering mouth, and swallowed quickly.

Here the hound-girl paused to belch her delight with her sudden snacks.

Tala's visor updated with the status of the first two victims.

"Digesting... And something about stomach acids. Why would they even program something like that in?" Tala asked aloud.

Katrja laughed. "You know why, don't you? They wanted to create a comprehensive resource for the kinds of conditions that an adventurer could be affected by in battle. And surely you must know how many adventurers end up digesting..."

"Well, you don't have to sound so proud of it," Tala huffed. But Kat couldn't sound so proud of it - by the time Tala finished getting her sentence out, Katrja's painfully cold ice had earned her a spot in the hound girl's gut, and three of Tala's companions had the "Digesting" status effect. Though, Tala noted, with different degrees of severity. Miah's body was already bearing the brunt of her early entry.

Once again, I find myself wondering who bothers to program in different intensities of digestion into a device like this...

Tala dashed toward where the hellhound - apparently having forgotten about the fourth snack - was curling up for a post-meal nap. I have to hurry... their physical condition is falling by the second in there. "Hey, you big puppy! Aren't you still hungry?"

The gigantic canine woman opened one eye, then opened her mouth. She didn't use words, but her offer was plain. "If you want to get in there, go ahead. Just don't make me get up."

"This is humiliating," Tala grumbled, rushing on tiny legs toward the open mouth. But at least she was getting closer, and-

She fell, landing hard on her face. The planisphere rolled away, its spinning circles losing their momentum as they left her orbit.

"Damn it!" Tala strained for the planisphere, but it seemed to get further away by the second. No, wait. She was the one who was moving. She was being dragged toward the gigantic creature's napping spot.

Tala Chalahko: seized, down for the count, the display said, taunting her.

"I'm well aware of my own situation, thank you!" Tala snapped.

The vines tightened around her tiny body, and she winced. "Stop it already, you're going to crack a rib," she hissed, as if the vines were listening.

She was dropped just in front of the hound-girl's titanic tummy. She thought it an act of mercy at first... but then she tried to move, and searing pain shot through her entire body.

0, the red number beside her name said. Her physical condition was bad enough that only major magical intervention would be able to get her back on her feet. This tiny body she was in was far more vulnerable than she'd anticipated.

Voices. She could hear voices. They mingled in with the sounds of the massive stomach that now filled most of her vision.

"Stay calm. I'm sure she's fine," Miah said, in her most motherly voice.

guuuurrrgle, the stomach replied, covering whatever feeble sounds Tala might have been able to make.

Katrja hurled a spell incantation like a curse. "I'm completely calm! And I'm also completely covered in stomach acid, so you can see why there might be some urgency to this!"

Tala struggled to raise her head. bluuoooooorp, said a lazy bubble working its way through the hound-girl's intestines. Despite the distress of its occupants, her stomach seemed unconcerned in the slightest.

"I can cover for her until she gets in," Reina said. "But only for as long as there's anywhere for me to stand that I don't have to tread acid."

Reina Vallette, digesting [7]. 2320 HP. 3000 MP. Reina wasn't going to be able to last much longer at this rate. Her height left her especially vulnerable to the rising pools of acid, from the sounds of it - and, as the visor gleefully informed Tala, the more soaked she was in the stuff, the more quickly her body's resistance melted away. She was putting on a brave face, but...

"Not to worry, we've got her for sure!" Miah said, and Tala could hear the faint sound of another shell being discharged. "Tala, I hope you're listening. We have her on the ropes, and when I get out of here, you're going to have to treat me!"

Hellhound Cerberess, unfettered, hound out of hell [4], 87% HP, the visor informed Tala. She didn't seem to be on the ropes. She didn't even seem to consider her situation one she had to be awake for, as her eyes were closed and her breathing regular. A faint burbling warned of new things to come.

"I can just about keep up with-" Reina managed, and then the hellhound belched. guuuooooooooooorp, a long, low sound, but no less chaotic for her stomach's inhabitants, from the sound of it. And the sight of the heads-up display. The digesting effect had taken another degree of intensity or two for all of them.

"Nevermind..." Reina whimpered. digesting [9], 1350 HP, 500 MP. Any further, and she'd surely drain her aether beyond its breaking point. And yet her physical condition continued to deteriorate faster than she could repair the damage the acid was doing to her.

927 HP...

332 HP...

"Reina..." Tala managed weakly.

0 HP.

From outside the stomach, Tala couldn't see what happened to Reina, but from the reactions of the others inside the stomach, she'd splashed down into the acid when she collapsed, unable to take the motion of the stomach walls and the sting of the acid any longer.

"Ugh... I can't... my manawall has already failed me," Katrja said. She sounded more tired than Tala had ever heard her sound, and this from a girl whose experiments often kept her up late into the night.

724 HP.

"Miah... I thought you wouldn't let her get us," Katrja said, though her voice was getting harder to hear. Especially over the sloshing sound of the stomach acids inside.

397 HP.

"This is nothing. I'm going to carry you both out of here if I have to," Miah said. She sounded more than a little unsteady. Tala could hear the sound of acid dripping down into the pool below.

25 HP.

"You have to," Katrja said, and then there was a splash as she fell to her knees in a puddle of acid.

0 HP.

Tala tried to call to mind any of her techniques. But her body was too battered to do a thing, even if she could produce any of them.

Miah's body was resilient, but with the stomach's full attention on her, it didn't last long. She'd been pelted with acid for so long her clothes were more soaked than if she'd been swimming in it.

2784 HP.

"You're going to regret ruining this jacket, doggie," she said, attempting to sound menacing despite holding two of her fallen comrades, one under each arm. "It's my wife's favorite."

1952 HP.

The hound-girl rubbed her stomach in her sleep, coating Miah in a fresh wave of stomach acid and nearly knocking her over.

1020 HP.

"Gh... I'm going to keep you on a leash and let you play with the girls, and I'm going to let them practice on you," Miah mumbled, her voice rapidly weakening.

288 HP.

"What a waste..."

0 HP.

Tala let her head drop and lay still. Eight red zeroes stared at her from the visor's display.

They'd failed.

And now all they could do was wait for the hellhound's stomach to finish what it had started.