James was quickly torn apart by the tentacle creature, but unlike dying in the Great Savanna, he didn’t black out. This time, he felt every excruciating second, and every single lost hit point. It was as if every one of his nerve endings was slowly burned away by an evil deity, with a matchstick and no concept of time. And then, finally, he was back.
‘What happened?’ Lilly pleaded into the party’s telepathic chat. ‘Is James okay?’
‘A creature came out from the undead side of the forest,’ Torunn answered in between grunts. ‘It paralyzed him.’
‘I am fine.’ James joined the chat, his past life rushing back to him as his mind remembered the strange green creature in front of him. ‘I respawned back at our base. I am stuck in the alcove next to Noma right now, but I can’t move. I think there is a respawn timer.’
You cannot chat with your party while you are waiting to respawn.
“Damn, they didn’t hear me,” James said to himself as he struggled to move his body.
‘Oh crap. There are more creatures than the one that killed James!’ Patrick cried into the party chat.
James watched as the redhead's body materialized next to his.
‘Shit, do we have a creature as well?’ Alex asked.
‘Probably hunting you from the forest, waiting for an opportunity to attack,’ Torunn answered.
James’s timer ended, and he let out a sigh of relief as he regained control of his body. He let the party know he was okay and that dying transported your body to the alcove where you could not move or talk until an unknown period passed. Then he turned to Noma and asked him about the enemy creatures. The spirit never mentioned that the undead side would have champions like theirs did. It would have been a good thing to know, and James's frustration showed through his words to the odd soul merchant.
“We did not know about them,” Noma replied while waving his hands in a motion meant to disarm James. The soul merchant seemed to shrink under James’s fury. “They were never here before. The Lich must have summoned them in response to your arrival.” Noma hiccupped and began to pat his body as he struggled to remember something. “Oh! Do you have any souls for Noma?”
“I have two,” James answered reluctantly, the anger still audible in his voice. “I would have had more if I hadn’t died.”
“Give them! Give them to Noma!” The soul merchant pleaded with his hands outstretched. “I need them!”
“What will you trade me?”
“Ahhh, trade, yes. Here take a look!” Noma said as he fidgeted in place.
A menu appeared and covered James’s vision. Inside it were various items; weapons, armor pieces, necklaces, and gems.
“I have all of that to trade!” Noma said proudly. “The soul cost of each item is listed.”
“I can only afford two teleport scrolls or a small sword!” James growled while turning his gaze back to the merchant.
“Hardly worth two actual souls, don’t you think?” James seethed.
“No, no, no. Soul items are great creations and their power builds upon each other!" Noma cried out to save himself. “See here! If you get the small sword, you will do ten more damage. And if you get this necklace and this gem at a later point, they will all combine into the Longsword of Draining!”
James found the Longsword of Draining in the soul item interface and confirmed the items needed to make it.
Longsword of Draining - Burns enemy’s mana (10% of weapon damage) every strike, plus 20 damage, plus 5 mana regen per second. Required Items - Small Sword, Necklace of Clarity, Gem of Mana Regen
“I don’t have any longsword abilities. Are there any short swords?” James asked. He wanted the ability to burn mana with physical strikes but didn’t want to lose his Jump Strike ability. Noma scrunched up his face and looked up at James.
Then the soul merchant let out a hiccup as realization dawned on him. “Oh, silly human. You are not strong enough to wield soul weapons.” The merchant tisked as he slowly shook his head. “You just keep them in your inventory, and you receive the effects. So, if you bought this small sword, you would do ten more damage with your current weapon. You see, the soul items augment how you are now. It augments your soul!”
“So, I can’t use any of these items?”
“You can use their effects, but you cannot wield them,” the merchant said with a subtle roll of his eyes.
James’s thoughts on the usefulness of the items were interrupted as Patrick’s frozen body came back to life.
“Ahhh, finally!” Patrick said as he began to sprint to the center path and back to battle. James called out to him as he went, causing the redhead to pause. James briefed the party on the soul item system he just learned about. Patrick nodded and spent a few seconds looking through all of Noma’s items before disappearing into a cloud of magical wisps.
“He used a teleportation scroll. They can instantly transport you to any of our towers,” Noma explained, answering the question on James's face as he watched his friend disappear.
James checked his mini-map and confirmed that Patrick had teleported to the middle path. Turning back to the soul item interface, he traded his only two souls in for two scrolls of teleportation. He activated one with a thought and found himself standing next to the third crystal tower on the top path. James remarked that there was no physical sickness from teleportation, yet he did feel sick, mentally. The sudden change in location shocked all of his senses, causing him to feel what he could only describe as nausea of the brain.
Weird, he thought as he shook his head.
James heard a ruffle in the forest next to his tower, and he braced himself to receive another hook shot from Beholdar, but it never came. Instead, Torunn ran out as soon as a wave of undead minions crashed into the tower.
“Let our tower hit the minions. When they are close to death make sure to run in and deal the killing blow,” Torunn said, briefing James on his strategy.
James thought the idea was smart. They could grow stronger by collecting souls in the forest while the tower did all the work on the path. James watched as the minions attacked the tower and only brought it down by a small percentage. They could use this strategy for a while before the tower even got a dent in it.
“There are monsters in our forest. If you kill them, you can get souls as well. I got the timing down perfectly so by the time I kill a forest creature I can go meet the undead minions at our tower and take their souls too.”
“Good thinking, man,” James said in approval. “By the way, did you see Beholdar come into our forest yet?”
“No, I don’t think they will come in here. I have a feeling their mini-map is greyed out for our portion, just like their portion is greyed for us,” Torunn explained. “So, we are probably safe in there for now. Protect the tower and get souls. I want to go back and see what I can get in trade with that strange green thing.”
“Alright, man!” James replied with a wave. “I got this.”
When Torunn was out of sight, James let out a loud exclamation and wiped fake tears from his face. “My little bro is all grown up!”
James kept up with Torunn’s strategy long enough for it to become second nature. He slaughtered random forest beasts, defended the tower, and then did it all again - all while communicating with his party telepathically. Alex and Lilly had two enemy heroes show themselves, but luckily neither of them had a long range attack like Beholdar. One of the enemies, who they said was named Ogrim, wielded a giant mace. Lilly explained that if he got within close range, which he was apt to do, everyone should run because he had an ability where he drove his mace into the ground and stunned anyone within range for 5 seconds.
Patrick was doing the worst of the party, as his tower in the middle path was already below half health. He was able to get a lot of souls at the beginning of the battle but was quickly shut down. The undead hero in his path had a bow and an ability where she pulled out a wand and sent out a burst of some magic that did severe damage. Patrick had already died three times and had to give his enemy hero plenty of space. Unfortunately, this meant he couldn't get in close enough to the undead minions to deal a final blow and get souls. To his credit though, he used the time wisely and watched what the enemy did. He explained how she only attacked the minions when she knew she would get the last hit. In the meantime, she just sat there and watched the minions slowly slaughter each other. At one point Patrick attempted to copy her strategy. He waited far away until one of the undead minions was low on health and then he charged. Before he could do the final blow, an arrow embedded itself into the undead minion and killed it. For the next few minutes, Patrick raged over the party chat about how that bow-wielding witch, Morga, stole his kill and then zapped him in the butt with her magic.
“Come with me,” Torunn said as he shuffled past some trees.
James jumped in surprise. “Jesus, man, you can’t sneak up on me like that!”
“Sorry, I am naturally quiet,” Torunn said with a deadpan expression.
James changed his expression to match his game brother's and chastised himself from laughing at Patrick’s antics. “This is serious. We need to get out of here,” James told himself before asking his game brother where they were going.
“Into the undead forest,” Torunn replied.
James met his game brother’s eyes but didn’t need to question if he was serious or not. His game brother was always serious now.
“Why?” James asked.
“I bought a sentry from Noma,” the Martyr replied. “It should give us vision of the forest on our mini-map. That way we don’t get hooked by Beholdar again.”
James nodded and followed his game brother into the forest after briefing the party on the value of sentries. The rest of the party didn’t have problems with being hunted from the woods, but they would still be an invaluable item, strategy-wise. They placed the sentry and a shaded area of the undead forest on the minimap became visible to the entire party. James expected to hear words of approval from the party, but instead, he heard screams.
‘Beholdar is down here!’ Lilly screamed painfully loud into the party chat. ‘It’s got Alex!’
“Shit,” James whispered to himself before telling Torunn he was going to help. James activated his last teleport scroll and shook out his mental nausea at the bottom path’s tower. Ahead he could see Alex stuck in Beholdar’s gaze and Lilly frantically trying to heal him as the undead minions pounded away his health.
“I’m almost out of mana!” she cried.
James could see the hulking mass of Ogrim running toward Lilly. His tan skin was thick and scarred like a century old shark. James realized he was going to stun Lilly, causing Alex to lose his heals, and both of them would die. A third hero ran behind Ogrim that James couldn’t see, but he knew that if three of the undead heroes were allowed to push against the tower unobstructed, it would fall. James remembered that the top path only had one enemy hero instead of the two that the bottom one had, and that hero from the top path was now at the bottom lane. He called out to Torunn while wondering why the undead had one less hero than they did. If the enemy Lich somehow summoned heroes in response to James’s party's arrival, wouldn't he somehow know to summon five heroes to match their party? What was keeping him from summoning even more heroes to outnumber James's party?
‘Get down here, man! We need you! There are three enemy heroes in the bottom lane! Lilly, retreat to our tower! Alex is a goner!’ James barked.
Lilly hesitated but eventually stopped healing Alex before she could be stunned by Ogrim. Her retreat didn’t stop the mace-wielding giant’s charge, however. Luckily, Torunn solidified into existence just after Ogrim activated his Mace Slam ability and stunned Lilly and James under the tower. The tower flared to life and shot out bursts of blue energy at the brute. If the tower blasts hurt Ogrim, he didn’t show it. His bloodlust for Lilly was palpable and was all James could sense. James had been stunned while looking down and couldn’t move his head to see what was going on. When the stun ended, James was relieved to see that Torunn had been able to wrestle Ogrim to the ground. The giant was now fully aware of his quickly depleting health bar and struggled to get away from the tower, only to be dragged down again and again by Torunn.
‘I’m almost to your lane!’ Patrick cried out telepathically.
James didn’t think they needed the help, but as he lifted his blade to deal the final blow to Ogrim, he saw the brute reaching for his allies. Beholdar and the other hero, an apparition of a creature that James could now see was named Prince Kil’Lache, stood and watched Ogrim's demise. They were cautious about engaging in battle under the tower. Suddenly, Beholdar’s tentacles began to thrash out more frantically than usual, and one of them shot out in an attempt to latch onto the party. Luckily, the appendage missed everyone and returned to Beholdar’s body.
“What was that all about?” Lilly asked.
‘It was a show of force!’ Patrick exclaimed through party chat as he came into vision in the center area between the spirit tower and the undead tower. James figured he must have taken a shortcut directly from the tower at the middle path to the bottom path.
‘Just like this!’ Patrick telepathically screamed with even more ferocity as he activated his Charge ability. The two enemy heroes stuck between James and Patrick were bulldozed into the attack range of the spirit tower. Torunn didn’t miss a beat and immediately wrestled Prince Kil'Lache to the ground.
You have slain Ogrim - 5 souls awarded to the killer and 1 to each assisting party members.
A party member has slain Prince Kil'Lache - you have received one soul for assisting in the kill.
James wanted to congratulate the party on the effective cooperation and tell them they should focus on killing the heroes from now on, but everyone vanished to chase Beholdar into the forest. He had launched a tentacle into the woods and used it to pull his body from danger after Patrick pushed him into the tower. James joined his party on the chase. He entered the forest and could see it was similar to the forest separating the middle and the top lanes. Random alcoves hid monster camps and paths winded throughout. He caught a glimpse of Lilly’s yellow dress leaving the forest. When he followed, James saw that the party had splashed through a shallow river and entered the undead forest. He checked his minimap and saw that the river flowed from the top left corner of the map to the bottom right and separated the spirit forest from the undead one. The river itself was small, barely enough to get your feet wet, but James could tell it served as a barrier between the spirit vessel and the Lich's zones of control.
“Wait! Let him go! It’s not worth it!”