The key to winning any battle where you are outnumbered is to have a superior plan. I could use poisoned bolts, but I would only have enough time to launch one before the dogs were upon us. I couldn’t deploy my pikes, there wasn’t enough rock that I could dig through to hold them at the proper angle. My hammer was too slow to take out the dogs, as they would most likely split when they got near to circle me. My only other weapon was mana blades, so that would have to do.
The first portion of my plan would involve a trap, a part of my build that I had been neglecting for a while. I walked away from the crystals enough that I could dig just a bit. I made a rectangular pit just big enough to fit in my crossbow. Behind it, I had a thin shaft that I connected to the original pit. Threading some rope down the shaft, I brought it up and tied it to my crossbow, giving me a way to fire it remotely. Loading a poisoned bolt, I gently lowered it into the hole. The only thing sticking up was the tip of the bolt, and the trailing rope that went about 20 feet away, stopping next to a rather large stalagmite. I pulled out one of the pikes from my bag, and lopped off the back 2/3, giving me a makeshift spear, although it was a bit thick.
Preparations complete, I crept forward and looked at my foes. I took aim at the rock hound on the right, hoping that attacking it might not aggro the entire group. Backing up a few steps, I did my best to copy an Olympic javelin thrower in form. I must need practice, because I failed horribly. Instead of whistling through the air like an arrow fired from a powerful bow, my attempt had it flipping end over end. It landed three feet short of the target in a clatter, and all three hounds turned and stared at me.
“AAAHWWWWOOOOOOOOO!” The alpha gave a howl, and I couldn’t help but cringe as I was saddled with a fear debuff. For the next minute, my attacks would cause 10% less damage and come 10% slower. Turning, I ran back towards my trap. I made it to the end of the rope just as the first two beasts split the hidden crossbow between them, and the alpha was a step behind them. As its head came even with the bolt, I gave a tug on the rope. The crossbow shifted just a bit, enough that the bolt ended up in the stomach instead of the chest, but the poison still took effect and dropped the creature after a few steps. Meanwhile, I made two C shapes with my hands, and had a blade form on the inside, from the tip of my middle claw to tip of my thumb.
The dogs and I all crouched at the same time, and we all launched at each other. I aimed a little lower than they did, and tried to come up from under their jaws. I got a hold of each neck as their front paws battered my shoulders, and I managed to redirect their momentum enough that I was holding them on their back legs, despite the strain it was putting on my arms. I was shocked though, as the moment my mana blades hit their necks, they shattered into blue shards. Shit! Shit shit shit shit shit! This was not good, I was barely holding a few hundred pounds of pissed off dog in each hand at bay and I had no useable weapons. It was desperation time.
“[Skull crusher]” I cried as I slammed the dogs’ heads into each other, managing to daze them for a half second. I turned and bolted off to the side, rounding the giant stalagmite. I pulled my last pike and quickly lopped off a good chunk to give me a weapon. The first hound rounded the pillar and was surprised to see me waiting to counterattack. I was crouched down, and had the base of the pike in my palm. Thrusting forward, I took it in the center of the chest. It must have hit the heart, as I got a fatal blow from it. The second hound was on its heels, and got tangled up with the first when it fell down. I pulled my hammer just as it got back to its feet.
I backed up a bit, and we started circling each other. We would exchange feints, mine aiming at its snout as it would go for my legs. Knowing I had limited time before the alpha would regain its stamina, I charged in with a crazy idea. I used my hammer to force the dog to my left, and ran past it. I twirled my wrist to generate a bit of momentum and used another of my underutilized skills. “[Crushing Blow]” I cried as my hammer smashed into the back knee joint of the dog, crippling it. I kept moving though, as only taking out one leg on a dog wouldn’t completely hobble it. Turning, I saw its eyes glowing with hatred as it tried to keep weight off of its back leg. I had the momentum, but time was against me so I made the choice to sacrifice my left arm in my next attack. I charged straight in, holding my arm in front of me like a shield. The dog couldn’t leave such a target alone, and latched on, jaws crushing down hard enough that my hand opened when I lost control of my muscles. While the dog managed to land a crippling blow to my arm, I also hit it with another [Crushing blow] to its right front paw.
With both right legs disabled, it fell over to its side and ripped open my arm. I took a step back, and downed a recovery elixir, as my mana was gone and my health and stamina were both below 25%. It didn’t take me to full on anything, and I still had a bleeding effect from my arm, but it got me out of danger. I stepped up and proceeded to put the hound out of its misery with a few well-placed hammer blows to the head.
After dispatching the last hound, I ran back to where the alpha was and saw it feebly trying to get to its feet. While it could get its legs under it, they would merely shake before it would flop down on its belly again. I circled to its side, keeping well away from its jaws, and pulled a poisoned bolt from my pack. I leapt onto its back and plunged the bolt into its neck, rolling off as soon as I knew it had broken skin. With my stamina poison safely administered again, it was a simple matter to rain [Crushing Blow]s upon the beast’s head until it expired. I had to take a few stamina and mana potions in order to do it, but it was worth it. As the creature died, I flopped onto the ground and let the adrenaline drain from my system with heaving gasps. That was too damn close, but at least I managed another level. I still needed to wait for my health, mana, and stamina to refill as I found out monster level ups don’t provide you with the free refill that light races enjoyed. I was also going to have to send Emily a message to see what the Hell was up with my mana blades; I know they had formed properly before the dogs hit them.
Shit! I forgot the blood! Grabbing my kit, I crawled over to the fallen alpha and desperately searched for an artery. Rushing made my hands shaky, and I ended up blowing through the target artery and only got one vial worth of average grade blood. Shaking my head at the missed opportunity, I went ahead and looted the body.
Crystal Alpha Loot
Crystal claw x 2
Pristine crystal armor plate x2
Pristine crystal heart
Not bad, I can sell the claws and armor plates for a decent profit and the crystal heart will help with the quest from Thanatos. From the guards I managed to loot another armor piece and three pieces of meat. Looting bodies done, I headed over to where the alpha had claimed a lair. The first thing I tried doing was tapping the base of the crystals that had flanked him with my hammer. I ended up breaking the crystals, but they were large enough this time that I actually managed to collect a few pieces. The system identified them as slightly cloudy small rose crystal shards. I only had six of them between two pillars, but that should be enough to run a few experiments if Djarleen didn’t know what they did. I found nothing else of value in the nest, and that was starting to get annoying. What kind of boss type creature doesn’t drop any magical loot? On my way back to the city, I grabbed my crossbow and avoided as many battles as I could. I was sick of the dogs, and had more than enough loot from them to complete the quests that I had open.
As soon as I got within the city gates, my inbox pinged with a message. I opened it up to a message from the corporation.
Per your contract, we have been reviewing your gameplay. This letter is to address the issue of your mana blade ability. Currently, we believe it to be overpowered, and have thus reduced its effectiveness. It will no longer work on living creatures, except as a Coup de Grace strike after taking the opponent into the red portion of its health bar, or less than approximately 20% of its life. As a clarification on the word “living,” that is meant to encompass all forms of enemies that have not been destroyed. Thank you for your continued playing of Oblivion Online, and for your efforts to help us maintain game balance.
Oblivion Online team
Well, damnit there goes one of my trump cards. Figures, once someone gets an awesome ability it gets nerfed before I can use it too much. Game breaking mechanics my ass. Oh well, on to turn in some of my quests.
I avoided Shrik and the barracks when I got back, as I didn’t think he would be able to give me the rewards for the quests Khaliss had given me. Instead, I headed straight to the temple of Thanatos. I entered the quiet temple, and got startled once again as the High Priest snuck up on me.
“Back already adventurer?”
“Yes, I believe I have a heart suitable for our lord.”
“Oh really? Let’s come to the altar and see then, shall we?”
“Sure. By the way, I never got your name. I’m Angus.”
“Just call me the High Priest for the time being. Now, place the heart on the altar and step back.” I followed the priest’s directions, placing the crystal heart on the altar. As soon as I had taken my third step back, I felt a chilling wind sweep through the room. The purple flames of the eyes gained their greenish tinge, and started pulsing in time with my heartbeat. The heart on the altar started to shake, then slowly lifted into the air so that it was between the skeletons outstretched hands. The flames grew brighter, then a piece broke off from each eye, seeming to be more green flame than purple, and started orbiting the heart. Each pass brought them closer and closer, and the heart started spinning opposite to the flames rotation. With a blinding flash, the flames and heart collided, and the heart slowly lowered back onto the altar. As I approached, I was awed by the new beauty of the heart. It maintained its crystal facets, but deep inside you could see green flames dancing. As I touched it, a massive pulse of energy raced up my arm and seared into my chest.
“Gyaaaaah!” I cried in agony as I saw green flames burst from my own chest.
“Congratulations on starting your journey to become a neophyte of Death adventurer.” The priest said when the fire on my chest had died out. “Lord Thanatos has accepted your offering, and is pleased that you brought him a pristine heart as offering. The skeleton tattoo on your chest is your mark of initiation. Should you come across others of our order, you will be able to tell their rank based on the completeness of the tattoo.” Wondering what he was talking about, I looked down and saw the tattoo was the same as the skeleton reaper above the altar, or it would be once everything was added. The hands were empty and it had no cloak and no flames in its eyes. “Now that your offering has been blessed, we need to head to the crafting section and commission you a weapon. Follow silently.”
Nodding in acceptance, I let the priest guide me through the crowd towards the crafting section. Well, I say that but in reality the crowd left us a five foot margin and just got out of our way. I wasn’t surprised when we entered Dharkiss’ shop, I figured he was the best smith in the city. The poor apprentice looked like he was seconds from passing out when he saw who had walked into the shop.
“I… I… I’ll j j j just ga ga go get D Dharkiss.” He managed to stutter before fleeing as if his life depended on it.
Seconds later, Dharkiss himself came out from behind the curtain. “Welcome, High Priest of Thanatos. How may this one serve?”
The priest said nothing for a second, before indicating me with a jerk of his head. “This one wishes to join our order. He has an ingredient taken from a foe and blessed by our lord, he now needs to sacrifice of himself to elevate that of this world, then choose a weapon for you to forge.”
“Of course.” Dharkiss said with a slight bow of his head. He reached behind a counter and placed a large bowl on top. “Place your ingredients here, what metal are you buying Angus?”
Thinking about it, I had a feeling that this was going to be a major deal. One of those moments that can completely alter your gameplay for the rest of the character’s life. “How much for mithril?”
Dharkiss flinched. “Four platinum.”
Damn, I was going to be too short. Wincing, I asked, “I don’t have that much. I do have some crafting materials from rock hounds, would you be willing to take them as partial payment?”
“Possibly. Let’s see what you have.” Taking things out of my inventory, I placed 20 pieces of the armor plating on the counter, along with 7 teeth and 14 claws. As Dharkiss examined what I had offered, I figured I should go ahead and place the pieces from the crystal alpha as well. When I set them down, he merely raised an eyebrow and kept going over things. “You are close. All told, you have about 68 gold worth of items here.”
“Damn, I had just under three platinum before, I think this puts me at 50 gold shy of my goal.”
“Thanatos will cover the rest.” The priest unexpectedly said.
“Well, then we are set.” Dharkiss said as he placed two ingots of mithril in the bowl he had gotten out earlier. The priest added a few sheaves of dried herbs, then they both turned to look at me.
“Now, we need you to sacrifice of yourself.” The priest said, and placed a wicked looking Kris blade on the counter. “The strongest sacrifices are of blood and pain. You must stab yourself with this dagger, and let the blood into the bowl. If you can’t tell, there is an enchantment on the dagger. It will cause you growing pain, until you are in agony. As soon as you remove the knife from the wound, the bleeding will stop.”
Damn, this was going to suck. Well, if this was one of those test the resolve of the new initiate, I was going to do my best to go above and beyond. I took the knife in my right hand, and held my neck over the bowl as I felt for my pulse with my left. Finding it just below my jaw, I jabbed myself with the knife as both kobolds sucked in their breath. It started out as a slight stinging. Then progressed to an ache, as my health and mana bars started flashing in my vision as they steadily lowered. The ache started to burn, and burn, and BURN. As my health dropped below ¾, it started feeling like someone had placed salt underneath my skin. At half health, I was standing inside a campfire. At ¼ health, my resolve started to waver as it felt like I was standing inside a blast furnace. Ten percent health had people scrubbing my skin inside the furnace with wire brushes, and at five percent health I could take no more and let out a scream as I removed the dagger and slammed it on the counter. My body was shaking as I heaved in breath after breath, health bar flashing angrily at me. Looking into the shocked eyes of both kobolds and said, “It’s done.” The bowl was filled to the brim with dark blood, that was gradually getting darker as something happened with the herbs.
“Oh oh oh kaaaaay.” Dharkiss stammered as the reality of what I had just done sank in. “Weapon. We need a weapon design. Something that speaks to you, but also links you to Lord Thanatos.”
“I’ve been thinking on that. Right now my best weapon mastery is hammers. Can we give it a hammer on one side, and on the other something from the world of adventurers called a kama or hand scythe. It has a slight curve to it, and let’s make it about a foot long.”
“I can do that; it won’t be a problem.” Dharkiss said.
“Excellent, we will be by tomorrow for this project.” The priest said. “Angus, pay the smith, and place the heart on the counter as well. Farewell Dharkiss.” I dropped my money on the counter and headed outside with the priest. “Where are you staying?”
“Huh? Staying? Dragon’s Roost.”
“Good, it isn’t too far away. I’m impressed that you were willing to go that far to create your personal weapon, but now you need to rest. Come.” Grabbing my arm, he dragged me through the crowd as I constantly stumbled. Maybe I had lost a bit too much blood? Naw, it’s just a game.
Next thing I knew I was sitting at a table in a silent inn, everyone staring at me. “He’ll be fine, just a little over eager to serve our Lord. Miss, he needs a plate of meat. Whatever you have, and no ale. Let him drink water.”
“Coming right up.” A familiar voice said, but I just couldn’t place it. Then something wonderful was under my nose, and I couldn’t resist. I dug in with surprising voracity, forgoing silverware in favor of my claws. A big glass was sitting in front of my plate, and I downed most of it before coming back up for air. Of course this gluttonous eating did have its drawbacks, as I leaned back and let out a massive belch that went on for almost seven seconds. That expulsion of air seemed to bring me back to some of my senses, and I looked around to see all the patrons staring at me with their mouths hanging open. “Eh, sorry. Y’all should try this stuff, it’s delicious!” Turning back to my plate, I polished it off and downed the last of my water. I managed to stifle the next belch, although it did lead to a bit of a burning sensation in my chest. “High Priest, I want to thank you for getting me back here. If you don’t mind, I need to go to bed.”
“Until tomorrow then, Angus.” He said as he got up and walked out without any farewell gestures. I could feel the rapidly approaching food coma from eating so much, so I quickly headed up to my room and went to bed.
Bio: I'm a chemist that gave writing a try, and loved the results. Everything is mostly for fun right now, though I might try and get some things published eventually. Certain traits of my daughter have made it into bits of my stories, and she sometimes keeps me company when we both have trouble sleeping.