The others had not missed the insane amount of power I had unleashed, especially Adra. But neither Lenore nor I were really interested in dealing with them, both of us were awestruck by the result of our experiment, Lenore instantly went back into her Hallow and we used the close connection to discuss the deeper ramifications of what we had seen.
“That was amazing! It was... as if the Eternal Ice is a solid form of Astral Power. Not just Astral Power used to bring ordinary matter into this world or to manipulate what was already here.” Lenore mentally crowed as soon as she was back in my mind.
“Crystallised. Or maybe frozen? But why was it stable until I mucked around with it, even pulling power in?” I started to voice my tumultuous thoughts. In a way, some things made more sense now. If we were right and Eternal Ice was a stable, physical expression of energy, the amount of power became unsurprising, assuming my understanding of physics was still true in Mundus. Part of me thought of the almost head-sized chunk of Eternal Ice we had wrestled from the second Elemental, trying to understand the scale of power there. Just now, I had used a pea-sized sliver, and it had taken a huge chunk of my own power to keep the resulting energy under control and directed. In essence, I was now holding the magical equivalent to a nuke, only without a method of remote detonating it.
Lenore’s mind went into a different direction, pondering if it might be possible to create something similar with other elements. A crystallised form of Darkness or, for her, a crystallized form of Death or Wind? I was not sure how that would even work but I doubted it would be fully analogous, after all, Ice was in its nature something that only existed as the crystallization of a liquid.
My musings were interrupted when Adra shook my shoulder.
“Are you alright?” She asked, looking very annoyed but also rather concerned.
“Hm? Oh, yes, thanks. Searching for understanding is not always an easy path, as you know.” I answered, a grin forming on my face as Lenore started to think of possible applications of the Eternal Ice and what it might mean if we managed to create some for ourselves. Even manipulating what we had into a new shape would be alright with me but I doubted I would try that for a while.
I picked myself up from the floor, exhaustion, both magical, mental and physical washing over me. I had not realised just how difficult it had been to channel so much power and use it to keep something under control. Normally, when I used Overflow it was for some brute force application or to flood an existing spell with power. But what I had just done was something entirely different. Walking back over to the remains of our fire, I made an effort to keep myself steady, hiding the exhaustion I was feeling. No need to clue Adra in on just how close I had come to making a probably lethal mistake. I noticed that Sigmir was already asleep and joined her, quickly falling asleep next to her.
When the next morning came, Rai carefully shook both Sigmir and me awake. Neither of us reacted well to being roused, both grumbling and groaning. Sigmir looked a little confused why I was in a state similar to her and I softly explained what I had done, making sure that only she was able to hear my explanation. The Eternal Ice was a valuable trump-card after all.
It took us some time to get ourselves ready, but before long we started our way towards the rest of the dungeon. There were no new enemies to fight, making me slightly sad, I would have loved to get my fingers on more of the small slivers of Eternal Ice contained within the Ice Sprites. But, alas, it was not to be. Once we reached the frozen barrier, I got one of the fangs out, pushing it into the barrier and causing it to dissolve.
Keeping our formation tight, we stepped forward onto a rocky platform overlooking a huge cavern. To the left and right, a ramp led downwards so we had a good look onto the creature that was dwelling here. Once more, my mind needed a second to make sense of what I was seeing. The thing down there was huge, even larger than the mature lamprey we had fought before. So huge that I strongly doubted it would even be able to move. It looked almost like some sort of clam, the armoured segments that protected the querders and the lamprey overgrown and overlapping, locking it in place. They even formed a crude mouth around the things thooty maw.
The floor around it looked strangely segmented and it took me a second to realise that I was looking at querders, some partially in their eggs, others larger as they slowly drifted from the grotesque thing in the back.
Finally, I shook off the disgust I was feeling and used Observe.
Agnatha - Level 51
My use of Observe caused it to notice us and with strange shriek the battle started. Below us, the Querder started squirming even more and I felt something in the air around us and suddenly, the barrier behind us reformed. During the formation, I was able to feel it for a moment, feel the link to the Agnatha below us. It had used Ice Magic to control part of the ice around us and I suddenly understood why I had been unable to manipulate it. It was stained with the things Astral Power, seeping into the Ice over a long time, changing it ever so slightly.
“Adra, Rai, take the right side, Ylva and I will defend the left side. Love, do you think you can make sure that big ugly down there does not attack us?” Sigmir decided on a tactic, we would have to take down the querders before we even thought about going down there. And the best spot to do so was right where we were, using the rocky high ground to our advantage.
Lenore lent me her sight once again and I realised that my job might be harder than expected. Big Ugly, as Sigmir had appropriately christened the boss, was using quite a lot of Astral Power, Lenore’s sight showing me a cloud of mist hanging around the boss. The mist seemed to be tainted somehow, not the pure elemental Astral Power that I used in my magic, there was something different mixed in, something that I didn’t quite understand.
As the querders squirmed up the ramps, forced into a choke-point by the natural environment - or rather, the dungeon design - the Big Ugly made its move. Tendrils formed in the cloud, lashing towards us, composed out of pure cold. I had a feeling that it was just a probing attack, not a serious strike, made to test our defenses and weaken us for the querders to feed on. Thanks to Lenore’s sight, I noticed a weakness in the attack: the tendrils themselves carried most of the power, with only a thin connection to the billowing mist around Big Ugly.
There was no time to compose my counter-magic with runes, so I struck back using a combination of Ice and Darkness magic, acting purely out of instinct. Lenore helped me guide the magic, her mind had closely joined with mine, thought flying back and forth in our communion, almost as if she was a third process in my mind.
The slender spears into which we had formed our counterstrike penetrated into the vulnerable segments of the tendrils and for just a split second, I was able to influence the thin tendril, my own magic more concentrated in the area than Big Ugly’s. There was a smile on my face when I severed the tendrils, letting the Astral Power the thing had used lose focus and purpose, causing it to dissipate into the area around us. The temperature in the cave dropped slightly but not in a dangerous way.
Round one of my magical duel with Big Ugly went to me.
While I had parried the magical attack, the others were busy keeping the querders back, Sigmir and Ylva having a much easier time with them. Ylva had quickly realised that the things were still developing and the armoured segments of their carapace were not really hard yet, letting her crunch through them with relative ease. I didn’t even want to know how those things tasted but she was going to town on them. Sigmir simply played steadying rock, letting them break against her shield.
On the other side, Rai was at the front, slicing and dicing the weaker querders while Adra struck with her spear from behind him, taking those out that were slightly more developed.
For now, neither side was in trouble, even if Rai and Adra were feeling some pressure.