Garth reached for the dependable acorns in his largest bandolier, ready to grow one around himself if he had to survive being swallowed by a giant worm. You’re such a pill, Garth Daniels.
It didn’t have any eyes, but it seemed like it was studying him, sizing up whether or not he’d be a decent meal. Garth could guarantee that he wasn’t. he might even be able to slip between the damn thing’s rock-breaking teeth without so much as a scratch.
“Okay, big ugly,” Garth said, his heart hammering in his chest, adrenaline making his knees feel weak. “What’s it gonna be?”
Contrary to his expectations, the worm gave a pulsing jerk, contorting until it was almost looking over its shoulder, then let out a whine that shook the walls before retreating back into the hole. The worm’s gaping maw retreated into the darkness of the hole until Garth couldn’t tell which was which. In a matter of seconds, it was gone.
Well, that’ll wake you up in the morning. Garth thought, pulling his shaking hand away from his bandolier. All around him, alarms were going off, people ringing bells, shouting and running toward the courtyard.
Were they thinking the worm might come back, like some sea creature that had built a lair there, every once in a while coming out to snatch a couple soldiers? Like a reverse ant-eater.
Wait, no, it’s the tunnel! Garth realized the significance of a tunnel bigger than a house leading downward in a gentle slope straight toward the dungeon in the mountain.
It’s a goddamn siege weapon! Garth pulled out his acorn and hastily began working a double fertilize on it. If he choked up the entrance with enough wood, they could hold it until someone who knew what the hell they were doing could pull his ass out of the fire.
Tap me on the shoulder if you see anything, Garth thought as began weaving the magic around the seed. Wilson was uncharacteristically focused, staring down the hole as Garth put together the spell.
Trigger mechanism…casing…weave the mana threads out…First layer… doesn’t need the recursive mana pools so it should be a bit faster. Tug the threads through…
Garth felt a tapping on his shoulder and spared a fraction of a second to look up. Torchlight glowed from deep inside the tunnel. Someone was coming.
Garth looked back down at the acorn in his hand and worked harder, even as the defenders of the castle formed a wall of flesh and steel around the entrance. The quadruple line of people that didn’t make the cut for active duty – including Garth – didn’t exactly fill him with security.
Garth felt like he was knitting to save his life. Second layer, create the spell, add the recursive mana pools… This was where the strain started, funneling a huge quantity of mana from the environment… Garth blinked, and without missing a beat, shook a single Mythic core out of his Status Band, dropping it into the hard-packed earth at his feet.
He couldn’t cast while touching one yet, but standing directly over a Mythic Core was no problem. The Core did most of the heavy lifting for him, concentrating the mana in the environment under his feet, allowing Garth to let it flow into the recursive mana pools rather than having to wrangle it.
The difference was like night and day.
Garth finished the spell as Wilson tapped him frantically, claws digging into his shoulder.
Garth glanced up in time to see a wave of hobgoblins flowing out of the tunnel, clashing with the soldiers at the front.
They should have packed tighter around the entrance, he thought as the soldiers began being pushed back. On the other hand, if they packed too tightly, or actually went in the tunnel, the enemy might have just sent the worm out again.
Gah, I’m overthinking this.
“Garth!” He glanced over his shoulder and spotted Sandi and Itet running from the mess hall, where Itet had been trying to recreate pizza.
His gaze settled on the unfairly strong succubus and Garth had an idea.
“Sandi! Get the barrels of lamp oil! As many as you can carry!” Sandi reversed course, her invisible talons kicking up a spray of dirt as she did an about-face. Benefits of being stockroom bitch the last few weeks: They knew exactly where the stuff was.
“Itet, I need your help!” Garth shouted, weaving a Force Armor spell around himself. At such a low mastery, it wasn’t going to stop a sword, but it might slow one down long enough for his bones to take care of the rest. Garth’s hairs rose on his neck at the idea. hopefully it wouldn’t come to that.
“What do you need!?” she demanded as she approached. Around them the roar of battle almost drowned out their words.
“Can you cut a path to the tunnel?” Garth asked, summoning a Nature Spirit.
A summoning spell basically involved poking a tiny hole in reality and dropping through bait that one particular kind of spirt found very tasty. Once they’d taken the bait, they were yanked over to this reality, given a physical form by the power of the caster and bound to their will. Yep, Summon spells were pretty much exactly like ice-fishing.
The Summon Nature Spirit spell came very easily to him, and Garth found that the bodiless entity had the easiest time taking the form of a young Treant. Garth had gotten as good as he had at the spell by shamelessly using the tree-man to haul things for him when he was on duty at the store-room while he studied. He could guide the nature spirit to take other shapes, but it felt wrong, like he was going against the grain, so to speak.
A hole opened in reality, and a woody tree-man about five feet tall climbed out.
“Watch my back!” Garth instructed the Treant, who watched him placidly. Spirits didn’t feel things the same way people did, so a huge battle where people were dying left and right didn’t phase it, but the connection between the two of them allowed it to understand the idiom, Garth was sure of that.
The sturdy little tree took up a position behind him.
“Think you can?” Garth asked Itet. She nodded, drawing two of her four swords.
“Follow closely, or you will be cut down.”
Keep your eyes open, Wilson. Wilson gave him a salute, nearly falling off his shoulder as the two of them lunged forward.
Itet ran forward, aiming for a temporary gap in the defender’s shield-wall. That’s not good, Garth thought as he plunged forward. The line was bulging outward, people were dying, and the four-person deep line was quickly becoming a two, or one person deep line. Any moment the pressure from the tunnels was going to overwhelm the defenders, exploding outward and taking the castle away from the people using it as a base for conquering the dungeon.
Whoever this Demon Lord was, he was a cunning bastard.
Garth could handle cunning bastards.
Itet held her secondary hands in front of her and unleashed twin lances of ice as she impacted the mass of yellow skinned, red-eyed hobgoblins. The Tzetin swam through the throng of monsters, plowing a line open with cannon-ball sized chunks of ice while fending off attacks with the blades in her main hands. Her large eyes gave her near three hundred and sixty degree vision, unerringly intercepting every strike.
Garth just tried to stay close behind her and keep his head down. Wilson tugged on his hair, and Garth swerved, narrowly avoiding the swing of a club made from the bone of some enormous beast. One of the Hobgoblins they passed tried to spin and stab Garth in the kidneys, but the nature spirit punched it in the face.
Garth tripped over a fallen corpse, and for a timeless instant he knew he was going to die. He fell forward in what felt like slow motion, toppling toward a wide-eyed hobgoblin corpse. Adrenaline in full gear, Garth simply refused to let a fall slow him, pushing off the ground with every fiber of muscle he could summon, with every limb at his disposal, hand fisted around the acorn.
It resulted in an awkward hop forward, followed by some desperate scrambling as Garth tried to climb over dead hobgoblins on a battlefield littered with sharp pointy things, while at the same time ducking under the wild swings that were being directed his way as he tried to catch up with Itet.
Finally, she and Garth stood thirty feet outside the entrance to the tunnel swarming with the frothing, wild-eyed humanoids. Garth felt like he was about to cough out a lung. It had felt like minutes of running, but it had only been five or six seconds. A real battle practically sucks the life out of you.
He didn’t have time to overthink it. Garth jumped as high as he could and flung the acorn down the tunnel.
“Fire in the hole!” Garth couldn’t resist shouting. No one seemed to notice the tiny nut arcing high over the hobgoblin’s heads, taking advantage of the tunnel’s high ceiling.
Garth lunged forward and caught Itet’s shoulder, the bug warrior was still pressing forward, mincing the monsters as she ran.
“We’re done! Turn arou-“ Another earthquake shook the battlefield as a veritable forest exploded from the entrance, nearly overtaking the two of them. One oak had become hundreds, filling the tunnel in a matter of seconds and crushing dozens of enemies to death in the press of wood.
The hobgoblins were cut off.
They were momentarily stunned, looking back at the tunnel choked with green. Garth took the opportunity to spin Itet around and get her moving the other direction, back towards safety. Itet took it in stride, unleashing a dizzying flurry of ice bolts to clear the way back, running like she’d meant to go that way the entire time.
Itet bolted ahead, nearly leaving Garth in the dust. He wasn’t stupid enough to ask her to slow down, though.
A hobgoblin screeched and clawed its way through the press of bodies to block the path of Garth’s retreat. Garth’s summon tackled the thing around the waist, driving the hobgoblin to the ground. Garth ran over the two of them, his Force Armor barely deflecting the creature’s grasping claws away from his calves. The damn thing tried to hamstring him.
Garth left Woody behind, following Itet’s receding back. Woody probably wouldn’t hold it against him. Spirits couldn’t die on this plane and really didn’t care what you used them to do. The only problem was he was down a linebacker and getting slowly left behind.
Garth put his head down and put every ounce of effort into catching up while trying to weave a spell around himself. Garth’s attention turned inward as Wilson wordlessly took over steering them, ducking and weaving through the closing press of bodies.
Haste was basically compressing the mana in the atmosphere responsible for regulating time as thick as you could around yourself, which allowed you a higher ratio of time, and therefore a higher ratio of things you could do.
It sounded simple, but time specific mana was a bitch to see and even harder to grab hold of. The hands free variant of the haste spell Garth was casting was less efficient, but made a minor mental construct that looked for it, rather than use the caster’s concentration. Garth needed all of his concentration.
The spell locked into place a moment later, and everything seemed to slow down just a little bit, enough for Garth to catch a break. Garth wove around a thrashing hob, and a second later he ducked under the backswing of a rusty sword before hitting the human line, climbing over the shoulders of a hobgoblin to leap over the beleaguered soldiers, plowing face first into the ground and rolling to a stop.
Itet carving a hole out of the center of the hob’s formation shrunk their ranks and eased pressure on the humans, allowing them to fix their line and reverse the flow of the battle, and without reinforcements, the hobs were slowly being driven back.
Thank Beladia, Garth thought, pushing himself to his feet.
“Garth!” Sandi called, her Lure carrying two barrels of lamp oil while two more floated above, presumably on her shoulders. Garth’s side itched a bit.
“What do I do with these?”
“We’re gonna drop em down the tunnel…I got a great idea for what to do when they start trying to cut their way through.” It involves fire, of course. Garth turned to point at the tunnel, itching his side with his other hand.
He drew his hand away with a hiss as he nicked his finger on something. Garth brought his hand up to his face, and marveled at the amount of blood on it. He hadn’t nicked his finger that bad, had he?
The itching started to ache, and Garth got a really bad feeling. What did he nick himself on?
“Garth!” Sandi shouted, dropping the barrels. Sandi and Itet rushed over to him as he craned his neck to inspect the snapped off blade sticking out of his left side.
“Oh,” Garth heard himself say.