The hydra bared its twelve sets of fangs and lumbered to its feet. All told, the creature was maybe twenty feet tall, head ten feet away from the flare burning against the ceiling of the domed room. It had a massive, barrel chested body that would make an elephant look dainty by comparison. How else do you support that much weight in the neck?
The blue-green scales shone in the light, watery smooth and bright. They were tightly compacted against the creature’s skin, leaving no room to shove a sword under. The ridged snout gave away to intelligent eyes seething with rage, like something out of a nightmare.
Battles are often decided in the first few seconds of the engagement. What you do in those first few seconds ripple through the rest of the conflict.
Garth bought time.
Garth’s skill with the spell gave him a 10 second realtime, 15 perceived advantage.
“Puut uup aa smookescreeen!” Grok shouted, slowly waving his hand as the Hydra began to advance. As Junten was sliding her wand out of its sheath, he turned to Garth.
“Slooow iit doown!” He said. Garth nodded and sent a gust of wind riddled with spores toward the creature bearing down on them. The spores exploded into tangling vines just as Junnten’s modified fireball detonated in the middle of the room, putting out a tremendous gout of smoke that filled the top twenty-five feet of the room with thick white vapor.
Garth took a second to admire the view as the flare above them struggled to send light through the smoke, making the Hydra’s shadow loom above them like a wiggling shadow-puppet as it tried to tear itself out of the tangling vines.
Then the fight started.
A massive snout plunged down through the smoke, orienting on Grok before lashing forward. The head was as big as the orc, but when it opened its mouth, it was about four feet taller than him, nothing but a maw of sharp teeth and a black opening to its gullet.
Grok rolled out of the way, but everyone was standing in a line behind him. Garth was able to jog out of the way with time to spare, and Sandi was quick, getting out of the way fast and using her Lure to reel Junten with her. The corio sisters were on the ball, moving out of the way, but Bulad was aiming at the maw with his bow drawn. The shinta’s teeth were gritted, waiting for the instant where he would get a shot at the creature’s eye.
As things stood, Bulad was going to get scooped up and swallowed without getting a chance to take the shot. Grok swung his greatsword down on the creature’s neck, veins standing out on his arms as he brought the glowing hot lump of steel into contact.
Despite Bulad’s strength of thirty-five measured in units of adult male orc, his cherry red greatsword bounced off the hydras’ thick scales with a spray of sparks.
With a surge of adrenaline, Garth put a slanted Force shield in front of the creature’s snout, Clenching his jaw as the sheer weight threatened to break through the spell. The modest amount of resistance guided the creature’s face just a little bit to the left.
It was a beyond common tactic to aim for the eyes.
Garth canceled the shield as Bulad released his arrow. The arrow shot forward and caught the hydra in the right eye.
The head reared back up into the smoke with a screech, teeth pulling back just shy of gutting the blue archer.
Garth glanced up into the smoke writhing with hydra shadows. Did they summon the smoke to make it harder for the Hydra to see them, or to make the sight of so many heads less demoralizing?
Twenty three eyes left. If they took them all out, that would make the fight a hell of a lot easier. Yeah right.
“Any brilliant Ideas?” Garth asked Wilson as he sent another wave of tangling vines up into the smoke and summoned Woody to lineback for Junten and Bulad. Grok commanded the corio sisters to take the high ground, and the two of them jumped onto the wall, transforming into human-sized spiders as they began to climb to the ceiling. Garth didn’t know they could do that.
“Haah, yoouu soound liiike aa chiipmuunk!”
Trust a familiar to be an idiot in the thick of things.
Now that the Corio sisters were up in the smoke, his options for poison were somewhat limited. Maybe he could make some poisoned arrows for Bulad…That was too many variables. The sheer mass of the creature meant any poison would have to be in insane concentrations to kill it, and Its regeneration and high Endurance might mean it wouldn’t even notice. And all that hinged on Bulad hitting it in the mouth or eyes.
There was always the old favorite of getting the monster to swallow an explosive.
A time honored Hollywood tradition.
Garth pulled out an acorn and began frantically using Design Plant.
Garth made it a nasty sonofabitch, with a paralytic, a sedative, nasty barbed grains, and a core of accelerant.
Garth packed it with a delayed plant growth and kept his mental thumb on the spoon.
The entire process took him ten seconds, perceived.
In that time, Grok and Kath had pulled out bottles of oil from their belts and removed the corks with their teeth with practiced efficiency, coating their blades in a handful of seconds. The oil spread by itself, solidifying into a salid crystalline coating around their swords that looked a bit like obsidian.
“Neext Oones Cooming, Saandii, prooteect the caasters!” Grok shouted as the cherry red took on a smoky look beneath the crystal around his sword. He pointed at Kath. “Uunder, too thee heaart!”
Kath nodded and the two of them dashed forward as one of the smoke-shadows resolved into another head. The two fighters slid under the head, aiming for the main body Leaving Garth and co. to fend for themselves.
Up above, Garth could hear the whizz of crossbow bolts and the annoyed screeching of the Hydra as the sisters distracted it, aiming for noses, gums and eyes. he couldn’t see them through the smoke, but the sound was reassuring.
The hydra’s head snapped forward, and Woody did his duty, throwing himself bodily against the approaching teeth, the twelve foot Treant grabbing the dripping fangs and wrenching them brutally to the side. The head followed the teeth, pulled aside at an awkward angle. One of the teeth popped out of its socket, causing a pained screech that reminded Garth of tortured steel.
As Woody held the head, Garth fed it the acorn, Shoving the seed as far down its gullet as he could manage. Once he let go, the Plant growth was on a ten second timer, realtime, to give it some time to make its way into the creature’s gut rather than detonate inside a neck.
“Too thee siides!” Garth heard Sandi shout. Four heads as big as people emerged from the smoke, using the first head’s point of view to orient themselves and strike straight down at them.
Sandi jumped over one head, dragging Junten out of the way of a second. The mage paid no attention to Sandi’s arms around her waist, dragging her through thin air. The crimson Benkei had a snarl on her face as she channeled a beam of white-hot fire into the snapping jaws that missed her by a few inches.
On Garth’s right, two more heads came down, angled at him and Bulad.
Woody let go of the head he had, allowing it to draw away, swallowing the blood oozing from its empty socket. The Nature Spirit charged the other two heads, leaping feet first like a Mexican luchador, snagging one head with his hands while drop-kicking the other.
Unfortunately, Woody’s kick pushed the fourth head on a collision course with Bulad who had dodged into the new trajectory.
The Hydra’s head smashed into the wall, sending Bulad tumbling away from the impact.
In a heartbeat, the ranger sat up and raised his bow, but it had been snapped in half. then he pulled a shortsword and tried to stand. He collapsed, his leg severed above the knee in the impact between fang and stone wall.
The kicked hydra head snarled and returned to Woody, catching the treant’s offending legs, not bothering with the blue archer.
Now pinned, the two heads began to worry at Woody’s body like a dog with a bone, lifting him up into the smoke.
Out of the corner of his eye, Garth saw Sandi plunge her claws down into the eyes of the head she straddled, while the burned head lay on the floor, a hole vaporized through the back of its skull. Looked like the ladies were doing a lot better than the men.
Garth sprinted to Bulad, and Used Heal with one hand, focusing on the ranger’s internal injuries, if he had any, while he pulled out his Better than Bandages ™ and applied a handful of pain-killer and coagulant to the stump.
“Gaah, hoow aare wee dooing?” Bulad grunted, trying to sit up.
Let’s see. One head down, three eyes destroyed, a couple with minor wounds.
Garth glanced over at Grok and Kath. The two orcs were using their enhanced blades to carve through the side of the Hydra to reach its heart. The red hot blades were barely slowing down the regeneration, as the wounds closed up almost as fast as they made them.
The hole in the head in front of them was slowly closing.
Woody’s upper torso hit the ground beside them, shaking the stone floor with its mass.
“Pretty good,” Garth said with a grin.
“Stay there for a minute.” Garth said, pushing Bulad against the edge of the room and raising a thick wall of stone around him. The stone was the same color as the rest of the room, and The Hydra shouldn’t spot it in the heat of battle with so many other distractions.
“Iii caan stiill Shoot, maake mee anoother boow!”
Shouldn’t have to, Garth thought, counting down the seconds as he watched Kath and Grok’s crystalline coating begin to chip against the monster’s tough hide.
“Back away!” Garth shouted, conveying his intent to the orcs with Clarion Call.
Grok and Kath glanced at him and retreated from their hacking, deciding to trust him.
Garth sprinted toward Sandi and Junten, making a short stone wall for Grok and Kath.
Two more heads emerged from the smoke, aiming for Sandi, who was sawing through the thrashing head’s eye-holes with her legs. Junten got another blast off and seared away half of one of their faces.
Garth created a massive ironwood tree at his feet and had it whip down on the other approaching head, bludgeoning it away from Sandi and co.
Garth flung his left hand out unconsciously as he grew the ironwood tree into a sheet interposed between them and the blast.
The room shook as a tree exploded from the large cut on the Hydra’s side, following the path of least resistance. Its canopy filled the ceiling of the room, casting more shadows through the smoke.
The hydra howled in pain, its heads turning toward the intruder in its body, gnawing on the rocket-fuel filled, poisonous tree. The Hydra didn’t seem to be having any trouble despite being completely impaled and most likely poisoned.
Garth spotted it’s ruptured flesh close around the tree, sealing it in, and ever so slightly, pushing it out.
In a couple minutes, it would shed the tree like a tooth.
Well, we’re not gonna let that happen.
“Throw the sword!” Garth shouted, pointing at the tree emerging from the monster’s thick hide.
Grok nodded and stood up from behind the low wall and threw his glowing greatsword like a fastball. The spinning blade impacted on the tree, burying itself halfway through the wood.
For the barest fraction of a second, nothing happened, then a blue gout of flame exploded from the wound in the tree, shooting the blade spinning above Grok’s head and embedding it in the stone wall.
The heat from the flame was so great that Garth could feel it from fifty feet away. The fire incinerated the wood, burning off the top half of the tree and leaving nothing but a jet of flame.
The torque from the accelerant flipped the confused Hydra onto it’s side, then flipped it over, then again, and again, picking up in speed.
It reminded Garth of a cruel child strapping a firework to a hapless mouse.
The Hydra began to spin, thrashing around the boss room at unbelievable speeds, turning into a meatgrinder as the energy from the Rocket-Tree dispersed. The blue flame began shooting out of other parts of the hydra’s body as they were wounded by the death-roll, then the hydra exploded, sending chunks of smoking Hydra flesh and poisonous wood everywhere.
When the hydra finally came to a stop, it was a twitching wreck with most of its ribs blown out the side of its body.
“Did anybody get hit by a splinter?” Garth asked, turning all the plant matter in the room to ash as a precaution.
Grok didn’t reply, grabbing Kath’s sword and wading into the Hydra’s chest cavity, not stopping until he’d removed the heart.
“I’m good.” Junten said.
“Fine.” Sandi said.
“Got some hydra in my hair,” the sisters said.
“Fine,” Kath said, diligently checking himself for wounds.
“Wounded?” Grok panted, glancing back at them.
“Bulad lost a leg,” Garth said, glancing at the ground. “Help me look for it.”
“It’s a little stiff.” Bulad said, stretching and unstretching his leg. “You sure it’s not gonna fall off again?”
“No,” Garth said. “But being able to move it at all is a pretty good sign.”
“huh.” The ranger grunted and continued stretching his reattached leg, leaning on his new bow, courtesy of Garth.
“So what’s the plan, boss?” he asked, addressing Grok. The team of veteran adventurers watched their leader expectantly.
Grok glanced at the Hydra corpse, his own scrapped sword, Bulad’s leg, and finally at Garth.
“If you can make me a sword, we’ll keep going.”
Garth rubbed his hands together. “On it.”