Ravvik cursed internally. Nothing was going right. He had watched this woman fight against the Stone Giant and she was barely able to dodge its attacks, but somehow when he was actually fighting against her, her power seemed to skyrocket, his attacks easily blocked as she seamlessly molded the stone around her for both offense and defense. Shiq was already dead, or at least out of the fight, but at least Derro should finish up his fight soon so they could double team the stone woman.
Focusing back on the battle, Ravvik swooped to the side, dodging shards of stone fired his way. He had underestimated his opponent. He thought his ability to fly would give him an unbeatable advantage versus someone who could only manipulate stone but he couldn’t have been more wrong. Watching her fight against the Stone Giant she had only used large pillars of stone, launching them up from the ground to impale the giant as it chased her around. Now she was more quickly launching attacks, sending volleys of slim spears and shards of stone that would shred through his defenses should he slack off for even a second.
The worst part was her battle sense. He had gotten very proficient in using his wind blades to catch his opponent off guard, curving them around to strike from every angle, the invisible attacks easily able to slip through his opponent guard. He got only one strike in at the beginning of the battle, just barely wounding her, but after that, nothing. She used large swathes of stone to form barriers at her back, preventing anything from slipping in unnoticed, while she overpowered any attacks he threw head on with attacks of her own.
He felt like a bird flying around while a hunter took potshots at him. None of his attacks were able to break her defenses; even his ultimate moves like summoning twisters were countered as she simply covered herself in stone to create an impenetrable defense.
This should have been an easy mission: it was obvious from the fresh meat that had been coming in recently that the portal to the Shard had opened up recently. He had been in this Shard for years; he couldn’t lose to some upstarts. But despite his unwillingness, that was exactly what was happening.
Checking on Derro’s progress, Ravvik almost fell out of the sky in shock. Derro was dead. But that was impossible; no one could beat Derro in a straight up one-on-one fight. Dodging another flying volley of shards, Ravvik knew he needed to retreat. Pure destructive power had never been his strong suit, which was partly why he had to join Zedna’s gang in the first place. He wasn’t able to fight the Stone Giants without help.
Before entering the Shard he had it all planned out: he would utilize his air elemental power to fly above the Stone Giants and other earth-attributed monsters and bombard them from above, safely farming Essence. Reality didn’t conform to his expectations. While the Stone Giants were mainly melee fighters, using their large frame to lash out at their foes, that wasn’t all they were capable of. When fighting against someone who they could punch, that’s what they would do, but when the Stone Giant he had fought realized it couldn’t reach him it had torn up large chunks from the ground and hurled them at him, the missiles flying at insane speeds thanks to the giant’s absurd strength.
He had to miserably retreat, eventually finding himself roped into Zedna’s gang for pure survival. It was a wretched existence, debasing himself just to survive. But survive he did. Many other fell when their group attacked people they shouldn’t have, but not him. Oh no, he was better than that. Or he used to be. Flying back towards the gang’s headquarters the wind whistling through his ears allowed him to picture himself cozied up in a tavern somewhere, listening to a musician play relaxing melody. If he still had his violin…
But he had left that life behind long ago. And as Ravvik flew back towards the base he shrugged off thoughts of the past, instead thinking about who in the gang would value the information of two juicy marks, and who would help him with his revenge.
Relief swept over Tormacc as he watched the leader retreat, and with that relief, he collapsed to the ground, no longer needing to put on a tough front. He knew he wouldn’t be any help to Athra, but the enemy didn’t need to know that, and his posturing seemed to have worked. It would only have taken one of the wind blades the leader had been shooting out to finish him off, which was another reason he had to act like he was still battle-ready. But now that the enemy retreated he could finally rest.
Athra surfed over to him, the rock beneath her feet speeding her along.
“Good, you are not dead little Tormacc. Only chipped.” She seemed satisfied with his current state. It would have been a shame to lose a companion so soon after finding one.
“I probably should be dead. I got lucky. He had some sort of mental attack skill, and had the battle dragged out any longer it would have successfully activated.”
“But you are not dead. Luck or skill, when rock rolls downhill, as long as you survive, both made you alive.”
Tormacc just stared at her, not expecting poetry from the stoic rock woman. It was hard to read her, but she seemed at little embarrassed under his gaze.
“All Rockspeakers must find own verse,” she said, as if in explanation. “What matters is you live.”
“I’m just worried about next time. I seem to have gotten too cocky. I was expecting to fight Stone Giants, which I’m prepared for, but fighting other people might be a bigger issue than I thought.”
“You would not be first one to make such a mistake,” Athra said, once more taking it upon herself to set up camp. “Right now, you rest. Then we leave for other hunting ground. Maybe we get lucky and no more run into bandits.”
“Are bandits common?”
After hearing his question, Athra paused, before a deep crackling sound echoed out from her chest. It took him a few second to realize it must be her equivalent to laughter.
“Little Tormacc, you forget, we all enemies here. The Tower is no safe place. Better question: who is not bandit?”
“My apologies, I phrased that badly. What I meant was, why did they attack us if they were just going to lose? They must have seen us fighting the Stone Giant. I don’t understand why they would recklessly attack like that.”
“You said before. Fighting monsters and people is different thing. They thought they could win. Or they were desperate. You are Humen, you know that squishy people need food, yes?”
Athra made two good points, both things he hadn’t really thought about before. It was obvious in hindsight that the abilities you would use to fight something like a Stone Giant and the abilities to fight a person were two very different skillsets. For example, the mage Athra had been fighting likely thought he would be able to win because he could fly. Tormacc hadn’t seen Athra use the skills she used to fight him like shooting shards of rock, so it’s possible if he had been in the man’s position he would have assumed the same thing, that because she was an earth mage she would have difficulty targeting him in the air.
The second point was the bigger one though. He was indeed a “squishy person”, and thinking about it more, he knew that if he ran out of food he would be willing to do just about anything to get more, even launching a suicidal attack with little chance of victory. While there were skills that could reduce his food consumption, he was still Humen, and as such, he would need a truly powerful ability to go without food indefinitely, and he didn’t even know if such a powerful ability even existed.
“If they were that desperate is there a chance the mage comes back with reinforcements?” Tormacc wondered.
“Is possible. That’s why we leave. Head far away.”
The Shard was massive, and there was no need to stay in one place. The only location that truly mattered was the exit portal, but currently neither of the two knew where it was, so all they could do was wander around until they found it. And if they didn’t have a way of searching for it, they would just have to wait. In most Shards the exit portal would move after a long amount of time in one place, and when it did, it would broadcast its new location, easily allowing people to find it in the month after it moved.
Lacking special means to search for it most people had to find it through word of mouth or wait until it moved. Unfortunately, the wait varied, as portals could change every year or stay in the same location for more than ten. Generally they moved within five years, so most people were able to leave a Shard if they so desired. But when the portal didn’t move for a long time or was in a hard to reach location people could easily be stuck in a Shard for twenty years or more.
Neither Tormacc nor Athra knew where the portal was, and because they lacked any special means to search for it they were forced to wait for it to change locations. This was a common situation, but it was made more dangerous because of the particular Shard they were on.
The Shard was dangerous, but it was no more dangerous than many other Shards, and certainly the monsters weren’t unusual for a tier three Shard. Like other Shards, there were dangerous areas, but as long as those were avoided survival shouldn’t be a huge worry; except, that is, for the climate. Most people who entered the Shard were aware that it lacked food and water and brought some of their own. But no matter how much they stocked up, they would run out eventually. It was in situations like that where bandits and brigands formed.
In normal Shards monsters usually provided the most danger, as ambushing others was never a sure thing, as you never knew who was hiding their true strength. Turning the tables on an ambush was common, so most avoided engaging in conflicts with others unless it was truly unavoidable. But when deciding between starving to death and attacking someone of unknown combat strength it was easy to see which one to choose.
That was what Tormacc realized after his battle. His thinking had been too shallow; while ambushing others was a rare occurrence in the normal course of events, when backed into a corner, even a normally timid animal will lash out. He would be a juicy target for anyone who was running out of food. As long as they could kill him and take his Spatial Bracelet they would secure vast quantities of food. In that sense, there wasn’t a need for someone to continually slaughter, only slaughter the right person, which in this case meant someone with food supplies.
In that sense Athra might have been better off alone, as anyone looking at her would rightly suspect that she didn’t need food and would therefore be a bad target to attack. He was more at risk. The portal to the Shard had just opened up, and based on his youthful appearances, it wasn’t too hard to guess he had only recently entered the Shard and had full supplies of both food and water.
Thinking up to that point, he paused, realizing something that he had glossed over before.
“Hey Athra,” he said. “You don’t need to eat food, right?”
“Is true. Great Rock provides energy for my people. No need for squishy people food.”
“Then where did the food you gave me before come from?”
“Little Tormacc, not everyone is small rock like you. I have no need for food, is true, but is not the same for others. On foodless Shard, food is money.”
“And besides,” she said with a stony grin, “what else would be used for peace offering?”
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Bio: Hello! I am an avid reader turned amateur author who hopes to one day write something worthy of professional publishing. Until then, I am posting my work on Royal Road for people to enjoy and so I can receive feedback, hopefully allowing me to improve my craft and write better stories.