The dedication was asking for Three hours—but no problem. Rowan let himself dissociate from the situation to a degree to see through necessary calculating eyes. Either this was going to be a success or a spectacular failure, and back-up character slots were always ready for the case of failure. He reminded himself: these Elves and bees were just AI, nothing more than pieces of code in a computer.
The first hour passed with little gore and no bloodshed. An easy trickle of Enraged animals charged at the base. The defenders held without trouble even on empty stomachs. Bodies of hogs, rats, possums, birds, and a lone wolf now piled by the tree line toward the mountain pass.
The second hour was tougher; waves of Enraged pests and mutated insects rushed at the palisade. But still nothing which Rowan, standing with the cousins in the watch tower, could not handle with almost unlimited mana. Fire burned around the settlement and made for an effective buffer, grass and pine tree stumps incinerated into soot and white ash.
Defender’s advantage was making this almost too easy, but he wasn’t going to grow overconfident. A Town Hall could provide twenty defenders at most with unlimited mana, fifty for a keep. Neither number was substantial, in Rowan’s opinion, after witnessing Undead flood that Human town.
Letting the dark mana flow, Rowan ignited red-hot flames between his palms and held it for the cousins to harness with Archer’s Fire Arrow skill. They muttered single-word incantations, longbows held at the ready. Snatching portions of flame, orbs of leafy mana appeared at the tip of two nocked arrows,
Bursts of heat radiated from the tower in the wake of trailing smoke, bright under the sky infused with dark mana. Faint outlines of the twin moons hanged above the rising sun. Twin moons only a slice away from full.
Two minutes before the third hour, Gabrielle climbed up the ladder. Her Shroud was active, a shallow crate hoisted on her ghostly shoulder. The scent of mushroom-turnip stew mixed with scorched winds. "Breakfast’s ready!" she sang.
"About time," Skylar said ungratefully but not rudely.
"Mmmm, smells delicious!" Viola said, taking a lidded bowl. She drank greedily.
Rowan looked into her eyes and found a similar state of dissociation, but worry lingered. He assured, "We’ve got this." What else could he say?
"We’ve got this, he says." She smirked. "Why dontcha eat up first?" She took off the lid of a bowl. Cubed deer meat swam with chopped mushrooms, turnips, and plenty of herbs.
"These Elves mean that much to you?" Rowan lifted the bowl to his lips. He downed the hot soup in seven gulps, not even chewing the liquifying meat. Venison also had a characteristic taste, rich and earthy reminiscent to beef but sweeter, different to what he had once tried in the real world, but delicious nonetheless. And combined with Gabrielle’s sense of seasoning, this soup was the best he had in weeks. His stomach gurgled in delight, sloshing.
When the bowl was empty, the expected icon appeared on the buff bar.
Well Fed (412 Quality): +8 Flow, Health, and Resistance (6 hours remaining)
Finally, as the cousins picked up their bows, Gabrielle answered in a teasing impression of Rowan’s voice, "Yup, they have sentimental value."
He pinned her with a fierce look. "You know, I haven’t tied you up in this world yet, and your body is much more durable."
"Hehehe. I was wondering when ya’d notice."
His nose wrinkled. "Once things settle down, I’m building a special dungeon just for you."
"Kay, if ya say so." She abruptly slid down a pole next to the ladder.
His gaze tracked her toward the embrasures in the palisade. She began chatting with Zaine—likely a pep-talk. The lad was still missing his left arm after all. And for a one-handed sword-fighter, he made it through a dozen insect infestations at the mine without taking a single injury. A prodigy through and through. He was the most valuable piece here, more than the bees.
Rowan steeled his resolve and shot a jet of hellfire at a suicidal Enraged bird, then another and three more. Tufts of blackened ash dispersed into the wind as Skylar gestured for another flame. Rowan gladly obliged, his palms spaces inches apart.
Then through his fingers, through flaming trees, uphill coming from the mountain pass, he spotted a dozen to two Trolls marching. And they had classes. Knights in steel plowed through the corrupted foliage ahead of robed staff-wielders while Archers in leather lagged behind by a few paces. Between the two groups glided a hooded Troll in a bright ivory-silver robe. A sheathed sword was tied at its waist.
It couldn’t be.
The Trolls were savages. How could they have Myrmidons? The Sun Elves had a monopoly on the class; they were the only ones who had built a Myrmidon Temple.
Holding a flame for the cousins, Rowan watched with unblinking eyes, watched their unnaturally swift legs move as though a god had pressed fast-forward on the show. They had a Speed Aura.
A flock of Enraged birds flew over the trolls and swooped down on them in unison. Every Troll Archers nocked arrows. Two Mages pointed with their bent staves. Fire and weak mana-arrows shredded the flock. Burnt corpses drifted in the wind, falling onto their formation.
A particularly large bird corpse, on fire, fell toward the silver-robed Troll. In an instant, that sword was drawn—and ignited with fiery blue mana. A flourish of the blade erased the corpse form existence.
"Holy," Skylar breathed. "How do they have a Myrmidon?"
"My thoughts exactly." Rowan kept his face stoic, calculating. "Keep up the arrow fire."
"Should we start using the iron-heads?"
"Yeah, at the squishies." Rowan pumped extra mana into the flame between his fingers. The heat was calming.
"Not the Myrm?"
"It can easily dodge."
She hummed disagreement but didn’t voice any protest. "Okay, I trust you."
Flaming arrows, two by two every second, began arcing through the air at the Troll party. Each round detonated in a mini-fireball over their heads, but to little effect. The Mages simply countered with blasts of water. Steam and smoke clouded the corrupted forest.
Rowan cut mana to the flame. "Normal arrows."
"Obviously," Viola said.
Skylar saluted. "Yes, sir."
The Trolls kept marching, now within two hundred yards. One-ninety. One-eighty. Gods, that Speed Aura was something else. The field of burning stumps was nearing by the second.
Something in the smoke glinted, and faster than Rowan could duck, a glowing sonic arrow darted through the air.
Viola didn’t even scream as she fell backward, the arrow in her skull. Her body thumped onto the wood. The rainbow feathers on the shaft glinted twice. Her head exploded in a shower of gore. Blood, bone, and gooey flesh splattered Rowan’s face.
Sun Elf Slave Corpse, Archer (Level 15)
Parts Missing: Head
Spoils in 92 hours (chilled)
Forever dead. Not even a Soul Crystal could revive a headless corpse.
A hollow, numb feeling carved out Rowan’s innards. Viola was one of the better Elves with a cheerful personality rivaling that of Gabrielle’s… but less crazy. And she had been enthusiastic to join his ranks. And just like that, in a heartbeat, she wasn’t coming back.
Skylar’s face was white as the pieces of her skull, but he said, "Lord LeMort, there’s something—"
"Tell me when those Trolls are all dead," Rowan growled. "Get to the embrasures." A peek over the barriers revealed the Trolls were now at the forest’s edge, and the fire slowed them by not much at all. The two Mages were generating obscene volumes of water. Insane.
Sliding down the pole, Rowan caught a glimpse of their knights charging through the flames, their armor shining, their shields impervious against the weaker arrow-fire from classless Elves. Not good.
Rowan thumped onto the ground and was already sprinting toward the secret side gate. He kicked open the door, his heart a frantic drum, and raced down the palisade, fifteen yards disappearing under his sandals. He peeked around the corner.
There, by a dozen purposefully placed boulders, in the cover of ash and remaining patches of tall grass, jars of spider venom was ready, waiting, nicely heated if not already boiling. The Knights ran past without taking notice, their full-helm likely obscuring their view.
Rowan heard wood splinter and metal clash against metal. Trolls and Elves bellowed warcries. Well, Luthias and Trolls bellowed warcries. Faenin was also in there somewhere.
Hurry up. March faster, assholes.
The Myrmidon’s robes whipped in the icy wind blowing from the mountains. His hood flapped upward for a moment.
That was no Troll.
A slave brand glowed bright red on the forehead of a Sun Elf male.
? : Sun Elf Slave (Level 32)
Hesitation seized Rowan’s body like a vice grip as their Archers positioned among the jars. What to do? What to do? That one was valuable. Yet it had to be done. There was no other choice.
But a Myrmidon slave! Such a waste.
Rowan’s hand shook with indecision.
That Troll archer in fancier scaled black leather drew back his longbow decorated with gold trimmings. Leafy green mana flared up the limbs, the nocked arrow glowing white. That ridiculously overpowered sonic arrow released.
One of the slave threads disappeared from Rowan’s mind. Faenin’s.
Liluth’s wailing shriek of agony was like knives to the gut. And as both of the Troll Mages came into thirty and fifty yards of range, a thunderous lightning bolt from the closer ruby-tipped staff tore into the palisade. Her thread vanished.
Gritting teeth, Rowan poured every last percentage of mana into a normal fire blast. He compressed three full mana bars worth of magic into a spinning bomb of sun-hot plasma, and didn’t stop there. The palisade blackened and crumbled at the spiked tops, the soil beneath his feet baking, but his magic protected his flesh and his linen garb.
Someone yelled. Another thread disappeared. Luthias.
Rowan kept pouring magic into the bomb. Eddies of yellow and red swirled on the surface of the sphere. Tongues of flame tried to escape under the building pressure. It was ready.
The chatbox beeped.
Gabby LeMort (Party Chat): WHAT ARE YA WAITING FOR??? MY BABIES ARE DYING!!!
He jumped around the corner and threw with all his might, the Trolls reacting in slow motion, the Elf Myrmidon’s blade igniting. Too little too late.
The sphere flew. And the moment it left the controlling range of his palms, fire devoured the stump forest in a inferno worthy of a screenshot. He took one.
The cracks of exploding glass came from the rising flame mushroom followed by glorious sizzling chemistry. Their screams were pleasure incarnate to his ears.
Burning corpses littered the ground among dissolved blackened heaps. He took another screenshot. Click.
The last Toll Knight collapsed onto the ground, Gabrielle’s dagger through a gap in its armor under the arm. Her face was crazed, her eyes teary.
His resolve crumbled at the sight of her distress. He’d let her down. Four out of Six dead. His eyes moistened, his entire body numb. This was a total fucking disaster. Two were forever gone. All that work cajoling them down the drain.
Make that three gone forever. In a pool of blood, Luthias’ head was not attached to his body.
And by Liluth’s scorched body and Faenin’s headless corpse by the Workshop foundation, Skylar was slumped against the wall, an arrow in his arm. He said, "I was going to say Viola and I are actually adventurers. We got The Elf Slave legendary fate. She’s going to respawn at that Troll town in an hour and a bit. Her corpse is gone, if you don’t believe me. We’re from Europe."
The joints in Rowan’s jaw clicked, then a groan nearly sent him to his knees. It had been so obvious! No wonder they seemed to know nothing of the world. No wonder they had the same class, the same professions. No wonder Skylar knew what a bikini was!
Gabrielle smiled. She wiped away tears. "Dummy." She tittered a few breaths. "And I knew it."
Skylar huffed a breath. "The jig’s up."
Rowan sighed, head shaking. "You two goddamn trolls."
"I was wondering when you would figure out," Zaine said. He was dragging a corpse toward the Storeroom. The Myrmidon. Those blackened robes were singed at the hems but largely intact save for the left side. The acid had done him in.
Sun Elf Slave Corpse, Myrmidon (Level 32)
Parts Missing: Left Ribs, Left Lung
Spoils in 4 hours (burned)
Head intact—unlike Faenin’s.
Two slaves forever gone.
Rowan ripped his gaze away. "Alright, the dedication isn’t complete. Get everyone revived. Use the Soul Crystals. Do Liluth last."
"Kay!" Gabrielle chirped, her cheery personality somewhat dampened but not killed. She was going to bounce back. She always did, and already was. She glanced at him, "Five out of six alive isn’t bad, Row."
He did a double-take, his eyes snapping to Luthias’ corpse. "We can revive from just the head?"
"Yup. A guy on the forums revived someone from just the brain. Hehehe."
One gone forever. Feeling returned to Rowan’s fingers. He breathed deep, instantly regretting it. He swallowed splashes of vomit. The scent of burning Troll corpses was engraved into his mind for years to come.
Skylar laughed. "Where’s that thread?"
Gabrielle said over her shoulder, "Meteor Event, page two-thirty-three." She skipped toward the Storeroom.
Irritation pinched Rowan’s eye. "You had forum access the whole time and still acted dumb?!"
Those startled Elven eyes lazily closed. "Ahhh. It hurts. Lord LeMort, I’m bleeding out." He played dead. His slave thread was there alright. Asshole.