Chris ran up to the tower, there were no windows at the lower level, but there was a door at its base.
He pressed his ear to the door, and immediately heard multiple conversations in a language he didn’t understand. There were definitely more than three demons in there. Entering through the front door would be a death sentence.
He edged around the tower, mace in hand. He peered around the corner, then threw himself backward. There was a field of smooth stone beyond the tower, populated with hundreds of the bat demons.
Unlike the ones he’d seen in the forest, these ones were like those at the campfire—well armed, carrying wooden shields and black, stone broadswords. Some of them, the officers, also wore armor made of scales of that same dark, glistening stone.
Worst of all, there was a patrol of three demons approaching.
The river was loud, but it wasn’t loud enough to completely override the noise of a protracted battle.
He could take three demons, but they might flee to their fellow soldiers if they found themselves on the losing side of the fight. Chris simply wasn’t good enough to take on three demons all at once and also keep them from running. His stats were high, yes, but he lacked the prerequisite skill at arms.
The door wasn’t an option either. He’d be slaughtered the minute he waltzed in.
The river might be a decent place to hide. But it looked dangerously fast and it would only solve the immediate problem. It was an option, but maybe there were more.
He looked up the tower, seeing windows high above, the glass was dark and had a purple cast from the reflected light of the purple etched into the side of the tower. The runes extended from base to peak and Chris ran his fingers along them. They looked deep enough to serve as fingerholds, but his shoes were too thick to be much help in climbing. He cursed and pulled off his boots, tossing them into the river, where they were ripped away by the rapid current.
There wasn’t much time before the patrol arrived. He had to climb. Fast.
He stuffed his mace into his rope belt, then looked at his bone shield and cursed. He untied the belt, and threaded it through the straps and handle of the shield. All secure. But now he felt like an idiot for tossing his shoes when he could have simply tied them to his belt.
Chris jumped, higher than he thought possible. His fingers scrabbled for purchase. He found it at the height of his leap. Then gravity took hold and he was left hanging from the wall by his fingertips. He swore at the absent System under his breath. He so did not sign up for this shit.
His feet bicycled frantically against the wall. One finger slipped, then another. He could feel the sweat already seeping from his fingertips. That wasn’t good.
His bare toes suddenly stubbed themselves into a crevice created by one of the glowing symbols. Chris pushed upward, fighting back a wince, and strained for a better fingerhold. He found it. He scrambled upward, taking way too many liberties with his welfare—enough to give any health and safety officer a panic attack.
His palms were drenched with sweat now. He looked down. The demon patrol had turned the corner. Thankfully they weren’t looking up. Sweat beaded on his forehead and began to trickle down. Worse still, his fingerholds were becoming increasingly slippery—which only made him sweat more.
At this rate, he’d be like a raincloud by the time the demons were below him. There weren’t any clouds underground. If he dripped on them, they would notice him for sure.
He shifted his weight, then brushed his forehead with his left arm. Wait. The Slime could absorb liquids, right? He switched hands and began hoovering up the worst areas of sweat. Then he cleaned out the handholds so that he wasn’t clutching on to slick stone.
He looked down again. The patrol was beneath him. Then they passed him by without a glance and pushed the door open and entered the tower.
Chris breathed a sigh of relief, both at not being spotted, and at not going inside.
He continued climbing, settling into a rhythm, grateful that his Endurance would prevent him from getting tired so easily.
A window was nearby and he angled toward it. There was one problem. The runes didn’t fully extend to that area. There was no way to reach it. He clung to the tower, thinking. His fingers and toes were the only thing keeping him away from the hard ground. He could jump? No, too risky. The mind was willing, but right now the flesh felt weak, all too weak—especially his knees.
He shook his head, then stretched out to resume climbing. He stopped mid-reach. There might be a way to do this.
His arm morphed into the Slime and began dissolving part of the wall—one of the parts without the symbols on it. The stone bubbled and stewed, disgorging foul, choking fumes. Chris held on though as the Slime carved out a wider and deeper handhold.
He fit his hand in and formed a fist, feeling an unfamiliar fatigue wash over him from having to dissolve the stone. He hadn’t had that problem with flesh, then again, the Slime ate flesh, not stone. No such thing as a free lunch, he supposed, unless you were eating dead people.
When he formed a fist, the shape of his hand changed to fit the grooves he had made in the stone. Then he activated Stone Form and tugged. His arm was held fast. There was no yield whatsoever.
Chris grinned, then looked down. No one below. He summoned his weapon. Using his jammed arm to brace, he quickly sliced some grooves over toward the window. The stone parted with a nasty grating sound, but no one from below came to look. It didn’t look like there was any movement by the window either. He deepened the grooves, then dismissed the weapon before his mana ran out.
Once his handholds had been created, he turned his right arm back to flesh, skin, and bone, then shimmied over to the window. He looked inside. The room was mostly dark, except for a few orbs made of the same golden stone he’d seen lining the walls of the tunnel. The room had a bed inside, with a low table and nothing else but a few books lying around. At the far end of the room sat a squat door with a bolted lock set just below the handle.
With one hand, Chris pulled out his mace and pressed it against his body. He shimmied closer to the window, leaned away so that his body was perpendicular to the wall, then he rotated his body back inward. The mace hit the window first, punching a hole in it and spreading a rippling shatter pattern throughout. His body followed, pushing most of the loosened glass inside.
The shards tinkled against the floor of the room, but no one was inside to hear. With his mace hand, he shoved more of the glass inside, not wanting any to fall and alert the demons to his presence when another patrol came around. He brushed the remaining fragments from his front, then cleared some more glass at the edges of the window. He crawled inside, dropping his mace and grabbing his bone shield to prevent it from dislodging stray shards. He was in.
He cleared the rest of the window from the inside and brushed the broken glass into the corner. He moved to the door and turned the handle. He tested the door, it wasn’t locked. He opened it, poking his head outside, and saw a large room filled with mostly empty bunks stacked on top of one another. A few demons were snoring on top, but none of them noticed him. At the center was an exposed staircase that circled upward to the next floor.
Seeing all he needed to see, Chris gently closed the door and eased the bolt home. He was probably in some officer’s quarters, and this room, maybe the entire floor of the tower, was a barracks.
He walked back and collapsed on the bed. The frame let out a disgruntled creak beneath him, and the mattress felt like it was filled with straw, but it was good enough.
The climb, and especially dissolving the stone, had been exhausting. He needed a break.