The grove was the centerpiece of our strategy here. Short, stout trees formed a medium circle around us. Right now the space was luxurious – well, as far as luxurious is when what you’re talking about is described as “miniature” – but as more Sentinels showed up – namely Hunting, namely Katastrofi – it’d get real cramped, real fast. At the same time, the smaller the perimeter, the less we needed to defend.
We had five trees and one massive carnivorous plant anchoring the grove, solid wood and greedy greenery forming the pillars. Grasping bushes and thorny vines would make it a struggle for any Formorian to reach us, while we could easily just stab them with a spear while they tried to get in.
The Formorian Soldiers were blessedly dumb. They had exactly one tactic – wave assaults – and their threat was in their sheer number and mass. There was a reason humanity had been able to hold the line for untold centuries, with the greatest threat being ourselves.
Dumb, and no real obvious skills to boot. There were no caster Soldiers, they only had a single class, unlike, say, goblins. There was a reason Night had been able to straight-up walk to their hives in the past, and attempt to kill the Queens. Staying in one place was almost easier than walking through the horde.
Nature had spent a good amount of time practicing this particular trick to boot. When Night had taken me and Toxic to the front lines, Nature had hitched a ride. I realized now that he’d been practicing just this among other things, how to make little sheltered groves inside the Formorian horde. It probably wasn’t for this exact scenario, but we were all adaptable.
It helped that Night could single-handedly keep the entire horde off of us during the night.
Sealing stood up, and the inscriptions that he’d been working into the ground flared up with pure light, then dimmed down, into a simple glow, casting the interior of the grove in a soft light.
“I’m no Bulwark, and my Inscriptions are mediocre.” Sealing said. “This should be enough to stop Spitters from ambushing us from below though.”
“Wow, that’s amazing!” I said, trying to put more happiness and amazement in my voice than what I actually felt. It could be amazing, but I was so ignorant on Inscriptions, I couldn’t be properly amazed.
I looked around, Night, Brawling, and Nature outside the bushes, Sealing, Demos, Destruction, and myself inside the vines.
“Where the hell is Magic!?” I cried out in frustration, seeing more bodies go flying as Brawling simply moved through them, outside the grove’s protections. “He’s supposed to hide us!”
Sealing gave me a look.
“If he’s not here by now, I’m assuming he’s dead.”
That sobered me up real fast.
This was going to get much harder.
The first night was the hardest. I spent most of the time fidgeting, throwing out ill-advised [Nova]s just to keep my mana from being full, while Night, Brawling, and Nature did their bloody work. Having full mana at this point was practically a sin.
We were assuming Magic was dead, and we were falling back on our plan D. Sealing was erecting complex barriers to funnel the Formorians into a single choke point, where any one of us could, in theory, hold them back.
The tricky part about the barriers wasn’t raising them. The tricky part was the “Formorian-be-gone” aspect, where they wouldn’t try to just bash the walls in directly. Sealing mentioned something about “reflecting the Formorians back on themselves”, or some other complex mirror nonsense.
I was pacing in circles, around and around the barrier protecting Destruction and Demos. I’d claim I was doing it so I could constantly see the battle, get a 360-degree view of what was going on. No. It was because staying here, being the support, was driving me insane. I felt like I should be there. I felt like I should be fighting directly.
I popped out a few times to tap everyone, making sure they were fully healed. A few scratches fixed, a nasty cut healed. Nothing major. At the same time, if we allowed injuries to pile up on themselves, we’d slowly get bled to death. That’s what I was for!
“Speed up, Sealing!” Night yelled. “Daybreak arrives!”
I started, seeing the now-ominous glow on the horizon. Surviving without Night, without the barriers, would be tricky, to say the least.
“I can’t do one hole! Three holes!” Sealing yelled.
As alike as all of us Sentinels were, we all had different curses at his pronouncement.
His barriers rose, leaving three equally spaced gaps around the circle. Two of the gaps were wide enough for two Formorians to get through at once – or three people shoulder-to-shoulder to block. The last was narrower, enough so that only one Formorian could squeeze through at a time.
“Dawn. Nature. Brawling.” Night ordered, pointing to each one of the entrances in turn.
Sealing sat down with an exhausted look on his face, safe inside the grove. Recovering his mana. I dunno what else all the stuff he was doing took, but he looked exhausted. I didn’t tend to get nearly so tired casting my stuff, but for all I knew he had to do some terribly complex thing to get his stuff working. Was probably some sort of power stunt or skills working in tandem, like my [Phases of the Moon] with my [Persistent Casting].
Naturally, I got the small hole, where I’d only need to contend with one Formorian at a time.
“Yell if you need healing!” I reminded everyone as I ran to my position, the bushes and vines parting unnaturally as I passed the barrier, spear out in front of me, ready.
With a blur of motion, Night moved into the grove. He took out two brightly glowing gems. As the light dimmed from one, a small earthen part-umbrella, part-mushroom structure rose up. Then the second gem dimmed, and what I recognized was Sealing’s barrier snapped up around it, leaving a small opening. Night slipped in through that, and used a sheet to cover the entrance to his miniature “hut”.
Well. That explained how he kept himself safe during the day. He probably had enough room in there to do a little bit of fighting, in case of emergencies. Then again, if Night was fighting inside his hut, we were all doomed.
I didn’t have too much time to think about it though, I was now in the thick of it.
The first Formorian soldier charged at me, an ant-like being taller than I was. Large clicking mandibles were on the front of its face, its main weapon. It charged at me, and I downed it almost instantly with my favorite trick – Radiance through the head.
I needed to burn through quite a bit more of its body before it actually stopped, but that just took more mana. It fell with a thud in front of me, entirely blocking the entrance.
I had maybe half a second of gloating that the entry was now fully blocked and safe before the body was picked up and flung back by another Formorian Soldier, while a third one proceeded to charge at me.
So I killed that one.
I kept an eye on my mana – it wasn’t dropping super fast, but it was being eaten up quite a bit faster than my regeneration could keep up with. As the sun finished rising and hit me, my [Sun-Kissed] kicked in. My mana dropped significantly less quickly once the first rays of light hit me, but the damage to my mana bar had been done.
An hour and a half passed, my mana slowly but steadily draining down. At about 30% left, I felt the need to change my technique. At this rate, I wasn’t going to make it to lunch, let alone nightfall. It was fortunate that the Formorians were morons, and I just needed to stick with the same formula. Again. And. Again.
I figured it was time to mix it up a bit, and try to kill a Formorian with my weapons.
I killed one, then I killed two more behind it for good measure once the body got cleared, just to give myself a little bit of extra time to set myself up. I braced myself the way I’d been taught by Artemis, so very long ago. Kneeling on one knee. Shield planted in the ground in front of me. Spear up and out, braced against the ground behind me. Eyes peeking over the top of the shield – barely.
The next Formorian charged at me, like they usually do, mandibles opening and closing, promising a swift end if I found myself inside of them.
Probably significantly less swift for me than someone else.
It charged, I braced, and it hit me like a truck, knocking me flat on my back, tumbling through the dirt and getting unceremoniously stopped by the tree trunk. I groaned, looked up, and realized more Formorians were starting to come in through the passageway, removing the body of their fellow.
“Brawling!” I called out, starting to blast away – a [Nova] directly at the entrance blowing up all the Formorians.
“You’re fine!” He yelled, glancing at me, seeing a bunch of charred bodies and nothing else.
“Don’t do that!” Sealing yelled at me. “Do you have any idea how badly that destabilizes the barrier!?”
I flipped him the bird as I got back into position.
“I need some damn help! I don’t have infinite Arcanite anymore!” I yelled back, drilling and taking down another Formorian.
“Fine. Kill two I’ll kill one.” Sealing snapped at me.
I killed one.
“One!” I yelled
Killed a second one.
“Two!” I yelled back.
“Drop.” Sealing ordered, and I took a knee, to better spring back up once Sealing was done.
Another Formorian charged me, and I stared at it as it approached, feeling nervousness bubble up in my chest. Sentinels were like a family – a distant family. Sure, we hung out every day, chatted, and worked together. We almost never worked together though, never fighting as a unit. Two Sentinels sent on a mission was the top, the absolute cap that we’d ever seen, and half those missions involved me.
As a result, while we had some ideas of each other’s capabilities, while we rarely sparred with each other to keep ourselves in tip top fighting shape – or in my case, keep trying to bring me up to an acceptable level of close combat competency, “acceptable” here being “beat people with twice my stats and experience” – we didn’t practice working together, the same way Ranger squads practiced working together.
The first practice being in the heat of battle where humanity’s fate was in question was, putting it politely, a strategic mistake.
I only hoped that I wouldn’t end up in the [Historian]’s scroll as “Dawn died due to a strategic mistake. Motion for Sentinels to practice fighting together rejected, 3-5.”
And yet. We were not at the peak of humanity for no reason. It wasn’t like this was Sealing’s first rodeo. Given how old the dude looked, he must have decades of combat experience under his belt. We had all started out as Rangers, working together in teams of eight. We all knew how to work as a team. And a single Formorian? With basically no pressure on him?
A spear of Brilliance impaled the Formorian, going just as deep as I recognized as “lethal”. Obviously not Sealing’s first time against Formorians himself.
We kept going in this pattern, and only needing to kill two out of three was enough. My mana was back on the upswing.
Time passed in the most boring way, my mana fell, and then, blessedly, it was nighttime.
Or rather – it was Night time.
Basically, the moment the shadows hit us, Night emerged from his little hut.
“Mine.” He called out, a single word, and we all retreated back into the grove. Sweat was pouring off of Brawling and Nature, and my stomach was growling. I hadn’t eaten since before we jumped off the ship – a mistake on my part, not eating last night, but I’d been so worried.
I took a look around. Night was easily, single-handedly, holding all three entrances alone.
“You good Night?” I asked him.
“Rest, Dawn.” Was all he said.
I stayed standing, struggling with my own emotions. I should be there. I should be helping. I should-
Brawling gently, with a force I couldn’t resist anymore than I could resist a mountain being pressed on me, pulled me down to the ground, in a sitting position.
“Eat.” Nature said, shoving a ration bar in my hands. “Maging is hungry work.”
My stomach growled in rebellion, but he was right. First things first though. I leaned over, making sure to touch everyone, blasting them with some healing. I gave Brawling a Look.
“You obviously can cover your entrance and do more. See. Me. When. You. Get. Injured.” I said, smacking my fist into my hand on every word.
“But-“ Brawling started to say. I felt comfortable cutting him off. I was the healer.
“No buts! I will walk over to make sure you get healed next time.” I threatened him. “Remember Pompius?”
He looked suitably chastised, and figuring that my work here was done, it was time to look after myself.
I chowed down voraciously.
Brawling brought a sad looking water skin up to his mouth, tilted it all the way back, and cursed. He turned it around in his hands, and showed up a nasty gash in it.
“Blasted spikes got it on the way down.” He complained, throwing it across the grove.
“Shame.” Sealing said. “What went wrong, what can we do better?” He asked.
“I’m the weak point.” I promptly pointed out. “I’m not a physical Classer, I can’t hold my entrance the entire day.”
“You came damn close though!” Brawling said, happily patting me on the back with spine-shattering strength.
“Yes, but ‘close’ will leave us all dead.” I pointed out unhappily, wordlessly handing my own waterskin to Brawling, who proceeded to drain the whole thing. Fuck! I should’ve topped myself up first.
“Ideally, Brawling doesn’t need to cover two entrances.” I said. “Although, maybe it would work?” I said, tilting my head at Brawling.
“It does… and I can do it…” Brawling said, thinking about it. “But it has us skirting on the edge of disaster.”
“I’m already the backup.” Sealing said.
“I think I can help with this.” Nature said after a few moments of silent eating, the only noise being Night dismembering a Formorian limb from limb. It sounded like someone breaking crab legs.
“Oh?” I asked, eager to hear more.
“Yeah. Let me grow some particularly resilient thorns. It won’t stop them, but it will slow them down, and it sounds like that’s all you need. Heck, it might even let you fight them without going heels over ass like earlier.”
I flushed and looked down, focusing on my ration bar. I hadn’t realized everyone had seen it.
Ooor, the crumbs of my ration bar. I grabbed my backpack, and started to dig through it to get out more.
“Pace yourself.” Destruction said, carefully saying each word, eyes still closed in concentration.
Aww fuck he was right. I was ravenous, I could eat a whole cow, but we only had so many rations. I was going to go to bed hungry, to better pace myself.
“Break out a [Water Conjuration] gem?” Sealing asked.
Nature’s fingers twitched as he performed some calculations.
“Yes. Plants are all new, they could use the water.”
My disappointment must’ve been clear on my face, as Brawling laughed and gave me another overly-enthusiastic “pat” on the back, air exploding out of my lungs.
My mana dropped. He’d somehow hurt me enough to trigger my healing.
“Easy!” I complained at him.
Brawling just laughed at me.
“We all ready for a [Water Conjuration]?” Nature asked.
I leaned over and grabbed Destruction’s waterskin. Priest Demos was still sealed away, deep in prayer. I nodded at him.
“What about him?” I asked.
Sealing made a sound like an aborted snort.
“He’s barely going to move, or do anything. His stats will keep him going, and he’s got three waterskins in there. He’ll be fine until this is over.”
The “one way or another” was left unsaid.
“Ready? Set? Go!” Nature said, water appearing from his hands like a hose.
I knew it had to be a Sapphire he had in his armor – probably his vambraces, if he had the same arrangement I had – but it was still cool to see. In order, we quickly put our waterskins up to the faucet, then stepped back to let someone else fill their skin up. After I’d filled my waterskin up, I drank deeply from it, until it was entirely empty, then stepped up again to refill the skin. I also made sure Destruction’s skin got a full refill, and handed it back to him.
It didn’t take too long for all of us to be sloshing, and Nature then turned and started to water his garden. The incongruous sight of a gardener tending to his garden in the middle of a warzone, in the middle of what might well be humanity’s last hurrah was, well…
Difficult to process.
We got our sleeping rolls out, nothing more than a thin blanket to put between us and the ground. My stomach was all butterflies.
I was really supposed to sleep? Here? Now? Hungry? While a war was raging on not five feet away from me?
“Pssst.” Brawling “whispered” at a volume that could deafen a child. “How long until you think we start eating Formorians?”
I made a gagging noise, and got a serious answer from Sealing.
“You’ll start eating them tomorrow, Nature two days from now, and Dawn and I will partake on the third day.”
I looked around, and decided that a calculated risk was in order. I stripped out of my armor and gear, and maintained it, digging all of the Formorian goo out from the cracks, checking that my shield hadn’t been too badly compromised, and more.
I still couldn’t get the idea of eating Formorian out of my head though.
With that lovely image in mind, I hoped my nightmares would be more flavored towards unsavory cuisine, as opposed to my usual fare.