I snapped upright as I heard someone moving, instinctively preparing an attack. I relaxed as I saw Brawling acting like a sneaky bull in a china shop, trying to get a bit of a fire going as the sky started to get lighter.
I eyed one of the trees, now somewhat de-branched. I shook my head. Those were part of our protection, and Brawling was cheerfully burning it for some morning heat and light?
I got up – I’d slept lightly in the first place, and it was bloody cold in the morning. I shook off a thin layer of dew, and huddled around the fire Brawling got started. All judgement aside, I was pretty thankful for the fire. I was unhappy about the damage, but hey. I wasn’t going to let that sour the results for me.
My stomach protested, and I grabbed my bag, hauling it around, and even less sneakily than Brawling, rifled through it until I found more rations.
I eyed them. I thought about how hungry I was. I thought about Sealing’s prediction.
Fuck it. I was going to eat Formorian today, just to show him up. The Hell Months hadn’t been too long ago, just what? Three years ago? They probably made us eat worse then. Compared to Sealing, who’d probably been on a steady diet of good food for decades.
Ok, that probably wasn’t fair to Sealing, who’d been a Ranger for far too long before being a Sentinel for far too long.
Still! I was hungry, and feeling somewhat adventurous! Bring on the Formorian legs! I’d like to place an order for one Formorian steak, done extra-extra-extra well!
Sealing and Nature eventually woke up, and we huddled around the fire, eating breakfast and getting some water inside of us. I was lucky – I could drink and fight at the same time. I didn’t need to physically do anything to cast, just will Radiance into being. Brawling and Nature? They needed to physically thrust a spear for most of their kills.
Nature could use his plant-magic to kill stuff, but that was tricky. Much easier to just use a spear.
The only sounds was the fire crackling, food being chewed, Formorian bodies breaking under Night’s tender ministrations, and the sound of Formorian Soldiers being thrown back by their fellows. It was eerie how quiet they were.
“Same 2-1 as yesterday?” I asked Sealing. He frowned a hair.
“Could we do 3-1?”
“Sure!” I said. My mana had held up well enough with him taking so many off my plate, I figured I’d return the favor. I was pretty sure I could manage 3-1, or even 4-1.
Brawling finished his business – thank all the gods and goddesses above that we had Nature making bushes and trees – grabbed his equipment, and walked to “his” entrance, cursing about the early dawn.
Right. Because the sun would be rising directly in his eyes.
“I’m in!” Brawling yelled at Night, getting into position.
The blur of motion that was Night stopped making rounds between all three entrances, and just blurred back and forth between two of them, now pausing for a moment here and there, letting us see him as he lazily waited for the next Formorian to attack.
“You probably want to beat Nature to your post.” Sealing whispered to me. I gave him a quizzical look, but he only smiled mysteriously at me.
Deciding that Sealing knew something I didn’t, I decided to take my position. I grabbed my spear, double-checked that my sword hadn’t, like, gotten grimed stuck inside the scabbard, picked up my dented shield, and walked to my spot.
I mean, I maintained my gear every evening, but double and triple-checking never hurt.
“Dawn. Excellent initiative.” Night complimented me, before zipping off to the last entrance.
One shot. Two shot. Three shot. Kneel, Brilliance-spear from Sealing, and one-two-three-four, the musical dance of death resumed.
“Dawn. Hold your own entrance. Sealing. Maintain the last.” Night said.
I heard an inventive curse from Nature – vines going there sounded deeply unpleasant. I was too busy looking and fighting, killing the endless horde, while I overheard the conversation behind me.
“Does it have to be me?” Nature – whined!? Dude barely spoke at all, and whining wasn’t what I expected from him.
“Yes.” Night said, and the pieces clicked.
We were Night’s dinner – or in this case, breakfast. Obviously it wasn’t going to be that bad, but from the sound of it, none too pleasant.
As I heard all manner of interesting noises behind me, I resolved to always, always be first back into the fray. I ate other creatures. Other creatures didn’t eat me.
The law of the jungle had never been so clearly on display here. Eat, or be eaten. Kill and eat the Formorians, or be killed and eaten by them.
Also, there was always a bigger fish – or in this case, vampire.
After the noises stopped, and Night seemingly – I couldn’t see behind me – went back to his hut, I called out.
“Nature! Tap my shoulder before you get back in the fight!” I called out. “You’ll feel better and fight better.”
Bless [Phases of the Moon] evolving at 250 to include blood loss.
Nature tapped my shoulder, getting healed up, then sprinkled some seeds in the entrance.
“Keep the passage clear for a minute.” He said, and I started blasting quite a bit further out. Thick, thorny, low to the ground vines erupted, crawling and growing along the ground.
“They won’t stop a Formorian, but they will slow them down. They’re also fairly resilient. They’ll survive being stepped on more than others.”
“Thanks!” I said, appreciating his help.
“Sealing! Let me try this solo, see if I can do it alone!” I called back.
“Understood. Let me know if you need help.” He responded.
And I could! Nature’s twisty vines slowed the Formorians down enough that my regeneration could just barely keep on top of it.
Day 2 had nothing special. Simply a repeat of day one, without needing to land first. Nature’s vines helped, and I was able to finally hold my entrance alone.
“Hey Dawn! Try to drag some of your Formorians in! Yours are the least mashed!” Brawling yelled as night was falling.
I’d shoot him a dirty glare if I could. I was not a physical Classer! I wasn’t fast enough, strong enough, to dart in, grab a body, and throw it back. Heck, I wasn’t entirely sure if I even could drag one of the bodies back in. Sure, I had solid strength, but Formorians were big, heavy suckers.
Nature, blessedly, knew the score, and threw back a few bodies.
“Idiot.” Was all he yelled at Brawling.
Night took over shortly after, and we retreated back into the grove. Nature took to butchering the carcasses with practiced efficiency.
“Dawn! Would you do the honors?” Sealing asked me, handing me a gooey slab of Formorian.
I eyed it doubtfully. “Green goo” described it well. I was seriously reconsidering my resolve to eat Formorians today.
Ah well. I’ll cook it first, see what happens after.
Using some careful Radiance control, I slowly cooked the meat, watching my mana drain away. Ironically, it took a lot more mana to cook meat than to kill a Formorian – killing just required a thin, narrow beam while cooking took a lot of energy over a large area.
Still. Formorian steaks were cooked in short order, and the smell was indescribably foul. I cut myself off a hunk, and suddenly I was the center of attention. Even Destruction took a moment to crack an eye open and look at me.
I eyed the somewhat more solid green goo. Welp. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. I took a bite, and retched.
Wet socks. That was the best way of describing it. Wet. Socks.
No wonder this wasn’t a staple food. No wonder we didn’t try to capture and eat as many bodies as possible to supplement army rations. There’d be a rebellion in three days, never mind that the frontlines rebelling would spell doom for all of humanity. I was seriously considering going hungry, but no.
I had a point to prove.
I gamely chewed on, not bothering to try hiding the revulsion on my face. I swallowed.
“That was terrible.” I spat out – quite literally, I was spitting out tiny pieces still stuck in my mouth.
Brawling threw up his hands and cheered, while Sealing and Nature looked sour. Bags of money traded hands.
“Seriously!?” I asked. “When did you get the time to gamble on this!?” It made no sense! We were all in close quarters! When had they managed to pull this off!?
Brawling laughed, and took a bite himself.
“Oh dear gods this is worse than I remember.” He said, twisting his face in a grimace.
The evening continued. A moment of peace and quiet, before the slaughter tomorrow.
Day 3 rolled around, and the sun was up high. I was blasting Formorians, bored out of my skull. There was only so much “the fate of humanity hangs in the balance” that could keep me interested, along with “These Soldiers will murder you dead if they get the chance” that kept me focused. My thoughts were wandering, and my mind wasn’t on-task at all, when I got a surprise that had me jump seven feet in the air.
Quite literally – I started climbing with [Talaria].
“Heya Elaine.” Arthur said, popping up next to me.
“ARTHUR!?” I yelled, before [Bullet Time] activated, warning me of incoming spine attacks. The Formorians didn’t tolerate fliers, or anything too high up, at all – that’s why nobody was on the walls. The Shooters couldn’t shoot stuff on the ground though – they were pure anti-air.
“What’s going on? How’ve you been? How did you get here?!” I asked him, landing again, continuing to shoot Formorians.
I took a moment to look at him, the fire-wait-wait-wait-fire pattern well-ingrained at this point. He looked like hell. Huge racoon eyes, a scraggy, untrimmed beard poorly hiding sunken cheeks, and other signs that he’d completely let himself go.
The smell was probably related to that, but after having bathed in Formorian guts then getting cooked in the sun for three days, I probably didn’t smell like peaches either. I wasn’t going to judge him on that.
The giant of a man licked his lips nervously.
“I-“ He started to say, before Night interrupted him.
“Toxic. Report.” The voice echoed from Night’s hut. I half-started. I didn’t think he was awake! Then again, his sleep needs were probably minimal. It kinda made sense that he stayed awake as emergency overwatch. Maybe?
Arthur gave me a look, then vanished, to report to Night. He spent the entire day inside the hut, and no matter how I strained my ears, I couldn’t hear anything that was going on.
He was fast asleep by the time the rest of us finished up for the day.
Day 4 came all too fast, and Arthur took over handling my section. He was fairly physically focused, poison not requiring huge amounts of stat investment. While using his bow and arrow might’ve been better, Arthur was still Arthur, a giant of a man with a wagonload of physical stats. He hadn’t come with his spear and shield, so I lent him mine, and he went to perform his bloody work.
That put me back in the grove with Sealing, and I ended up on “break” duty. Basically – I rotated through the different openings, single-handedly keeping them safe while Brawling, Nature, or Toxic took a fifteen minute or so break – basically as long as I could keep two Formorians constantly coming at me down before my mana started to get low, with enough padding in case something went wrong.
The jump in time I could last between one and two Formorians at a time was massive. Against one I could last much longer, because my regeneration was helping. Indeed, I could even keep it up all day, with Nature’s vines giving me a hand.
With two though, that math went out the window – all my regeneration was accounted for and then some, and my mana went down at a solid clip. It did regenerate nicely once I was back on overwatch duty. It also meant that I could regularly walk around, tapping everyone to make sure they were fully healed, that a little cut they were brushing off wouldn’t turn into something worse. Making sure that nobody died from a thousand cuts, that injuries didn’t slow anyone down.
Still, everyone appreciated the breaks.
I swear Arthur was still avoiding me, as he almost instantly “fell asleep” the moment we were done. I wasn’t going to force the issue.
Day 5 everything went to shit mid-afternoon.
The Formorian powers that be had noticed us. A Royal Guard came charging at us, basically an entire city block of chitin, flesh, and mandibles, trampling over dozens of smaller Soldiers in its effort to get to us. We’d be flattened in a heartbeat.
Sealing sprang into action with a curse.
I figured the walls he made before, with “Formorian-be-gone” basically on them, had to be some sort of power stunt, combining skills together in new and different ways, similar to how it took me time to make myself a “healing beacon”. I got to see his skills in action, in their element, as he stared down a charging Royal Guard, the monstrous creature towering over us, and seal it in shimmering light. He grunted as the Royal Guard hit the side of the barrier and broke it, but the Royal Guard had lost significant momentum breaking the cage. Sealing immediately reformed a new cage, a second barrier. The Royal Guard hit that one, and I could almost see the cage bending – but holding.
The monster started to thrash inside, as glowing runes lit up the inside. The Royal Guard’s attacks started to slow down.
“Dawn! I can’t hold it! Go!” Sealing yelled at me.
Time for a fun move!
Using [Talaria], I flew up, dodging some shots that Shooters fired at me, [Veil]ing others, and shooting down the rest with Radiance. I went above the seal, where the Shooters couldn’t see me anymore, and hovered right above the Royal Guard.
I could land on the barrier, but that’d just tax it more, and the normally unflappable Sealing was yelling at me to hurry it up.
Keeping in mind that Night mentioned struggling with these, I went a little nuts. My standard drill of Radiance through what I thought was the head, fully powered up unlike the weak beams I’d been using on the Soldiers – and I unleashed not only my own [Nova]s, but all of my stored ones.
The beauty of Radiance was I could straight-up bypass Brilliance barriers. Sure, by the same token, Mirror wrecked me hard, but right now, Sealing and I made a great one-two punch.
Sealing also coated the inside of his barrier with his other element – Mirror – which had the effect of amplifying and redirecting a good amount of the damage. Any stray Radiance just went right back to roasting the Royal Guard.
I had quite the collection – it was basically the only skill I kept inside my Sunstones.
The cube containing the Royal Guard lit up like a sun – but even brighter. I squinted, then conceded, turning my head away from the incandescent explosion below me, all while keeping up the beam roughly where I thought the Royal Guard’s head was.
I turned on System notifications just for Royal Guards, to see when I got it.
[*ding!* Your party has slain a [Formorian] (Erosion, lv 750)]
I had no time to admire myself as I was nearly entirely out of mana. I’d gotten to the point where I could fly forever, in the sunlight, without any gear on.
I was fully geared, and wasn’t quite able to keep myself up forever. Still, it only took me four mana per second, and I wasn’t that far from the grove. I made my way back in, landing with a lot more grace and elegance than I was feeling.
“Good work Dawn.” Sealing said.
“Nah, it was all you.” I modestly said. “Without you dramatically weakening it, I would’ve had no chance. Plus, those were all my [Nova]s.” I said, grimacing.
“Less than wise.” He pointed out, grabbing a ration bar and digging in. I felt I deserved one as well, and joined him.
“Yeah, sure, but what else was I going to do?” I asked, mostly rhetorically.
Sealing chewed in contemplative silence.
“I don’t know.” He finally admitted.
“I’m not a blasted combat Classer, fundamentally.” I pointed out. “Get Brawling to do it next time. Or Nature. I dunno.”
“Getting someone in with the Royal Guard is extraordinarily high-risk.” Sealing pointed out. “Not only do they need to be engaged before my barriers and weakening kick in, but then they need to engage them in hand-to-hand combat.”
He had a bunch of good points.
“I guess I’m going to start recharging my gems.” I said. “And pray no more Royal Guards attack.”
“Dawn. Sealing. Come closer. I dislike needing to yell.” Night called out to us.
We approached Night’s hut, then we went to either side of it, and stood, backs to the hut, keeping an eye out on Toxic, Brawling, and Nature, making sure they were ok, that they didn’t need help. Or rather, being in a position to help them if something happened.
“Sealing. Are you capable of only crippling a Royal Guard inside your barrier?” Night inquired.
He spent a few moments thinking about it.
“Kinda. See, the way it works…”
A long technical explanation followed, which apparently Night understood and it went way over my head. I’d love to know more, but this wasn’t exactly the time and place to get a comprehensive education on the matter.
Short version: Yes, he mostly could, but he lost a few tricks.
“Right. Dawn. Work on recharging your Sunstones. I shall wake you up during the night to better assist. When you are fully charged, you are on Royal Guard slaying duty. However, that shall not always be possible. When you are not ready, the three of us will work in concert if it is day time to slay one. Dawn, you will escort me under [Veil] to the Royal Guard. Sealing will seal myself and the beast together, using the methods he described. You shall keep the sun off of me with your [Veil of the Aurora] while I kill the monster.” Night decreed.
I felt the urge to salute overcome me, and I did. No reason not to. For all I knew Night could tell.
“Possible problem.” I said, thinking about it. “I’m not sure how to make the transition.”
“Explain yourself.” Night said.
“So. [Veil] is generally a single solid sheet that I can conjure up. It’s – ah I’ve got the answer. Night, my [Veil] is moveable by someone who’s not me. I can make it, and move with you while you move [Veil], and keep the sunlight off of yourself. You can then reposition it right before you get there, and I can fly on top of Sealing’s barrier to keep myself safe!” I proudly worked out.
“It is dangerous to take to the air with the Shooters around.” Night pointed out. “Additionally, a number of their attacks will land on Sealing’s barrier, stressing it even further.”
“It held up to my attacks.” I pointed out.
“Barely. Only due to how Radiance and Brilliance interact.” Night pointed out acridly. “Sealing’s barrier will also need to contain me.”
That was an excellent point. I shrugged, before remembering they couldn’t see me.
“Sure, but I’m at high-risk inside the middle of the damn horde. I’ll also be missing one of my key combat tricks – namely, my [Veil]. Sorry. Flying on top is my best – hence our best – chance. If it’s not possible for whatever reason, we’ll do something else and figure it out on the fly.”
“Fine. Do what you must.” Night coldly dismissed me.
I knew a dismissal when I heard it, but I was curious.
“Hey Night.” I asked.
“What?” He grouched back.
“I mean, I’m no slouch, but I was just able to kill a Royal Guard. I’m not exactly a combat-focused Classer like you are, but you mentioned struggling with them. How? Why weren’t you able to kill them like I did?” I asked, dead curious.
I got a long-suffering sigh back.
“It was outside its lair. It did not have a Queen in direct support. It did not have Spitters or Soldiers working with it. A small fortune of gemstones was used. You had Sealing’s full might – a specialist in handling large creatures exactly like said Royal Guard – giving his full support, in his area of expertise. I last tried some forty levels ago. Lastly, I did not use my final killing stroke when I last fought a Royal Guard. I did not want to let the Formorians know I had it, not when I hoped to use it on the Queens themselves.”
Ah. Right then. Time to stop annoying the ancient vampire, not when one of his life-long goals was in front of him – and when failing at his self-imposed lifetime mission was a possibility.
Plus – Night always seemed grouchy when the sun was out. A hidden aspect to his curse? I remember him being much more pleasant when we had our long evening discussions together in Ranger Academy.
It could also be stress, I suppose.
I slumped to the ground, keeping one eye on Brawling, and the other eye on Nature, kinda splitting my view. Sealing had Toxic’s back, and I started to recharge gemstones once I was over half my mana.
Depending on the size of the gemstone, I could recharge roughly five gemstones per hour. It would take me, what, a little less than two days of constantly recharging gemstones to get myself fully back up?
That assumed I did nothing else. Like heal Brawling. Or give Nature a break. Or…
Yeah. I had way too much to do, and not nearly enough mana.
I got to work.