Day 10. Sky had not only brought us a bunch of supplies from the Quartermaster, but the Quartermaster, bless his shriveled little heart, had gotten all of our families to gather up and send us each a small pack. Hence the mango. I only found the letters in the morning, when taking an early-morning inventory of everything I’d been brought. Autumn had gotten the mango for me, along with a letter, written in neat, Very Careful words.
Be careful out there! They said you’re doing something dangerous, and you might be gone awhile. MAKE SURE THEY PAY YOU EXTRA. I’ll be really disappointed in you if you don’t get them to pay you more. Stay alive. I miss you. We get a lot less business when you’re not around, and frankly I want the extra cash.
I laughed at the little merchant’s sheer transparency. I had no doubt that she wanted me back for me. I also had no doubt that she was bemoaning the lost coin while I wasn’t around.
Mom and dad also sent me a letter, along with a few changes of clothes. I appreciated the gesture, but I was going to be quite literally living in my armor for the foreseeable future. Then again, the moment this was over I could change. So it was worth it in the end, I guess.
We’ve gotten told some of what’s going on. Be safe, oh beloved daughter of ours. We sent you a few things we think you’d need! We’ve also fixed your room back up. Can’t wait to see you back safe and sound!
Elainus and Julia.
They had taken up most of my bag with a pillow. Not exactly standard wilderness fare, but…
“Bugger off Sky.” I said, clutching my pillow to me. “You had every chance to get yourself a pillow on your supply run.”
“But Daaaaawn” Sky whined at me.
“But nothing. My pillow. Git. Shoo. Leave me alone.” I said, making a shooing motion.
“It’s already so cramped though! Come on, just half.” Sky pleaded with me.
I decided to take the risk, and sleep under the bushes that night. Sure, it was about as comfortable as “sleeping in a bush” could be, but Sky and Bulwark being added to the mix made the place even more cramped.
I mentally cursed to myself as I saw Sealing and Bulwark decide to sleep in Night’s hut. Damnit! That could’ve been me!
Almost literally though – I snoozed, I lost.
Bulwark had helped out a ton. He performed some large-scale Arcanite inscriptions, along with having classes based on warding and protection. Sealing’s power stunt was Bulwark’s walk in the park. He laid down a number of Inscriptions to boost our stats while we were on our ‘home turf’, increased stamina regeneration, made sleep better, made us appear even more hidden to the Formorian senses, and a dozen other minor quality of life improvements.
Day 11. Thick clouds covered the sky, starting a miserable downpour on us. The winter rains were arriving a bit early, and this far south, they were cold.
Thunder and lightning started to rumble in the clouds, as the deluge got everything soaked. We stuffed Night’s cabin full of all of our supplies – much to his grumping as we started chucking stuff at him while he slept – but he’d live. We weren’t going to start eating moldy food, or sleeping on wet blankets.
“Elaine! Quick, come here!” Hunting called to me urgently, and I ran over to him as fast as I could.
I put my hands on him, expecting some grievous injury to get close. Hunting just patting my hand with his left hand, his free hand a blur as he kept stabbing Formorians.
“Whoops! Nothing’s wrong. No. Look up! In the sky!” Hunting said, pointing up with his left hand.
I shielded my eyes and looked up into the pouring rain, flashes of lightning across the sky lightning it up.
“What am I looking for?” I asked, not seeing anything.
“There! Two thunderbirds!” Hunting said, pointing again with emphasis. “They’re traveling westward. Maybe when this is over, we should go take a look!”
I squinted, trying to see.
Maybe. A flash of too many wings, a crack of thunder, and I could vaguely see the outlines of two massive birds, each with far too many wings, dancing around each other, lightning playing around them.
Lightning making it really damn hard to see them.
“Yes. We should take a look.” I agreed with Hunting. “If we survive this.” I added dryly.
My humor in contrast with the pouring rain wasn’t lost on me.
After much muttering and consulting and discussion, Bulwark slowly erected a pavilion of sorts to keep the rain mostly off of half the grove. Katastrofi was too large to make a shelter over her as well as the rest of us. That seemed somewhat suspect to me – wasn’t it just the support pillars that needed to be enlarged? – but what did I know, I wasn’t an engineer. For all I knew, “Just make the supports bigger” was like someone saying “Why don’t you just make their bones bigger to make them taller?” It didn’t work that way.
Long story short, I darted around, making sure everyone was fully healed up, before settling back under the pavilion, enjoying the lack of rain. I cranked up [Warmth of the Sun] to the max, which promptly backfired on me as I got zero personal space as everyone not on “holding the gap” duty crowded around.
Such was the price of being a heater.
Day 12 saw the Formorian Queens show up on the horizon right as the sun was starting to set. We had a full rotation at this point, where Night no longer needed to single-handedly hold all three entrances at night.
Day 13 everything went to shit again. The Royal Guards were called that for a reason, and the few we’d seen here and there were clearly just advance scouts or something. We killed two in the early morning, then three more came for us.
We had about a minute to plan our defenses.
“Brawling! Take over the defenses! Everyone else! Here!” Hunting yelled out, and we dashed over in seconds. Hunting was already drawing little figures in the mud. Night even showed up, the heavy cloud cover hiding the sun. He normally didn’t even show up when there were clouds, but hey. The stakes were high.
“Three Royal Guards coming in fast. I don’t think we can kill them all easily, not before they overrun us. Sealing, Dawn. The two of you have one Royal Guard. Katastrofi and I have a second. Toxic, Nature, Bulwark, Sky – you’re on the third. Night, can you assist?”
Night spent less than half a second thinking.
“I will watch, and jump in if assistance is required. Otherwise-“
“Ok, great.” Hunting interrupted him. I appreciated it. Night tended to pontificate, and without Hunting interrupting him would take seven minutes to say “I’ll be on backup.”
“Shame we don’t have Ocean here, not with the rain. Dawn, blow your gems on this one. Everyone else. Try not to blow any gems. Once we’re done with ours, we’ll swing by to help. Questions?” Hunting asked.
“Sky, can you give us a float over?” I asked. I didn’t want to plow through the horde if I didn’t need to.
“Yeah, but there’s a narrow band between the Formorian Soldiers being unable to reach you, and the Shooters attacking you. You won’t have the same control I have to stay in the band, not with your flying skills.”
“Don’t risk it then.” Hunting said. “Move out.”
Toxic and Nature blazed a trail for Bulwark to follow, while Sky stayed in the narrow band he had deemed as ‘safe’, dipping down to pick up rocks and throwing them at Formorians. He was really out of his element here.
Hunting jumped on Katastrofi, who roared a challenge at one of the Royal Guards before charging out.
Sealing and I stayed within the defenses, waiting for the last one.
I will say, in all the fights I’d been in, in all the challenges I’d faced, with all the adversity I’d overcome – a monster the size of a three-story building charging at me never failed to strike fear deep into me. Like before, like always, I let the fear in, acknowledged it, and let it pass through.
[Center of the Galaxy] helped.
Sealing layered barriers up, bleeding momentum as the Royal Guard crushed through them all, finally judging that either enough speed had been lost – or more practically, that the Royal Guard was practically on top of us. His barrier thankfully held; the beast trapped within.
It was with a lot less stress that I stepped closer to the barrier, and unleashed all of my stored [Nova]s.
A brilliant eruption of heat and light exploded out from me, passing directly through Sealing’s barrier, exploding directly onto the Royal Guard. The heat and the light of the Radiance lit the place up like the sun was directly ahead, never mind the clouds.
I blinked as the fiery inferno calmed down. My eyes widened in realization.
“Sealing! No notification! It’s not dead!”
He cursed as the Royal Guard became visible again. I guess it was a tactical mistake on my part. The front where it chewed things up was a lot tougher than the rest of it, by sheer virtue of that’s where it usually got hit. Last time I’d hit it from above. However, it was moving slowly, unsteadily. Sealing made a snap judgement call.
“I can hold it until Hunting or someone else gets back. Might even be able to kill it. Keep a mana reserve for healing. See if anyone else needs help. Go!” He ordered.
I mean, he can tell me to go, but it’s not like I needed to actually go and do anything. I took a look at Hunting, and how he was doing.
I didn’t see Hunting, but I did see Katastrofi, his enormous – well, against the Royal Guards, small – Abelisaurus no longer charging at the Royal Guard, but locked in a deadly dance, as she dodged attacks and continued to roar challenges at the Royal Guard. It wasn’t going great for her – the Soldiers were working her over, as she was unable to defend herself on all sides, in spite of her tail sweeping away dozens of Formorians at a time – but I had full faith that Hunting was hard at work somewhere in the mess.
Even as I watched, Hunting leapt up, nimbly climbing the Royal Guard, expertly avoiding its mandibles. I mentally winced – with how corrosive the skin was, with their “anti-small stuff” defenses, Hunting had to be losing layers off his skin at a bare minimum. My bet was he’d have something close to bloody stumps when he got back.
He reached the top of the monster’s head, and seemed to just drop straight down. Through the beast.
Just – a nice, wide hole under him where there no longer was Royal Guard, just a void, rapidly sucking in air.
The Royal Guard collapsed, dead, but I didn’t see Hunting emerge.
Doing some quick math… yeah. He was probably stuck in there until he could either dig himself out, or climb back out. Neither option sounded pleasant.
“Sealing. Night. Might need to rescue Katastrofi.” I said. “Hunting took down the Royal Guard, but looks stuck as a result.”
Night was next to me – not quite in a flash. Moving at more normal speeds.
“Accursed clouds. Half the time I have my System-access. Half the time I do not. Dawn, if you would do the honors?” Night asked.
I wordlessly made a large umbrella out of [Veil]. Night grabbed me in one hand, grabbed the umbrella in the other, and was off like the world’s deadliest lady.
Making it to Katastrofi was hardly a challenge, although I wanted to keep an eye out on the third fight. Persuading Katastrofi to leave Hunting’s side?
“Here dino dino dino dino!” I said, much in the same tone that people called cats. “Bluebeard’s safe inside! You’re not safe. Let’s get you back to safety, then come back out when Bluebeard comes back out, ok?” I said, as Night kept the area around us safe.
Katastrofi leaned into me.
Oh my. What big teeth you have.
She sniffed. Once. Twice.
I was getting to her!
“Yeah, that’s right. Let’s keep you safe so Bluebeard doesn’t worry, ok?” I told her in my best soothing voice. I had no idea if she could understand me or not, and I briefly considered what the heck my life was coming to that I was trying to negotiate with a dinosaur in the middle of a monster ant horde while a vampire progenitor was keeping me safe, but hey! I gotta just roll with it. If I didn’t roll with it, I’d go nuts.
I was forced onto my knee and clamped my hands over my ears as Katastrofi objected to my proposal, roaring her defiance.
“Ok! OK! I get it!” I said, thinking fast.
“Night! What do we do!?” I asked.
“I will attempt to dig him out. Please secure the rear with Katastrofi.”
I wanted to groan. More defending myself in the middle of the horde. I wasn’t equipped for this.
The worst part was, Katastrofi had picked a position by the Royal Guard’s head to wait for Hunting. Reasonable, when you consider that’s where he went in. But instead of a half-circle to defend, we needed to defend almost an entire circle’s worth. Just me and Katastrofi.
Katastrofi was at least smart enough to see what we were doing, and helped us out by being the terror she was built to be.
Quite frankly, I was almost more of a hindrance on the ground than a help.
“Good dinosaur you know me please don’t eat me.” I said in a calm, soothing voice as I grabbed one of Katastrofi’s harnesses, and hauled myself up, onto her back. “I’m here to help, good dino.” I said, patting her neck.
“Right! Kill them all!” I proudly announced, having no illusions about how well my orders would be followed.
There was a world of difference between seeing Katastrofi in action, riding her, and then actually being on her when she was in action. My perception couldn’t keep up, and since I wasn’t in ‘going to be dismembered in the next second’ danger, [Bullet Time] didn’t activate.
[Center of the Galaxy] was the only thing keeping my lunch in, as she whirled and struck, slaughtering Formorians by the dozen. I stayed looking to one side, then the other, occasionally firing out a strong beam of Radiance when I saw a target of opportunity nearby. I was in no position to do fine beams, to make sure I exactly killed a Formorian and nothing else.
I didn’t dare use a [Nova]. For all I knew, Katastrofi was mid-swing, and I’d just friendly-fire her.
In a brief moment of pause, I saw the team that had gone after the 3rd Royal Guard limping back to the grove, injuries clear on a number of them. I hit my thigh in frustration. I wanted to be there! I needed to get to them, to heal them! Instead, I was stuck here, because freaking Hunting didn’t have a blasted escape plan properly worked out!
I have no idea how long Night and I stayed here, but the sun was setting, and the clouds were starting to part. Which meant Night might be in trouble when he got out of the blasted body. How long did it take to dig someone out of a body anyways?!
The Queens had been getting larger and larger, and as they got closer, dread was mounting within me. The crab-like beings were massive, on a scale I couldn’t properly comprehend. Through the thick mists surrounding them, I could see one massive crab-like leg rise, slowly move forward, then plant itself down again. Tentacles writhed from every surface, some dipping down to the ground and back up in a never-ending dance, feeding and laying more eggs.
I couldn’t see any way to even slow it down, let alone anything as crazy as kill it. If it stood still, and I had twenty years, I might be able to do some damage. Depending on how naturally tough it was. Probably tougher than I was thinking. I could maybe beat a tentacle. One of the smaller ones.
How, by all the gods and goddesses, were we supposed to kill one, let alone three!? The task seemed impossible to me. Generations of combat before my time attested to the fact that, yes, it seemed impossible.
And this was with them out of their lair to boot! How much more dangerous were they when they had the home field advantage, when they were on the defensive?
No wonder Night had never gotten anywhere. No wonder Toxic’s move was such a breakthrough.
He’d killed one of those!? How had he only gotten 80 levels?!
Still. Hunting and Night eventually exploded out of the Royal Guard, coated in goo, signature blue beard gone.
“Night. Dawn. Thank you.” He said, glancing around, immediately assessing the situation. “Katastrofi. Follow.” He said, and took off through the Formorian Soldiers. I had to grab on as Katastrofi loyally bounded after her companion, and Night followed at what could only be described as a “leisurely” pace, never mind the speed we were going at.
We arrived back at the grove, and I promptly hopped off to heal everyone. A variety of moderately bad injuries all around, with Hunting having gotten the worst of it. Not only was the outside of the Royal Guard corrosive, but everything on the inside was as well. It was like he’d gotten steadily rained on by deadly acid, eating away at him.
Night also needed a solid amount of healing, managing to once again drain all my mana out. I had saved him for last for that reason, his inhuman nature straining my skill.
I could totally see him touching me in my sleep in the middle of the night. In a non-creepy way, of course.
Healing didn’t bring back his magnificent blue beard, and he ran his hand over the shiny dome of his bald head.
“Well. Guess I’ve got a new look now.” He said with good humor.
“Ooooh, I can see myself in this!” Sky said, hovering over Hunting.
Hunting swatted at him. Sky dodged.
“Dawn. Toxic. Bulwark.” Hunting said. “Defensive duty for now. Brawling’s been on it long enough.”
I refrained from grumbling. It had been long enough since I last took a full shift, and not just relieving someone, that it was fair for me to do it.
I was woken up in the middle of the night by Night yelling.
“It is time! Everyone, to arms! Bags on! Destruction! It is now or never! We can not wait for Priest Demos any longer! Do it!”
Adrenaline was one hell of a wake-up drug. Seeing the Queen only a few miles away, seeing what looked to be a wall of Royal Guards charging towards us, and I was awake, alert, and in full fight-or-flight mode within seconds.
Everyone else was jumping to attention, with Sky shooting off into the air as fast as he could. I had no time to wonder where he was going, as everyone was desperately throwing their bags onto their back. I hurried to follow suit.
The moons were out again, full. Staring. Watching. Unnatural. Crimson light flooded the plain, basking everything in red.
Then Destruction spoke.
It was only a single word.
It spoke of Mother Earth, turning over in her sleep. The planet, taking a breath. The rock and mantle below, scratching an itch. Tectonic plates shifting and sliding, of great tension relieving itself with a sudden, quick snap. The forces that skills could bring, of the might any living being on this planet could wield. As he spoke, it sounded like rocks and stones tumbling over one another, gravelly voice exerting his will upon the world, reshaping it. Destruction Spoke, and the world responded.
I didn’t feel it at first. I didn’t see the impact, didn’t see the effect. I had a brief moment of wondering if it had been a dud, before a sudden large jolt occurred, the ground underneath me deciding that it was going to be somewhere else, and damn all the people and things above it. I went tumbling to the ground, head smashing on a tree.
“Careful Dawn!” Night reprimanded me.
I bit back a curse. No shit I was trying to be careful.
The ground buckled and heaved, Nature’s carefully-grown trees falling. Bulwark’s earthen barriers reinforced by Sealing’s skills also couldn’t survive the disruption, and they collapsed.
The Formorians weren’t having a great time of it either, and as I watched, a great rift split the ground, swallowing hundreds – thousands – of Formorians, as they tumbled into the abyss. Soldier, Shooter, Royal Guard – none of that mattered, the earth ate them all.
The rift continued to expand, snaking its way in the wild, unknowable method of an earthquake towards the Queens. Even as I watched, the crack opened up near enough to the Queen’s feet, and her great weight was too much for what remained of the cliff wall. Half the Queen fell into the chasm, only her great bulk reaching from side to side stopping her from falling all the way through.
But the earthquake wasn’t done yet.
With a snap that no force on the planet could survive, the chasm closed, crushing a good third of the Queen with it. The tentacles on that Queen went crazy, flailing all over, crushing and killing dozens of Royal Guards who were moving towards her, to better aid and assist the fallen behemoth.
The earthquake continued, bucking and heaving, us Sentinels thrown around like a leaf on the wind. Through it all Priest Demos remained knelt in prayer.
Until he wasn’t.
He got up, and spoke with a soft voice.
The world stood still for a moment.
“Ah. That did it. We have our miracle.”
Warm waves of divine power started to radiate out from Demos.
The sky was cloudless, and yet, the heavens split open, and a radiant glow brighter than the sun burst forth, lighting up the plains with golden light. The air shuddered as the God made his judgement and intervention known, all living beings within sight of the miracle cowering before the raw divine power on display.
Sentinels and Formorians included.
A pillar of divine flames reached down from the heavens, seeming to almost gently and tenderly wrap around one of the remaining Queens, then purging and scouring the Queen from existence. The blast of heat and power hit us with a roar, returning sound to the world. The force blasted around anything that had been in the camp and not nailed down.
I was a lightweight, and got included in the “not nailed down” portion, tumbling and cursing as I was blown back. Not terribly far, but enough for it to be a pain.
The heavenly flames were merely the announcement, the initial strike opening the skies. The inferno faded, leaving behind a charred husk of the Formorian Queen, and a notification that our party had slain it. I wasn’t going to argue with getting credit. Behind it, a legion of angels poured through the burning rift. Humanoid, with great white feathered wings and enormous burning swords, they descended down from the heavens above, down to our mortal plane, and fell upon the last monstrous Queen.
Scorching swords sliced through vicious tentacles, cauterizing purple flesh. Heavenly weapons sought out chinks and nooks and crannies, plunging deep into the Queen’s shell, and emerging with an explosion of steaming flesh and golden, holy flames.
The angels were clearly corporeal, less than fully divine. A tentacle wrapped around an angel, crushing him, throwing the body with broken wings plummeting to the ground. Another had her wings torn off, turning herself into a final strike with her sword as she plunged down.
She landed on the Queen, and kept furiously hacking away at tentacles until another one turned her into paste.
The Shooters noticed the new aerial threat, and turned their attention to the angels, hundreds, thousands of spikes firing up towards them. Most were deflected, or did nothing to the heavenly beings, but now and then one would fall, pierced by too many attacks to keep going.
The earthquake was keeping them in check though, side rifts opening up and consuming hundreds of Formorians, Shooters included.
Then the earth got back to heaving and bucking under my feet, and I was back to keeping myself alive.