Most nights I expected to be attacked in my sleep, and my dreams were a constant reminder of the threat I was under. I was trying to get better, to improve, to heal myself of the problem, and was getting less jumpy when woken up by surprise.
All that improvement went out the window - not that there was a window anymore - as I was woken to a world-splitting roar, and our lean-to exploded, wooden logs transforming into a hail of deadly shrapnel.
[Bullet Time] activated and adrenaline kicked me awake, making [Sunrise] redundant. I used it anyway.
[*Ding!* [Sunrise] leveled up! 45 -> 128]
Holy shit what?!
The levels were wildly distracting. I disabled System notifications. I had no time for them, especially since the huge level gain told me that whatever was going on was dangerous. More lethal than anything else I’d been near, by a wide margin.
I refocused on staying alive, thanking [Bullet Time] for having given me the extra thinking time.
The wooden splinters were already tearing through the dwarves, and I reflexively coated myself in [Mantle of the Stars], entirely out of position to aid them.
I activated all the Inscriptions in my armor. Speed, strength, toughness of my flesh, hardness of my armor. Perception and reflexes, Sentinel armor had almost everything. I had no idea what was going on, and I wasn’t holding back.
Seeing the barrage incoming, I started to dive behind my backpack, with the tower shield I’d been lugging around the entire time on its side. I almost never used it, and had mentally cursed it a dozen times. Now I was grateful for something to try and hide behind.
Basic math was my enemy. The splinter assault was moving at incredibly high speeds, whatever force that had destroyed the lean-to launching the projectiles at high velocity. I had jumped up when I heard the explosion, and I was still on my way up, trying to cross my arms over my face, when the splinters crashed into my barrier.
[Mantle] held for a moment, stopping a few of the larger wood shards, and a dozen of the smaller ones. Then it shattered and the rest of the splinters slammed into me.
Most of the shards that hit my armor just bounced right off. A few left minor dents, but the superiority, wisdom, and paranoia of always wearing armor - even in my sleep - paid off massively.
My leather skort got pin cushioned, but it held, keeping my thighs safe. Likewise, shin guards and vambraces protected my extremities.
No, where I was in trouble were my hands, elbows, knees, and worst of all, my head. My arms weren’t going to make it in time to guard my face, and desperate times called for desperate measures.
I launched a [Nova] point-blank from my mouth, trusting that it’d hit some splinter and detonate in my face. I’d much prefer large-scale burns over my body and face to a splinter through my head.
I knew I could heal full body burns.
In theory I could recover from a splinter through my head. I wasn’t eager to test that particular theory. Being wrong would be fatal.
[Nova] did indeed blow up in my face, washing me with Radiance. [Radiance Resistance] helped me, but not my clothes, gear, or bag.
My angel feathers bit the dust, only the ones in my pack safe.
I healed just about as fast as I took damage, and even before my vision was restored, I blindly reached out with [Wheel of Sun and Moon], trying to slap healing on the dwarves. They were busy picking themselves up off the ground, having been rudely woken up.
Death by wooden splinters was, generally, a relatively slow, painful way to go. Worse-case was a splinter through the eye or heart, but death by a thousand cuts was likelier. Nobody was dying on my watch though, and I’d like to think I was faster than Ned.
Not that he’d ever admit it.
I took a stance, ready to run, fight, heal, blast, whatever had caused the problem.
Also, where was Drin? He was supposed to be on watch - why hadn’t he warned us.
I looked around, and spotted Drin. He picked himself up off the floor
“It’s Lun’Kat! Lun’Kat the dragon!” He was yelling and pointing, running back to the cabin.
“Lule! Toke! Talk to me!” He screamed, grabbing logs and heaving them away.
I glanced at him, tied off [Wheel of Sun and Moon] with [Persistent Casting] into a permanent, if terribly inefficient, heal aura, and took stock of the situation.
Drin had pointed me in the right direction. I had a great vantage point from the mountain summit we decided to stay on, and could see for miles in every direction.
I could barely make out the massive walls down on the plains, but in the opposite direction I could see the Great Tower the dwarves had built. Were building? They weren’t entirely clear on it. Either way, it marked their capital, their pride and joy. I could tell there were two towns by the large gap in trees, nestled into a pair of valleys. A line of flames blossomed and split the mountains, from beyond the horizon to far past where I could see, like a sword of fire, leaving a trail of flame and devastation. Even as I watched, the flames grew, grasping hold of the forest and growing greedily.
They didn’t care that it was cold and winter. They didn’t care that it had snowed recently, and that everything was supposed to be wet.
They were dragon’s flames, magical and all-consuming.
And there, high up in the sky, far and only just barely visible thanks to my vitality, flying with deadly, sinuous grace, was the living catastrophe. Black, iridescent scales, powerful wings, legs that ended with claws as long as swords, and a mouth full of teeth like curved daggers. Billowing flames poured from her mouth, burning all in their path.
Lun’Kat, the dragon.
I cursed the idiot dwarves. The Khazad dwarves, the metal and stone workers, who had tried to recruit me on their inane quest to “evict” a dragon and loot her lair.
No guesses how that had gone, and it seemed like Lun’Kat was taking it out on the dwarves. The wrong dwarves, but that distinction was probably lost on her. If she even cared.
She spent a moment, high up in the sky, looking down. Not at us, thankfully. I don’t think we would’ve survived the attention. Then, she vanished, leaving a trail of fire descending from above, and I saw a shockwave rippling outwards.
“Brace! Incoming!” I yelled, looking around to find some sort of shelter. The first blast had half-wiped the summit clean, while making more of a mess at the same time. The shattered ruins of our lean-to, a few trees that were toppled over and blown towards us, and the top of the old mine ventilation shaft were the only things up here with us.
The yaks were flat-out gone. I suspected they’d fled in terror, not that any of us could try to do anything to stop them, not when we were too busy trying to survive.
I didn’t want to be near the logs, so I turned and ran towards the mineshaft.
I was moderately quick. 2200 points in speed, and solid physical fitness.
While I was quick, and while it took almost fifteen seconds for the sonic boom to hit, the summit was large, and I wasn’t quite able to make it to the shelter of the mine ventilation shaft before it hit. I threw [Mantle] up, and braced for impact.
It wasn’t worth blowing one of my gems on. It was just going to hurt like hell.
Naturally, [Mantle] got shattered, and I was picked up and slammed back onto the hard, rocky ground. I felt my ears pop again, as they were broken and restored in almost the same moment. I pushed myself up, only to feel one of the dwarves grab my arm, and start pulling me.
“Come on healer!” Fik said, pulling me up. “Got to get you to safety!”
I let a bitter laugh escape. Safety? What safety? Nowhere was safe when a dragon was rampaging above, merrily burning the countryside to the ground.
I looked around as we scrambled over to the vent shaft, a tiny outcropping of stone. Built sturdily enough that the sonic boom hadn’t knocked it over.
The rest of the dwarves were there, huddling around what little shelter we had. There wasn’t one without significant bloodstains on them, but that was the only mark they had of the damage that had been done. Their living armor, combined with Ned and I, had kept everyone alive.
“Elaine! Good! We need to get out of here!” Lule shouted at me.
I looked around. The mountain was half-ruined, with trees flattened all around us. Getting down would be an obstacle course over broken trees that could shift at any moment, crushing us under their bulk.
A second burning line cut through the mountains, a second slash making a cross with the first. Smoke was rising, and the dragon was high up in the air again.
“Incoming!” Half of us yelled, as we all scrambled to get to the other side of the stony shaft before the shockwave hit us.
Toke threw up a large barrier of darkness, and I added in my own [Mantle], having no faith that her shield alone would protect us.
They didn’t, but between the two shields, and the ventilation shaft, we were almost entirely fine. My ears popped again, and I noticed with some concern that my mana had been dropping fast. Between the shields and the constant healing from the bone-rattling not-even-intended after effects of Lun’Kat simply moving around, my mana was getting chipped away.
The last slash had created a wall of fire vaguely behind us, but now it was all too obvious - nowhere was safe. Part of the second flaming slash looked like it was awfully close to one of the towns. I hoped the dwarves, with all their love of wood, knew enough to handle a forest fire.
Even if it was magically generated.
Lun’Kat stayed high in the air, looking down at the country.
Looking specifically at the tower, the dwarves’ pride.
Fik grabbed Lule’s arm, and pointed up.
“Look! The stars!”
We all looked up. It took me a moment to notice, to realize what was going on.
It looked like the sky - no, every star in the sky - was falling, coming down to earth.
An entire sky’s worth of stars, now significantly larger, started to rain down across the entire mountain range, causing devastating explosions wherever they landed. Giant redwoods jumped and snapped like twigs, and the entire mountain shook with the devastating impacts, as stars spent minutes - that felt like an eternity - raining down from the heavens, causing explosions and destruction where they landed.
We were lucky that none landed directly on the summit, although some were close. I felt thankful that I’d been knocked over, as a fallen redwood went spinning over our heads, as if it was a tiny boomerang, and not a hundred-meter giant of a tree.
Still, one of the branches casually scraped my leg. Not only did the force grab me and send me tumbling, but the flesh and muscle sheared off and bones broke – only for my healing to instantly kick in and re-knit everything. [Center of the Universe] kept the pain at bay, keeping me alert and aware, and not having pain wracking my body and interfering with my thoughts.
I’d be so dead if I wasn’t a healer.
On one hand, the stars falling was an illusion, revealed as the real stars rapidly reasserted themselves in the sky. Then again, a skill that actually ripped the stars out of the sky would’ve probably ended the world already.
At the same time, the spell was of apocalyptic proportions, destroying and devastating the countryside. It was plenty powerful enough.
I picked myself up off the ground again, noting the relatively small chunk of my total mana needed to survive that attack. Bless my massive mana pool.
I was also debating the wisdom of getting back up when it was likely that I’d just get immediately knocked over again.
Blah. I was getting wrecked here, and I wasn’t even the target of the attack. I was getting badly hurt by tertiary effects of attacks.
Human lands were to the north, while the dwarven capital was to the south. Mountains stretched far to the east and the west, as well as continuing south.
The dwarves tower? Their great pride?
It was gone. Entirely annihilated.
Several mountains away, a lone redwood remained standing untouched among the broken remains of its fellow trees. In spite of craters indicating that several stars had landed on or near it, it stood tall, defiant against the attack.
I squinted my eyes at it. It didn’t quite seem like it was staying in one place, but the distance made it hard to judge.
No, no, I was right. It was moving.
It was a treant, not a tree. Disguised as just another tree in the forest, this one was anything but.
It took a few moments to speed up. And up. I realized that I was seeing visible, rapid movement from a giant of a tree, several mountains away. Nothing that big, that far away, should be that quick.
[*Ding!* You are in the presence of Guardian Yurok, The Plague]
I glared at the System notification. I’d disabled them, damnit! Obviously, the System didn’t care about me disabling notifications.
Also - wait. Guardian? Like Etalix?
The notification also explained something I’d never thought of before.
How did we know the name of a dinosaur?
If Yurok was anything like Etalix, the answer was now obvious- a System notification.
Clouds of red gas poured off of Yurok, flowing towards Lun’Kat in the air.
No bets what it was, when gas came off of something with the title “The Plague.”
With a derisive flap of her wings, Lun’Kat blasted a wave of wind through the gas, dispersing and scattering it to the winds. Some landed on the hills, trees crackling and dissolving as it hit.
Some were blown towards us on the hill.
“Shields!” Toke yelled, and I threw mine up behind hers.
While I intellectually knew that the shields were helping, it didn’t feel like it as both were shattered. [Bullet Time] activated, giving me all the time to think. Not wanting to try and tank the deadly spores from a monster powerful enough that there was a bloody System announcement about it, I rapidly ran through my list of options, before cracking a grin.
The gem I’d never used, which had always been an afterthought, saved our collective ass. [Gust] summoned a blast of wind, blowing the spores away from us.
Until about twenty minutes ago, I would’ve called the blast of wind powerful. Having seen Lun’Kat’s sky-shaking blasts as she casually traveled from place to place, my idea of the pecking order of the world was entirely upended, my place right at the bottom of the totem pole reaffirmed. I was the ant with the best healing power, but that didn’t make me any less of an ant.
The wind tore through the cloud, pushing most of the spores away, with some at the edges wildly spinning around in a circle.
One tiny spore was ejected from the whirling wind, and in a split-second decision, considering how much harder it’d be to heal Toke than myself, I pushed Toke out of the way, taking the hit myself.
I instantly crumpled, vomiting blood and black bile, as my arms blackened, necrosis setting in and racing up along them, withering first my blood, then skin and muscle, sending it sloughing off my bones before they too were liquefied, the vile black goo which had moments ago been attached to my body splashed onto the ground, so toxic that the stone beneath me discolored. And yet it wasn't done, as the toxic plague invaded my chest, blackening and rotting my organs. It was only my instantaneous healing which kept me alive, organ puree being replaced by intact and healthy flesh, only for the cycle to repeat as I flickered between “healthy” and “on the brink of death.” Necrotic flesh filled my body displacing what was left of my torso and forcing me to cough up what toxic sludge hadn't spilled out from around my armor. On my hands and knees, I spat out more blood and bile, and wiped my mouth.
“Why did you do that!?” Toke yelled at me.
“Healing myself is more efficient.” I groaned back, looking at my mana.
That one spore had taken a 30k chunk out of my roughly 150,000 mana pool. I shuddered to think how much it would’ve cost with a cross-species penalty.
Someone would've died.