Beneath the Dragoneye Moons



Chapter 197 - Journey to the center of Pallos II


We decided to spend some time - like an hour or so - resting up, everyone else topping their mana up and getting long, deep drinks out of the pool Ned purified.

We were still processing what happened, Lule’s death and Toke’s disappearance. Everyone was handling it in their own way. The dwarves were chatting a bunch about what had just happened.

“No. There’s no way the Sierra Obelisk fell.” Fik gasped in disbelief as Glifir mentioned the dwarves’ tower falling.

“It’s true! When the stars were coming down, I saw it collapse.”

“But it was in the middle of the city!” Ned cried out.

I glanced over. He was crying unashamedly,

“We also lost Lule, if that Elaine is to be believed.”

There was some venom in his voice, but it wasn’t directed at me. Just, grief turning into anger.

“Peace Ned. Did it look like she had any mana when she came down? Her story is believable. She would have no reason to lie to us.” Fik pointed out.

Ned just muttered unhappily into his beard, but seemed to accept it.

“No, what’s terrible is we don’t have her head. We can’t bury her properly.” Fik said.

“Aye. Even if we manage to get back out, we’ll need to be all sorts of lucky to bury her under a sapling.” Drin added, stroking his beard.

That was interesting. I didn’t know they buried dwarves under trees. An interesting take on reincarnation, and who knows? Maybe the great cycle of samsara recognized their actions, and put the soul of the departed into the tree for their next life.

Glifir snorted.

“If we manage to get out, we need to help the survivors. Everything was burning, and I doubt there’s anything larger than three stories standing. Every hand is needed for the living.”

Some more nods of agreement, and more tears. I couldn’t blame them. If I’d seen the devastation that’d just been unleashed rained down on Remus, I’d be a tearful mess to boot. If I was stuck underground after such an event, knowing that I could heal thousands, but was unable to?

Yikes. I was starting to get an idea of just how shitty they must all be feeling. Everything just - gone. Their whole lives upended.

I was staying out of the conversation. I had nothing to add, nothing to say, no way to comfort them at the loss of everything they knew and loved. I was a stranger.

Instead, I was thoroughly cussing out Hunting. That Void-brained, goblin-faced, grouchy son of a slime had fucked me over so hard.

“Hey Hunting, can I get some time to Class up?” I’d asked him, but nooooooooooooo. No time for Sentinel Dawn to get a large power spike. Nope!

I pulled grumpy faces as I re-imagined the conversation.

“Classing up? Nope. I angry grouch. You follow me.”

Ugh. In his defense, leaving quickly was probably needed to get the Formorians before they were able to grow and scatter, and it did let him check out the Queen’s bodies before they were eaten. And let me save the angel.

Still. I was pissed that I was sitting on my 256 class-up for my Radiance class, and was in completely the wrong place to do it.

My thoughts were rudely interrupted as everyone started to float - blasted Hebai must’ve reversed Gravity again - a reminder that while there were slimes down here that we could fight and run and generally contend with, there were still Guardians and a dragon fighting out there, and attacks had destroyed entire mountains. We were at the mercy of fate, praying that Lun’Kat wouldn’t try to body slam Galeru, who was coiled right above us.

The miles of rock would do nothing to stop her.

Heck, even without smashing the mountain, a strong enough attack could shake the entire mine, causing rocks to fall and everyone to die.

We were all more than a little unsettled at that, and it seemed to be time to leave. I checked my mana, noting that it was getting close to full, even as my stomach rumbled from the sheer hunger generating that much mana took.

Blah. I was going to need to move up food on the priority list. So many things to juggle.

Speaking of juggling, I needed to do a check on what we had, and what we could do.

“Did anyone manage to grab any supplies on the way down?” I asked. I picked a moment where the silence and the grieving seemed to have gone on for some time, judging the moment to be breaking, but not intruding on, their grief.

It was a judgement call though, and for all I knew I’d flubbed it.

“The yaks had almost everything.” Fik noted with a frown. “No idea what happened to them.”

“I’ve got some snacks! Keep them on me for when I’m scouting all day and don’t have time to grab a bite. Do you need one?” Glifir mentioned, offering me a ration bar.

I could eat a whole yak, but I declined. Partly for the appearance of being the selfless leader, mostly because I knew I’d need it later. There was no sense in eating food now when we’d had a solid dinner, what, 6, 7 hours ago?

Given that the world had basically ended in that timeframe, it felt much longer.

“No thanks, we should save them for now. Unless Ned, you need a bite?” I asked him. Healing was hungry work - I knew it all too well - and Ned was probably feeling similar hunger pangs.

“I’m good for now, thanks.” He said, as he forced himself to tear his eyes away from Glifir’s snack.

I also took a chance to drink, noting that the “puddle” was quite a bit deeper than a little trickle of water coming in would account for. Something to keep in mind.

While I waited for my mana to finish regenerating, I made a mediocre permanent image for [Dance with the Heavens] and [Persistent Casting], having lost the last one when I was falling down the mine shaft. It wasn’t great, but if we hit a pocket of bad air or something, I wouldn’t slowly fall asleep and die without noticing or being able to heal myself.

That’d be a humiliating way to go. “Here lies Elaine. Died from poison gas while full on mana.”

I quickly checked over the condition of the rest of the dwarves. Drin was helpfully regrowing bits and pieces of his armor, and I’d eventually ask for some replacement pieces myself once everyone else was fully outfitted. I was down most of my pieces, but they belonged to the front-liners first, and not to the healer in the back.

“Right. Let’s head back. Glifir lead, then Fik, Ned, myself, and Drin in the rear. Let’s go!” I ordered.

“Hang on.” Drin protested. “Fik and I should swap spots.”

I eyed him for a second. I didn’t want to argue, nor did I want to get undermined. I quickly weighed my options, painfully reminded that Leadership had been one of my least favorite classes.

And I didn’t even have the Chain of Command. Namely, the chain I could beat people with when they didn’t follow my command - or at least that’s how Quintis referred to it. I was operating off of sheer force of will and momentum, because the leader is the person everyone thinks is the leader. No belief, no buy-in, no leader.

I didn’t have to be the leader, but any of the dwarves would get us all killed from what I’d seen. I liked staying alive, and I liked having more people able to keep watch while I slept.

Drin was the only pure fighter we had. Like Maximus, he had a class dedicated to fighting and to slowly working on armor - in his case, he could flat-out regrow his armor and other people’s armor, as well as wield Lightning stunning skills. When a fight came, he was in the front, and I’d seen what he could do to hellhounds. It was frankly unfair.

Fik was our other melee fighter, but he was a spell-axe. Instead of everything being physical, he was half-physical, half-magic, like Bluebeard - eerrr, Sentinel Hunting. Instead of Void magic, though, he had Gravity magic, which let him do all sorts of nonsense with moving stuff around.

In theory. I hadn’t seen giant applications in practice yet.

… I suppose, worst-case, I’d just team up with Fik or something and try to work my way out of the mine with just the two of us. Something to keep in the back of my head. My Oath only required me to wrangle suicidal idiots if they were actively injured.

However, end of the day, the two of them were almost interchangeable. Drin wanted to be swapped? Sure, they filled the same role of “be in front of everyone else.”

“Fine. Fik, Drin, swap. Glifir, let’s go. We spent long enough getting ready, I want to try and get Toke.” I said.

I didn’t say the part where I thought the odds of her being alive were slim, especially after all this time. Sure, it’d only been about an hour, but that was an eternity in monster-filled mines.

I kept [Shine] going, at a slightly stronger rate now that I wasn’t trying to get every drop of mana again.

“Slime!” Glifir yelled as he rounded a corner, and the rest of the dwarves tensed.

I kept walking forward, past Ned and Drin, and peeked around the corner.

Massive slime, stretching from wall to wall and floor to ceiling, chunks of dirt and metal floating in the gelatinous ooze. I quickly looked over it, but I wasn’t able to tell the slime’s core from the other chunks floating in it.

I fired a beam of Radiance at one promising looking chunk, slightly surprised at how large the beam ended up being. I focused, properly narrowing it down, and reminding myself that I’d increased my magic power and magic control by almost 50% in the last three hours or so.

However, I wasn’t going to be so lucky as to just hit the slime’s core in one go, not with how high level it was and with my luck.

The beam did pierce the slime and hit a floating bit of debris that I’d hoped was the core, but the only thing that happened was the slime slumped a bit as it filled in the part of its body that I’d vaporized.

I narrowed my eyes.

Fine then. We’re doing this the hard way.

I fired a few more quick Radiance beams, only to whiff on all of them before swapping gears. I used a cone of Radiance to hollow out a small hole in the slime, then followed it up with a [Nova].

It was hard to tell when it worked, but I swear [Sentinel’s Superiority] guided my timing, as the glowing ball made it right into the slime as the mass of it collapsed onto the [Nova], making the explosion extra-devastating inside the slime.

Chunks flew everywhere, and the slime seemed to quiver with rage. It inflated, then decompressed, shooting high-speed slime chunks and bits of unrefined ore at us.

I flared [Mantle of the Stars], and did a little heel-clicking jump and dance - purely mentally - as it FINALLY STOPPED AN ATTACK STONE-COLD.

I dropped the [Mantle] and used the same combo again, and again, working my way through the center of the slime. I had some slim hopes that I could slice it in half, but no such luck.

I was succeeding at reducing its bulk dramatically though, as not only did my Radiance beams utterly annihilate parts of the slime, but once [Nova] exploded inside the slime, it tore off large chunks, which landed on the floor, walls, ceiling, everywhere, wobbling like jello once it was separated from the slime’s core.

Mmmmm jello.

I was so hungry. I was regretting passing up on Glifir’s snacks. I’d ask him later.

I didn’t have infinite mana, and I wasn’t going to leave myself at zero again. When I had less than half of my mana left - “only” 100k, an obscene amount by anyone else’s standards - I stepped back, looking at the much-reduced slime.

It was now a chest-high cube-shaped slime. We were all short to boot, it’d be more like waist-high on Artemis.

“Drin. Fik. All you. Glifir. Check that nothing’s coming up on us.” I ordered.

I didn’t say anything to Ned. As much as we were like oil and water, he would heal everyone, and I’d already pushed him somewhat.

“Watch the floor! It’s slippery!” Glifir reminded everyone, as he seemed to rapid-step past the slime, Mist rising from his footsteps.

Drin and Fik stepped up, and now that the slime wasn’t large enough to simply engulf and consume us all, it was easier. We stayed aware that the slime could still have some nasty tricks up its sleeve - which it did, trying to spray Drin with caustic goo when he got close - but Fik just redirected the spray elsewhere. Then a zap from Drin, a few cleaves from the pair, and the slime collapsed.

[*ding!* Your Party has slain a [Deep-Dwelling Slime (Ooze - 378)]]

[*ding!* [Shine] leveled up! 188 -> 189]

“Good work!” I said.

Drin was grinning.

“Aye. This is the way to do it! No more running from oversized sewer-cleaners!” Drin happily said.

I was eyeing the glops of slime that littered the hallway of this mine tunnel.

The only thing I could think was “chocolate pudding.”

“Healer Ned?” I asked politely.

“What?” He semi-grumped back. Neatly handling the slime seemed to have won me a few brownie points.

“Can you try purifying a slime chunk? We should check if they’re edible.” I said, with the straightest face I could manage.

He huffed, then got a sly grin as he pointed at a chunk.

“Try that one.”

I’d bet money that he hadn’t purified it, but I wasn’t going to call him on it.

Welp. I was screwed either way.

I went over to the chunk, and tried to grab a handful, only for it to liquify more than before and ooze between my fingers, falling back to the ground.

I cupped my hands, and scooped up a chunk. I brought it to my face and tried to slurp it.

Bleargh. Wet dirt. Not mud - wet dirt.

It was terrible.

I managed to somehow keep a poker face, then “enthusiastically” drank the rest.

“Wow! You should try some!” I called out.

Not technically lying.

I was impressed. With how bad it was.

And he should try some.

Looking at me doubtfully, Ned tried a handful as well. A flash of disgust went over his face, before a broad grin and a wink my way.

“Glifir! Fik! Drin! You’ve gotta try this!” Ned called out to the rest of the dwarves.

Thinking about it - we were doing a lot of yelling. And sound was traveling through the mines.

Well, hopefully someone would hear us and come help.

Poor, trusting Glifir promptly tried some, but he gave up the game, retching at just how terrible it was. No matter how Ned and I tried to coax Fik and Drin, they wouldn’t try it - and Fik cut it short.

“We need to find Toke.”

That sobered us up, and got us moving again, following Glifir. He’d point us to the next spot we needed to go to, then run as fast as he could, peeking down all the little side passages, expanding his map of the mine. I never knew when it’d come in handy.

Without additional hassle we made it back to where we’d fallen down the ventilation shaft. The only thing of note was another large scale shudder as something hit the earth hard enough for us to feel it. We also heard the sound of a collapsing shaft somewhere in the mountain. Drin verbalized a prayer of thanks that we survived.

It was a good thing I hadn’t tried to find the way back - all the shaking and rattling had shifted things enough that I no longer recognized them, and I would’ve walked right past this spot.

Glifir went to one knee as he started looking around, pinching dirt and rubbing it. Practically sniffing a spot or two.

I thought he might be playing it up for appearance sake, but if he got it done, he got it done.

“This way.” He eventually said, pointing down one of the side-shafts, and we were off.

“How was she? Could you tell?” Drin asked.

Glifir hesitated a moment, then nodded.

“Being dragged.” He said. “By several things with two feet.”

Oh curses. My mental estimation of Toke just got revised to “possibly alive”, which made me feel bad slightly goofing off with the slime food earlier.

Speaking of the slime food, we needed to do an after-action analysis on the fight we just had..

“Glifir, keep leading us. Everyone else. We’re going to do an after-action analysis on the fight we just had.” I called out.

“Why?” Ned asked.

“So next time we kill it faster, and work better as a team.” I retorted back.

“We’re completely helpless without Elaine.” Fik noted. “None of us could touch it without her magic.

Drin gave me an over-the-shoulder look at that.

“You didn’t mention you were a mage.” He said.

I gave him a dumbfounded look.

“You didn’t see me killing hellhounds last fight?” I asked after a moment.

He scratched his nose.

“Well, errr....” He said awkwardly.

I rubbed my eyes.

“This. This right here. This is why we do after-action analysis.” I said, to Drin’s bashful nod and Fik’s curt agreement.

“Should’ve lured it around the corner!” Glifir yelled. “Given ourselves more room to work with!”

I smiled. This was exactly the type of analysis needed, and it was good to see someone getting into it.

“We should have an escape route ready if Elaine’s out of mana again.” Drin pointed out.

“Should figure out how small the slime needs to be before we can physically kill it.” Fik observed.

“Yeah, but we don’t have the time for proper experimenting, do we?” I countered.

“I felt useless most of the fight.” Fik grumbled back.

“Then keep your eyes on a swivel so nothing sneaks up on us!” Glifir retorted.

“He’s got a point. There’s got to be more down here. A lot more.” I observed.

“How do you figure?” Glifir asked, while Ned just muttered unhappily into his beard.

“Nothing exists alone. If there are slimes, they need to eat something. Whatever grabbed Toke also needs to eat, which means there’s at least something smaller in here.”

I paused a moment, letting them digest that.

“There’s no way we’re going to be lucky enough that there’s nothing that eats them.”

There was muttered agreement at that, and a strong “Aye!” from Drin.

I did some personal reflection on everything myself.

My physical stats had completely changed around. My strength had gone down, and my speed had increased.

I made a mental note that I needed to re-do my physical exercises as well. My strength and speed had wildly changed around, and I was faster, and didn’t hit as hard. A long reevaluation of my style was needed. Then again, my strength was falling further and further behind, especially when compared to the monsters I was up against, and I needed to consider that perhaps the time where I could use weapons for anything other than intimidation and creatures far, far below my level was coming to an end.

I was half in thought, half looking around when I heard a sharp twang come from ahead.


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