Beneath the Dragoneye Moons

by

Selkie

Chapter 202 - Journey to the center of Pallos VII

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Hilariously, for all their cursing of orcs as uncivilized barbarians, the dwarves didn’t utter a single word of objection to roasting and eating the orc. From how they savagely tore into the orc, they were a lot less squeamish about eating intelligent foes than I was.

I had to ruthlessly murder the part of me that was screaming about eating a formerly intelligent humanoid. Glifir’s snacks were good, but hunger and survival instincts teamed up to utterly shred the moralistic part of me that was saying “no, don’t do it!”

In the end, my first bite of a creature that had formerly been intelligent and thinking was ravenous and drooling. I took great big bites of an arm that I’d drilled Radiance through, and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Fortunately, it tasted nothing like pork.

We’d agreed to eat, then plan our next moves, and I took a moment to check my level-ups, noting that everyone had gained quite a few levels. Glifir was on the low end at 9, while Ned was on the high end with 26. Between Lun’Kat and the fight, I wasn’t surprised.

[*Ding!* Congratulations! [The Dawn Sentinel] has leveled up to level 357->358! +3 Dexterity, +24 Speed, +24 Vitality, +170 Mana, +170 Mana Regen, +48 Magic power, +48 Magic Control from your Class per level! +1 Free Stat for being Human per level! +1 Mana, +1 Mana Regen from your Element per level!]

[*Ding!* [Celestial Affinity] leveled up! 357 -> 358]

[*Ding!* [Center of the Universe] leveled up! 357 -> 358]

[*Ding!* [Dance with the Heavens] leveled up! 357 -> 358]

[*Ding!* [Sentinel's Superiority] leveled up! 357 -> 358]

[*Ding!* [Long-Range Identify] leveled up! 357 -> 358]

[*Ding!* [Mantle of the Stars] leveled up! 315 -> 318]

[*Ding!* [Shine] leveled up! 189 -> 191]

I chewed on the humerus thoughtfully, which must’ve triggered a bout of insanity or something, as I briefly debated classing up. That sheer stupidity of that idea caused me to laugh out loud, which had all the dwarves looking at me like I was mad.

Yeah, no, not going to try classing up in a place where everything was trying to kill me, ceiling included. I did trust the dwarves to look after me, and I cursed my earlier paranoia.

What was done was done. I did note that I needed to work on [Sunrise], and make a habit out of using it in fights, if nothing else than to get more levels in it.

The rest of the meal was in relative silence, as we were all too busy chowing down to have a proper talk.

We ate the entire orc - I have no idea how honestly, it was some sort of miracle - except for the head and entrails, which we kinda, maybe buried, as was Tradition.

And good hygiene practice. Which really was how a lot of traditions started. “Hey, eating pig makes you sick, let’s not eat pig.”

“Right, let’s start with a map. Glifir?” I asked him, and he generated a sprawling map of where we’d been so far.

He’d been a busy bee the entire time I’d been face-tanking traps. In and out of side passages, the extent of his work was laid in front of us. He somehow managed to clearly mark dead-ends by having the Mist map terminate abruptly, and unexplored passages trailed off, indicating they still had potential. I hadn’t quite realized how far we’d gone, and I doubted I would be able to find my way back in a timely fashion, not without his map.

Also - these had been some busy, busy dwarves. Then again, we’d seen that other, non-dwarf creatures seemed to be making tunnels, and the Guardians were busy rearranging things, so who could tell.

Speaking of the Guardians, it’d been ages since the tunnels last shook. We were all hoping that it was over, but not a single one of us was willing to say it out loud.

“Right, we’re here.” Glifir said, pointing to a spot on the map I wouldn’t have guessed as our current location. “And we dropped down here.” He said, pointing to a spot on the map that was lower than our current location.

“The way I see it, we’ve got a few options, and a few non-options.” Glifir said. “We’re deep underground. Option 1 - keep going up ramps, and try to break through to the surface.”

I was nodding at that, along with everyone but Fik.

“Option 2. We go back to the shaft where we fell, and try to work our way back up.”

That had Fik nodding furiously.

“For the less-obvious choices.” Glifir said, and I was all ears.

“Option 3. Try to trace the orcs back to their base, and exit however they get out.” He said.

“Won’t work.” Drin interrupted, twirling his beard. “Traditionally, they live deep in the mountain. They don’t have an exit, this is their home.”

“Doesn’t mean they don’t know an exit.” Ned pointed out.

“Yeah, but-” Fik started to argue, and I cut him off.

“Let’s discuss all this if we think the five of us can pull off what, apparently, generations of Khazad dwarves couldn’t.” I said, with a dry tone.

“We’re so much better than they are.” Fik muttered with an angry tug of his beard, but dropped the argument.

“Thank you. Option 4, we stay here and wait for rescue.” Glifir said.

There was a pause, before we all started laughing at the joke. Drin let out a huge belly laugh, while Fik cackled like a witch. Ned chortled, while I fell over laughing, struggling to get enough air in my lungs. Even Glifir let out some weak chuckles.

“Wait for rescue.” HA!

“Ok, ok, moving on.” He said, only for my renewed howls of laughter to interrupt him.

I felt bad, but I couldn’t help it.

All good things - like a solid joke - must come to an end though.

“Right, option 5 - we try going deep. Real deep. Into the Below levels.” He said.

“Aren’t those just rumors?” Ned asked.

“Too many rumors of them, too consistent. They’re probably real.” Glifir said.

“But if they’re just rumors….” I “asked”, letting my question trail off.

Glifir shrugged.

“There’s a reason I listed the option after ‘Stay still’.” he said. “The rumors all agree that vast and powerful creatures live there, certain death, yada yada, you get the idea.”

“That’s all I’ve got for ideas. Thoughts?” He asked.

“Build a small base, fortress, whatever, here. Keep it defended, set traps for food, explore to expand the scope of what we can see until we’ve got more information to select the best plan.” Drin said.

I stared at him.

“Oooh! What if we based it near the shaft we fell down? I can work on getting us out that way, while Glifir scouts, and Elaine, Ned, and you rotate between holding down the fort and hunting for food!” Fik excitedly told Drin.

“Yeah, that would work!”

The two of them were building up a huge amount of energy towards their plan. Heck, I was getting excited!

Which I needed to not do. I needed to step back, and evaluate things dispassionately.

“Checking a few basic things, sorry.” I said. “Do we have any ability to go through rocks?”

The dwarves all looked at each other like I was an idiot.

“No, not really.” Ned said.

“I mean, we can get through some collapsed passages, depending on how bad it is.” Fik pointed out. “My Gravity magic is good for that sort of stuff.”

“We have no idea what’ll collapse if we clear out rocks though.” Ned said.

I reluctantly nodded my agreement with him. I wasn’t going to mention my [Wall Buster] gem. I didn’t even know if it’d work, and explosively removing a rock blockage?

Rocks fall, I die.

“We could end up bringing the whole thing down on us. Let’s save that idea if we know there’s an exit on the other side of a rockfall, but otherwise not try to get through rocks. Agreed?”

Everyone but Glifir agreed, who grumbled about “exploring” and “a complete map” under his breath but otherwise let it be.

“Nobody’s mentioned them, but are there Khazad dwarves down here?”

“The ground defilers are probably somewhere, yeah.” Fik grumped out.

“Bloody useless lot.” Ned said, somewhat agreeing with Fik.

“Only a few steps above orcs really.” Drin added in.

“We had dinner with one! Remember?” I said protesting Drin’s assessment.

“Ok, fine, quite a few steps above orcs. Still, wouldn’t want my daughter coming home with one.” Drin amended his statement.

It was technically better, but not by much.

“And!” He said, getting worked up and mad. “I remember that tree-rotted Khazad dwarf talking about trying to evict Lun’Kat from her lair! I bet that’s why she went on a rampage!” He said, fury, hurt, and anger in his voice.

“Yeah!” Fik agreed, flavored by rage.

This was going to go downhill fast if I didn’t butt in.

“Would they help us?” I asked. Not my most tactful question, but I wanted them to refocus.

In a way that was like pulling teeth, like he’d rather a limb get amputated, Ned answered.

“...Yes.”

“And they’d probably have food, and know an exit?” I asked again.

“.... probably.” Glifir added in.

Geez, don’t all trip over yourselves with enthusiasm.

“Ok, help me out here. You’ve got relatives that’ll get you food, shelter, and an exit, and won’t murder us on sight. What’s there not to love about that?”

“They’re Khazad dwarves though!” Drin half-protested. “We don’t need their help.”

I pointed the humerus I was gnawing on at him.

“I just ate an orc I needed to kill in mortal combat earlier today. I’d really like not to do it again.”

“She’s got a point, you know.” Ned pointed out, seemingly less annoyed than his usual state of being. “We’re all dwarves down here. Link up with the Khazads, and get news of what’s happened above. The dragon is pro-”

It pained me to interrupt Ned when he was agreeing with me, but I had to.

“Shhh!” I said, cutting through the rest of what he was going to say. “They can hear you when you call their name.”

Ned opened his mouth at me, saw something in my face, and closed it.

Welp, topic of conversation massively deflected. Might as well go all the way.

“Where I’m from, we have a vampire. A progenitor, from what you all call the first generation.” I said, smiling at their reaction. “He witnessed the devastation 'they' can unleash first-hand, and he believes that 'they' hear you when you say their name.”

I was getting some skeptical looks, and Glifir had some waterworks starting, but I plowed on.

“Now, I’m not sure of how true that is, but after what we’ve seen, who wants to risk it?” I asked.

Dead silence.

“Let’s not say Her name, or what she is then?” I suggested, getting a reluctant nod out of Fik. The rest of the dwarves didn’t disagree though.

However, I’d just rudely reminded them that everything they knew and loved was probably gone, and I felt obligated to provide a distraction and direction.

“The way I see it, from what we’ve been saying, there are two real options. First, we try to go up, towards the surface, and hope we bump into some Khazad dwarves while we’re at it. The second option, we go back to where we fell down, and make a little fort while Fik works on getting us out. Waiting here, or trying to take the fight to the orcs, or going super deep, aren’t really options. Are we all in agreement?”

“Well, with option 2-” Drin started to say, and I held my hand up.

“Obviously, whatever one we pick we’ll need to hammer out the details on.” I said. “Right, let’s discuss pros and cons, then vote on what we’ll do.”

A lively discussion ensued, and the lines, and the pros and cons, were quickly established.

Drin and Fik favored option 2, going back to the shaft and trying to work our way out. The pros of the plans were a defensible location, a known area, and a known exit. The cons of the plan were getting out would be difficult - Fik thought he could do it, but couldn’t guarantee it - the fact that orcs were roaming the area, which would probably get us into a fight, then more and more as word got around that we were there. Food had already proven to be scarce in the location, even before the roaming slimes were factored in.

Which left Glifir and Ned on option 1, going up and seeing if we could find an exit ourselves, or meet other dwarves. The exit would be much easier to use, if we could find it. We’d be more likely to find a food source, and potentially pivot to Drin’s fortress plan. Friendly dwarves could give us news and help.

It also became clear that from how they were debating the issue - it was far too civil to call it arguing - that the points being made were aimed at me. Not only had I been accepted as the nominal leader, but I was the tie breaking vote.

Which was interesting, it implied that the dwarven government - errr, probably former government, after Lun’Kat was done with them - had some democratic features, and were pervasive enough that the average dwarf thought about voting.

Anyways, to me, the answer was easy.

“We should go with option 1.” I said. “Movement is life. We can build an OK fort, like Drin wants, but if - when - the orcs discover us, we’re sitting ducks. We don’t have anyone with an Earth or Mountain element - sorry Fik, Gravity doesn’t count here - and if they know where we are, it becomes easy to surround and pin us down. Fik’s also not entirely sure he can get us out of the shaft, so we might just spend days or even weeks, only to find out we’re right where we started, but possibly weaker, and hungrier.”

I shook my head.

“Against a superior force, we never want to directly engage. We’d want to hit, run, and whittle them away, and barring that, retreat to get reinforcements. Stillness is death.”

The only time I’d gotten a chance to practice my “one against many” tactics was when the pirates had tried to ambush me on the trip back from Deva. Now, I was operating on the proper scale of my team versus their team, but our objective wasn't to kill the orcs, it was to escape.

“Does anyone have strong objections to going with option 1?” I asked, getting shaking heads in response - although Drin’s was reluctant. I hadn’t called a vote, because there was no need to. It was clear how things would shake out.

[*Ding!* Congratulations! [The Dawn Sentinel] has leveled up to level 358->359! +3 Dexterity, +24 Speed, +24 Vitality, +170 Mana, +170 Mana Regen, +48 Magic power, +48 Magic Control from your Class per level! +1 Free Stat for being Human per level! +1 Mana, +1 Mana Regen from your Element per level!]

[*Ding!* [Celestial Affinity] leveled up! 358 -> 359]

[*Ding!* [Center of the Universe] leveled up! 358 -> 359]

[*Ding!* [Dance with the Heavens] leveled up! 358 -> 359]

[*Ding!* [Sentinel's Superiority] leveled up! 358 -> 359]

[*Ding!* [Long-Range Identify] leveled up! 358 -> 359]

That was a pleasant surprise. I suppose “organize foreign soldiers and have them recognize your leadership, while fighting impossible odds” counted as Sentinel-y activity. I was still primarily a healer, but I could now get levels from doing some non-healer activities.

Nice. It hammered home what Night was telling me about Sentinel classes being broad, and getting lots of experience for it. Being out of the dead zone was helping.

“Right then. Let’s take a break to sleep, then move out when we wake up.” I said, moving over to the pool of water and getting a drink.

There were general nods of agreement at that, and the dwarves started to try to find ways of making themselves comfortable.

Me? Ha. I’d literally slept like a baby in worse conditions during the Hell Months at Ranger Academy. In a tunnel, with only rocks as a pillow? Nightmares were my only concern.

“Sleeping time! How do we want to do this? If we have lights, we can see problems, but might attract problems. No lights, and we’ll be entirely, totally blind, but we’ll be able to see problems coming from a million miles away from their own light source. Thoughts?” I asked everyone.

“Bright lights.” Fik said immediately.

“No lights!” Drin countered.

“Very, very dim lights - enough for us to see, but not enough for others to see us.” Ned said.

Ned’s made the most sense.

“Super dim lights, enough that someone can go to the bathroom in the night, not enough where anyone can see us.” I said. “Let me know when you’re all settled in, and I’ll dim the lights. Watch schedule - one person per watch. Drin, Ned, myself, then Fik. Glifir gets tonight off, he’s been running around more than the rest of us. Since we’ve got no method of time keeping, just go as long as you’d like for a shift.” I said.

I’d taken the late-middle shift, which was usually considered the worst.

The joys of leadership.

 

[Name: Elaine]

[Race: Human]

[Age: 19]

[Mana: 246130/246130]

[Mana Regen: 223123 (+157523.2)]

Stats

[Free Stats: 105]

[Strength: 273]

[Dexterity: 509]

[Vitality: 3472]

[Speed: 3472]

[Mana: 24613]

[Mana Regeneration: 24613 (+15752.32)]

[Magic Power: 10165 (+152983.25)]

[Magic Control: 10165 (+152983.25)]

[Class 1: [The Dawn Sentinel - Celestial: Lv 359]]

[Celestial Affinity: 359]

[Cosmic Presence: 269]

[Solar Infusion: 140]

[Center of the Universe: 359]

[Dance with the Heavens: 359]

[Wheel of Sun and Moon: 311]

[Mantle of the Stars: 318]

[Sunrise: 128]

[Class 2: [Ranger-Mage - Radiance: Lv 256]+]

[Radiance Affinity: 256]

[Radiance Resistance: 256]

[Radiance Conjuration: 256]

[Shine: 191]

[Sun-Kissed: 256]

[Blaze: 256]

[Talaria: 256]

[Nova: 256]

[Class 3: Locked]

General Skills

[Long-Range Identify: 359]

[Pristine Memories: 205]

[Pretty: 154]

[Bullet Time: 269]

[Oath of Elaine to Lyra: 301]

[Sentinel's Superiority: 359]

[Persistent Casting: 255]

[Learning: 341]

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A note from Selkie

Yes, the dwarves are huge hypocrits. That's the point of "Man those disgusting orcs eat dwarves" as they happily chow down on orc themselves. 

 

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