I sprinted down the hallway, legs pumping as I took great big breaths of air. I made it seven steps before I heard a confused cry behind me.
A dwarf rounded the corner, just walking along. Ignoring the cries from the training room - as everyone did. The problem was, he was standing more or less in the middle of the hallway. If he had seen me, even if I was just walking normally, we’d just swerve around each other, no harm, no foul. Just two people passing in the halls, like normal.
But I was invisible. He couldn’t see me. Well, except my eyes, but I was gambling that he wouldn’t notice them, or if he did, he’d be confused, or assume it was some dwarf.
There were benefits to being dwarf-height over orc-height.
I kept running towards him, not pausing for a moment as my mind whirled.
I disabled notifications. I didn’t need the distraction, and since this was nearly life or death for me, and I was doing some uber sneaking with the invisibility gems?
I was anticipating a good number of levels.
Still, I needed to get around him, and the noises from the training room were rapidly coming closer.
I took a risk. This wouldn’t be the last risk, nor the biggest one I needed to take. Plus, I had no other real option. As I approached the dwarf walking down the hallway, I threw myself flat against the wall, sucked my stomach in as I shuffled past him, then the moment I was clear, put my feet down again and kept running.
Ok, sucking my stomach in was kinda pointless with the full suit of armor, but it was the idea that mattered to me. The thought and feeling that I was doing something to help. Imagine if I did nothing and got caught?
No, I was doing everything I could, throwing every piece of my arsenal at the problem.
[Sneaking] was terribly low-level, but even with its low level it was helping a hair, guiding my legs to step just a little softer on the floor. It helped me know how to navigate with my new armor, making sure it didn’t bang and clang against itself. It wasn’t much, but it helped reduce the noise I was making. I’d like to think I was quiet as a mouse, but even if I wasn’t, [Sneaking] stopped me from accidentally stomping around like an elephant, or tripping and falling like a bunch of pots and pans.
The dwarf passed, unaware how close he’d come to an invisible human.
Past the dwarf, up a staircase, and I exploded out of the door, into the city proper.
Well. While technically the city, I was still in the middle of the military compound.
The military compound, full of measures designed to detect high-level orcs sneaking around invisibility, nevermind plucky healers bent on escaping.
I needed to move, and move now. Right now, only Thoren and his team were looking for me. The moment they got to talk with Korun, or anyone else in charge?
The entire base would be looking for me.
I had a tiny, narrow window to escape in, before the jaws closed around me. I wasn’t good enough to avoid an entire army.
I wasn’t going for the main exit to the outside. I didn’t think I could cross an entire crowded city, to find an exit in an unknown location, with unknown guards and security. No, as much as I hated it, I needed to try the mines.
I started running, sprinting, pushing my new speed to the max as I ran towards the great wall at the edge of the compound that marked where the city ended, and the tunnels and mines were located.
I had to come to a screeching halt, cursing my bad luck, as a whole company of dwarves came marching past, blocking the road off.
Thoren and the rest of the guards boiled out of the training building like angry wasps, shouting about orc Sabotaugeurs kidnapping me.
“Attack! Attack! We’re under attack! Orcs!” Thoren yelled.
The worst part of that cry was that Thoren and the rest probably believed it. I’d given no indication that I wanted to escape before now, and “orc attack” was probably what they jumped to as a conclusion.
Either way, my lead was vanishing.
“Company! Halt! Break into squads, find those orcs!” The commander of the column of dwarves yelled.
Which got the company of dwarves marching right in front of me to halt, then explode into action, neatly splitting up into teams of six and running about. I had to throw myself flat against a wall as multiple teams ran past me.
One dwarf was running with one arm ram-rod out for whatever reason, coming right at me. With a curse, I dropped to the floor and wedged myself in the corner where the wall met floor, just to try and stay undetected.
Yet, I felt somewhat trapped here, out in the open as the dwarves hurried about. I “shuffled” down in my invisibility skill, to stop my eyeballs from “peeping” out. It made me entirely invisibile, but the trade-off was that I couldn’t see anything.
I could still hear though, and it brought to mind a terrifying thought. Bats could locate things via echolocation, and there had to be skills to detect people by their breathing.
Heck, I could even imagine that echolocation was extra-worthwhile in the tunnels and mines, effectively letting them see around corners. I could use my [Muffle] gem to stop people hearing my breathing, but that would make me even more obvious to echolocation.
Fuck. Why didn’t I think of this before? I might’ve timed my escape differently.
I shook the thought off. “Ifs”, “could’ve’s”, “what-ifs” and the rest were pointless. I had to play with the hand I’d been dealt.
Staying still was pointless. They’d find me, catch me, throw me in chains and only let me out to heal. My gems and toys would be removed, and I’d be trapped for decades.
I had to move. Movement was life.
I have no shame in admitting that I crawled. I crawled for life. I crawled for freedom. Who cares that it was on my hands and knees? It was getting me there. Although, the fact that my armor was new did me no favors. My metal skirt was dragging on the ground, making soft scraping noises. I just had to hope they sounded enough like metal boots on the ground that their noise would be lost in the din.
Also, after the initial burst of activity, there were “only” two patrols a street, instead of an endless horde. My heart lifting, I found a timing between two patrols, and neatly slipped myself in between them, keeping them at an equal distance. Invisibility didn’t mean they couldn’t bump into me after all.
They made a turn down a street I didn’t want, but there was another patrol coming down the street I did want. I decided to stick with my current working system, and trade-off into another street when I got a moment.
I slunk down the streets, invisible, forced to keep moving by the patrols almost literally breathing down my neck. How they hadn’t found me, I didn’t know.
Then, glimpsed through an alley filled with detritus, I saw my destination. The entrance back to the mines. I kept going, then briefly slid into a doorway to let the latest patrol pass, before running back and squeezing into the alley.
There was all manner of crap here. Discarded trash, loose barrels, coils of rope, and piles of crates. Why it was all shoved here, I’ll never know. Just another alley filled with junk that would be dealt with “later”.
I climbed up onto a crate, and cursed as the blasted thing was rotted, and I fell through, making an unholy clatter.
I pulled a face.
Mushrooms. I’d landed in a pile of half-forgotten mushrooms, which did what all food did when forgotten about in an alley.
Now I stunk, and there was a cry from a patrol as they headed my way. Worse, while I was invisible, I was leaving a neat Elaine-shaped imprint in the mushrooms, making it blindingly obvious that someone invisible was there.
I heaved myself out of the crate, and tried to hide behind a barrel. It wasn’t a great hiding place, but at this point I was furiously praying to the gods and goddesses - I wasn’t picky, I cycled through all the ones I knew - to help me out, to grant me a miracle and help me hide.
Bastards took some of my mana, clearly hearing my prayer, but didn’t do a thing. Why did I even bother?
Dwarvish patrols showed up at either side of the alley, trapping me in. I tried to stifle the tears that were welling up, the sadness overtaking me.
I wasn’t done yet.
As much as it looked like I was doomed, as helpless as it looked, I wasn’t captured yet. I wasn’t in chains, I wasn’t out of mana.
I could hear my heart pounding in my ears as the dwarves got closer, pointing at the broken crate I’d just climbed out of.
Freeze? Or fly? What was better? My fight or flight instinct was hammering at me, screaming at me that I needed to do something.
The dwarves poked at the crate, speaking quickly to each other. Arguing.
“They were here!” One yelled.
“Obvious! Tell me something new!” The squad leader snapped back. Tensions were high. Weapons were drawn.
“Probably traveling the roofs. One missed a jump? Probably went back up.” Another said, in a loud but not shouting tone, pointing to the roofs then the crate.
“Makes sense. Hit the roofs, see if we can find the direction they went.” The squad leader ordered, obviously relieved to help in a way that didn’t directly tangle with the non-existent orcs.
Heck, I wouldn’t want to take on a squad of commandos with twice my total level either.
“Take that building!” The squad leader behind me yelled to the squad across from me.
“Aye!” They saluted, and the two patrols vanished, one into each building.
They’d… just left?
I hadn’t been caught?
I sent a quick prayer of thanks to whatever god or goddesses had just overseen me, and I made a break for the entrance of the mines, sneaky-running across the open stone, the various shades of lichen throwing crazy colors all over the place.
Here was my last obstacle. No matter how bad things were, the insane amount of security on the entrance to the mines hadn’t faltered. They were literally packed shoulder to shoulder, had anti-Mirage lights sweeping the area, dozens of traps littered the place, and I couldn’t even guess what else they had going on there.
It seemed entirely impassable to me. I’d made my break for it not knowing how to pass this hurdle, I’d gone this way in spite of it, kicking the problem down the road, and well - now I was here. Now the problem was staring me in the face, and it demanded a solution now.
I refrained from tapping my foot. No bets that one of the guards had crazy high vitality, and would hear it, and wonder “why am I hearing tapping noise coming from an empty spot?”
As I waited, the guards parted, and I inhaled, preparing to sprint through. I’d let the illusion get stripped, and I’d just try to tank the traps as they sprang out at me. I was able to heal just about anything, and the traps were designed to keep people out, not in. So, like, if there was a crazy rolling boulder trap or something, I’d be running in the right direction as I ran away from it.
Of course, the guards weren’t parting for no reason, and I had to stuff my fist in my mouth to stop myself screaming in frustration and anger.
Injured. Wounded. Not a whole company, just a squad limping back home. Two dwarves were being carried by the other four, a standard dwarf-squad of six. They turned and hugged the wall, making their way over to the triage building. It was close enough for a team to get to quickly, but far away enough to preserve some of the kill-zone around the mine entrance.
Fuck my [Oath] sideways seven different ways - I couldn’t just abandon them. I had to heal them.
And there was no light down here to blast them with [Wheel of Sun and Moon]. No, I needed to physically touch the dwarves.
I started running towards them, all sneakiness gone as I leaned forward into an all-out sprint. They were moving at a good pace, but they weren’t sprinting, instead choosing to not jostle their squad mates.
I mean, technically, I could ignore them, and take the [Oath] penalty. I suspected it’d be more severe than the last time I turned my back on someone who needed help, and me screaming in crippling agony in the middle of the military compound wasn’t exactly a winning move in my escape plan.
I ran and ran, thanking my inadvertent choice to take a class that was heavy on speed. A desperate plan crystallized in my mind, one potential way that I might be able to escape. It was silly. I had no idea if it would work or not. But it was do or be captured right now. I had no other choice, but to gamble, and gamble hard.
I hated gambling with so much on the line. Unlike my classing up though, I had no choice here. There was no safe option.
I caught up with the dwarves, then overtook them a hair.
I then turned on my heels, executing the plan.
Like a whirling dervish, arms outstretched, I slapped one of the injured dwarves full of healing, then spun, dodging the carriers while I hit the second one. Both of them had those blasted implants, and my mana got horribly chunked.
But they were alive. Hale and whole.
I could see my feet, as I’d gotten too close to the dwarves, and it was one insult too many to the skill. [Invisibility with Eyeholes] dropped, and I was in full view of everyone.
The dwarves made surprised noises, but I was wearing obviously dwarven-forged gear, while being dwarf-height. It had benefits, like them assuming I was some criminal beardless dwarf - AKA a weirdo, and not an orc that they should be trying to kill.
I took the moment of distraction to run back towards the entrance of the mine, reaching out with one hand to touch the smooth stone beside me, the other focusing on [Wall Buster], trying to trigger the gem.
Magic was weird. I could remove flesh with [Dance with the Heavens], but only if it was to heal it. I couldn’t just remove flesh. Similarly, I could only restore an arm if someone had been born with it. If someone was born without an arm? My healing wouldn’t do anything, in spite of me knowing exactly what would need to happen to fix it.
[Talaria] used to only work in sunlight. Nevermind that moonlight was simply a reflection of the sun’s light off the moons - that didn’t count. That was, according to magic, moonlight, and my old [Moonlight] skill had worked off of that.
I was counting on “magical logic” to bail me out here. [Wall Buster] was designed for blowing up walls. Not blasting holes in stones.
As I ran towards the entrance to the mine, hand trailing on the wall, hearing a cry of alarm come up from behind me - cursed ungrateful dwarves, giving me away after saving two of them - I was focusing on casting [Wall Buster], the skill constantly failing to activate as there were no “walls” present.
Guards started to run at me from all directions. From the squad behind me, yelling about catching “the strange invisible beardless thing”, to the tunnel security trying to capture the “obviously running away from security, must be up to no good”, to various patrols that were summoned by the commotion, I was surrounded.
The net was closing in.
I threw up my [Mantle], creating a small teardrop against the rushing dwarves, stopping skills from coming in. A few long-range skills headed my way, but I was throwing off all manner of “harmless” cues. The skills were weak, capture-only skills, and my [Mantle] was strong enough to deflect them.
Then the [Wall Buster] skill “took”, blowing a hole in the wall. An L-shaped intersection met my eyes, beckoning me into the mines.
Good enough for me.
I sprinted in, throwing up [Brilliant Barricade] behind me, lighting my way with [Lantern].
Then, in an action that caused me no small amount of consternation, I left a trail of [Kaleidoscope] butterflies behind me, tiny motes of light hovering in my path. I pounded down the neatly carved stone tunnels, throwing [Mantle] on my back like a cape.
The [Kaleidoscope] butterflies were a massive risk. On one hand, they were an offensive skill, designed to explode and slow down my pursuers.
On the other?
They gave a neat sign pointing out my trail. There was no hiding, dodging, or hoping they’d get lost - I was pointing them exactly to me, leaving a nice trail of breadcrumbs.
Worst of all - they easily could become an [Oath] violation.
If - and only if - they harmed someone, it was me deliberately causing harm to another. Sure, if the people actively pursuing me got hit, it might - just might - be self-defense. It was stretching it quite a lot, given that while they were in pursuit, they weren’t actively engaged with me. It was possible that it’d hit them, and not count against me. However, I wasn’t sure of that. I believed I had a few toes over the line.
But the patrols that the dwarves had in here?
People coming back from battle or recon?
There was no justifying harming them. If someone ran into a butterfly and it exploded? There was no excuse. It was an [Oath] violation, and I knew it.
I was counting on the short lifespan of the butterflies - about a minute - the fact that they just hovered with the commands I gave them, and the healthy paranoia anyone at the levels I was dealing with would have. Who would willingly run into an unknown skill dropped by someone being chased?
In short, I was bluffing. I had to hope that nobody decided to just power through the skill, knowing my level and how much it wouldn’t hurt a high-level classer like Hakka.
Actually, Hakka would be the perfect dwarf to run into one of those butterflies. It wouldn’t hurt her at all, not with her resistance skill. No harm, no foul.
I rounded corners at full speed, sprinting, gasping, panting for air. I didn’t care where I was going, nor did I try to track it - I just wanted out. Out of the tunnels, away from the dwarves.
I knew I was near the surface, and I also knew the dwarves had tried to seal all the exits. No way did they miss one so close to their home, and it’d be all too easy to find myself in a dead end.
No, whenever possible, I went down, down, deeper.
I wanted to go invisible again, to try and hide from the dwarves. I had two more [Invisibility with Eyeholes] gems left.
Problem was lighting.
I was a Radiance mage, and my ways of making light were [Lantern] and [Radiance Conjuration] primarily. Now, it was possible to shine the skills out of my eyes to light the area up so I could see - but “Hey, what are those floating beams of light hovering in the middle of the hallway?” was a dead giveaway. That was before Radiance ate away and broke Mirages.
In short, it’d do nothing but waste a gem. One of my more powerful gems to boot.
A gem, that was one of my last mementos of Magic.
I kept running through the hallways, triggering traps the whole way.
I was in another corridor, when I simply felt my [Mantle] break. I twisted as I flung myself forward, to see what had happened.
I couldn’t see anything weird or out of place. Just smoothly-cut stone walls all around me.
Feeling more than a bit foolish, I got back up and kept running, reasserting my [Mantle]. I dunno what happened, but it had clearly done something.
If nothing else, it slowed me down, and I saw lights flickering in from multiple tunnels, converging on me. I scrambled to my feet and kept running.
I was running so hard that I couldn’t quite make the turn, instead slamming into a wall and half-bouncing off of it to make my turn into a long corridor. I was praying that the dwarves would all follow from behind, and none would wrap around, and flank me from the other way. An entire corridor of the floor fell away, a deadly-looking purple-colored liquid underneath the pitfall trap.
[Scintillating Ascent] made the trap a joke, as I simply flew over it. I stopped dropping [Kaleidoscope].
Three more tunnels, two more down ramps, and I saw a shift in the stone. From smooth and polished, back to rough, it was like the construction crews had said “here’s the line, let’s not do anything beyond this.”
Then, with a breath of relief, with my heart soaring into the… well, not the sky, I was underground, but high - I was past the tunnels, past the dwarf’s claimed defensive area.
I took a moment to slow down and pump my fist victoriously, before continuing on at a light jog.
Only for the wall to open up, with a few huge tridents erupting from the wall.
[Bullet Time] activated, and I threw up my shield, delaying the spikes for a fraction of a moment. It was enough for me to twist out of the way of almost all of them - all but one.
It slammed through me, bouncing my helmeted head off the wall, pinning me to the cold, hard stone like a butterfly on a board.
I was small, and the spikes were meant for larger game - orcs, primarily. Each of the spikes was large, and spaced far apart, which is why I was lucky that only one was through my chest. There were a few more prongs of the trident that scraped the armor on my arms, and pinned my arms next to me - but they weren’t actively keeping me trapped. Just immobile.
Fluttering helplessly against the wall.
Panicking now would be the end of me. I spent a brief moment calming myself, letting myself think.
I turned off my [Lantern], not making it any easier for the dwarves to find me. I just needed to use “The hip bone is connected to the ouch bone” to know where I had problems.
I tried to take a breath, only to feel it aborted against my will, which helped me diagnose the problem.
Barbed spike through my right lung.
However, after the pirate attack, after being able to build my own class, I’d been worried about something similar happening to me. I focused on my healing with [Dance with the Heavens] - which was already autocasting, but I figured focusing on the “remove materials” part of it would help.
While I was mostly immune to pain thanks to [Center of the Universe], I could still feel it, I knew it was there. A total lack of pain was almost worse than an overactive pain sense, since I couldn’t know when something was wrong. Either way, the “my chest is hurting” sense started to slowly decrease as I focused.
“Oh empty Arcanite.” I swore as I realized something. When I was done healing myself, the spike would still be “pushing” me into the wall, so to speak. I had one chance, right now, to fix that.
With a scream, I pushed myself forward on the prong, driving myself forward, feeling the pain flare up again, hearing my backpack tear.
Not the snacks!
I then waited, nervously feeling rivulets of sweat running down my back as I heard the dwarves running, coming closer and closer. They’d find me any second now, and I needed to be free before then.
My sense of pain fading as [Dance with the Heavens] slowly “ate” the metal pinning me to the wall, I wriggled experimentally, seeing what motion I had available. I turned [Lantern] back on, figuring the dwarves knew where I was, and that I needed to work out my escape.
The dwarves rounded the corner, seeing me in the trap right as I was freed, healed out. The end of the spike still sticking out of my back, I nimbly darted through the rest of the trident-trap, turning round to flip the dwarves the bird as they ran up to the trap and started to push their stout bodies through it.
Ha! Being tiny had its advantages!
My glee was cut off as one of the dwarves fired something sticky at me. With pure reflexes I managed to throw up [Mantle], stopping the attack, avoiding capture.
Unlike that time with the mud mage.
I turned and fled down, down, deeper into the endless mines.