I rushed over to the edge of the platform, making sure I stayed away from Awarthril’s [Rubbery Rope]. Serondes joined me as Kiyaya padded over, all of us half-leaning over to get a better view of what was going on. Cordamo stretched himself over my head, acting as eyes for Aegion, stationed way back over at our base.
I saw the seven-headed hydra before I saw Awarthril. I used [Long-Range Identify] and was horrified as it came back [Healer]. The hydra was intelligent!? And a healer?! The red was darker than the elves to boot.
Ok, the healer tag wasn’t terribly surprising, not with the famous head-regrowing property. With seven heads, seven brains (or was it eight?), it wasn’t too much of a surprise that it was smart, but I was having a sudden crisis of conscience. I’d never hunted a healer before, and I didn’t quite want to start now. Fortunately for me, I’d been asked - told, really - to stay out of the fight, and I was just on-hand to heal.
I spent the few moments left in Awarthril’s fall to keep studying the hydra.
Two heads were above the treeline of the miserable trees surviving in the swamp, while the rest were low down, weaving and investigating, seemingly trying to sniff out any tasty morsels that tried to hide instead of fleeing from its presence. One head snapped out to grab a terrified otter that tried to run away, while two more were quite literally splitting an alligator between them. From how shredded the alligator was, it was clear they’d found it some time ago, and were busy savoring their meal.
Well. I think it was an alligator. There were so many sub-types of crocodiles it was hard to tell, especially after they were dead and the System wasn’t granting anymore help.
It didn’t seem to be hunting, just moving from place to place, the food it was grabbing a target of opportunity. Its body was large, the shoulder reaching up three-quarters of the way up the trees, and its tail was as long as its necks. The scales were a matted, splotchy dark-green with black and grey smears, which would let it camouflage almost perfectly with the environment it found itself in.
The level of savagery it was exhibiting, and a reminder that Tyriss’s entire herd, all his friends and family, had been wiped out by the hydra, helped dampen my reluctance to participate in the hunt. It was just another monster. Monster-sized, monster-shaped, and with a keen, intelligent mind. I’d hunted monsters with human minds and human bodies before, with no issue painting the target on Hesoid.
Then again, I was only getting one side of the story, and it was far too late now for me to be worrying or thinking about it. I refocused.
Awarthril was a silver bullet, dropping quickly, sleekly, and silently. I felt heat rising up to my right, and saw that Serondes had conjured up four head-sized balls of incredibly hot, rapidly expanding Lava. Even as I watched, it doubled in volume, and started to spin.
I was so glad I was on the friendly side of whatever that attack was.
He had his bow in one hand, nocking an arrow with the other. I kinda wanted to facepalm.
Duh. Right. Mages didn’t need their hands, and Ranger training had us learning how to use a spear and shield, for our own defense and to take a place in a shield-wall if we needed to. For whatever reason, it’d never occurred to me to learn archery, and use that instead.
Then again, at a range my magic was more than enough, and up-close a bow and arrow was worse than useless. Still, I was curious if Serondes had any archery skills, or was relying on pure talent and stats.
Probably the second one. Blasted unfair elves.
I saw some leaves blow around violently in a straight line as Awarthril was about to land - Aegion taking a ranging shot? We were crazy far away from the base, and honestly I had trouble believing that anyone could make shots like this, System or no. It was hard to deny the evidence before me.
Awarthril landed, and all hell broke loose, [Bullet Time] deciding that, nah, I wasn’t in any danger up here, and could try to watch things in a blurry, high-speed way.
At the same time, the lack of danger let me spend all my attention observing.
Kiyaya began to howl, a low, deep song that thrummed in my bones. Another wolf joined, then another, until a full pack was howling.
Oh my gods. Kiyaya was a sub-woofer.
Well - until Kiyaya was imitating a full pack howling, magic and the System enabling her to play a full orchestra - errr, pack - at once.
I felt strength and energy coursing through me, so much that I started to rub my arms in an attempt to deal with the itching, and bouncing my leg. My armor made my rubbing futile, but in spite of the incredible desire to scratch, I maintained discipline and didn’t take off my gear.
I was stronger. Faster. Probably tougher and more agile. Kiyaya was providing widespread buffs to all of us, Sound being a great element for that sort of thing.
Speaking of sound, to Awarthril’s credit, she hadn’t yelled or screamed warcries at the hydra as she was falling. Her landing was graceful, but there was only so much muffling she could do as she dropped like a bullet into a swamp, the splash catching the attention of one of the hydra’s heads. She charged forward as the hydra’s head snapped towards her, trying to grab an easy meal.
Awarthril’s fauchard flashed, but the hydra didn’t flinch. The blade landed, and went right through the hydra’s head, at the same time the hydra ate Awarthril whole.
A new Awarthril peeled off from the head, a belated look of “no, I dodged, really.” The hydra brought its head back, ready to snap again.
Awarthril and her illusions.
A crackling boom heralded one of Aegion’s arrows finding its mark in the hydra’s legs, followed by rolling thunder behind it as the sound caught up with the arrow. The arrow shattered along with the leg, the hydra briefly staggering under the loss of one of its supports.
Then the hydra’s regeneration kicked in, the leg snapping right back into place, and the hydra turned to Awarthril, putting its full angry focus on her, right as Serondes’s attack landed.
Serondes had waited for the battle to be engaged, and for his Lava-balls to become sufficiently large. Then, abusing his height advantage, he spun off dozens, hundreds of tiny little Lava pellets at the Hydra in a narrow cone, the four orbs providing overlapping fields of fire. Not all of them would land - but most would, and there wasn’t an easy place to dodge to. He supplemented his attacks with “rapid fire” arrows, each one tipped with a speck of Lava before he fired it.
He was getting hundreds of Lava pellets for every arrow he shot out though. Not exactly an impressive archery showing. Still, it was better than what I was doing, which was standing around doing nothing.
The Lava pellets landed, a thousand tiny bullets impacting with a sizzle, pitting the hydra’s back. The injuries stayed open though, the Lava burning and searing, stopping healing from where they landed.
Or if it was healing, it was at such a slow pace that I couldn’t see what was happening.
The hydra went into a berserk fury, six of the heads slamming one after another into Awarthril at high speed, snapping so fast and with such coordination that I couldn’t follow it at all. The last one reared up, keeping a wary eye on us. Awarthril’s illusion, of course, neatly “dodged” them all. When two of the heads slammed down at the same time, a pair of collars got conjured around the two necks, linked together by chains. It didn’t slow the hydra down, but it would restrain its range of motion.
Serondes took the chance to fire off a thick crescent of Lava, aiming to decapitate the hydra in a single blow. The hydra effortlessly dodged, but had to pause in its relentless assault against Awarthril to do so.
One of Serondes’s Lava bullets hit something critical, and the hydra roared with pain, all seven heads letting out a high-pitched painful, keening wail. It didn’t drown out Kiyaya’s incessant howling.
Between Kiyaya’s howling, Awarthril’s chains and being impossible to hit, the hydra had enough. It whipped around, its tail cracking like a bullwhip as it cleared the area, and charged off through the swamp, trampling trees and going far faster than the terrain suggested it could go.
A randomly demolished tree, along with the [Rubbery Rope] pointing that way, suggested that the hydra’s “sweep” had hit Awarthril, and sent her flying through the swamp.
“Bah.” Serondes looked like he’d just eaten surprise lemons.
“Should we chase after it?” I asked the obvious question. Serondes hesitated.
“I want to see what Awarthril wants to do. No idea how bad that hit was.”
Kiyaya stopped her howling, instead making concerned whining noises, nuzzling at the rope that was Awarthril’s lifeline - and way back up.
The [Rubbery Rope] went slack, and Awarthril dropped her invisibility a moment later, looking no worse for having been sent flying. Even her armor, somehow, in spite of having gone through an entire swamp, looked pristine, not a hint of dirt or muddy water to be seen.
That was just good enchantments though. Unless it was an illusion. I flickered my healing a moment, my mana flickering a few points. A couple of seconds later, I was back to full mana.
I’d need to subtly throw some dirt on Aegion or Serondes and test it out.
“Dagleblagleflagle. I hate being thrown through trees. Also, Serondes, what are you doing!? Follow it, let’s go go GO!” She cried out, pointing in the direction the hydra was fleeing.
Not that it was exactly subtle about the whole thing.
Serondes just rolled his eyes. We’d been waiting for Awarthril to figure out our next move. After how she’d berated him for taking unilateral action when we first met, I’d think she’d be a bit more understanding.
The entire Lava platform smoothly accelerated after the hydra, and Aegion’s arrows regularly punctuated the chase, blowing apart the hydra’s knees, only for them to be immediately restored.
Powerful healing was such bullshit. I needed to take notes.
The hydra did figure out what was going on with the arrows, and changed its pacing somewhat, to a strange, loping gait. It was slower, but Aegion’s arrows didn’t bother it in the slightest anymore. It only slowed down the hydra’s regeneration, and my critical eye judged the healing needed to be relatively light on the mana.
Four of the heads turned to look at us, and hissed. One of the heads went as high as it could go, and started to spray a fine mist directly up. One shot green globs at us, while the last two started to make a large green ball of something in its mouth, working in tandem, channeling it to be larger and larger.
It reminded me of Serondes’s preparations for an attack, and I did not like it one bit. I threw up [Mantle] to shield us.
“Go! Keep flying!” Awarthril shouted, seeing my shield.
I saw some shots of Lava erupt from underneath the flying platform we were on, intercepting the green mid-sized shots from the hydra. [Mantle] managed to cleanly plow through the fine spray being thrown up, although I wasn’t sure what we were going to do about the larger attack the hydra was preparing.
The hydra launched the ball - now nearly as large as it was - straight up, on a path to intercept us.
“I can’t shield that!” I yelled, preemptively flaring my healing around me. It was going to get nasty when that hit.
“Hold on!” Serondes yelled, abruptly pulling the platform back.
I was flung forward by the sudden deceleration, Cordamo hissing in displeasure as Awarthril snaked an arm out to grab me and stop me from falling off.
Not that I would’ve fallen off. Safety railing and all that.
“Hold your breath!” Awarthril yelled as Serondes said something, the ball bursting on top of us.
Then it was all darkness, chaos and slime as the world tumbled around me.
After an eternity - seconds - of being tumble-dried in Serondes’s encased Lava platform, sticky Ooze filling every crack, the dome of the “ball” we’d been encased in cracked open, the Ooze vanishing a moment later.
Cordamo relaxed, his futile stranglehold on my armored neck loosening and relaxing. It took me a moment to work out what had happened, while Awarthril and Serondes bickered in the background.
Serondes had quickly, with expert precision, closed off the top of the skyship, shielding us from the gigantic glob of I-didn’t-want-to-know that the hydra had spat at us. At the same time, Awarthril filled the entire container with Ooze, which absorbed all the impacts, and kept us all perfectly safe.
Something in all that had destabilized the platform, and it’d come tumbling down, in the gentlest, lightest way, courtesy of Awarthril’s Ooze. There wasn’t a single bruise, and her de-conjuring the Ooze had cleanly removed all of it. The softest chaotic landing ever.
I briefly checked in on Serondes’s and Awarthril’s argument.
“If you hadn’t thrown me off-balance, we would’ve been fine!” Serondes was coldly, but furiously rebuking Awarthril, having a tight leash on his emotions but letting her know how he felt.
“Oh come off it! We would’ve been rattled around like coins in a beggar’s bowl! We had no light, and it would’ve been too easy to accidentally slice Elaine and Cordamo! We’re all fine, we can keep chasing!”
I tuned them back out. Nothing interesting going on there.
Kiyaya came over and gave me a half-nuzzle, and gave Cordamo a lick before trotting over to Awarthril and sitting down next to her. She absent-mindedly reached over and started scratching her behind the ears with her free hand.
Which left her not-free hand, still holding the fauchard, to start gesticulating as she argued with Serondes, the crystalline blade flashing everywhere.
The argument quickly ended.
“Elaine, are you ok?” Awarthril said, patting my armor all over like she could divine broken bones by touch alone.
Totally ignoring that I was a healer.
I guess it was just an affectionate gesture? A way to show she was concerned? Pure habit?
“Yup! Totally fine. Honestly, the Ooze was a greater danger than anything else.” I said, Awarthril looking unhappy at that, while Serondes looked triumphant.
Sadly, it was true. Broken, battered, bitten in half? Easy. Ooze taking up all the air? Tricky.
Awarthril put on a fake-bright smile, and I felt bad. My comment had cut deeply.
“Right! Let’s get back to chasing that hydra!”