We took a short break while Serondes and Awarthril restored their mana. The hydra would get a chance to heal up, but the first round was already something of a bust. Either Serondes’s Lava pellets would keep the wound open, or they wouldn’t. That, and none of them were particularly deep.
Awarthril was missing a few talismans, a couple of them looking like they got ripped, and a few looking like they’d been in a fire.
Serondes re-made the platform, this time with a large glass pane in the middle.
“To better protect ourselves.” He explained, which made sense. His range of control on his Lava was big enough that he could just use the bottom of the platform to fire his Lava bullets, while still being able to see, and giving us a hair more protection. The hydra had demonstrated that it could hit us when we were flying, after all.
We got back on, and started tracking its trail through the swamp.
“I might have to fight this on the ground.” Serondes frowned as he paced on the ship, seemingly paying no attention to where we were going. Awarthril acted as a lookout and navigator, while I felt like a kid, hanging on as the parents ran errands.
Of course, that meant I could play with Kiyaya, who was taking full advantage of my idleness to get some serious good-girl scratches in.
Serondes let out a string of curses as the trail ended at the edge of a lake, the hydra having gone underwater.
“FlsklegrablegrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrAH!” Awarthril… well, cursed would imply there were actual words I could understand. As far as I could tell, it was just a noise of frustration.
Or some super-secret elf language she was swearing in. I was going to start taking notes, and seeing if I could decipher it. Could also be wolf-speak.
“I’m going to land us.” Serondes didn’t wait for a reply, navigating the Lava ship to the edge - away from the tracks - and landing. Awarthril, holding onto her fauchard, and Kiyaya hopped off before the platform had even stopped moving, taking a look at the tracks.
I’m not sure what they were looking for - it seemed real obvious to me that the tracks went directly into the lake - but they were seeing something there.
Probably. That, or trying to look all-knowing and wise in front of the little human.
We touched down, and Serondes went over to check on the tracks, while I hung back. I didn’t have [Tracking], [Woodsmanship], or any other such skills, and I’d only ever been barely passable at the natural skill. I was more likely to muddy the waters - quite literally - than contribute anything.
The world slowed down as the water bulged, [Bullet Time] deciding that, yes, now was the time to try and save my life. The mud-coated hydra’s heads erupted from the water, right as I jumped up, soaring into the sky with [Scintillating Ascent], Cordamo wrapped tightly around my helmet.
Three of the heads went for Kiyaya, Awarthril, and Serondes, while two more opened their mouths, noxious-colored gases flooding out. One head went on “lookout”, scanning around, while the last one locked onto me. Chains dangling from two of the heads showed that not only was it the same hydra, but it’d bitten through the chains Awarthril had tried to shackle it with.
“Fucking moldy mangoooooooooooos!!” I swore as I tried to fly back as fast as I could. My initial distance saved me, as the hydra couldn’t directly try to bite me. Instead, it fired more of those nasty green bolts my way.
Cordamo launched himself off of my head, and a strong wind started to blow behind us, as the couatl used his Gale magic to speed us up, and slow the hydra’s spit.
Then the traitor zoomed off, leaving me behind, creating a white streak that reminded me of a thrown javelin.
As the spit traveled towards me, as I twisted to minimize the impact, I got to watch the heads attacking the other elves. Awarthril, in a stunning display of physical prowess, swept her fauchard in such a way that the shaft knocked Kiyaya back. The front of the blade saved Serondes, as it sliced in a way to make the hydra’s smile extra-wide, cutting through the muscles it would’ve needed to bite him in half. The hydra reared back, a strange gurgling scream coming from the head.
I had no idea if it would have succeeded, given the Lava rapidly forming around him, but the save was good anyways, a single motion of her weapon getting two of her teammates out of harm’s way.
I’d managed to twist myself out of the way of some of the goop the hydra was spitting, and aligned myself to take hits feet-first, presenting a small profile. Still, I wasn’t able to dodge everything, and I threw a [Mantle of the Stars] up at my feet. The attack chewed through my shield - of course, but at least I’d stopped some of it - and latched onto my armored boots.
There was no sound, just my boots, feet, and lower leg just vanishing in a moment of agonizing pain. Blasted acid attacks. It took half a moment, but my legs popped back in, my healing spending a tenth of a second fighting with the acid before it won out.
One of Aegion’s arrows came thundering in, blowing up in one of the gas-spewing hydra’s eyes. It screeched in pain, waving around, but continued to slowly flood the field with it’s colorful miasma.
I would’ve loved to keep watching the battle between the elves and the hydra, but the one head after me wasn’t about to let me go, not when it sensed weakness. I was slow, for the level of the battle occurring. I was weak. It looked like I was an easy target, and while the main hydra body was busy with the elves, this one head had it out for me.
That, and Awarthril had her illusions going full-force.
It didn’t do the “great big acid ball” attack, nor the fine spray of mist. Neither would work, and this hydra was proving itself cunning and clever. It had retreated to its habitat, it had coated itself in mud to shield itself from the Lava bullets, and it had laid in ambush, after making obvious markings.
I took a few more hits, but nothing too bad. The attacks might’ve been able to kill me, if I took an unshielded hit on my head. As it was, each attack briefly chewed through some flesh, then my healing took over.
I was as bullshit as the hydra was. Which honestly had me somewhat concerned for this fight. I wasn’t looking forward to a detailed, up-close guide on “how to kill powerful healers.”
I was still flying away as Serondes grabbed me by the arm, jerking me and towing me like a stuffed toy.
“I apologize for the rough treatment.” He gruffly said, as he caught up to where Cordamo was hovering.
“No worries.” I rolled my shoulder, getting the “almost ripped out of its socket” kinks worked out. Serondes started to make a full Lava platform to stand on, versus his prior little “Lava boots” he’d been using to fly.
I just hovered next to him. He was the heavy-hitter for the fight, he’d need all the mana he could get. Me standing on the platform was a noticeable drain on his mana, and this fight was looking like it’d be a long one. He’d need every bit, and it didn’t cost me much to fly next to him. The difference between using a skill with a cost buy-off, versus needing to do the entire lifting.
I looked down, seeing the progression of the fight. The hydra was now fully emerged from the lake, entirely coated in mud armor. From what I could tell, it wasn’t a skill or anything, just sheer beastial cunning.
The entire area was flooded with two colors of gas, while most of the hydra's heads darted in and out, snapping and snarling at dozens of shapes flickering through the gaseous mist.
One of the hydra’s now nine heads was keeping a wary eye on us, but step by step it was going forward, driving Awarthril and Kiyaya back.
Or were they luring it fully out of the lake?
I’d eat my hat if the hydra wasn’t using Miasma.
A clear line pierced through the Miasma, Aegion’s arrow hitting with a sharp thunderclap. It gave us a brief glimpse of Awarthril - or at least, the illusion she was using. Chains snapped into existence, locking heads together, while sticky Ooze was stymied by clever mud, simply peeling away layers of the hydra’s armor instead of slowing it down.
One of the hydra’s heads was on chain-snapping duty, but right before the mist closed back up I saw a chain connecting the base of its head to another one, positioned in an awkward angle for the snapper-head to deal with.
Then the mists closed back up, and I was left with a frowning Serondes, who had Cordamo on his shoulder. He spent a few moments - an eternity of howling wolves and flashing blades, down where Awarthril was fighting for her life - before sighing.
“Cordamo.” He extended his arm, the couatl seemingly understanding what he wanted. He wrapped himself around Serondes’s arm, head near his hand.
Serondes summoned a tiny little sand twister, dancing about in his hand. Cordamo started a fine spray of clear liquid from his mouth, the poison mixing with the swirling sand.
Slowly, carefully, Serondes and Cordamo built up a sand twister, filled with deadly poison. I eyed the creation warily. The sand was swirling at incredible speeds, promising to strip and abrade anything it came into contact with - at which point, Cordamo’s poison would easily enter the scraped wounds.
Then, of course, the poison would do what poison did best.
At the same time this was happening, Lava walls were slowly rising around Awarthril and the hydra, Serondes attempting to trap and contain the hydra, so it couldn’t run away again.
I was torn, my eyes flickering between the steadily growing calamity in a palm, and the fight below. The gas was getting steadily thicker, making it harder for me to see. The steadily flashing blades, darting figures, and haunting howling made it clear that Kiyaya and Awarthril were still fighting, and fighting well.
I wanted to dive down and see if they needed healing - all that gas couldn’t be good for them. At the same time, they might not be injured, and diving in would just force Awarthril to protect me. Being on-hand, ready to heal at a moment’s notice, was good enough.
Leaving was out of the question.
Chains flailed through the air, steadily increasing in number as Awarthril summoned them and the hydra broke them. Still, the number was increasing, and one particularly corroded chain let me see something clever Awarthril was doing - she was simply reconnecting the chains at this point, saving her mana for the slogfest she was in.
Aegion’s arrows stopped, the poor visibility making missing just as likely as hitting the hydra, Awarthril, or Kiyaya.
After almost twenty minutes of channeling and building the twister, of raising the Lava walls to a height and thickness that might be enough to contain the multiple tons of hydra, Serondes threw the sand twister forward, following closely behind it.
He kept manipulating it as it reached the fight pit, where it then exploded into a quarter-sized, full-force sandstorm, whipping and howling in the pit he’d built. It easily grabbed the deadly Miasma gases the hydra was spewing out, creating a swirling sandy maelstrom of death.
I was more than a bit concerned for Awarthril and Kiyaya, trapped inside the storm with all the other nonsense that was going on. Serondes’s storm didn’t discriminate - or at least, I assumed it didn’t - and while Awarthril was well-armored, Kiyaya wasn’t.
Although, I could totally see Awarthril trying to Ooze up Kiyaya to shield her. Problem was, the storm was effectively abrading and sanding everything down. Skin, flesh, armor, mud, ooze, fur - nothing was safe.
I imagined being inside would be like having a high-powered sandblaster over my entire body. Add in the stinging, Poison, and Miasma?
The fight continued to rage, out of sight, for an unknown length of time. It might’ve been short, it could’ve been long - I just knew I was “pacing”, flying back and forth, concerned for my friends inside. Feeling useless. I couldn’t fly into the storm, and any Radiance attacks - if I could even see where I needed to shoot - would just get intercepted and ruined by the swirling sand.
Serondes just watched the whole thing with a frown, his eyebrows creased in worry. The walls shook and shuddered when the hydra threw itself against it, or Kiyaya got thrown into them. It was impossible to tell what was going on. Finally, Awarthril’s oversized crystal weapon flashed for the last time, a javelin throw at Serondes. At the same time, Kiyaya’s howling changed, from the deep, teeth-rattling noise to a more mellow and pained sound.
Serondes dropped the sandstorm, and we both moved in. Sheets of colored sand fell around us like a waterfall, as Serondes’s magic was no longer holding it up. It was as beautiful as it was deadly, sand dyed all the colors of the rainbow by Poison, blood, Miasma, and more.
The shape of the hydra started to emerge, coated in a thick layer of sand. It was up to a whooping thirteen heads, Awarthril having been forced repeatedly to cut a head off to keep herself - or Kiyaya - alive.
The fighters themselves emerged from the sand, coughing and wheezing. I rushed over, pushing my flight to the max. I threw out my [Dance with the Heavens] at full-blast, using [Wheel of Sun and Moon] to get the healing to them a bit faster. The image was terrible - “Heal, and cure Poison plus Miasma” - but it got the job done, as my mana lost a small percent twice in a row, the second drop being larger than the first. Still, all in all I lost less than 14k mana. My mana pool was absurd, and for patching up two people, who weren’t even missing arms or anything? Easy.
I never got a good look at their condition, and the sandblasting they’d gone through had removed most traces of gore. Poor Kiyaya had been entirely stripped of fur though, and I’d never seen such a sorry-looking wolf. She looked down at herself, then back up at Awarthril and plaintively whined, pawing at her nose.
Awarthril was bent over panting with exhaustion, coughing and hacking Sand out of her lungs. Kiyaya also made some retching and coughing noises, like she was a cat trying to get rid of a hairball and not a wolf as large as I was getting rid of all the crap she’d breathed in.
Cordamo took the chance to throw a hissing laugh her way.
Everything shook, the last of the sand falling off the hydra, and I realized - it wasn’t dead! With thousands of bleeding wounds all over, Awarthril had chained and Oozed and chained and generally stacked bindings on the hydra to the point where it could no longer move, dozens upon dozens of chains restricting its movement, sticky black tar trailing from the walls and the ground to all over the hydra, purple goop sealing each mouth shut.
“Finish.” Awarthril panted out, then just sort of waved her hand at the hydra, almost falling over as a result.
Like an idiot, like the Oathbound healer I was, I opened my mouth to protest. I didn’t quite think this fell under what I needed to do - after all, we had just been in a fight for our lives against it - but it was intelligent, and clearly beaten.
The Sentinel, the Ranger, heck, the human in me said “kill it!” It was a threat, actively hunting intelligent creatures, and incredibly powerful. It’d just cause more harm, and 95% of me was in agreement in that direction.
The last 5% was a filthy traitor, who hated seeing intelligent creatures die. Especially healer-tagged creatures. It was all too easy to see the same justifications that led to the hydra hunt, to see the same tactics applied to the hydra, applied to me.
As I said. It was dumb. It didn’t stop the thought.
Cordamo seemed to have a similar thought, as he flew between us and the hydra, flaring his wings protectively and hissing at us.
“Don’t kill the hydra?” I asked, already being somewhat vaguely inclined towards that direction.
Cordamo hissed an affirmative, bobbing his head up and down.
“Why ever not?” Serondes’s insult at the suggestion was clear. Heck, I was feeling slightly insulted about it.
Cordamo had something complicated to say, as he started pantomiming… something. His tail went across his neck, which then comically fell to the side, then popped back up, then his mouth opened and closed a bunch.
As a fellow foodie, I got it. I groaned and put my face in my hands.
“He’s saying to keep the hydra alive, and chop off its heads for an unlimited supply of hydra-steaks.”
Cordamo hissed and shook his head at the last part. I rolled my eyes.
“Sorry. Hydra barbeque.”
He looked much happier at the correct interpretation of his desires. I just groaned, and stuck my face back into my hands.
Sparing the hydra was a dumb idea of mine, but by every metric, Cordamo’s was dumber.
Serondes looked horrified at the suggestion, while Awarthril just looked exhausted. A crackling arrow a few moments later made Aegion’s thoughts on the matter all too clear.
Thank goodness for Serondes. Instead of dithering, or arguing, he instantly summoned a wave of crescent Lava blades, each one neatly and mercifully cutting off one of the hydra’s heads.
[*ding!* Your Party has slain a [Sneaky-Swamp Hydra] (Verdant, Lv 734) // [Muriatic Sharpshooter] (Acid, Lv 694) // [Roiling Gas of the Swamp] (Miasma, Lv 211)]