I was woken up in the middle of the night to the sounds of shattering rocks and screaming. Serondes and I bolted awake, and I summoned a strong Radiance glow as he got some Lava ready for lighting.
A sword crashed through one of the walls, the crystal blade sinking into the other side of the room, shaving a few hairs off my nose as I went cross-eyed.
Serondes grabbed the crystal blade, yanking it out of the wall. I recognized it as one of the elven blades, and with the sheer expertise demonstrated by getting it through one wall and not the other, I assumed it was a high-speed delivery.
Then Serondes sprinted out the door, while I followed a moment later, only pausing a moment to check that the egg was still good in its Serondes-created Lava pillar. I didn’t bother to throw anything on. I didn’t have any gear nearby, and what I had that was halfway pretending to be protective took ages to equip. I’d just have to hope mom’s lucky pendant was enough.
I had a half-second to think before I got outside.
FOR ONCE it wasn’t me getting attacked in the middle of the night. THANK GOODNESS.
I got out of the hut and immediately exploded upwards, snapping my [Scintillating Ascent] wings open to gain height, and get myself away from the problem and into a good vantage point.
Goosebumps ran down my arms as [Bullet Time] activated before I could even properly see the threat, but it only took a half-moment to turn my head towards the screaming, and see what was going on.
A dinosaur with a familiar shape was rampaging out, with Aegion caught screaming in its jaws. A long, crocodile-like jaw with jagged teeth, a large sail on its back, hunched over on two feet with grasping claws and a long tail. I’d seen statues of the dinosaur, and the super-sized version in the flesh.
A spinosaurus. Or a relative so close as to practically be one.
The dinosaur was big, but not Etalix-sized. I would be knee-tall on it, compared to the ankle-tall that I would be against the Guardian himself.
Aegion was in the jaws in question, working hard at not turning into an appetizer, the spinosaurus’s serrated teeth trying to saw him in half. Most of the screaming was coming from him, although Kiyaya was barking, Awarthril was yelling, and the spinosaurus was making its own noises.
With a thought I flew up, higher, bathing the field in light so we could all see. My eyes flickered up, noting the clearish sky, and the pair of crescent moons. [Wheel of Sun and Moon] was live. I did try to aim a second high-intensity beam at the spino’s eye, trying to blind it on one side.
It’d attacked at night, I was assuming it didn’t like the bright lights.
Serondes was hovering lower down, spinning balls of Lava forming around him, preparing to attack. Awarthril had her overlarge polearm out, and Kiyaya was next to her, howling. They were keeping a far, cautious distance from the spinosaurus, and as my eyes adjusted, I saw a bit more what was going on.
There was a faint greyish-brown sphere around the spinosaurus, a solid ball of see-through color crackling around him. Grass inside the sphere was slowly crumbling and fading.
Something clicked, and Awarthril’s voice was magnified a dozen times, the force of her words like a hammer against my head as Kiyaya amplified her.
“Erosion aura!” She yelled as she charged forward.
Chains erupted in her path, launching themselves up to the spinosaurus, wrapping around its neck, arms, legs, body, and tail. Awarthril took a hop forward, a pad of Ooze appearing in her path. She sprang off of it like a trampoline, slicing down at the spinosaurus.
Fuck it. I wasn’t doing any good up here, and Aegion needed help. It sucked to think, but he’d be better off sliced in half. Then I could heal him up, and he’d be back in the fight, not trapped.
The angle wasn’t great, and the blade was turned by the sail. Still, Awarthril was flexible, and sticky black Ooze appeared around the spinosaurus, trying to bind it further.
Serondes wasn’t idle, his classic Lava bullets interspersed with the occasional larger crescent blade of burning Lava fired at the spinosaurus.
I continued my dive, feeling my skin prickling as I dove through the Erosion aura, the skill eating away at my flesh and bone, my vitality slowing the process down and my healing reversing any damage that occurred.
Getting so close to the spinosaurus was risky, but when was healing mid-combat anything but?
Serondes’s attacks were a powerful broadside onto the dinosaur. The smaller Lava bullets didn’t do much, but the larger slashes of Lava that caused the air to shimmer and mirage around them were cutting deep.
In a strange twist, the molten rock half-trickled out of the gashes they made, before solidifying into solid rock. Both armor against future attacks, a reduction in flexibility, and a heavy weight to carry. Not that a few dozen or hundred pounds would slow a massive dinosaur of that level much.
Even as I dove, air screaming past me as I let gravity pull me down while “pushing” my flight down, the chains around the spinosaurus slowly degraded, then snapped. First one, then two, then the rest of them went, the spino’s Erosion aura - or skills - breaking through the bindings.
I flashed past Cordamo, who was circling just above Aegion, wind swirling ominously around him. As I shot past him, the wind picked me up and spun me around, causing the ground to spin wildly. I had enough experience flying, even through hostile conditions, that I was able to keep my head and orientation.
I started to summon my [Kaleidoscope] butterflies, launching them in careful waves at the spinosaurus. I didn’t want to risk hurting Aegion more while he was trapped in the literal jaws of the beast. I aimed for the hip, hoping to chain enough explosive Radiance butterflies in a row to take the leg out of action.
Ideally, with that leg gone, it would fall over and be entirely crippled. No way would we be that lucky.
I was careful with how much mana I was using. I wasn’t the offensive powerhouse of this team, I was the healer. Aegion was going to require serious assistance, and there was no telling who else I’d need to fix.
The spino finished breaking free and whirled hard. First he swung Aegion through the hail of Lava bullets that Serondes had launched, peppering the poor elf with friendly fire. He kept spinning, and his tail elongated, extending further and further. Stretching in a way only a skill can cause, cracking like a whip.
Serondes saw it coming, but he was a little too close. A little too sure of the distance that he had on the dinosaur, of his own skills. He flew back, but the tail kept extending, some skill at work. A ball of Sand flashed inside a shell of Lava, but the tail just went straight through it, breaking dozens of Serondes’s bones and sending him flying.
I quickly, clinically analyzed the injuries I’d seen in that brief window of vision I’d gotten. Broken arm, shattered ribs, broken spine, likely dozens of internal injuries, probable broken neck, crushed pelvis, and those were only the injuries I had a vague idea of from this distance. Either way, Serondes was in a world of hurt, and required urgent medical care to stay alive. Blunt trauma was a nasty way to go, and it could go either way. He could survive for hours with those injuries, or if something subtle went wrong, minutes or less. A rib puncturing his heart would kill him quicker than landing on the nest of some creature that took offense. Medicine was an art, and tiny, miniscule differences and changes in what happened to a patient was often the difference between life and death.
As much as I wanted to tend to him, Aegion had triage priority. I was closer, and more importantly, Aegion’s current appointment with Black Crow was ahead of Serondes’s. He was being sawed in half, inside of the Erosion aura, and had just eaten a literal faceful of Lava bullets. Only reason he was still alive was there hadn’t been a slash of Lava in that attack. That, and his innate tenacity.
I finished my dive, starting to pull up to get some distance again. At the bottom of my dive, I was not only in range to use [Wheel of Sun and Moon] on Aegion, but a bit closer than my max range to decrease the penalty. I was probably going to end up needing to heal and re-heal Aegion a bunch, and mana was going to be a concern.
I cut the [Kaleidoscope] cast, watching the swarm of Radiance butterflies fulfill their mission. One after another, in rapid succession, they hit the hip joint, having gone the long way around. A chain of explosions erupted in the area, finally clearing to reveal…
They’d barely managed to blow through the tough scales, burning and scarring some of the muscles underneath. Not nearly enough to slow the spinosaurus down.
I split my attention back to Aegion, focusing on healing him. I didn’t bother with his waist - anything I healed would just get immediately re-opened. Instead I focused on everything above that. Heart. Lungs. Bones and muscle, spending extra attention on blood and blood loss. Naturally, his face got extra attention, healing a half-dozen holes drilled from Serondes’s Lava bullets.
I should totally make a joke about them improving his appearance. Or something.
He looked horrible, but his struggles and my healing working on him made it obvious that he was still alive. I kept working on pulling up, aiming to get up and away from the fight. I needed to fix Serondes up.
I thought I’d given myself enough room, and I was peeling away to save Serondes when the sail of the spinosaurus grew, the edge of it clipping my side.
Due to the angles involved, and my rapid upwards motion, it didn’t do too much to me, just caused me to wobble a bit in-flight and a negligible amount of mana.
Ok, sure, so it also ripped a chunk out of my side, ribs going flying, etc. etc. that instantly got restored. Basically a papercut.
I started to shoot off towards Serondes when Awarthril’s Kiyaya-amplified voice hit me.
I twisted in the air to see what I was supposed to catch, and swore to myself.
Awarthril was mid-leap to the spinosaurus’s jaw, where Aegion was hanging limply, the jaws of the dinosaur having almost entirely closed on him at last. So much for my healing. As she got closer, Ooze sprang out, connecting her to the spinosaurus and drawing her in faster. She reached Aegion, and ripped him out of the teeth of the dinosaur.
Well, for a generous definition of Aegion. She got the important parts. Head, heart, lungs, like a third of his organs. Everything from the belly down was left inside of the dino’s mouth though.
One downside to elvish perfection - I bet monsters thought they tasted delicious.
I immediately reversed direction and started diving back down.
With her bad angle and superelven strength, she heaved, sending Aegion’s upper body spinning towards me.
“You flea-infested idiot!” I cursed Awarthril as I flew on an intercept course for his body.
Skin and bones were important. Among other things, they kept the important bits, like guts, liver, kidneys, gallbladder, spleen, stomach, and everything else inside a person.
All of which were busily exiting Aegion, centripetal force flinging them out of his body with a generous dosing of the rest of his blood. Not the proper way to treat a patient.
I hadn’t gone terribly far, and between Awarthril’s high-speed toss and my own redirection, skin still burning under the terrible Erosion aura of the spinosaurus, Aegion was in range quickly. I blasted him the moment he got to the edge of my healing, my heart seizing for a brief moment before the rest of his body popped back into existence.
He’d live. From the current set of injuries anyways.
I glanced at Awarthril, currently dodging swipes of the spino’s extra-large claws, the fierce talons flickering as they grew longer then shorter, trying to skewer or slash the nimble mage. Kiyaya’s howls had taken on that deep, bone-shaking quality I’d associated with her most powerful skills.
She looked fine, if somewhat battered. Then the claws slashed at empty air, and a spray of blood out of nowhere reminded me of Awarthril’s favorite invisibility trick, having been smelled through by the clever dinosaur.
The injury reflected itself on the illusion, and I made a snap call.
Serondes’s wounds were worse than Awarthril’s, and we’d need his firepower to finish this fight.
I flew off in the direction I saw Serondes last flying, gaining height to better search, fleeing from the lethal threat at my back. I used my Radiance like a gigantic spotlight, throwing illumination all around to better try and find Serondes.
Like a bolt of white lightning, faster than any striking snake, the treacherous couatl struck. He dove down at me, wrapping himself around me, yanking me off-course. He was much lighter than I was, but between the speed he was going at, the entirely unexpected nature of the attack, and the powerful gale winds behind him all worked against me, causing me to be entirely knocked off my flight path, following Cordamo’s new idea of where I should be.
Which, evidently, was directly into the jaws of the dinosaur.
“CORDAMOOOOOOOOOO!” I yelled, frantically processing with the extra time [Bullet Time] gave me. A lifetime of experience and dealing with things trying to kill me gave me clarity, and let me think instead of blindly lashing out.
Apart from the one episode with the owl, Cordamo hadn’t exactly shown me animosity. He’d been relatively friendly, in spite of the fact that my dislike of snakes wasn’t exactly well-hidden. More importantly, I’d just saved his life-long bonded companion twice in the last minute. That wasn’t usually setting the stage for a vicious betrayal, that was usually praise and gratitude. Cordamo was smart enough to know what was going on, and what I’d done.
If he really wanted me dead, trying to strangle and poison me in the middle of the night would be the best method. I doubted any of the elves were dumb enough to buy “well Elaine accidentally died fighting the dinosaur” not when Awarthril and Kiyaya had a great view of the action.
Plus, he was in just as much, if not more, danger from the vicious dinosaur than I would be in.
Contrary to appearances, Cordamo hadn’t wrapped himself around me and was dragging me into the maw of the monster for fun or some misguided suicide mission. I didn’t know what he was up to, but I decided to have some faith. I stopped struggling against him, and started working with him, speeding us up.
Why me? Was it because I was there, because I was a healer, or because I was a mage?
Slim chance that it was because I was there. I can’t imagine more weight and ballast being what Cordamo needed, unless he was planning to use me as a club.
Actually, I could see him using me as a club, the jackass.
Instead of looking at the dinosaur, I looked at the feathered serpent instead.
Feathers were flitting off of his wings, with red streaks appearing on his body. Even as I was quickly looking, another patch of flesh opened up, a hole showing his ribs.
It clicked for me. Cordamo was small, and focused on speed, agility, and his poisons. He wasn’t stacking vitality, and the Erosion aura was doing terrible things to him, to the point where he wasn’t able to survive for long in it. He needed me just to stay alive against the oppressive, all-degrading skill.
I flickered a thought at healing him, and kept it up as we slammed into the dinosaur, landing on its back. Not exactly where I wanted to be, but it’s where Cordamo believed we needed to be.
Or him at least. I was just a handy healing package.
As we were flying in, I got to watch part of the fight. Aegion was moving towards the Spatial Box, probably to arm up. Awarthril was still fighting the spinosaurus, quick shifting claws slashing wildly to try and find the tricky illusionist hiding somewhere in the area.
There were no more Ooze pits or metal chains. The passive Erosion from the spino had chewed through them, and Awarthril was focusing her efforts.
The dinosaur roared, and its tongue shot out of its mouth, aiming for a seemingly empty spot. It split into a half-dozen tongue-like tentacles with nasty spikes on the end, finding the invisible Awarthril and wrapping around her, hooked barbs cruelly digging into her flesh.
The spinosaurus started to whip her around, Kiyaya leaping in to bite onto the tongue. She anchored herself, trying to stop the tongue from retracting
Even as Cordamo and I were landing near the base of the monster’s massive sail, I saw its head going up and down, Awarthril caught in its grip and being slammed into the ground, only to be brought up again and slammed back down.
Like hammering a nail into a piece of wood, driving its spikes deeper into her.
Kiyaya was involved, but frankly, with how everyone else was getting beaten up, she was the least of my worries.
I didn’t bother struggling against Cordamo’s bindings. I was stuck here, and the snake needed help just as much as Awarthril did, if in a less obvious and bouncy fashion.
Cordamo struck, fangs breaking against the incredibly tough, skill-reinforced scales of the dinosaur. He hissed in pain, one fang flying off as it broke.
Just my luck, it spun back and sank into my shoulder. My healing instantly restored his fangs at the same time it purged the traces of poison sent at me, and I ripped out the offending object.
“Careful!” I griped at him, as he drew back, preparing to strike again.
His fangs glistened with poison as his teeth turned green, clearly having some skill relating to how Gale had the concept of sharp behind it. Then, even through the enhanced perception of [Bullet Time], he blurred as he struck, his deadly fangs sinking deep into the spino’s back.
I couldn’t see it, but I could imagine the gallons of poison pumping into the dinosaur, Cordamo’s Poison skills letting him generate near-endless amounts of the lethal liquid.
I hung on the best I could, with the dinosaur throwing Awarthril and Kiyaya around by its tongue causing it to buck and shake harder than any bull.
A thunderous roar and burst of Lightning exploded next to us, Aegion having gotten his hands on his weapons and letting loose. I blinked the stars out of my eyes, my ears popping back as my entire body rattled and shook on the aftereffects of one of his skill-enhanced arrows blowing up practically on top of me.
I never, ever wanted to be on the wrong end of one of those.
Then like a light going out, the mighty beast crashed to the ground, the System sending a notification a moment later.
[*ding!* Your party has slain a [Spinosaurus (Forest, 755)]//[Spinosaurus (Erosion, 750)]]
“Cordamo! Serondes! Now!” I yelled at the couatl, trying to take flight. The snake unwrapped himself from around me and took off, giving me a stiff tailwind to help me out.
We shot off together, couatl and human working in tandem. I shined brightly, pushing my [Radiance Conjuration] to the limit. I started to feel myself crashing from the adrenaline wearing off, refreshing myself with [Sunrise].
We searched the area, looking for any signs of Serondes. He’d been launched into a forest, and we weaved between the trees, my high-speed maneuvering along with the light centered on me throwing wild shadows around the woods, disturbing any number of creatures with my high-intensity spotlight.
Cordamo let out a stream of hisses and shot off, the wind changing direction. I veered sharply in his direction, my long study of the winged snake’s movements having a noticeable effect on my agility and maneuverability.
Half-impaled on a tree, bleeding and broken, was Serondes. I pushed [Wheel of Sun and Moon], focusing on healing his shattered bones, fixing his heart and head, and generally healing and restoring him. I had mana to spare, and the fight was over, so I was less concerned with efficiency.
Even as I got in range, nothing was happening, and I screamed, flying full-force into him. Begging the world that he wasn’t dead. That I wouldn’t need to bury another body, engrave another name.
I crashed into him, my healing kicking in. The moons had been hidden by the leafy canopy, but like an angel of mercy, my touch restored him, bringing him back to life.
Of course, my healing also broke the branch that had been impaling him and keeping him up, causing him to plummet to the forest floor, hitting a few branches on the way down before he oriented himself to what the fuck was going on, but eh.
I might need to take a second trip out, but that was unlikely, not with Serondes conscious and in full control of his magic. Worse-case he could make a floating Lava chair or something and get carried out.
I wanted to stick around and make sure everything would be fine, but Awarthril’s visible injuries, and whatever had happened to Kiyaya, was a higher priority than checking on Serondes. I shot back to our campsite, Cordamo giving me a strong assist again.
Kiyaya was ripping at the prehensile tongue of the spinosaurus, all while getting some strong howling in. Benefits of a Sound element. Awarthril was still wrapped in the spinosaurus’s dead appendage, cruel barbs having remained in her flesh even after its death. She was breathing hard and bleeding heavily, blood pooling under her. [Wheel of Sun and Moon] worked perfectly, and it became obvious that some muscles of hers had been entirely severed, as post-healing she was able to shake the tongue off and stand back up with another elven curse.
I was starting to think these weren’t elven curses. I dunno, there was just no consistency. I’m pretty sure they were just weird fucking noises that Awarthril made. She looked to be in terrible shape, with her clothes in absolute shambles. Rips, tears, bloodstains, and everything that was still vaguely intact looked faded and thin, like it was made out of poor, low-quality materials hastily put together then moth-eaten.
Kiyaya was a good girl, and got a dose of healing a moment later.
Awarthril immediately went to Kiyaya, patting her over and crying somewhat. She gave Kiyaya a great big hug, scratched her behind her ears, then headed over towards me.
“Elaine! Are you alright? How’s Serondes? And everyone else?”
“Everyone’s ok.” I couldn’t keep the exhaustion out of my voice.
“Oh thank goodness! I was so worried.”
She gave me a look up and down and patted my shoulders.
“You should rest up. Or at least, put some clothes on! You’ll catch a cold standing out here naked.”
I looked down.
I darted up, acting like a firefly, lighting the area up and cursing that I’d dumped [Lost and Found].
“What’s wrong? Elaine, you ok?” Aegion asked, making a reappearance.
“My pendant! The one I got from my mom! I’ve lost it!” I started to burn search grid marks into the ground, preparing for another long search.
Aegion and Awarthril glanced at each other. Kiyaya padded over, and helpfully put her nose to the ground, sniffing furiously as she tried to track down and find my pendant.
“Were you reinforcing it?” Aegion asked.
“Did you have a skill protecting it?”
“No, I don’t have anything like that.”
Technically I had [Mantle], but I used that to protect myself and throw shields around.
Aegion and Awarthril glanced at each other again.
“What? What is it?” I asked.
“Elaine, I’m so sorry. The Erosion aura probably ate it.”
“No. NO! It’s special. It’s got to be ok!” I screamed back.
I looked at Awarthril’s tattered clothes. I remembered what the aura had been doing to me, to Cordamo. How a high-level monster couldn’t even be inside.
“The cord probably just snapped or something, it’s been fraying for ages now.”
I wasn’t sure who I was trying to convince.
I thought back through the fight, pinpointing the moment where I’d felt the subtle weight of the necklace breaking, falling off. I thought about what I’d been doing, how I’d been flying and moving.
I rushed over to the area, blasting it with Radiance, making it brighter than the day.
It popped out at me immediately, a different-colored spot among the dead grasses. I flew down to it.
I sobbed as I picked up the rusted, eroded remnants of my lucky pendant. Even that small part crumbled to dust in my fingers, a still breeze scattering the remains.
Not my lucky pendant!
It’d been with me forever, practically speaking. Mom had given it to me on my Unlocking day, and I’d basically never taken it off since. It’d survived the slavers and bandits, Rangers and monsters, plague and Ranger Academy. It’d survived me getting stabbed, sliced, poisoned, decapitated, burned, thrown down a mountain, snuck with me into a dragon’s lair and so many more adventures.
It was the closest thing our family had to a family heirloom, and now? It was just… gone. Destroyed by an aura.
I hadn’t even noticed.
“I’m back.” Serondes tried to announce himself, but his voice was shaky. Worried, like his core beliefs of invincibility had been shaken.
I just stood up and walked away, ignoring Serondes.
Ignoring the rest of the elves calling after me, asking if I was ok. Like a zombie, I sleep-walked back to the hut, curled up in a ball, and cried myself to sleep.
I just wanted to go home. Needed to go home. I was insisting we head towards the deadzone tomorrow.
I was woken up in the middle of the night to a voice - no, voices - no, it was one voice, with many voices inside of it, as impossible as it was.
It sang, with mischief and cruelty, with child-like wonder and awe, words in a language that made me want to rip my eyes out and that I could understand every word of, every syllable passing its - their - its lips. A manic giggle, an imposter that was trying to mimic a child, yet clearly having never heard one before and getting it wrong. It sounded like the blowing of a horn, the baying of otherworldly dogs that had no place being in this world. The words had color, all the different shades of autumn. From the leaves of the trees changing color, to the wheat and grains that ripened and were harvested in the season, all the way to the last warm rays of the fading sun. The refreshing breath of cold, misty air, a flickering candle inside a carved pumpkin. My senses were crossed in an impossible way, bright colors bouncing on words.