Chok, chok, chok.
I sliced out huge divots of its main body, watching the severed heads start to shrivel up and disintegrate as the power within them completely faded. Normally they'd be instantly replaced by the body… but that wouldn't happen for a couple of hours.
When I was done cutting away the excess meat, the still-beating heart of the hydra, as big as my head, was totally exposed.
I slid over to the lava river not far away, reached in and scooped out a blob of molten rock, sheathing Tremble as I did so.
Forming it into a small disk and scribing a Rune onto it took no time at all. With my Vajra, it was preternaturally smooth and round, the Rune perfect down to the cellular level, supporting sigla spaced perfectly over the half-sharp circle.
I drove it into that heart, and then carved the heart out with my bare hands, ripping it out of the carcass. I heaved it out of the cavity, and then I vomited into the space there.
It wasn't projectile vomiting. Spew Acid was a Feat available to some monstrous races, particularly magical beasts. It wasn't the same as dragons that could breathe acid, which was a magical ability. No, this brought up your stomach acid, and you sprayed it over the stuff in front of you.
A hagchild could take it because of our ancestry and our frankly startling ability to eat stuff. A normal Annis Hag could rend an average adult male down to meat and chow down on his entire body in less then a minute, if they were of a mind to. I didn't have quite that ability, not having magic… but I had a Diamond Vajra, and in-built, constant energy resistance to the standard five Elements of Thunder, Fire, Cold, Lightning, and Acid.
When you are naturally immune to harm by elemental forces, your body starts to change to take advantage of it. One thing that happens is that your stomach acids and digestive juices in general get really, really strong.
So, I vomited some hideously potent acids all over the inside of that cardiac cavity, and the flesh there shuddered, smoked, and began to run and dissolve.
And with no heart, it was going to die, period.
The entirety of the hydra's fiery life essence devolved into the heart in my hands, I could feel it tingling in my hands as it wanted to start regenerating.
I licked it calmly. Spicy, kind of 'old' flavor to it, but lively. The heart in my hand shuddered as the trail of my tongue left a smoking path behind on it.
I spun it calmly, licking it all over, effectively sealing in the essence of the hydra due to the Runedisk stuck into it. In front of me, the bulk of its body seemed to sag and settle, and without further ado I cut it again with Tremble, this time Vivic flaring along the cut, leaping along the wounds, and vivic fire began to rage over it as the last of its life energy leaving sent its bulky body into rapid conversion to white ash.
I was going to make a lot of very potent healing Potions out of this thing. I took it down to the lava river, dunked it and spun it around to give it a nice coating of lava, and etched the Rune of Preservation onto it, just to be on the safe side, before popping it into my Masspack.
Power comps were good things!
I slapped the Bracers on my arms. Gildensteel wasn't light, but I was stronger than the strongest human who'd ever lived by a factor of at least five, so they basically could have been made of cloth.
Active AC 38ish. That put me up into a pretty stratified band of hard-to-hitness… and I didn't even have the majority of my defensive buffs. Still wasn't carrying a shield. Still no deflection bonus. Armor bonus waaaaay lower than in game. But I could hit 50 on the defensive, that could be important.
I didn't go forwards into the cleft immediately. I had another Arsenal enchantment I wanted to get into Tremble via Naming Karma. Namely, Mercy.
Vivic was my default, Tremble automatically reset there at dawn. Vivic was designed to make bodies hard to animate, foes hard to resurrect, and do extra damage against undead, with a side effect of tidying up after you put down a horde of foes. But you could apply vivus after you killed something, and it would do basically the same thing. So, like Blooding, it was a niche effect. I wanted it the default because of the tidying effect and because I wanted things I killed and left behind to stay dead.
Blooding was another niche preventative, designed so that foes couldn't retreat, heal, and come back, and it gave you the time to find the solution to things that regenerated. When you needed it, you tended to really need it.
Mercy changed the damage of your Weapon to subdual damage, non-lethal damage, bruised and battering, system shock. So, you could down an opponent without killing them, or even scarring them. Also, did +d6 damage, so your damage actually went up, even though you weren't trying to kill them.
I didn't do this so I could beat people up without killing them. I did it so I could kill monsters quicker without having the body burn away, and not cut their bodies all to heck when I put them down. I had no problem killing a foe that was unconscious. But I'd make more money if I could brainstab an unconscious carcass and strip its hide without having chopped the bastard in two. The extra damage meant I'd be doing it even faster.
Yes, Amana, I apologize for abusing Mercy for loot-gathering. Forgive me as I kill these alien invaders and Gear up, please...
Of course, if there was nothing to salvage, I'd just kill them straight up. I didn't have an Arsenal effect for that yet, but I also had to save up the Naming Karma to add Bane and Slaughter to Tremble. They were the most powerful and focused combat enchantments you could put on any Weapon. As long as the Bane matched your enemy, there was no one-Slot enchantment stronger on your Weapon.
Unless I stumbled across someone with a +V Tier or better Weapon, that moment was a couple of weeks away. Weak Weapons could only transfer Karma like normal items, 1k a day. Stronger Weapons could be cannibalized for their entire value using the Transfer Pattern.
I was also percolating an Armclasp in Forge. It was another fairly cheap, very limited function item, good only against a specific manner of foe, and again only removed a special ability instead of granting vastly improved killing ability.
It was a Swarmkiller Clasp, designed specifically to take out hivemind vermin Swarms. Swarms basically took half, minimum, or no damage from weapon attacks, and only took normal damage from AoE attacks. The Clasp would remove that protection by conducting the force of a weapon or missile attack to every possible creature in the Swarm.
I considered myself lucky that I hadn't run across a Swarm of Burn Scarabs or Ash Spiders or Brand Centipedes or something by now. My only defense would have been to repeatedly scissor them to death with my Vajra as they crawled all over me.
That would have been extremely annoying...
It wasn't surprising if they were coming out of a Portal controlled by intelligent creatures, which the Sun Brothers being on guard had indicated, but it never hurt to be careful.
I'd upgrade the Clasp to include Oozecutting tomorrow. I also needed to get Distance in my Arsenal for Tremble. It would double the range of my Shardings… so much stuff to regain…
Forge was still pulling power out of the lava, and had never stopped. I belatedly noticed the progress of the Runework around its rim was advanced, three days not one day, too.
Twenty-four hour Infusing without devoted attention by Powered? That was the characteristic of a Node-! I stared at the mountain, realizing now why there was an active Portal inside it.
Well, time to take advantage of this massive windfall, then! I stepped inside, then stopped, looking back over the horizon.
The whole landscape had become a charland, with gloomy sulphurous clouds overhead reflecting the ruddy light of lava streams, fumaroles all over the place, and at least ten active volcanoes.
My Mask of Clarity wasn't active, but what were the odds all of those volcanoes weren't being used for the same reason as this one? The supervolcano beneath Yellowstone would be a huge pyric mana source, the source of a fire-biased ley line. All of these volcanoes would be lesser Nodes streaming off of it as it vented its power upwards...
Huh. Well, I definitely had something to keep me busy…
I kept moving forwards, into the cleft. My Forge tagged along, a floating flower moving against the lava flow. It made an excellent distraction, and I could simply tell it to hold position.
My Trembling Domain was telling me that the walls and ground had a far higher concentration of crystals of all kinds than was natural, along with threads of metal ores.
Okay, this was a resource point. In gaming terms, this would be a capture point, something to be held and worked by an Allegiance for profit. A Lesser Node typically allowed 1k/day of free Infusing, not requiring a person, tripled if the item was of the same Elemental Bias as the Node. Six goldweight of capacity to produce magic items requiring only the strength to hold this place was more than enough for people to kill over.
If it was a Major Node, it would triple production of equipment matching the bias, one person at a time. By working it in series, that was an extra 9k in production a day, total.
If there were multiples of them here in these volcanic lands, this place was literally a mana mine of unprecedented ability. Certainly the game had never had anything like this. It was too phat. This much free Crafting production? This was unreal... and it was right here in reality!
I remembered there were a couple Lesser Earth Nodes located deep in the central peaks of the mountain servers… I think Crag and his crew had control of one of them. There was a Major Fire Node on Coralost, but few got to take advantage of it very long, because the things that populated the caldera were pretty intent on keeping their territory. The only reason people went there was to hold it for eight hours to baptize fairly powerful items in the Node. Oh, and it was the final keystone for the Ritual of the Fiery Heart Druidic Quest…
I smirked. I'd made a lot of goldweight running people to Coralost just for that Quest. Captain Sama Rantha, the Tip of the Spear...
My only protection for this place was going to be secrecy. And exactly how does one keep secret a volcano?
By making it uninteresting? And tapping the Node and concealing the fact…
Hmm? Was that a striking hammer I was hearing? If so, it was pretty damn loud to be heard over the roar of the volcano and the lava...
I skated over the rough surface of cooled magma, closing in on the sound as the tunnel eaten through the stone of the mountain widened in front of me.
I turned a corner and paused.
Ash Jotun. Four of them...
Fire-dwelling giants came in numerous varieties. Standard Fire Jotuns were deep crimson, almost black, with bright orange, yellow or red hair. They looked like oversized classic Rockborn, with improbably wide soldiers, short legs, and massive bands of muscles. They also tended to be psoriatic, warty, twisted, and bent, and proud of the fact. They liked wearing plate armor around like normal people did silks, and naturally were completely immune to fire and fiery domains, and most of the effects of living in them.
Coal Jotuns were slightly smaller, but burned hotter, with black skin, and the same colorful hair that always ended in grayness. Volcano Jotuns were a brighter dark orange, with veins like cuts of magma and glowing eyes. They were the bigger and stronger, but rarer, nobility of Fire Jotuns.
Ash Jotuns were dark gray, with fiery hair ending in blackness, and the only bright part of them was their coal-fire eyes. They tended to be misshapen, but were also taller and stronger than normal Fire Jotuns, with greater tolerance for cold than other fire giants.
Now there were four of them, obviously a secondary string of guards. It looked like they'd become bored in just the day or two they'd been here, scooped up some magma to make a crude forge, and were pounding on some white-hot metal they'd dug out of somewhere and smelted.
Huh. Four of them was just enough...
I bid my Forge to stay still and out of sight, and flitted into the dancing shadows of the flames.
Fire Jotuns were one of the higher species of giants, and nowhere near as dull and dumb as those of lower Stature. Those big eyes meant they could see a long distance with great detail, just like eagles. While their reaction speed was slower because of their size, their thoughts weren't slow, they were merely extremely patient. If they saw me, they'd respond quickly and forcefully.
Most likely to eat me as a delicacy.
However, Jotuns are extremely proud creatures with a heritage of magic, and they rely heavily on their genetic memories to learn things as they grow up. The result is that while there is some variation of Stats amongst them, although not to the extent that humans have, they all tend to have the same number of Ranks in the same number of Skills. Unless they grow/promote themselves/earn enough Karma, they basically all have the same Skills and abilities. To get beyond being a 'typical Jotun', they had to take Racial Levels, Class Out, or earn Advanced Hit Dice.
With sixteen base Hit Dice when completely grown, a Strength of 33, and being twenty feet tall, there were few things Ash Jotuns were afraid of. Without fear came little incentive to advance themselves, as they were basically good enough to deal with all comers. Like humans, maybe five to ten percent of them would push themselves to the extreme of truly getting better at something, or pursuing a heroic course. As a culture, they were smiths and warriors, and that was about it. Their genetics pushed them that way, and they had no reason to go against their free racial knowledge.
But with those memories came a deep-rooted sense of Stature, the defining element of Jotun culture. The taller and bigger your species, the higher your natural right to command, dominate, and rule over your lessers. A race as small as humans was good for little more then slave labor and food, their desires immaterial and unimportant. The fire giant races were tyrannical and warlike, and relations with smaller races were not relations, they were tribute to keep the Jotuns from conquering them and enslaving them. Jotuns would simply never consider a smaller race their equals… and that meant pretty much no races, except Dragons, who they considered great racial foes.
All of this meant I had absolutely no qualms about killing all these bastards.
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- Auburn, Michigan
Bio: Editor of online webnovels, mostly at Webnovel and Wuxiaworld. Also edit Ebooks. Long time video gamer, former MMO player, lifelong [email protected] fan and RPG guy, fan of both science fiction and fantasy. Don't ask me to choose between Trek and Wars, I love all the Stars.