They didn't have a chance to attack me. Without shields, looking at the gaps in their armor, and their unhelmed heads, they were simply massive targets. I simply had to approach within range of my Sharding, and they weren't looking for intruders coming from outside. They were there to make sure creatures continued on down and out of here, at least judging by the half-eaten ashen corpses of a few creatures hanging back by the wall who hadn't had the sense to keep moving along.
I was pretty confident of my chances. Full Stealth Ranks at 10, Class Skill for Scouts +3, +5 Cunning, +5 Mastery, +8 Dex, Stealth Focus Feat for +6, +2 Class bonus from Armor Training synergy. +39 versus their natural check at +22 or so. They weren't really looking my way, and had plenty of distractions.
The four of them ignored me as I moved like smoke over the walls and ground, hugging everything without touching it, moving with every flutter of the shadows, feeling the waves of dark and light shifting and flowing with them, part of them. It was nigh-magical, as Ranks over Six were bound to be, and I entirely enjoyed the situation.
A One Strike should kill any and all of them. I just wanted to make sure they didn't call out an alarm. Jotun voices were loud, and anything waiting further on didn't need to know I was coming. It was a case of watching their movements... now!
It wasn't a charge; I didn't need a charge.
The closest one was sitting down on a crude bench made from hand-sculpted lava. I was moving forwards and leaping, and even if he saw me once I was in motion, he couldn't react in time to do anything. I was past his throat and Tremble had gone through his neck Mercifully. He was lights out instantly.
Supreme Cleave. Acrobatic Movement, five-foot single step as ten-foot step. I'd finished my One Strike on his shoulder, jumped ten feet up and forwards to the shoulder of the one passing him by, who didn't have the time to turn his head before I hacked down and across into his throat, Hewing and Finishing him. The crit I'd set up dropped him even as his big body moved onwards to complete his next two steps, and I pushed off his neck to carry through the Hewing with a Shardstar to the third one standing with his back to me, looking up the tunnel for signs of the next set of invading creatures. That arc of force passed completely through his neck, and would have severed it completely if it hadn't been Merciful.
That left only the one hammering away at his forge, catching the motion of the Sharding out of the corner of his burning eyes. He turned his head in time to see me land on the ground thirty feet away from me. His hammer started to come up, and my One Strike flashed past him, bisected his rather misshapen face, and his expression went kind of blank before he slowly fell with all the colossal force of weighing five tons or so.
I most impolitely couped all of them with thrusts to the spinal cortex, keeping the blood and fuss to a minimum for the moment.
There was the fact that they'd managed to dig a couple hundred pounds of adamant out of somewhere, and had already smelted it out of the ore. It was what the one doing the smithing was hammering on, perhaps intending to make a shield out of it. His ability to inflame his hammer would make the metal easier to work, and coupled with his mass and strength, he could ream and work it far faster than a human could.
Well, most Humans. They got free Ranks, not Masteries.
More to the point, I wanted their tendons and their hair.
Completely oblivious to the ick factor, I cut the dense flesh of the four Jotuns apart, harvesting the long tendons in their limbs and backs, thick and strong as steel cables, which actually snapped like hawsers as I severed them from the muscles they anchored. I wove the tendons together into a rough rope I used to bind a bundle of their rough beards, one by one.
They actually had a couple jugs there of some very bad mushroom wine. I emptied it out (no, not that way, ugh, tasted like ashen dung) and filled one with twenty gallons of their blood. They had a lot more hot red stuff, but I didn't have the storage tools for it. I dropped their hearts and fifty pounds of muscle inside a second jug, covered that one in their blood as well, put the Rune of Preservation on the jugs, and sealed them with cooled magma caps, bless you Rune Smith Levels.
Jotun hearts were great for Superheroism Potions. Muscles were for Giant Strength. Blood was for both of those, as well as Jotun's Toughness and Giant Size Potions. I could grab the brains for Giant Control potions, but eh. Wasn't into the slavery thing.
Then I set their corpses to burning vivic, eying the ores they'd casually hammered out of a wall, the tempered burnsteel of their weapons and armor, and so forth.
I'd be coming back for this stuff, if only to melt it down to be recast...
The next set of guards were Ifrit.
These were the junior genie race of fire. They were man-sized; had short black horns coming out of their temples which they kept very polished and liked to adorn with rings, bands, and chains; had fiery red skin, burning eyes, and were hairless except for vestigial flames. They dressed up in nurbrass armor with rather too much ornamentation, carried themselves like a god's gift to creation, and preferred spears and shields for fighting, using fiery rays for ranged attacks.
How useless that last would be on the Plane of Fire was not up for debate, and was likewise useless against me… not that I gave them the chance to do much about it.
They had a pretty formation, which made it easy to Supreme Cleave through their ranks and quite literally butcher all of them. Support Casters and javelin tossers were wiped first just to save me the annoyance of having to chase them down. After all, the huge block of ~Fives down there thought they were tough stuff all grouped up like that. I could have explained that frost AoE spells would wipe them like nobody's business, but hey, dead genie-kin didn't need the lesson.
I vivisized all of them. Their only valuable body part was their blood, and I didn't have enough containers. Some of their officers and Casters had some lesser magical stuff I could refine away, and they seemed to like nigh-boiling wines of various types, definitely an acquired taste. Minor jewelry and trinkets on the rank and file… I'd have to melt down their gear to get something good out of it...
I inspected the cavern they were in. It was way too tall to be natural, I could see the strokes and indentations of something used to strike and widen the walls after the lava flow had opened it up. Elementals?, I reasoned, as the Ifrit couldn't possibly be powerful enough to have terraformed on this level quite yet. The Casters here hadn't been strong enough to do the job, either… potent Casters would be a threat to their masters, the Efreet who had to be here in charge of them...
The next guardians were Brass Golems, metallic minotaurs made out of nurbrass, with flaming metal for blood that sprayed out when they were cut. Their axe heads were taller than I was; they'd give the Jotuns a run for unwieldy muscled physiques.
I didn't care about their burning blood or heated bodies, and Tremble, being adamant, didn't care about the metal they were made of. It would have been slow but sure carving them apart from a distance, but simply darting in with a One Strike was enough to evade their retaliation, as they weren't fast enough to catch me, and two Strikes was enough to take each of them down.
Yeah, Blooding was excellently effective for preventing the ambient heat from healing them at an incredible rate. There was a reason why I took it. The very fact they were animated made them both more and less vulnerable than something actually made out of metal, and Tremble's golden edge hewed them apart up close and personal, because I wanted to do so.
Combat Vigor took care of the Soak I burned up, and I proceeded on my way. Maybe somewhen I’d be able to come back and salvage the tons of nurbrass they were made of...
The river of lava soon widened out even further, and there was ambient lighting from above. I was coming up on the caldera...
The last encounter was with a burning cloud of fire-winged insects almost a foot long, swirling with burning wings beating at the air in ravenous, thrumming thunder as they swept towards me.
A Cinder Locust Swarm. Killed by a good rain, but could devastate an Empire. But... they were a Swarm.
I tossed out Shardings as they came into range. As the force arcs smashed into the cloud, they seemed to ripple and replicate a thousand times all around themselves. That single arc wiped out a fifteen-foot circle all the way down to the end of its range, cutting every single locust in its path into a flaring puff of vivic white.
Muchly impressed by the results of my Swarmkiller Clasp as the Swarm descended down upon me, I sent off two more arcs as fast as I could, and then simply cut in a broad swathe all around me.
The Swarm literally exploded into whiteness, and locusts blazing white sprayed in every direction, falling down everywhere. From what I could tell, not a single member of the Swarm got out alive. Which was good, as they could set a continent on fire if they reproduced.
Patting my Clasp in relief, I continued on towards where the long lava tunnel was starting to widen out rather too much, and the illumination coming through had the irregular flash and flare of the heat lightning boiling up over head.
I didn't step out in the middle of the entryway, mostly because that would be really stupid. I paused flat on my face, Forge staying a ways behind me, looking at the view before me.
The Portal was bloody obvious, a reverse whirlpool in the magma spewing out endless amounts of more crimson molten rock. Currently engaged in egress was Salamander after Salamander, rising up through the vortex and diving into the flow of molten stone as if it were water. They swam through it to the periphery of the caldera, where they were holding their positions and waiting for their fellows to come out.
And over there to the right was the Efreet in charge.
He looked like a bigger, meaner, more bulbous-nosed and outrageously horned version of the Ifrit, which was sort of to be expected. Either someone was way too good at their job, or he'd actually brought along a golden throne to lounge in as he looked over the Portal that was disgorging Fireborn. The salamanders certainly seemed respectful; they didn't dare turn their backs on him as they waited to either side of the throne for their numbers to increase.
And was I seeing things, or did he have two succubi hanging off his bejeweled arms and stroking his ceremonial armor with too many jewels in it?
Horns, wings, cloven hooves, great racks, spade-shaped tails, forked tongues, flimsy attire. Huh. Well, immune to fire, and female genies were supposed to be outnumbered by the males like ten to one, so it stood to reason. The Tulwar this idiot genie was hanging onto was yet another of those non-sensical flaming Weapons, but my eyes widened in delight… it looked like a Funf-grade Weapon! Of course, it was a noble Efreet; a mere Sun Brother wielding a better Weapon than their controlling noble would be entirely nonsensical…
Well, I'd be stupid to act before all the free Karma was done bringing itself out, and it was so nice they were lining themselves up for me. I mean, really! I totally appreciated it.
There were magmen playing cannonball on the far side of the caldera, and mephits either picking on them or playing tag with them, I couldn't really tell. They seemed to be keeping a careful distance from the genie on the throne, so I simply waited for my moment.
It was about five minutes before the last Salamander came wriggling out of the vortex out there in the lake of lava, and it seemed to pulse and dim just a bit. Ah, yes, couldn't sustain being open continually. The manafield in the Power of Ten had been designed to not be conducive to high Valence spells and magical effects, and that Vortex was certainly something beyond a V. Wherever Terra was now hopefully reflected that aspect of the game.
That meant it was time for me to act. I ran through the suspected powers of the Efreet, and smirked. It might have some Wishcraft-level effects on it, but so what? If it couldn't grant Wishes, and I didn’t see any mortals hanging about it to request them, I simply wasn't afraid of it at all, and it was about to get a rude surprise from me.
In a blur of motion, I raced out over the lava.
As long as I was in motion, I could actually run over water, skating over it faster than I would sink as I dispersed my weight across the water. Lava was far more viscous than water, and I could even stand in location for a few seconds before sinking. Running across the churning, muck-like heavy flow of molten stone was little different then a little choppy water.
Tremble cleared and began to Sing as I closed in on the nearest end of the double-row arcs of Salamanders.
At the speed I was moving, a hundred yards was like three seconds. The volcano and the heat lightning up in the sky, plus the tectonics and spatial instability of the Vortex, made for quite a racket. Despite that, the Efreet's voice was carrying on between the noises with remarkable clarity, going on about this land of opportunity and conquest, fat prizes and weak foes, bringing the flames of purity to the unclean dirty natives, etc and so forth.
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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.