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Dirt and rubble exploded into the air as the Serpent struck the ground, the snake-like head snapping at them the same way a snake would. Misa hadn't blocked it, this time — the villagers, while not completely clear, were far enough away that they wouldn't have been hit by the direct strike. The Serpent itself seemed smaller, too; not so small that it could be dodged easily, but enough so that the impact smashed apart a few homes, and not the entire village.

The force of that impact was still enough to flicker damage into their health, though. Vex, Sev, and Misa all grimaced; Derivan was the only one that escaped relatively unscathed. Four of the delvers were still fighting with them, though they had been further away and thus escaped relatively unscathed.

Their arrows weren't doing much to the Serpent, though. The health bar of the Serpent had barely budged, for all the arrows they'd pumped into it, and they were running out. None of them were mages, either.

"Sorry we dragged you into this!" Sev yelled at them, maybe because he felt like he owed it to them, and one of them yelled back something about having been through worse.

Which was... concerning, actually. But they didn't have time to think about it much.

Derivan ran forward while the snake was recovering from the impact of its own strike. He stabbed his sword into its side, and there was a roar of anger and pain in response — the very ground shook, and prismatic blood gushed out of the gap he'd opened up. He had to jump back a second later as the Serpent shook itself wildly, pulling back.

The living armor was their second best bet at ending this. His strikes didn't affect the Serpent's health, but it was still clearly injured. And it was certainly getting wary of him, with the way it reared back, sun-like eyes narrowing at him suspiciously.

Their best bet, of course, was still baiting the snake into smashing into the side of the bonus room. But that was easier said than done. It was far too easy for any one of them to get knocked in instead, and none of them wanted to test what would happen in that situation.

Misa stared up at the sky-serpent grimly.

Though it was more wary of them now, every so often, it would turn to glare at her — and that glare would coincide with a popup of yet another blue box, demanding that she drop what she was holding. That she drop the [####### #####R]. She still didn't really understand what it was, but she understood that it was the only thing keeping this place together, so like hell she was letting go of it. Why let her grab it at all, if it was going to be a problem?

But if the Serpent was going to glare at her every time she received a box, then maybe there was something more to it than that. A surge of anger that accompanied an order, perhaps, or perhaps it was the Serpent that was sending her those boxes...

It struck again before she could finish the thought, headed directly for her once again. Misa tried to throw herself out of the way — she couldn't block, this time, she had to make it miss and strike the wall instead — but it was still fast enough that it clipped her, and the angle of attack meant that it slammed into the ground instead of into the edges of the room. Derivan attacked with a stab again, slicing into the Serpent's flesh-that-wasn't-flesh, spraying the ground in more of that strange prismatic blood.

Misa, meanwhile, was sent careening backwards through the dirt. She stopped before she hit the edge of the room only because Vex and Sev both put a barrier up in her way, and she smacked into them both, groaning in pain.

[Every Last Drop] protected her with that borrowed mana, but only barely.

"I need to be higher up!" Misa growled out, biting the words out through the pain. The Serpent reared back into the sky, circling around again, watching them. "Anyone have any ideas?"

"Flight spells can't move you fast enough to dodge that thing once it starts attacking." Vex watched the Serpent carefully. He was obviously nervous, but his eyes were bright and alert. "We need something different."

"A well-timed block, perhaps," Derivan suggested. "If we know the moment it is to attack..."

The Serpent seemed to want to attack her every time she received a box. If she could use that as an early warning —

"Captain!" Misa called. "Harold, right? That's your name?"

"Yes ma'am!" Harold called back at her. "Y'need somethin'?"

"I need you to fire an arrow into the sky, between that thing and the border. Do it when I tell you to," she said. "Then fire a second one near the ground, in any direction except the border."

Harold cocked his head, and Misa had the strange feeling that he was raising a brow at her, despite the lack of any eyebrows. "If that's what ya need," he said. "But we're on our last coupla arrows, now. We gotta get this right."

"Believe me," Misa exhaled. "I know."

<WARNING>

Drop the ####### #####R.


"Now!" Misa shouted.

An arrow flew into the air, almost directly upwards — boosted by a skill, clearly, because it moved far faster than it should have been able to. Misa still waited for a second for the arrow to reach the right height, and then blocked the attack, ignoring the spike of pain in her head.

Her mace struck the arrow, and it splintered.

For a split second, she hovered in the air.

In that same split second, the Serpent narrowed its eyes at her, and struck.

She glanced down, hoping that the captain had remembered the second part of her instructions — she barely saw the flicker of the arrow crossing the ground. She blocked that attack, too, finding herself on the ground a second later, another broken arrow shattering itself on her mace —

— above her, the Serpent tried to pull back its attack, but it was too late; it had gathered too much momentum —

— the Serpent smashed into the border of the bonus room.

There was a loud cracking sound. Unlike everything else that had struck the border, the Serpent didn't outright vanish. Instead, it swerved, hissing angrily as it tried to stabilize itself.

It failed. It crashed into the ground, one burning eye staring at them. Its head was odd and misshapen for a serpent — like chunks had been carved out.

"Did it work?" Vex asked beside her.

"It doesn't look hurt," Sev said.

In Misa's hand, the fragment burned. The spark. The [####### #####R], or whatever it was. Her head throbbed with two sets of memories; one in which the Serpent was whole, and one in which it had always looked like this — chunks of flesh missing, an entire eye gone. It seemed just as angry as ever, and yet —

"I think it worked," she said quietly. She didn't know how to parse her memories yet, nor did she even have the words to explain what she thought might have happened. Vex and Sev didn't seem to remember —

"It did work," Derivan confirmed next to her. He looked just as concerned. Part of Misa felt a raw sort of relief, though, at least at having someone else to corroborate what she was saying.

"Understood," Sev said simply, and Vex gave a quick nod beside him.

"But I believe it is not over," Derivan added. The Serpent was on the ground, yes, but it was very much not dead; it was slower, and it seemed a little confused, perhaps. It wriggled awkwardly, then glared ahead, like its gaze alone would be enough —

"Magic!" Vex shouted, sounding alarmed; a crystalline barrier formed in front of them as he sliced his dagger through the air. Misa prepared to block the attack as the snake's mouth yawned open, and a beam of light blazed forward; it scattered against the crystalline barrier, diffracting into a dozen weaker beams that burned the ground.

Misa lowered her mace. [To Fall Yet Hold the Line] wasn't needed. Part of her was relieved; that skill had drained her.

The moment the attack broke was the moment they took to attack — all four of them charged forwards, joined quickly by the other four delvers that brandished their weapons. Vex and Sev stayed a little further back, of course, but they still prepared to cast. Sev had light-blue divine magic playing around his fingers as beams of light shot from his staff, and Vex seemed to be concentrating on a spell of some kind; Derivan ran until he was close enough to slash into the Serpent yet again.

And then Vex cast his spell.

It looked almost directly inspired by the beam of light the Serpent had fired from them — and equally bright ray of light shone from Vex's dagger as he began cutting into the air, and it only shone brighter and brighter as he continued. The snake was flinching backwards, somehow, trying to get away from the light, but there was nowhere to go, and soon the whole place was lit up like it was daytime —

The Serpent collapsed.

It didn't appear to be dead — it was breathing, albeit in slow, ragged breaths. But its eyes were closed. Perhaps even more telling was the fact that its skin, once the color of the night sky, now shone a rippling blue. Prismatic blood still oozed from its wounds, but it was still.

"What the fuck was that?" Misa asked.

"Uh... That was [Daylight], but mana-boosted a lot," Vex answered, sounding a little embarrassed. "It's a [Serpent of the Night Sky], so I figured that might do something?"

"It still has most of its health," Harold reported. He wasn't attacking it yet, apparently concerned that doing so would break it out of whatever trance it was in. "I don't think any of us can take down all its health. Maybe that friend of yours." He glanced rather significantly at Derivan.

"I am unsure I could do that," the armor replied, glancing at the monster.

Misa was angry, admittedly. But it looked in many ways broken, defeated, and it was lying down there on the ground... For all that it had health, they had clearly won, at least for the moment.

There were no more blue boxes warning her to drop the [####### #####R], at least.

"What do we do now?" she said quietly.

"I want to try something," Sev said. "Last time we fought an Overseer, it was keeping Onyx prisoner, right? Vex, you mentioned that the chains were burning with your magic — the magic that you hit the Overseer with."

"Yeah," Vex nodded. "I still don't really understand it. My best guess is that the Overseer is in some way directly linked to the chains..."

"I'm thinking these Overseers are prisons," Sev said, his words soft. "Living prisons. And I want to find out which god is imprisoned here, if anyone."

Vex blinked at him, surprised — but Derivan didn't seem nearly as surprised. "Misa's skill showed me part of what I can potentially do, I think," the armor said. "I may be able to... I feel there is something here I can breach, in much the same way I did when we stepped into the dungeon. But..."

"But?" Sev raised an eyebrow at him. Derivan grimaced.

"The weakest point is here," the armor said. He gestured to the wound he had cut open in the Serpent, still oozing prismatic blood. "The journey might not be pleasant."

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A note from SilverLinings

We're coming down towards the end of this first arc, and I think as of this chapter I'll have hit 100,000 words in this story. Whew. It doesn't really feel like it's already a hundred thousand words long. Thanks to all of your support; I wouldn't have made it this far without it. 

As always, thank you for reading. I have a Patreon that's currently up to three chapters ahead, and goes all the way to Chapter 45, which is almost at the end of this arc.

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About the author

SilverLinings

Bio: I enjoy writing in my spare time. I try to envision a world where people that act in good faith have the power to enact change.

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