Thursday, October 5, 2017
War of Eternity: Mine Sweeping the Map
So just a note, unranked now = initiate. The editors won the argument around this chapter. Sorry !
David was very clear about using the term ‘for freaking ever’ to describe how long he had worked in the mine and as an explanation as for why didn’t seem to mind the low level of light. He had insisted that the two weak torches they had brought from the supply area earlier were plenty, but Lee was having his doubts now.
“If you need help, you can always follow your new divinity,” David taunted. “He seems to have taken to the dark like a fish to water.”
“Yeah . . .” Ling looked over at Lee. “He has.”
“It’s only that, as a god rebirthed in flame, his internal light burns strongly enough to see through any darkness!” Miller declared as he shifted from walking next to Lee to walking behind him.
Ethan squeaked unhappily as he usually did whenever someone else stole the credit for his work. Lee had been using the rodent’s superior vision to help navigate through the dark since they first entered the mine, and now that Miller was attributing god-like powers of perception to Lee, the small mouse was agitated for not being given credit. Sensing his irritation through their shared bond, Lee silently pleaded for Ethan to calm down. All he received in response, however, was a feeling that seemed to suggest Lee was stealing credit for all of the golem’s hard work. He knew the little rodent wanted him to correct them, but he couldn’t do that without giving away his secret.
Lee decided to acquiesce to the rat’s demands. “Ah, it’s not me. I’ve got no special walk-in-darkness powers,” he said.
“Lee?” Ling asked, her voice no longer coming from his side either, but rather from right behind him where Miller had been seconds before.
“Huh? What is it?” Lee asked without turning around. For the moment, he was focused on his footing and trying to navigate the awkward wooden planks that had been laid down for the mine track. It was fairly easy with the assistance of Ethan’s added vision, but he had already come close to tripping a few times already. The last thing he wanted was to have to take a face-first dive into the tracks because he had stubbed his toe when he wasn’t paying attention.
“If it’s not you, then how do you know where you’re going?” Ling asked.
“I mean, it’s a straight shot. I thought that the only reason we even needed David was so that he could point out where the main shaft branched off to the monster’s lair?”
“Yeah . . . how do you?” David asked as well. “I’ve spent so many back-breaking hours down here that I practically have it memorized at this point, but how do you know where you’re going?”
Miller brushed off their queries as if they were children annoying a father before Lee could answer. “He’s the herald, the son of a god. That’s how. Stop asking stupid questions.”
“What’s there to be confused a--” Lee paused before he could finish the word as he turned around to face them and realized exactly what they were asking and why.
“You’re not in range of the torchlight,” Ling answered his unfinished inquiry.
“I see.” Lee unconsciously looked over to little Ethan. Well, what now little guy? I tried to deny any power, but how do I explain walking over tracks and rocks without an issue in an effectively pitch-black setting?
“Well, you see . . .” Lee trailed off as he struggled to come up with a good excuse for a power he might have that would let him see and navigate through the dark.
“See what? Son of a god, touched of fire and capable of coming back from the dead, and you guys are questioning and pestering him over a small issue like how he can walk through a dimly lit tunnel without tripping? How dare you claim to be believers!” Miller slammed his spear into the ground, prompting the group to march forward again.
“Yet his gifts apparently don’t protect him from being interrupted by his party member.” David gave a half-cocked grin as he pointed out Miller’s rudeness to Lee.
“Interrupted? Nonsense! I’m just helping him by speaking for him so he doesn’t have to waste words on less important things. He needs that godly intelligence and divine brain of his to plan out how we’re going to kill monsters, murder pagans and infidels, or--”
“I don’t think I ever mentioned wanting to murder pagans or infidels.” Lee was very seriously starting to worry about the direction his bloodthirsty companion might take their religion.
“It’s fine. If you just want to come up with the plans for it, then I, as the trusty paladin of your order, will be more than happy to take care of all the work for you.” Miller slammed the fist carrying his spear to his chest as if he were giving a sort of salute. “You’ve done nothing but lead me to more and more beautiful battles where I can kill evildoers since we met. I have faith that you’ll steer me right.”
Doesn’t that make it sound like we’re the evil doers? Lee was not happy with Miller’s wording, even if he technically was talking about making the world a better place. Wait a minute. “Paladin? I thought you were training to be a knight?”
“Oh, I was. But, after that last fight and declaring that I’d serve you, I was given the option to promote directly to the rank of Paladin. Now I’m officially Miller, First Paladin of the Order of Lee! So, ha!” Miller proclaimed triumphantly. “First Paladin of an order!
“If you’re first paladin, is there a second paladin?” David asked.
“There might be. Are you applying? You wanna join the Order of Lee?” Miller leaned over. “I can teach you how to use a spear, and we can stab people and burn people and drink beer in the name of our gods.”
“Gods?” Ling asked. “I thought the only god you had faith in was Augustus?”
“Well, if Lee is the son of a god, makes sense that he is a god too, right? It’s not like two humans get together and pop out a wolf, is it? So, if gods get together, then clearly, their child is a god too, right?” Miller just shook his head.
Well, my mother was definitely not a god, but he does make a point. Lee thought for a minute, still unsure of how much of what Augustus told him he should actually believe.
“What’s the pay?” David seemed earnestly curious as he scratched his beer belly. “And can you join the order if you’re married? Kinda don’t think Henslee would approve if I left her to go around waving my spear with a bloke.”
Such a resilient belly. Everyone else was starving and gaunt, but he managed to come out with a perfectly-intact gut, Lee thought, admiring the man’s fat’s constitution.
“Of course you can, and the pay is whatever we get from killing people that do evil. Typically, evil people are rich, so it pays well,” Miller laughed. “Also, check this out!” Miller stomped his foot so hard that Lee expected the cave to shake and shouted at the same time, and a circular nova exploded out of Miller.
Lee instantly felt tipsy when the wave hit him. To be exact, he was plastered. He felt like he had been out bar hopping with a group of friends all night long. He took a wobbly step forward, and even his thus-far sure footing was compromised as the cave spun beneath him.
You have been struck by: Shout of the Drunk god. You are currently inebriated. This effect will remain for 10 seconds.
Due to consistently being drunk, Drunken Appreciation has been promoted to Initiate Level 3.
As a result of your Initiate Level 3 Appreciative Drunk skill, stat adjustment has been reduced. Your inebriation penalty has been changed from -50% Intelligence, -30% coordination, -30% reflex, to -46% intelligence, -26% coordination, -26% reflex. You also have received an additional +3 to Courage and +2 to Charisma from Appreciative Drunk until your inebriation fades.
Due to improving Drunken Appreciation, you have received +1 intelligence. Current Intelligence: 31.
Unarmed Combat has been changed to Drunk Fu.
Swordplay has been changed to Tipsy Blade.
Sneak has been changed to No Squeaky Floorboards Please.
While Lee was able to handle the rapid conversion from stone sober to very inebriated somewhat well thanks to his skill Appreciative Drunk, Ling and David both fell over as they lost the fight to maintain their balance.
“Dang! That was strong.” David was the first to break the silence that followed while the effects of Miller’s attack faded. “That felt like I just went from zero to ten shots of Ramon’s best in half a second and then back to head-dunked-in-cold-water-after-being-passed-out-for-two-days sober. If you could just get that effect to last a whole night, I’d save a ton on beer.” He finished his thought with a laugh.
“I’ve never-- I’ve never really drunk before. Is that . . . Is that what it feels like?” Ling’s face had taken on a slightly pallor expression, but her cheeks were growing flushed even as Lee watched.
“Can you do it again?” Lee asked. Since he had a background with video games, he instantly recognized the skill for what it was: a war cry. Miller was much less akin to the paladins of his old games and more in line with a warrior, which made sense given his unnatural hunger for blood and battle, even if he claimed he was doing it to spread justice. War cries or shouts that caused an area of effect with the user being in the center were common for almost every fighter class in all of his favorite games. They also either had time limits between when you could cast them again, ate up a lot of stamina, or had an effect that couldn’t stack to prevent the skill from being imbalanced. While he didn’t know which check and balance this one would have, he knew that there was no way it would be permanently spammable. Being able to keep an entire group of enemies drunk and benefiting from Appreciative Drunk at the same time--that was just broken.
“Not for a minute or two. As soon as it wore off, I tried to use it again to keep that good, old servant-of-Augustus feeling, but man, the effect is too short-lived, and the cooldown is too long. What a letdown.”
“Hold on.” Lee pulled out the Bible of Augustus. “Since you two are now members of the Church of Augustus, please place your hand on this Bible.”
“What, you want to do your indoctrination here?” David looked skeptical. “Us saying it ain’t enough? You need a swear now? Should I polish a few doorknobs at your church later, too? Come on. Cut it out. I said I was a believer, so don’t test me, boy.”
Miller, as simple as he seemed, lit up. He immediately knew what Lee was doing. “Have a little faith in your god, David. Put your hand on it.”
I hope this works. It’ll be annoying if they actually have to read it. Lee gave his own silent prayer as David extended his hand.
“There!” Ling had beat him to it. “Now-- Oh, wow!”
“What? What is it?” David looked at Ling inquisitively. “You trying to pull the wool over my eyes? You guys having a go at ol’ Dave?”
Ling pulled back her hand. “Just put it there,” she urged without saying anything more. The three just watched David who extended his right hand and placed it on the book. “Alright. What’s the-- Cotton-tailed bunny babe! That’s a strange one! To be able to anoint people with power in such a quick and instantaneous fashion . . . I’ll never doubt you again!”
“There are bunny girls?” Lee glossed over the second part of that as he took in the possibility of a were-bunny race. Wait, this isn’t like one of those animes where half-cat or half-bunny girls exist just for fanservice, is it? Lee wasn’t honestly sure if he was hopeful or annoyed.
“Yeah, there are--in a sense. There just aren’t any of their towns near us. Why?” David was much more compliant to Lee’s stupid question than he had been before.
“Lee, did something happen to you when you died?” Miller gave him a funny look. “I mean, when you were reborn?”
“No, why?” Lee couldn’t understand the question.
“I mean, you’re different.” Miller leaned in closer to Lee, his head swerving around as he eyed Lee in the same way a dog might eye another dog’s rear end on the first introduction. Lee half-expected Miller to sniff him as the large man’s squinted eyes studied Lee’s features.
“Physically?” Lee touched his ribs while trying to figure out what Miller was talking about.
“No.” Miller shook his head. “Same face. Same body. Ling, you notice it too?”
Ling studied him silently for a moment then said, “Yeah, he is different.”
“What? You can’t just drop that on someone without explaining it! How am I different?” Maybe it’s the divinity thing. Do I have an aura glowing off of me now?
“You’re just . . . calm,” Miller answered. “Laid back. Not uptight.”
I was never uptight! Lee wanted to shout, but he just took a deep breath, scratched his neck with his right hand and then brushed off the whole topic. “Whatever. Let’s just get going. We have monsters to kill.”
“Different.” Miller’s hushed voice was barely audible to Lee as he stomped down the path.
Did dying change me? Lee ran over the list of things he had done, the things that had happened to him, and his responses to them since he had been resurrected. He couldn’t help but think about his conversation with Augustus and the peace he had felt as he thought he was going to sleep for the last time.
Peace . . . Lee thought about the word he had kept using in his own head to describe the experience. It was peaceful. I was even laughing through the pain. Lee started to understand what might be going on and became cognizant of the change in himself. I am more laid back. Dying has washed away my fear of death to some degree. Previously, I would have shied away from the idea of fighting unknown monsters--monsters that even trained guards couldn’t handle--at the bottom of a mine shaft so dark that it might as well be a dungeon.
“A--” Lee was about to turn around and say something when Miller let loose another drunken warcry.
“Ah, That’s the spot,” David sighed contentedly.
“See, even that good feeling is better now that you’re a proper follower, isn’t it?” Miller slurred proudly.
“If that ain’t the truth,” David agreed.
“I still don’t like it,” Ling complained.
Having forgotten what he was going to say, Le just turned back and kept going. Miller kept repeating the shout the rest of trip down the shaft. He claimed he was only doing it because he enjoyed the feeling, and David wholeheartedly agreed with him, but there was also an upside for Lee as well. By the time they reached the bottom, Lee’s Appreciative Drunk had increased to Initiate Level 7, also increasing his intelligence to 35. Unlike most other skills he had found, this strange inebriation-based boost apparently increased based on the number of times he actually became drunk, not based on how long the person was plastered or how much they actually drank.
Another small benefit was that Lee was actually able to time the skill and learn how often it could actually be used. From what he could tell, Miller seemed to be able to use it roughly every two minutes, and after it leveled up, the effect lasted about eleven seconds. Lee, Ling and David became incredibly used to the feeling of popping in out of being in a state of being where they had consumed three drinks too many, and by the time they reached their destination, Ling wasn’t losing her balance any longer before the effects wore off.
That’s going to be so helpful in battle, Lee thought as he saw Ling completely unaffected by the change and remembered how badly she had handled it the first time. If we ever get into a fight with a group of alcohol-hating nuns, we’re sure to win handedly. He laughed at the mental image of twenty nuns with weapons suddenly becoming drunk in the middle of a fight and not being able to even stand up straight.
Lee knew that they had reached their destination when he saw that the tracks veered off in a smooth, but very deliberate, forty-five-degree angle to the right.
“This is it, isn’t it?” Lee asked, putting a hand on the wall. The rock here was a shade darker than it had been the other parts, and the ground was bumpier.
“Yeah. It might take a few minutes to swap the tracks over, but we get it open, there will be supplies on the other side. No one had time to grab all the torches when they ran,” David explained as he grabbed a pick axe lying on the ground next to the poorly-made rock wall.
“Wait, what are you doing? Are we going to have to dig through that?” Miller asked as the pudgy began hammering away at the wall.
“Well, I don’t reckon you can just shift through to the other side, can you?” David gave a hearty laugh and kept swinging. “There’s only one pick axe, so just give me a few. This wall wasn’t well built, and the support beams overhead are keeping the pressure off, so it’ll be easy to knock through. Just wait.”
True to his word, David made it through the makeshift wall in less than four of Miller’s war cries, even though he did pause every time Miller shot off a whoop just to bask in the joy of it. “There we go,” David said as he pulled away the last major stone. “That ain’t gonna let a cart through, but you and the big’n should be able to push through without an issue.”
“Thank you,” Lee said, and he stepped inside with Ethan scurrying around his feet. He would have felt more comfortable sending the mouse in first, but he didn’t want his creation to get crushed while he was too far away to lend a hand. He didn’t know whether or not recreating the golem would restore its personality, and he was growing more and more fond of the little guy.
“Surprised you don’t want your Paladin to go in first, make sure it’s safe,” David noted as Lee crept into the place.
“Don’t worry. The Herald never hogs the blood and glory. If bad guys show up, he’ll be sure to let us kill a few of them too,” Miller said, resting a hand on David’s shoulder reassuringly.
“I don’t think that’s what he meant . . .” Ling said.
“Are you trying to steal all the herald’s glory?” Miller asked indignantly.
“No, no, no! That’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying it’s safer for Lee if you go first.
“Safer for Lee? He is the God of Revival. If he dies, he’ll be back to life in no time. What safety is there to worry about? You’re just trying to get him to wait in the back so you can kill his share of the monsters.”
Miller’s twisted reasoning made Lee chuckle. “I think I’m okay sharing the carnage,” he interjected, trying to end the topic. Ethan had picked up on some small movement ahead, and Lee wanted to focus on that instead of their bickering. Despite the rodents superior night vision, neither he nor the golem had been able to catch sight of whatever it was. There had been a flicker of movement in the dark, but it was gone again almost as soon as Ethan had caught sight of it.
“You’re so generous, offering us all the--”
Lee quickly Miller off as the Firbolg tried to carry on with the conversation on. “Quiet, we need silence to hear them coming.”
“To hear wha--”
“Quiet!” Lee snapped again. He knew that they had been spotted, but he didn’t want to make any bigger of a ruckus than he had to--not yet, anyway. Lee frantically searched the darkness for another glimmer of movement, straining both his and Ethan’s eyes as he tried to spot any sign of the creature.
With the way that thing is moving, and how big it is . . . Please don’t be capable of popping out from beneath our feet.
Lee suspiciously eyed the floor of the tunnel for any sign that there might be something burrowing underneath it. The passageway was actually rather wide once past rubble of the broken-down wall and was more than capable of allowing three people walk abreast without a problem. The presumable monster he had caught a glimpse of had been a shadow that blocked out over half of the tunnel before it had vanished. If something that large could pop out from underneath their feet--and Lee had an eerie feeling that it could, given how quickly it dove into what looked like a solid wall--then they were in a lot of trouble. There was no way to defend against something that size popping directly on top of them.
“It’s here.” Lee gave up on trying to catch sight of it again and just decided to notify the others that it was nearby so they wouldn’t be caught off guard when it attacked. “Whatever it is, it shot into the wall when we approached.”
“That’s because the foul demons of this world cannot stand in the face of justice,” Miller proclaimed triumphantly, practically declaring their victory before a battle had even been fought. “We’ll just have to murder them when we find out where those slimy miscreants have crawled off to!”
“I don’t think it’s that simple. There’s something here . . . something large and dangerous,” Lee muttered, trying to impress the warning on them one more time. “Watch your step, watch the walls--watch everything, and be careful.”
Miller and the others kept quiet after hearing how serious Lee was. Miller was almost always confident of victory no matter what the odds, but now he just studied the walls and floor, his head visibly moving between the two as his focus shifted from one to the other. Seconds passed went by with nothing happening. Around the half minute mark, Lee regained just enough confidence to let his guard down so that he could begin to creep forward. Just as he took his first step, the beast burst out out a wall right in front of the group. Rocks and dust sprayed in every direction as the monster appeared, whipping a long thigh-thick tail in Lee’s direction.
Lee instinctively dropped into a defensive stance, digging his heels into the ground and throwing both of his arms up in front of him as he braced for impact. Amusingly, Ethan had done the exact same thing, even though the clay creation was so small the monster probably didn’t even notice it.
Miller slammed his spear into the ground and activated his drunken stupor, causing everyone to feel inebriated just as the blow struck them. If nothing else, the effects of Miller’s shout worked wonders in dulling the initial shock of pain. Even dulled as it was, however, Lee felt pain explode through his forearms and chest as the scaled, two-meter-long tail slammed into him, sending him flying back into the rest of the group.
Welp, there goes almost half my bar. Lee clutched his previously broken rib cage and hoped he hadn’t already reinjured himself. He almost felt relief when he stood up and wasn’t immediately greeted by a ‘your rib cage is broken, prepare to take damage over time’ message.
“To Victory!” Miller shouted from behind Lee. s
Ethan, the closest to the beast, also raised his hand up like he was holding a spear and saying ‘to victory’ as well.
What the heck is that thing? Lee peered into the darkness once again using the mouse’s sight as he tried to shrug off the sense of confusion the strange combination of effects left him with. He was halfway between drunk and sober and pained and numb. Appreciative Drunk reduced the effects of each, but it was still rough acclimating himself to the opposing sensations.
Finally, he was able to make out something that looked like a cross between a Komodo dragon, a spider, and a dog. The twisted creature had the body of a dog with giant hind legs and stubby front legs that ended in sharp-tipped claws, but in addition, the beast also had more sets of appendages. The first set protruded from its back, just above its shoulders where a dragon’s wings might be, and the second was just about a foot behind the first. These additional protuberances more closely resembled arms than legs, and the hinge-jointed limbs ended in giant webbed hands possessing six claws. The creature was covered in scales front to back and had a short, thick neck that ended in a snub-nosed head that looked almost identical to that of an incredibly large lizard with incredibly sharp, protruding teeth.
“That’s . . .” Lee took a moment to try and analyze it for any visible weak points, but his feet were already carrying him forward before he even realized what was going on. It took a moment for his brain to catch up with the fact that he was charging forward without even being aware of what he was doing. When the cogs finally started turning, he immediately knew what was going on. This bravery is part of the courage that comes with the alcohol, isn’t it? So, not only am I unable to refuse quests, but I must also charge into battle when drunk? NOT FAIR! He screamed as his sword dug into one of the arms of the giant, blue-scaled beast.
Miller, who was right behind Lee, jabbed his spear into the beast’s chest, his weapon maneuvering through the web of limbs and stabbing squarely into the thing’s lungs.
“No way,” Lee thought aloud as he began hacking away with both swords. “This is too easy. Something is wrong . . .” The beast wobbled from side to side, only ever using its extra limbs to try and stabilize itself. Then, as if in response to Lee’s complaint, the thing righted itself and started attacking Lee and Miller.
Just as the beast hissed at them and lashed out with three of its six front limbs at Miller and Lee, an arrow zipped by and struck it in the eye. The creature’s hissing rose two octaves as it shrank back, withdrawing the giant, clawed arm that was about to strike Lee. The creature curled its tail around itself while it edged backward, threatening to whip it out at either of the two men at any second as it retreated.
“It’s wounded badly! Go for the kill!” Miller shouted.
“Wait, careful!” David shouted from behind them. Lee looked through Ethan’s eyes and saw the shaking man in the back next to Ling. “That’s . . . That’s what he does when he--!”
He didn’t need to say any more. Before he finished his sentence, the flighty creature sprang forward and dove into the ground and began using the four, oddly-placed limbs on the front half of his body to tear through the soil as if they were four drills going through a stack of papers. A weird, dark orange magical symbol appeared in the spot the beast dug into, giving Lee the impression that this ability to tear through ground was part natural ability, part magic.
After the tail disappeared into the ground, David followed up his earlier warning with only one word: “RUN!”
Rather than following his suggestion, Lee and Miller tightened their formation and prepared to go another round.
“You think we scared the little bugger off?” Miller asked, holding his spear with confidence.
“Well, I don’t think it liked that arrow that Ling shot.” Lee turned around and looked at Ling, who was backing up slowly toward the rock wall they had torn down before entering the dungeon. Wait, it’s going to do that attack again! It’s going to go after Ling! “Ling, just run! Get out of here!” He shouted the warning just as he turned and sprinted toward her, both he and Miller trying to get into position before the creature could reach the young woman.
As if on cue, the beast burst claws-first from the ground and swiped at Ling, catching 1her with enough force to send her bouncing off a wall and onto the ground.
Miller and Lee both stabbed at it as the creature exited the earth. Miller thrust his spear into its rear twice, and Lee lunged forward, dodged its tail, lowered himself as much as possible, and sliced at the beast’s ankles.
The beast hissed and tried to turn around as soon as Lee’s blade made contact, but as soon as it put its weight on the foot with the slashed tendon, it shrieked in pain lost its balance. The creature dipped low before catching itself with two of its extra limbs.
Not wanting to waste the opportunity, however small it may be, both Miller and lee redoubled their attacks. The paladin thrust forward with his spear, repeatedly stabbing into its chest. One blow struck forward and sank into its neck, causing thick black blood to ooze forth from the wound for a moment. Unfortunately, it quickly became apparent that the cut was rather shallow and not too serious.
Lee, however, was much luckier. While Miller went to work on the creature’s midsection, Lee maneuvered around and went for its head. As far as he was concerned, there was no point in dragging the fight out any longer than he had to. Whatever this thing was, it was clearly capable of doing a great deal of damage with only a few attacks. The longer the fight drug on, the more likely someone was to end up injured, incapacitated, or dead. Lee wanted to cut right to the quick and slice open the creatures stubby neck, a vile tongue snaked out of its mouth and parried his first attack. Lee’s blade bounced off the harder-than-metal tongue slid away harmlessly. Not losing any momentum, he stepped closer and jammed one of his two swords straight into the visible part of what he hoped was its rotator cuff. He felt his sword scrape against bone as his sword dug into the creature's shoulder and there was an audible snap as yet another tendon was severed.
The beast slumped into an even more awkward angle, reached down with one of its extra appendages, and grabbed ahold of Lee. The webbed hand wrapped around Lee, its sharp claws digging into him and slowly shaving off hit points as the creature lifted him into the air. But, before it could crush him properly, Miller intervened. The warrior leapt forward and used his spear to vault himself onto the creature’s back.He pulled a small axe from his inventory as soon as he was on top of the creature and began hacking away at the arm holding Lee. In less than three chops, Lee felt the arm falter, release its grip on him, and finally give way. He took more than a dozen of damage as he landed face-first into a pile of rugged rocks, but he was free.
Miller seemed to have caught on to the idea and decide that he might as well go to work since he was already in position. He started hacking around with his axe rather than jumping free, but the creature’s quickly swatted him away with its last remaining arm. The paladin flew off of in the opposite direction from where Lee had fallen.
Lee caught sight of David as he was freeing himself from the severed arm. He hadn’t been good for anything other than shouting warnings and taking hits as far as Lee could tell, and now he was standing over Ling. When he saw Lee watching him, he shouted, “I don’t have any bandages, and this looks bad! I think she’s taking internal damage!”
Crap, so there is a timer to this fight.
Lee saw Ling shake her head and try to stop David. Then, through Ethan’s ears, he heard her protest. “It’s okay,” she said weakly. “I follow Augustus and Lee. It’s okay if I die.”
What are you talking about? I made that up on a whim! Lee reeled under the impact of what she was saying. She actually had enough faith in him and August that she was willing to let herself die. She was willing to peacefully, without putting up a fight. He forced himself back to his feet and stared at the fiend that just wouldn’t die. The thing had reared up onto its two hind legs, regardless of one having a severed tendon, and balanced itself with two arms. Despite the beating it had taken, it still somehow managed to pose a serious threat. More so than anything Lee had likely faced before.
Unfortunately, even though he was stone-cold sober now, the inebriation had done its job. There was no way he could back away from the fight, even if he had wanted to, and Lee once more felt his feet moving before his brain could even get over the shock of the last attack.
It’s like a berserker skill, Lee thought as he struggled to retake the reins on his stupid body’s stupid bravery. It’s only making sure I don’t stop attacking, but when I had a plan of attack earlier, it went along with that fine, Lee mused, trying to change his path so he could sneak around the back of the beast.
Success! He grinned as his body circled the enemy instead of charging headlong like a starving mutt at a food bowl. Success indeed.
The beast lashed out with its last good arm, but Lee was able to halt his charge and back out of reach just in the nick of time. The shifted its weight as it reached out for him and was forced to scramble to keep upright when its attack didn’t connect with anything. Taking advantage of the opening, Lee scurried forward and around behind it. When he saw one leg hovering inches above the ground, twitching and without an ounce of weight on it, Lee knew he was safe. He knew that the thing wouldn’t be able to shift which foot it stood on to strike him, and it didn’t have the previous freedom it had before to go wild with its tail. So, Lee ran up and swung as hard as he could at the beast’s remaining rear support beam.
As his blade cut through weak scales and tore flesh, ripping the tendon open, the thing let out a loud piercing scream that hit Lee like a migraine and a hangover all at once. Lee dropped both his swords and clutched his ears in pain. “What the hell was that?” he asked. “Can’t you just die?!” he screamed over the ringing in his ears. Ethan’s ears seemed to be fine, so Lee switched over to the mouse’s senses until his could recover. “Awh guuhht diss!” Miller shouted as he readied his spear and prepared to charge again. He was clearly trying to say ‘I got this!’ but his speech was slurred by his inability to hear his own voice. Oh man, I hope I didn’t sound that bad. Ethan, tell me I didn’t sound that bad, Lee pleaded as he jumped up and began to drag himself onto the creature’s back.
Little Ethan just turned his head away from Lee. It was clear that he was using his silence to let Lee know that he had, in fact, sounded that horrible.
Traitor, Lee shot back just as he managed to climb up. It had been rather easy since both of the monster’s back legs were now out of commission and its rear had collapsed onto the ground, but balancing was difficult as he made his way to the back of its head. He was almost taken out by the flying, supersized claw that Miller hadn’t chopped off, but finally, he reached his mark.
This is where I’m supposed to say some cheesy pun, right? Lee plunged one sword into the creature’s back, which he used to maintain his balance and steady himself, and then and then stabbed his other into creature’s spine with all of his strength.
You have killed the Krobken. Your party has been awarded 50 silver and 750 experience. Your share of this is 25 silver and 375 experience.
“Dangit! That should have been my kill!” Miller churlishly expressed his consternation from below. “I WANTED TO KILL A DRAGON!”
“It . .. wasn’t exactly a dragon?” Lee slid off of the beast’s back and onto the ground next to Miller.
“It sure felt like a dragon fight, but you’re right. Next dragon, I call dibs. I want the kill shot on the next one. I want to bask in the glory of defeating man’s greatest foe!”
“I thought that was time?” Lee corrected him with the proper adage.
“Time? Why would time be deadly? Don’t be abstract. Artists are abstract and--”
“Guys, I think she might really die,” David called, drawing their attention back to the immediate problem.
Right! The liquor’s aftereffect had caused me to charge back into battle, but he said that she had taken some type of internal damage.
“Well, can anyone stop it?” Miller asked.
“Umm . . . We didn’t find any health kits or medical supplies back at the quarters earlier, and we just don’t have any on us. I don’t know what to do here,” Lee admitted.
“Aren’t you supposed to be a god?” David turned to Lee, aghast. “Don’t tell me you can’t even save one follower? Are we not even worth a try? Is she not even worthy of an attempt?”
“Stop talking to the Herald like his favors are yours to beg! If a great and mighty god like Augustus or Lee could be manipulated by the words and deeds of others, then how powerful can he really be?” Miller’s retort was sharp as he picked up his spear and came face to face with David.
A god . . . Lee wanted to laugh at the thought. Me? A god? An idiot who almost died? And would have if not for his shape-shifting-absentee-father gorilla? The same fool who was just knocked back and forth by one Krobken, the chump who needs his buddy Wolfe to put together even one decent raid group? I’m suddenly a god? His laughter broke forth and grew as he walked up and crouched next to Ling. Yeah. I’m a god. That’s right. Because some stupid, blue-box notification system in a different world says so, it must be true. No, she’s going to die because I’m not a god; I just have the ego of one. I thought I was risking my life by coming down here, but I was really just risking theirs . . . His laughter died out as he put a hand over hers.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered. It’s too bad no one is a healer. He chewed on the thought as he stared down at her face. She really was beautiful, like an angel, and she really was at peace.
“Is it working?” David looked up at Lee. “I don’t see anything. Is your magic healing her or not?”
My magic? I don’t have any magic. But, even while thinking it, his eyes landed on Ethan. No, that’s not true. I do have magic. I just don’t know how to use it on people. But . . . He took a breath to steady himself and squeezed her hand. He concentrated for a moment, then, in the same way he had funneled magic into Ethan when he made the clay mouse, he channeled his spirit through Ling. He felt his energy pour out of himself and into Ling. He felt it fortifying her, doubling down and reinforcing her veins, muscles and organs, removing her injuries. The process was remarkably similar to when he had created his golem, only now it was draining him so badly that he worried it was actually his entire soul slipping inside of her and not just ephemeral magic.
You have discovered the basic school of magic healing.
You are the first Herald to discover a school of magic without help, a teacher or the assistance of a tome. +10 Int.
“Ugh.” Ling groaned and stirred slightly. She had been sickly pale when Lee first approached, but he could already see a faint bit of color returning to her cheeks; and, though it may have been his imagination, her hand felt a tiny bit warmer where he held it in his own. After a long, tense moment, her eyes fluttered open. “What . . . what was that?”
“I think it was called a Krobken, but I can’t be certain.” Lee shrugged weakly. He didn’t feel like he had the energy to move at all. The healing process had drained a lot out of him. Too bad there isn’t a mana bar or something, he thought as he wondered how much of his own energy he had imparted to her.
Your current spirit energy, the energy used to perform magic, can be displayed as a bar if the user desires.
Wait, seriously? That’s helpful. Please do. Immediately, right next to where he could view his health, which was down to 41 thanks to the final fight with the Krobken, a purple bar appeared. But purple? Why purple?
The color was selected at random. If desired, both the color and your overall UI may be changed at will.
Make it blue, Lee responded through thought. Mana bars have to be blue: it’s just common gamer sense.
Are there any other desired UI changes desired for prompts, notifications and status bars?
No, well . . . not right now. Lee brushed it off. He was too tired to deal with anything requiring serious thought at the moment. His bar, first purple and now blue, was completely depleted and the effects of an empty bar were very noticeable.
If it’s depleted, then does that mean she’s not fully healed? He let his heavy eyelids slide shut so that he could rest for a while as the drained spirit regenerated.
Lee opened his eyes and found himself staring into Ling’s.
“Hey, he’s moving again, boss,” David called.
“Don’t act like he was sleeping! His eyes were closed because he was praying to his father!” Miller corrected angrily, even though Lee had, in fact, rested for a moment.
“Well, if he wasn’t sleeping, then how come he didn’t respond to anything?”
“That’s because it would be rude to ignore both your father and your god just because some mortal was pestering you for your attention,” Miller stated matter-of-factly. “If you’re going to ever make it as a Paladin, you clearly need to understand the importance of certain parts of religion.”
“Mmm . . . ” David nodded. “I see. I have much to learn.”
Don’t agree with him! You’ll just make his ego even bigger! Lee winced at the thought.
“Did you . . . Did you save my life?” Ling asked softly. “I thought you said it wasn’t a problem if we died. Didn’t you tell us that faith would grant us a happier life in heaven than on earth?”
Lee let out a half-hearted laugh. “Yeah, but I’m selfish and didn’t want to lose my sparring partner.” So, I’m being lectured even for saving your life.
“Well, thank you.”
“Can you move yet?” Lee asked. “Do we need to bring a cart down here to ferry you back up?” I’ve only recovered 10% of my mana, so if her injuries are still life-threatening, I can’t really heal her much more.
“Oh, yeah. I can. I just . . .” Ling blushed as she looked to where Lee was holding her hand. “I just didn’t want to move while you were . . . . umm . . . while you were praying. I mean . . . I didn’t want to interrupt your prayer.”
“Oh. Well .. .” Lee withdrew his hand and broke eye contact. “If you’re okay, let’s get going.” He stood up and dusted off his pants, his lousy attempt at removing some of the dirt and grime doing little more than taking a few rocks off a mountain would.
“Lee,” he heard Ling say, and he felt he felt a tug on his shirt from behind. “What happened to me? What’s happening to me?” she clarified.
“What do you mean?” Lee didn’t understand her question. “I mean, I think I just helped heal you, but I couldn’t exactly describe how.”
“Oh! No, that’s not what I meant. I meant . . .” Ling bit her lip then looked at Miller and David before shaking her head. “Nevermind. Let’s just keep going.”
“Okay.” Lee didn’t know how to answer her question. Is healing magic is such a foreign idea to them? I mean, there were plenty of people around when I almost died, and no one had that magic. In fact, I don’t think I’ve seen anyone use any type of magic other than Miller’s drunken aura ability since I got here. Maybe magic isn’t something most NPCs have. “Well, how much further do we have to go before we reach the old guard station?” he asked David.
David pointed in the direction that the beast had come from. “If I remember correctly, it’s actually less than a few minutes from where we’re at now.”
“You think we’ll run into more of those?” Lee asked. “Did the guards say they encountered several or just one?”
“Don’t know. Just know it was monsters because that’s what they were shouting. As far as the details . . . Well, I never heard those. The only ones that got out were either too horrified to talk about it or didn’t spend a lot of time talking to slaves and peasants.” David shrugged. “For all I know, there could be five or ten of them further down in this place.”
“I see. Only one way to find out, I guess.” Lee sighed and then began moving past the piles of debris and broken tracks that had been left behind.
True to David’s estimations, it wasn’t long before they arrived at a wooden structure built into the wall of the cave. Miller, seemingly oblivious to the possibility of a monster lurking within that could harm them, walked up and opened the door without a second thought. There were three corpses leaned against the far wall between two small cots. Lee couldn’t tell whether the decomposing bodies belonged to former slaves or guards, but he was extremely aware of the orange-sized, mosquito-like creatures that burst from their heads as soon as the door swung open.
“Ahhh!!!” came a girly scream from behind Lee as he pulled out his sword.
“All bugs must die!” Miller shouted, activating his drunkenness-imbuing war cry and stabbing at the closest insects with his spear.
The bugs didn’t seem to be affected nearly as badly by his shout as the Krobken had been, but they still tottered from side to side midair and seemed to have trouble buzzing in a straight line. Unfortunately, their erratic movements only made them that much harder to hit. Lee was fairly confident he could have swatted them out of the air if they had kept moving in straight lines, but now he was afraid that it was going to be almost impossible.
Not so fast, you little bastard! Lee cursed one overgrown insect as it sped toward him. All he could do was take a guess as to which way it was going to zip before it reached him, so he swung out blindly with one of his swords and hope for the best. He missed the fruit-sized insect’s body entirely but clipped off part of one of its wings as it sped past. The small creature spiraled out of control and crashed into a corner of the small room, which is where Lee decided to leave it for the time being. Without the ability to fly, there was very little chance of it rejoining the battle before they were able to finish off the other two.
Feeling that he had struck upon a bit of success, Lee began swatting at the mosquitos with the flat of his blade as if they were tennis balls, and his sword was a racket rather than a weapon. He bugs sped at him time and again, but they never seemed to make contact or draw blood. Despite their long, wicked-looking proboscises, not a single one of the bugs was able to alight anywhere long enough to start feeding. Just as he was considering pushing into the building and getting aggressive against the assailing bugs, two arrows swished past his head and picked off one of the two bugs attacking Miller.
With two of the insects down, it was only a matter of time before they were able to finish off the last one. Miller eventually pierced it through with his spear, eliciting a flurry of wings and a strange hissing sound from the creature before it died. All in all, what could have been a terrifying fight was relatively easy. The bugs inability to escape through the doorway and into the larger tunnel outside, or into the dark where they would have the element of surprise, probably played into their quick defeat a good deal.
You have killed a ‘swarm of drill mites’. Your party has been awarded 50 silver and 750 experience. Your share of this is 25 silver and 375 experience.
Due to consistently being drunk, Drunken Appreciation has been promoted to Initiate Level 8.
Due to improving Drunken Appreciation, you have received +1 intelligence. Current Intelligence: 46.
“You know, after killing the Krobken, a swarm of flying bugs just really doesn’t seem that scary,” Ling commented. “Not scary at all.”
“That’s because bugs are naturally evil and loathsome creatures that don’t taste good when eaten. Anything that doesn’t taste good when eaten should never exist.” Miller spoke as if it was a gospel from his bible.
Well, it might be part of the book of Augustus. I have no idea what that monkey could have put in there while he was hammered. “Agreed, but if it wasn’t scary, then why did you shriek like that?” Lee asked.
“I didn’t,” Ling responded, pointing at David, who was three shades lighter than he had been before and was hidden behind an unbroken boulder. “He did.”
“How dare you mock Augustus with such incompetence!” Miller apparently took offense to the cowardly behavior because he hurled his spear at the rock David was hiding behind. “I offered you a position in the Order of Lee, and you return that favor by cowering before an enemy? Do you think he would ever shrink away from noble battle?!”
I am almost always trying to avoid fights. What are you talking about? Lee shook his head.
“Sorry, sir,” David said in an oddly-polite tone. “It’s just . . . bugs are terrifying. I once woke up to having part of my leg being chewed on by a two-foot-long hard-shelled critter whose name I never bothered to learn. I kinda freak out when I see them.”
“What a preposterous notion! If one did you an injustice, then why cower from another?” Miller lost his anger and just let out a heavy-throated laugh as he walked forward and picked up his spear. “You just need to kill the creatures until you become hardened against any fear that might be in your heart. If you kill a thousand men, how can one possibly scare you?”
Lee moved over and stood next to Ling. “Is it bad that it makes sense to me?” he asked quietly, so that only she would hear.
“No, I had the same thought,” she answered, shaking her head.
“Good. I was beginning to wonder if I was spending too much time with Miller,” Lee answered, scratching the back of his head.
“The map?” Ling replied, shifting the subject.
“Ah, yeah.” Lee nodded, having briefly forgotten why he was there in the midst of free insect EXP. Truthfully, he didn’t have much hope of actually finding it. The corpses inside the small building had been picked dry, and the room was covered in dirt, dust, and stains from something Lee didn’t want to guess at. Tucked away beneath one of the flimsy straw-filled mattresses, however, he did uncover a worn satchel with several intact letters inside.
“That’s the carrier bag,” David said from the doorway as soon as he saw it. Those bags are about as waterproof as you can get since they have to send messages out through storms. Those are likely a collection of the copies the messenger is supposed to keep.”
“Copies?” Lee asked as he started rifling through them.
“Yeah. For some reason, this Herald insists on two copies of each letter: one that stays with the messenger until he drops off the pouch and the other that’s sent back and forth. Their Herald apparently likes to keep notes of everything. When they took me, they drew a full damn body inspection twice for the bastard.”
“Their Herald . . .” The words struck Lee. I’m going to have to kill another person like me, but he’s got a huge head start on me. He had time to set up this entire mine, time to abandon it, time to capture villagers . . . What level is he? How long has he been working on all of this?
The thoughts echoed through Lee’s head as he looked at the state of the room. It was in total disarray, as if it had been infested for weeks. He had only just arrived in this world the other day, but this other Herald had already built up a base that looked as if it had been abandoned for weeks.
How am I supposed to kill someone who has that much of a head start on me? Someone who is that higher level? I've been trying to get to him as quickly as possible, but maybe that's the wrong approach. Doubt filled Lee’s mind as he thumbed through the letters.
“Find anything useful?” Ling asked after a few minutes when Lee didn’t say anything. She watched her step as she carefully came up beside him.
”I think so,” he said, handing her one of the letters. “There are four in here that mention their agent in town, refer to him as ‘the barkeep.’ He's apparently in charge of scouting out potential victims, setting up the timing, contracting the mercenaries to do the work and also bringing converts directly to the Herald’s temple if they're willing.”
“So he would actually have a map, wouldn't he? Or, at the very least, he would know where the Herald’s palace is.” Ling’s excitement at the discovery was obvious from her tone. “This means we can finally make the bastard pay!”
If I can figure out a way to do that. Lee masked his scowl as best he could with a smile so that his insecurity wouldn't show. “There's one more thing here,” he said, handing her another one of the notes. “It says that they are positive they found the object that had them digging down here in the first place. It says the iron has been helpful, but they're going to redouble their efforts because they can fulfill their end of the contract with this object and secure the help of Nekofelis in Anitopia.”
“Object? You think there is a mysterious object somewhere down here? What type of object would be at the bottom of a tiny mountain?”
”Well, if the note is to be believed, then it’s a stone. It’s apparently a fragment of the World Stone, whatever that is,” Lee said, still looking through the letter for more details. “Yeah, I don’t know what it is, but I do know that they were very convinced it was not only real, but they were just about to discover it.”
“So then, that thing we killed earlier probably attacked them when they got close. That means that we’ve probably already killed the gate guard, right?” David shouted over to them, not coming any closer to the room than he had to.
“What type of guard would leave his post? That thing can’t be the beast guarding the fragment, it wouldn’t have left it if it were,” Miller said, joining the conversation too and disagreeing immediately with David.
“There’s no point in arguing when we can just go find out ourselves,” Lee said, only to notice Little Ethan glowering at him. What? This could give us the upper edge against this Herald, he thought at the golem, but Little Ethan just harrumphed and took off to start scouting ahead.
“That’s the spirit!” Miller exclaimed, throwing his support behind Lee’s decision before Ling or David could start protesting.
“But--” David looked back in the direction they had come from.
“No ‘buts’ about it. There’s glory, victory, and guaranteed treasures waiting ahead of us! Let’s go!” Miller said. “Not to mention, the great Lee has spoken, so we must adhere to his request and trample upon the indignant fiends that bar our path.”
Yeah, of course he would say that. Lee chortling at David’s shocked expression. Don’t worry buddy. I was just as dismayed as you were when I first started partying with Miller, he thought, still laughing at David’s ‘what have I gotten myself into?’ face. Part of him wanted to call the man a coward, but he hadn’t shrunk from the fight with ??, and he had volunteered to go down with them. He wasn’t a coward, he just didn’t like insects and hated the idea of unnecessary risks.
“Well, you don’t have to come with us if you don’t want to, David, but I’m going to press on if you don’t mind. I don’t know what that fragment is, but if it’s still down there, if they haven’t already taken it to the surface, then I want it. I want whatever power it has,” Lee said, pulling out his best sword and one of the shields he had received from the guards he and Miller had lit on fire earlier. While two swords had worked for him fine so far, if the obstacle they encountered was any tougher than the Krobken, he definitely wanted a little protection so he didn’t get squashed in one hit.
“I’ll come too,” Ling said, drawing a frown out of Lee. He had serious reservations about taking her into a real fight again with her having almost died because of his ambitions just moments ago.
“If you must,” he replied, however. It wasn’t his place to tell people not to act stupid when he was the biggest idiot in the group.
With that said, the group continued their trek through the dungeon toward the end. They didn’t know what hole or cavern they were looking for, but they figured given the size of the Krobken, if it had come out of the hole they were looking for, then it was very likely a large one.