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Jason was freaked out at first when Keeja towed him behind her, rocketing forward at incredible speed. Luckily, he was wearing his goggles so he could still see, but Keeja had been right that he wasn’t able to breathe while moving so fast.
He briefly thought of teleporting away, but he somehow knew that it would be a bad idea. He was not sure how he knew, but just sensed it.
He settled in to wait and just held his breath between rests like Keeja instructed. Eventually he got the hang of it and it wasn’t too bad. He judged they were moving at least a few hundred miles per hour every time Keeja got up to speed. He had the suspicion that the experience might have killed him prior to becoming orb-Bonded. Either that or Keeja was doing something to protect him.
Jason got the feeling Keeja could move even faster and was limiting herself for his sake. It was a scary realization.
He couldn’t really do anything else while they traveled and Keeja looked like she was concentrating, so Jason had time to think. He wasn’t very happy about where his thoughts led him.
He had to admit that he’d been fairly stupid with how he approached Dolos and what resulted from it. His first clue it was a bad idea should have been that he and Henry were trying to hide it from the others.
He still didn’t think it would have been a good idea to meet Dolos as a group. It could have been disastrous. He and Henry had some immunity against Dolos’ temper, but that didn’t mean anyone else in the company did.
On the other hand, Jason really had no excuse for being so stupid. He was the gamer of the group, the guy who had been playing role playing games his entire life. He should have known there would be issues, and at the very least he should have caught on when Dolos was playing word games. Jason kept kicking himself. Stupid, stupid Jason!
The only reason he could think of that he’d acted so dumb was that he was getting used to life on Ludus. The more normal his day to day felt, the less he analyzed everything that happened around him as a challenge, as survival. Getting married hadn’t helped. He was glad he was married and he loved Uluula to pieces, but sometimes it was hard to spend time thinking about stuff that still wanted to kill or trick him when he was so happy all the time.
As he was pulled through the air by unknown means, travelling as fast as an airplane by a woman who claimed to be several millennium old, Jason realized his threshold for weirdness had been permanently altered. That might be one reason he screwed up so bad with Dolos too.
Oh well, there wasn’t anything he could do about it now other than try to make the best of the situation. However, one way or another, he vowed that Dolos would not get the best of him again.
While Jason was still trying to figure out what to do about Dolos, Keeja began to reduce their speed. They were approaching a mountain. In the distance, Jason could see an enormous doorway set in a cliffside, but Keeja wasn’t heading that direction. She set them down on a hillside.
Keeja stared at the mountain for a moment before glancing at Jason. She frowned and levitated a couple feet off the ground. “Do you know how irritating it is to look up at you all the time? Why must Terrans grow so tall?”
Jason decided not to say anything. Keeja seemed to be growing more grumpy and he’d already been conned by a god. He didn’t want to piss off a demigod on the same day.
Keeja grumbled under her breath for a while before saying, “Be ready to move. I’m extremely irritated with Dolos right now and I don’t like feeling manipulated, so I’m taking advantage of a loophole to help you out. However, you’re the only member of your group that could survive this and you are still going to be in great danger. Just try not get hurt too badly. I’m not very good at healing.”
“What do you mean? Aren’t we still in Tolstey? I thought we just took out one of the most dangerous dungeons in the area.”
Keeja rolled her eyes. “Tolstens really don’t know as much as they think they do. Most of them live in their capital city, Taretha, and most Tolsten adventurers farm dungeons and monsters to the south. They avoid places like this because it’s just instant death for most of them. Elite dungeons were not the best challenges Dolos ever introduced.”
“Elite dungeons?” The term was familiar to Jason. In gaming culture, it meant battles that were harder, sometimes exponentially harder than regular challenges for players.
“Yes, it’s how I knew this would be the place. Dolos is obviously trying set me up. He wouldn’t have put a music device anywhere that your group could handle or you could have just gotten it for me. Plus, I believe this dungeon was just reworked a few years ago. It means I wouldn’t be able to give you any meaningful data. As far as I know, no adventurers have bested this place for over a thousand years.
“Most adventurers would die before even getting to the front door of this dungeon.”
Jason shook his head. “What–”
“That’s enough. I’m not sure what this place’s new defenses are. Try to be as quiet as you can.”
Jason whispered, “Can’t you just… do something from here? You have that beam you showed me before.”
“Really?” Keeja blinked. “I want an item inside and you can benefit as well. What would I be accomplishing by probably destroying everything, including the items we seek?”
“Uh, yeah. That makes sense,” Jason said lamely.
“Fine follow me closely. Pay attention.” Keeja floated to the ground and began slowly walking toward the mountain.
Jason cautiously followed. He had no idea what to expect and kept a hand on his sword hilt. He also mentally prepared to erect a null-time shield as fast as he could. He still wasn’t entirely sure how powerful Keeja really was, but he wasn’t taking any chances.
Suddenly, Areva woman held out a hand. “Stop here. Actually, wait a moment.” Keeja took a couple steps towards Jason, reached up and slapped him on the side of the head.
“Oww, what was that for?” Jason was tired of being confused and getting such cryptic information from the ancient little woman. The side of his face stung. “Why the hell did you just hit me?”
“Now you’ll be able to hear my voice if I need to talk to you. Teleport back as far as you can white still seeing me so I can keep an eye on you in turn. I’m not sure what other dangers are around here. I’ll let you know when to meet up with me again.”
Jason scowled but he had no way to test the accuracy of what she said. Either way, it wasn’t like he could do anything about it. He sucked up his pride and did as Keeja instructed, teleporting about half a mile back to a handy outcropping of rock he’d seen.
As he stood staring at Keeja in the distance, he decided to try one of his new abilities he’d been practicing. With a small flex of his magic, he bypassed the distance to Keeja so he could watch her as if he was only twenty feet away. He didn’t use this technique very often because it could be so disconcerting to see two perspectives at once. It wasn’t like he was using a telescope. It seemed as if he was actually there near Keeja, but also seeing his normal view from where he was standing. It took concentration to maintain and not get a headache.
He figured he should probably trust Keeja. She was acting like something was going to happen any minute so Jason also sped up his perception of time. He hadn’t felt any danger yet, but he knew from his time on Ludus that shit could go sideways at the drop of a hat.
He was watching Keeja when the mountain attacked. Jason would have entirely missed what happened if he hadn’t been watching with his perception of time slowed down.
In a split second, shimmering shields of energy formed in front of Keeja, her hand held out before her. The shields barely formed in time to turn aside the barrage of destruction from several origin points on the mountain, the projectiles slamming into the shields and glancing off to drive deep, smoking furrows into the ground. Keeja seemed to glide to the side and her other hand flicked out, sparks dancing from her fingers and shooting out in several directions, resulting in muted explosions on the mountainside. As Jason watched Keeja using her power, he began hearing music in his head just like he had when she shot a beam into the sky over a month before.
Another barrage of fire lanced out, stopped by Keeja’s shields and she flicked more explosive sparks out. The torn ground extended in two long furrows to either side of the Areva demigoddess, a small clump of grass had caught on fire. Trees were shattered, their entire trunks reduced to splinters.
On the mountainside, the explosion from one of Keeja’s attacks started a landslide that Jason could feel through his feet. The violence that the High Priestess had casually unleashed in a few seconds was astounding. Without warning, Jason heard Keeja’s voice, <Yes, I know you’ve never seen anything like that before, but try to pay attention. Now that I’ve destroyed the automated defenses, there will probably be something else out here with us.>
It sounded like Keeja was talking softly directly into his ears. The sensation was weird, but he had to admit the communication method was handy. He mentally nodded and snapped his vision back to normal. His perception of time was still sped up, though. It was all that saved him.
Jason saw movement out of the corner of his eye didn’t waste time turning his head for a better look. He immediately teleported away. From the new hillside he stood on, he glanced back at and saw a huge fist buried into the ground where he’d just been standing. A giant rock man was coming straight out of the stony outcropping.
The creature seemed entirely made of stone. Its mouth and eyes were just dark pits. Its form was rough, like a child’s a drawing of a man would be. It only had two fingers and a thumb.
“What in the hell… elementals?” The creature jogged Jason’s memory of games he’d played in the past.
<Sort of, but close enough. You don’t need to worry about destroying any of them. I’ll take care of it. Just keep yourself alive.>
Keeja could obviously hear him, so Jason acknowledged her out loud, “Okay.” He bounced on his toes, ready for anything. He wondered what the High Priestess would do. Elementals in games were usually more easily dealt with using an opposing element that varied per game. Like in some games, earth was super effective versus air, and in some games it was completely ineffective.
Keeja obviously didn’t care either way. She just used brute force. She came flying up to the giant rock monster and destroyed it in a single punch. The explosive force of the strike blew the elemental into pieces. As before, every time Jason looked at her, he could hear the unfamiliar music in his head.
Keeja reached sideways and her hand disappeared before she pulled a huge halberd out of thin air. Jason watched curiously as she put the weapon away, brushed her hands off, and pulled it out again. She looked directly at Jason the last time she withdrew it.
What the hell is she doing? Jason asked himself. He kept an eye out for more elementals while he pondered Keeja’s strange behavior, and eventually deduced his answer. She was probably trying to show him something. Pocket dimensions… no way! Jason felt a flash of insight. This was probably one reason Keeja brought him along.
She couldn’t teach him any magic. She probably couldn’t even tell him certain things were possible. But if she needed to fight and he happened to see her do something that he could happen to replicate with his magic…
With Jason’s enhanced perception of time, only a few seconds actually passed while he was furiously thinking about pocket dimensions and ways to twist space. So it actually wasn’t actually very long before the very forest itself seemed to come alive.
Multiple trees slammed together, branches twisting, trunks cracking and opening in facsimiles of gaping mouths. Branches ending in wicket points formed hands with too many fingers. Most of the trees in the forest were uprooting themselves. They seemed to be moving to tear the two trespassers apart.
More rock elementals began pulling themselves out of the surrounding boulders and cliffsides. Jason felt the ground below him move so he teleported straight up into the air. He began to move around randomly, boulders and needle sharp spars of wood flew flew through the space he’d occupied each time he teleported. The elementals were throwing things at him. Gotta keep moving.
From high in the sky, Jason got a bird’s eye view of Keeja unleashing her power. In a flicker of motion, she moved from elemental to elemental, cutting them in half with mighty swings of her polarm. Her weapon began to glow orange, and the wooden monsters burst into flame. She moved so fast, Jason would not have been able to see her movements without having slowed down his perception of time.
She was a tiny engine of destruction. Jason watched in astonishment as she zipped from monster to monster, utterly destroying each one with only one strike. She wasn’t even breathing hard. She pointed her halberd at oner of the rock monsters and cut it in half from crotch to head with a beam of energy from the tip of her weapon.
The elemental enemies were a mass of grasping hands and thrown projectiles but Keeja moved around them like they were in slow motion. A bounder got in the way of one of her dashes so she smashed it aside with a tiny fist.
Jason felt a chill. If Keeja wanted to, she could wipe out their entire company with ease. Even if all the Delvers tried to prepare for her to attack, she was on another level entirely. It was humbling.
But Jason was getting seriously tired of dodging missiles thrown from elemental monsters. It was time to contribute to the fight. He needed to practice some of his new attacks anyway.
He wasn’t exactly safe while constantly dodging deadly projectiles anyway.
Jason teleported, adjusting is vector to arc him behind a rock monster. He drew two bronze throwing knives and waited for the right moment. He needed to be fairly close for this new attack to work, the same attack he used to kill the flowertop popper demon. Henry is right about one thing, some of these names are silly.
He concentrated briefly, making the edge of a throwing knife flicker with a thin line of null-time. Then he had to concentrate again to anchor it. It was still difficult, but he was getting faster and it wasn’t as difficult anymore as it had been when he first tried it. He watched the back of the stone elemental flash by in slow motion, his slowed perception of time allowing him to perfectly time his throw.
His hand flashed forward, index finger on the handle of his throwing knife, executing a perfect no-spin throw. The distance was short enough that the attached null-time blade held, allowing the knife to punch through the monster like paper.
This would be a lot easier if I could teleport null-time knives, Jason idly thought has he watched the knife pass through the monster.
Luckily, he was paying attention when the creature’s arm flashed back, it’s hand open to crush him to death. Jason teleported away and frowned in irritation.
<Didn’t I tell you to try not to get killed?> Keeja’s voice sounded irritated. <These things have a core somewhere centrally but it’s different every time.>
Jason said out loud, “Why don’t you just blow them all apart with whatever you did to the perimeter defenses?”
<I can’t use too much power here. I have to limit my output or I could be more easily sensed by people you really, really don’t want to have showing up here.>
She’s limiting her power right now? With stunned fascination, Jason wondered what Keeja would be like if she went HAM and decided he didn’t want to know. If he were being honest with himself, he was already intimidated enough as it was.
Keeja’s voice came to Jason’s ears again. Her tone was odd, like she was trying to call his attention to what she was saying. <I’m going to continue destroying them like this. Watch me deal with them.>
Jason obeyed Keeja and observed her as she dashed from elemental to elemental, more or less splitting them in half. A single tree monster managed to touch Keeja, and with an irritated wave of her hand, she generated destructive force that destroyed several of them at once. The shockwave of the attack buffeted Jason as he continued to juke around in the sky.
After that, Keeja went back to cutting the monsters up with her ridiculously oversized weapon. With a flash of insight, Jason realized that this was part of his training too. There was no real reason for Keeja to continue using her halberd to destroy the monsters when she could blow them apart so easily.
Jason could only think of one logical explanation. I’m being powerleveled. Powerleveling was a term Jason used in his gaming days for when a low level player’s ability was quickly and unfairly increased by following around a much higher level player. Jason wasn’t entirely sure what to think of this new development, but he decided to make the most of it.
He wondered what other new things Keeja would try to sneakily teach him before they eventually left. They hadn’t even entered the distant dungeon yet. Apparently Dolos wasn’t the only underhanded being on Ludus. Jason got the feeling Keeja was exploiting a number of loopholes. Keeja is a rules lawyer, Jason thought with amusement.
He closely watched Keeja, trying to glean as many new insights and techniques as he could. Strange music rang through his mind as he watched her effortlessly destroy monsters that would all be enormous threats by themselves to him and his group.
I’m sure glad she’s on our side. …I hope she’s on our side. Keeja’s casual demonstration of power was a wake-up call. Jason had a long way to go to protect himself and the people he cared about. He needed to get stronger.
He had a long way to go if he ever wanted to get home, especially to bring his wife with him. Whether he really wanted to return to Earth anymore was something he would have to think about later when Ludus wasn’t actively trying to kill him.