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Jason stared down at the huge fog bank in frustration. He had to keep teleporting himself back to his starting position with an upward vector; he was yo-yoing in midair. It wasn’t taking much power to do so, but his magic reserves were not unlimited.
He’d discovered a weakness of his signature power the hard way; he couldn’t teleport to what he couldn’t see through the magic fog. He still wasn’t entirely sure how his power worked, but he got the overwhelming feeling it would be a bad idea to teleport into the fog bank.
What’s more, he could faintly hear the sounds of combat beneath him. Henry was down there. Uluula was down there. Bezzi-ibbi was down there.
Jason clenched his fists in frustration. For all his new power, he was helpless.
He teleported in place a few more times while he clenched his jaw in thought. He mentally explored all his options and eventually settled on the only viable course of action. He began traveling as fast as he could to the edge of the unnatural fog. He was going to find the road at the closest point he could actually see it, and he was going to run back to his friends as fast as he could.
Henry woke up next to the Battlewagon, covered in mud. The surrounding mist was cold and his armor was covered in condensation. There was a scaly, nasty smelling creature lying on top of him.
Henry listened carefully. He could get a general feeling of what was happening around him with his enhanced hearing, but sounds echoed strangely in the mist. He could hear his friends fighting for their lives and he knew he needed to help them, but it wouldn’t do them much good if he ran off and immediately got killed.
First he examined the creature. It looked sort of like a giant praying mantis with a fish face. It was missing half its head. Henry realized that he reflexively killed it with an exogun after he was attacked. The creature smelled horrible, like swamp and rot. Its skin was mottled grey and looked like it was about to decay.
So, so disgusting, Henry thought. It was going to take hours to get the smell out of his armor and his nose. He felt around his body and realized he still had almost all his gear, but he was missing his rifle.
He ran his hand over the chest and back of his armor. He had holes on both sides from the creature’s attack and the arrow that hit him. Both strikes had been enormously powerful. They’d actually made him bleed, the arrow in particular had penetrated an inch into his chest before bouncing out.
That meant it went through his bronze armor, through his thick steelskin, and penetrated his natural toughness from his first level Durability skill. That arrow must have hit like a rocket. He didn’t want to catch another one of those—that was for sure.
The jagged holes of his ruined armor were easily fixed with a trickle of magic. Henry gritted his teeth, pushing the carcass of the creature off of himself. Almost immediately after he was free, the mist swirled to his right and another monster attacked him.
The creature swung a sword and Henry cursed, springing sideways in a spray of filthy mud and water. He drew his short sword in time to block another heavy strike. As Henry got his bearings, he got his first good look at his attacker and grunted in shock.
It was a zombie. Its undead condition was obvious. The creature used to be a man, but now its eyes were milky white and its teeth showed through a cut in the side of its face. It also moved a little unnaturally. In retrospect, the creature that he just pushed off of himself had been a zombie too.
Fuck this, thought Henry. He reloaded his exogun, took aim, and put a gold bullet through the zombie’s head. He absently loaded up all three of his exogun tubes and attached them to his metal forearm. Then he searched for his rifle in the muck at his feet. Its sling had probably been cut when he was attacked.
I hate zombies, he thought as he tried to search for his weapon as quietly as possible. He could hear the unnaturally zombie fuckers shuffling all over the place. The sounds coming from Mareen’s battle weren’t sounding good either.
It could take forever to find his rifle and his friends needed him now. Henry hissed through his teeth as he stood up and began walking forward with purpose-driven steps. He was extremely pissed. Zombies weren’t smart enough to pull off an ambush. He needed to find out who the puppeteer was and cut their strings.
As Henry strode toward the fighting he could hear, he couldn’t see Thirsty through the fog only a few strides away. Thirsty’s terrified sobs didn’t pass through the shield of air he was maintaining. Henry had no idea he was leaving behind a couple friends.
Mareen was getting desperate. She felt like she’d been fighting nonstop for ages. Her lungs were burning, and sweat ran freely under her thick, wooden armor.
The armor had saved her life multiple times. It was peppered with quills, barbs, cuts, and even a burn. Luckily, the heavy mist made everything wet and an odd looking beetle monster that ejected flames out its rear hadn’t been able to catch Mareen on fire.
The strangely diverse horde of monsters she’d been fighting weren’t particularly fast, in fact their jerky movements made them look sick. They also seemed to have a hard time seeing. On the other hand, there was obvious some sort of foul magic at play. The creatures didn’t bleed much, and they stood right back up after receiving mortal wounds. They didn’t cry out when Mareen crushed their limbs with her hammer.
The monsters were slow, but it seemed like when they got close enough, they could put on a surprising burst of speed and almost act as they would if they weren’t gripped by whatever dark magic held them. Right before one would start moving quickly, its milk white eyes would take on a glow. Mareen’s attention to detail was the only reason she was still alive. She’d been carefully conserving her energy and preparing for a flurry of attacks whenever she saw a shuffling monster’s eyes glow.
Still, she knew she was about to die. They were closing in from all directions, and they got right back up after she shattered entire bodies with her hammer. One was even crawling towards her on the ground. It was hopeless.
Then she heard the familiar, pop-hiss of Henry’s exogun through the fog. She didn’t think he was too far away, but she couldn’t be sure. She couldn’t see much of anything through the fog and had no idea where she was. Just in case, she started humming Girls Just Want to Have Fun between her hacking, rattling breaths. With Henry’s hearing, he should be able to find her. Hopefully.
The monsters moved in for the kill. One monster’s eyes flashed. Then another. Mareen wasn’t giving up, but there were just too many. She hefted her hammer and prepared for one last clash. She had no regrets. She hadn’t been useless. She’d given her all to protect her friends.
She braced for an attack that never came. The mists swirled and Henry jumped through the throng of monsters, his blade flicking out and his arm-mounted exoguns spitting death. Four of the creatures went down and stayed down, giving Mareen a brief respite.
Henry slid to a stop in front of her, breathing deeply. He loudly exhaled and said, “What’s up, hottie?”
Mareen’s eyes blazed and she fiercely kissed her husband. The infuriating man acted like he was expecting it. She was so tired and relieved she began chuckling into his lips as she leaned against him. She heard Henry fire an exogun over her shoulder and she didn’t even need to look. She knew he probably had destroyed another monster that got too close.
Being useful was great and she was proud of herself. She felt like a real adventurer. She knew she was truly powerful now… but damn it was nice to have her husband at her side again.
Vitaliya dodged another lethal strike. She concentrated for a moment and her flame flexed, twisting and charring the attacking creature’s clawed limb, but it just switched to its other arm.
The twisted, rotting monsters seemed endless and they felt no pain. Vitaliya had been in a number of battles, most of them through her training. When she wreathed herself in flames, other living things usually shied away or at least took pause. Not these things.
She’d never felt so helpless. Her flames didn’t even phase the huge group of monster converging on her position.
And she could feel the ground thump beneath her feet as something huge walked closer.
Gonzo was holding his own. He was strong, fast, his ice attacks were debilitating, and he could even heal himself. He didn’t advertise his abilities, but Vitaliya had seen him heal a deep cut on his arm before.
The man was currently standing in a ring of ice spikes facing outwards from the ground at chest height, keeping the monsters off of himself as he tried to thin them out. He calmly fashioned magic spears one after another and threw them into the hoard.
Gonzo and Vitaliya had both realized that hitting the diseased monsters in the head put them down for good, but Vitaliya had a hard time using her magic with that much precision. Her short sword wasn’t exactly the best weapon to be taking heads with, either.
At least Gonzo was effective, but he was still slowly, surely getting overrun. The monsters were impaling themselves on his spikes and starting to climb over each other. Whatever huge thing was approaching their location was almost on top of them judging by how the ground shook. The situation was looking grim.
Suddenly, the footsteps stopped and a huge crash rattled the ground. Vitaliya spared a glance and saw Uluula rocketing out of the mists, her halberd trailing fire.
Vitaliya was mildly surprised. Uluula had never impressed her very much. She’d just assumed the Areva woman was a calculating aristocrat, working towards a cushy life through her association with Jason. Uluula practiced combatives and wore weapons, but Vitaliya never took the smaller woman very seriously.
Vitaliya’s blood chilled a bit when she saw Uluula almost casually cut a couple creatures in half. Uluula held an arm pointed behind her, her bracer throwing out a line. She let the line pull her back, zipping away from a couple attacking monsters.
The woman was fast and extremely skilled. Vitaliya immediately adjusted her assessment. One aspect of her training for Berber Intelligence was to never let pride interfere with analyzing facts.
“Hit them in the brain or cut off their heads,” she yelled.
Uluula nodded and called back, “That makes sense. I couldn’t bring the big one down until I put a mist spear through its eye.” Uluula’s polearm spun in her hands. She began hacking and slashing through the surrounding monsters. The halberd’s magic-fueled, plasma blade charred putrid flesh and bones; the stink was overwhelming. Vitaliya gagged but she still preferred the smell to being dead.
Perhaps she’d have to buy Uluula a gift. If Vitaliya died, she wouldn’t be able to see her precious Aodh again. Actually, where was Aodh?
She felt a flash of a panic attack and ruthlessly suppressed it, but her attacks on the surrounding creatures redoubled and her eyes hardened. She lashed out with her flames again and again, the attacks hit with all of her desperation behind them. Where was her cousin? What if he died?
Vitaliya gritted her teeth and created a powerful jet of flame, burning a dog monster’s head until it stopped moving. She was going to figure out who ahad ttacked them, and there would be hell to pay.
She didn’t even want to think of what she’d do if Aodh wasn’t safe.
Bezzi-ibbi gasped in exhaustion and fear. He was still keeping ahead of the big Adom that was chasing him, but just barely. The gap was getting closer and closer.
The huge, reptilian female was like a force of nature. Logs, branches, and small trees that Bezzi-ibbi had to go around, the big Adom just went through. If she ever got ahold of him, Bezzi-ibbi would be done.
He needed to loop back and get some help with his enormous, fanged problem, but he’d gotten turned around and he wasn’t sure where he was anymore.
He didn’t even know what general direction the Battlewagon was in. For the first time in his life, Bezzi-ibbi felt like circumstances were entirely beyond his control. He still fought to maintain his calm, his focus, but he wasn’t sure how much good it would do.
He wondered if he would ever see Henry-ibbi and Jason-ibbi again. Even if he died, he was glad he had met his brothers. They’d given him the courage to be who he truly was, to become the best male he could be.
Still, even though the situation looked grim, he would not give up easily. Bezzi-ibbi smiled savagely, his eyes flashing as he struggled to survive. He began looking for rock outcroppings and thicker trees to duck around; obstacles the Adom would not be able to smash through.
The Jaguar Clan prince chuckled, ducking around yet another tree. He heard a rock whiz past where he’d just been running. The big Adom had started throwing things at him.
If he somehow survived this test, Bezzi-ibbi would have excellent material for his first Jaguar troubadour song.
Jason hit the ground running. The fog bank covered more ground than he would have hoped. He could barely hear the sounds of combat anymore. He focused on getting a good breathing rhythm while his long legs ate up the ground.
One advantage of his Endurance skill was that he could run faster and farther than he ever could before in his life.
He focused on his task with single minded determination… just one foot in front of the other. The rhythm of his pounding feet became his world.
He just focused on running. He didn’t think about how Henry had been attacked. He didn’t wonder if Uluula was still alive. He couldn’t afford to give into despair.
He had to help his family, the only sense of home and belonging he had on Ludus. He would not let this world take them from him.
Jason ran faster and felt his rage growing, waiting to be unleashed.