Ultimately the group decided to break off towards the route where there was a clear sense of treasure. It might be bait, but while Everheart’s Tomb absolutely killed many people… so far they hadn’t heard of anything being impossible to get. If they judged it too risky they could simply pass by. Continuing after the Twin Soul Sect would lead to an encounter they wanted to avoid if possible or simply delay them from reaching their goal.
Before their choice actually mattered, they had to walk across a bridge of stone, the underside of which was white-hot from the magma beneath it. There was no benefit to attempting another method of traversal since anything else would simply be more risky- even if they could technically achieve flight with sufficient energy usage, that energy could be better put to use protecting them. Like from the repeating *Clang* of the hammer and anvil. Sometimes the time between sounds was drawn out over a minute or more, while other times they came in rapid succession. Either way, the sound propagated throughout the entire Smithy.
Timothy took the foremost position, and found that compared to tightly packed tunnels the direct impact of the sound was less focused. In short, he was able to hold his ground with the energy scattering out of the tunnel in front of them into the larger chamber they were passing through. It didn’t act entirely in the natural order of things- it gathered together again at the far end and pressed into the tunnel- but he was able to prevent a portion of the force directly coming for their group. It still flowed around his shield in all directions, but the forces mainly canceled out, providing a sort of pressure but no force pushing people in any particular direction, except down into the stone bridge. However, if such a thing could not withstand a little bit of pressure, it would have broken down long before.
Alva was in the rear atop Fuzz, so the majority of the power of the soundwave returned before it reached her- but Fuzz’ fur was surprisingly good at keeping it away, and his bulk took the majority of the impact. If the sound waves were all they had to deal with, then it would have been simple. Which of course meant it couldn’t be. Before even shouting a warning, she began to fire shots into gatherings of energy within the magma. “Enemies!”
The creatures were indistinct- no, fluid. Much like the magma they dwelled in, their bodies were liquid, but of such a high viscosity they generally held their form. A source of energy within them guided their movements, and Alva knew that such creatures couldn’t survive outside of a similar environment. Not that they were in any risk of suddenly being somewhere ‘normal’.
Her first arrows went for heads and necks, the upper torso where traditionally vital organs were kept. She was uncertain if these creatures had any, but either way her attacks didn’t manage to penetrate deeper than the width of a finger- and any damage was quickly closed as the creatures oozed together. She would need to concentrate on a single point or enemy to have a better hope of damaging them.
As the creatures glooped their way up the edges of the chamber people began to hope that their attacking options were limited, but unfortunately that was not the case. A number of the creatures moved to cut off easy retreats in either direction along the bridge, but some remained at the surface of the burning magma below.
A bubble of energy and something more wormed its way through one of them, taking on a shape vaguely like a tube. No, a cannon. Though the shot didn’t come with an explosion like Grant’s devices, it still accelerated as it moved- a mass of molten stone hotter than anything on Ceretos could survive flying just over Catarina’s head. She ducked, but it still managed to catch a strand of her hair on fire despite her defensive energy. More creatures of vague form began to do the same.
Besides Alva, Spikes was the first one to attack the creatures. The wolf was canny enough not to attempt attacking the creatures directly- subjecting herself to the heat of the magma below- but instead used a howl-bark to strike with her energy. The energy under her control struck the magma and caused it to stab through one of the creatures like her spikes of stone. It was marginally effective- causing it to stumble its attack- but did not seem to be particularly damaging. Spikes wasn’t swayed from her efforts, however. She bent down low, face poking over the edge. Once more she directed energy with a forceful shout, and the spikes of magma briefly solidified as they stabbed through another creature. It peeled itself away from the impediment a moment later, and the spikes rapidly began to melt once more- but it meant one more enemy not attacking.
Vari held the rear with Hoyt as several creatures charged together. The bridge was quite comfortable in width- more than a few meters- which also meant there was sufficient room for multiple enemies to swarm them at once.
Hoyt took great swings with his axe, not only chopping through the creatures but flinging parts of them away as they formed molten claws or attempted to crash over the combatants. Hoyt wasn’t just using raw force- normally he would wreathe his axe in flames, but now he was attacking the heat in the enemies directly. As he chopped through one of them, the parts on either side of the cut briefly solidified as the heat was pulled from them and blasted away.
Vari relied on simpler methods. She didn’t believe she had the ability to kill these creatures, not more than a couple at least- but she could move them. It took them a good amount of time to climb up either end of the bridge to reach them, so she formed a solid barrier in front of her and simply shoved them back or to the side, trying to get them one at a time. She toppled them off the edge one at a time, but if she didn’t give them enough momentum they were able to cling to the side and climb back up.
Timothy and Catarina pushed forward on the front, Timothy doing all he could to disrupt the enemies with his sword and shield. The heat from the creatures was intense, but he kept contact to a minimum. If he was using his previous sword he thought it might have melted- or he would have had to use several times as much energy keeping it intact.
Catarina sliced into the creatures, but instead of stabbing deep or trying to chop them into bits, she dragged the point of her blade through them. Her weapon flashed, and for brief moments runes appeared. They resonated with formation flags she threw down around the area, and whatever energy gave the creatures mobility was thrown into disarray. While the creatures seemed to have some understanding of how they could fight and swarm tactics, they didn’t seem actually intelligent. They didn’t learn from mistakes, for example.
“Above!” Alva called out. She had been tracking the process of some of the creatures up the walls of the large chamber. At first she thought they would be making ranged attacks from a different angle but it didn’t seem they could do so. Perhaps they needed the molten lava instead of the nearly molten walls of the chamber. It shouldn’t have taken much, but either way they continued upward and were soon going to be above them. Before they could even consider dropping down, Alva began to focus on some of them.
Multiple arrows in succession hit the same point- the enemies didn’t even try to dodge, so a technique like that was trivial. This allowed her to increase her damage without spending a larger time forming any individual arrow. She was searching for some critical point that made these things active. They weren’t products of a formation, and their energy had to be controlled by something. Several collapsed, but she couldn’t determine why- her attacks hadn’t all been at the same points, and others didn’t seem to share similar weaknesses.
When they began dropping, Spikes and Fuzz focused on the enemies trying to break apart their group. Spikes had to awkwardly work with what bridge they had, reforming it into spikes or even little cages without losing structural integrity below. Fuzz, on the other hand, bit one in half. Alva would have told him that it was a bad idea if she had even considered that he might try it, but the sheer audacity of it was why she should have guessed he would do it.
Fuzz’ teeth and gums, or any of his muzzle, didn’t get off without pain. The smell of burning fur assaulted him and the others, but ultimately he came out on top. The creature he bit in half was spit out into the pool of magma below. It might have reformed, but not immediately. Meanwhile, the remaining part simply turned into a disturbingly hot puddle. It was a good thing that the rock bridge had a bit of leeway, so instead of melting through it the puddle began to harden.
Timothy took a page from Vari’s book- though the energy he used with his shield wasn’t quite as solid as her barriers, the effect was more agile. He could redirect the angle of his shield easily enough, so charging forward into a small group and then tilting it to the side shoved several creatures away at once. Any remaining loners were taken care of by Catarina, who also revealed something of the creature’s cores as she stripped away their energy.
The fight so far had been fast and frantic to the point they forgot about one thing. When another shockwave of sound echoed through the chamber, they weren’t ready. Timothy’s shield was angled the wrong way, but fortunately the force of the sound pushed him the long was across the width of the bridge instead of two steps closer to the other side. He had to stab his sword into it to halt his momentum as Catarina grabbed on, but he didn’t go plummeting down.
Spikes happened to have roughened the terrain around her and Fuzz enough that they had better positions to hold onto, and the sound actually helped them by blasting apart the creatures near them. Alva held on as well, though only through the virtues of the saddle and a fistful of fur.
Vari managed to react in time to duck down, curling into a ball. A small dome barrier covered her, anchored to the ground- and she got away unscathed.
Hoyt happened to be in just the wrong spot, right by the edge. The exact way the sound echoed through the chamber pushed him off to the side with a force he couldn’t quite resist. He hovered awkwardly over nothing for an instant as gravity began to overtake him. Then he dropped from sight.
Nobody was in such an easy position that they could keep perfect track of what happened with Hoyt via their energy senses, but a moment later Hoyt was back above bridge level- a glowing ball of fire pushing him towards their exit, but also higher into the air. He slammed into the wall above the tunnel, but reoriented himself as he fell, slicing one of the creatures in two.
Fortunately the enemies in the rear were blown away, so Vari was free to make a mad dash with the others towards the exit. Timothy managed to get in position with Hoyt and Catarina to hold the exit for a few moments- and once they were a few dozen meters down the hall the creatures stopped their chase. Fighting in the tighter confines of the actual tunnel was to the advantage of the smaller group, as they only had to watch one angle and the ranged bombardment could no longer reach them.
They carefully moved along, wary of traps as they began to bind their wounds. Burned fur was the least of their worries, but fortunately the battle had been short enough to avoid more serious injuries. Perhaps they might have been able to defeat all of the morphic creatures if they had to, but for no reward but the battle experience it was better to retreat. They had learned what they could and might be able to apply it in future battles, actually killing the creatures was just a chore at that point.
They turned down their chosen tunnel, towards the lure of loot. What they found was either the laziest trap in the world or the most devious. Everheart was there- the aura of his projections unmistakable even as this particular one looked different from the rest they had seen. Large and muscular, bare chested- and bald-headed. Glistening with sweat, and posing. “Oh, welcome,” Everheart said. “Didn’t see you there. If you got this far you deserve a reward, I guess. Go ahead and take one each.” He waved lazily.
Throughout the room were dozens- no, hundreds of pieces of equipment. Some were stabbed into the walls or ceiling, usually quite close to oozing magma falls. Others were strewn about in a pool of magma below- and some, buried deeper below. Of course those that were the most tantalizing in power were in the hardest to reach places. There were no signs of bodies- but why would there be? Anyone who died would be incinerated. The way certain treasures were placed was highly suspect, though.