After a certain size, managing to get over a root was just about as much of a chore as climbing a smaller tree. Except roots didn’t tend to have branches or other handholds, so rough irregularities had to be relied on. Our helpful elven buddy Ailen always found places we could climb over, where the tangle of plants was too much to conveniently go around. Ceira could slightly move around plants with magic- but even with the high ambient mana, we came across such situations far too often for her to deal with the majority of them.
For the most part, it ended up being the taller and stronger three going up first, sometimes providing assistance to Ceira and Izzy. Izzy could climb fairly well on her own, but her size hindered her somewhat with reaching new holds. On the other hand, she could use smaller ones, things less able to support the weight of a full sized individual. Midnight was perfectly able to climb up with his claws, though he was also content to hang out on my shoulder if we weren’t actually going far.
Over the course of our travels, all of us picked up our share of falls- except for our elven guide. Maybe Ailen was falling down out of sight, but I had the feeling that a century or a few of experience traveling through this specific forest also helped. Of course, Force Armor prevented most annoying cuts and the like, but it couldn’t stop us twisting an ankle or wrenching an arm. We were cautious enough to avoid most of that, and Ceira’s magic took care of the rest given time.
We generally avoided fighting when we could, mainly just by avoiding dangerous territory. Fortunately that was already factored into our travel schedule… and Ailen’s estimation of our arrival time had finally dropped below a month. Now we were at two weeks, if we could keep up the same pace or perhaps slightly speed up. Ceira was improving, but she didn’t exactly explode forward in levels. After all, it was supposed to be a gradual process. Going from level 10 to level 20 was about 4 times as much total experience. It was supposed to happen over a number of years. So even if she was working harder than average, having already leveled up on our journey was somewhat of an exception.
At least Curse of the Barbarian was good for something. In approximately 1 year, I’d grown to over 8 times my total experience. And all it took was almost dying a few times along with almost daily battles. So there were certainly tradeoffs. And I would have been quite content with being at the vaguely expected half my current experience value if studying books worked like it was supposed to. Maybe I would be a little behind ahead based on how hard I’d worked, but I couldn’t really know for sure. I only got to live life once.
And reincarnating probably wouldn’t count. Any sort of revival magic wasn’t as straightforward as Earth made it out to be. Then again, they had to change a lot of things for it to actually work as a game, cross-dimensional inspiration could only go so far.
Wandering through a jungle at night was not high on my list of things I wanted to do, and everyone else quite agreed with me. So we continued our nightly training, working on our skills- even Senan, who didn’t have a proper experience number and had to rely on less direct factors to know he improved. Of course, he had enough time spent in training that he understood those factors, and the Brigade was well equipped to measure people’s progress. It was just easier for me in particular because I had numbers.
I was about a handful of uses through Storage, popping things in and out, when I heard it. A warning shout from outside. And then the front door of the Shelter exploded into a rain of splinters. So much for it protecting us. Except without it, we would have been hit directly by… whatever that was.
Everyone scrambled into action. Ailen was already outside, practicing their archery presumably. They had been responsible for the warning. Izzy sprang for the wall next to the door, Ceira ducked behind the beds, and Senan tossed a ball of ice out the door. It didn’t go far, so either he missed badly due to the smoke or he was trying to set up a wall or something.
Midnight scrambled over towards me. I gathered the mana to Haste us both. “Get Izzy and Ailen,” I told him. He was a smaller target so once he was outside he could at least take care of himself. I didn’t want to think about what would happen if another explosion made it inside the Shelter. I could take care of Senan, which I did first. He just nodded as I touched him for Haste.
“Good luck,” he said, placing his hand on the wooden shutters on one side window. Which he then proceeded to kick through after they were frozen, after which he leapt out. The Shelter was only temporary but it was sad to see it getting smashed like that.
I scuttled to the back of the room, ducking down next to Ceira. “What’s going on?” she said in a panic.
“It’s alright. We’re just under attack by-” a few lasers smashed into the fireplace at the back of the room, a few feet away from us. Then there was a hail of gunfire. “Doctor Doomsday’s robots. Just stay safe.”
“I- I can help!” she protested.
“Not if you aren’t safe,” I reminded her. “So take cover first, use magic second.” I pulled out one of my baggies. I had been pretty conservative with the industrial diamond dust, so unless we got into a lot of physical confrontations in the near future this was the time to use it. I just didn’t have enough mana to use it on everyone. I couldn’t afford to hold back at all, so I used it at maximum capacity on Ceira. “Just a warning… Shelter is not gonna last long. I plan to let it fade away instead of risking it falling on someone.”
Midnight and presumably Izzy were already out the front- I felt Midnight, and didn’t see Izzy. The smoke had cleared enough for me to see a vague wall in front of the building, though given how many lasers had just hit the fireplace it wasn’t in great shape. I could use a small corner of it and try to draw the attention away from the Shelter. Though preferably I would explode some enemies before actually getting attention.
I could feel the robots now. They were equipped with a powerful AEGIS… except that didn’t quite make sense. I clutched my staff in my hand as I ducked behind the remaining ice wall momentarily. It seemed everyone else had spread out too, so only a small amount of fire was coming my way.
I could finally see the bots, a handful of them all standing together and covering the area. I was barely able to see them through the ice, but I felt something. Something more than the spray of dirt as projectiles landed next to me. If only I could remain in shelter for long enough for their ammunition to run out… but of course, that wasn’t going to last.
Best focus on the enemies. I waited until the one aiming my way stopped shooting for a moment, then threw out a quick Firebolt. At the same time I was sprinting for the nearest undergrowth, and then I was going to duck behind a root my height. The attack was really more of a distraction, and I got exactly the results I wanted, and expected.
Which is to say, my Firebolt splashed off of the AEGIS without even the slightest indication it caused any damage. Sure, it might not have seemed like much but that could still kill or at least heavily injure a human. One without powers or levels, at least.
I had to dive when the bot swiveled to face me. It coordinated with another one to spray death upon my location. Fortunately, I had something like three to five feet of fresh wood between us. Maybe two to four. Yeah… I wasn’t going to count on that lasting forever at the rate I was getting splinters spraying down on my head. I had to keep moving.
Flashes of mana came from around the area. Midnight was about as relaxed as I would expect in the middle of a pitched battle, currently sheltering behind a massive tree. I had felt a second Haste come from him, so he should have found Ailen. And Ailen was probably the source of the mana.
An arrow soared through the air, striking one of them. The AEGIS responded, a visible flaring of energy and a surge of technopower. The arrow stopped entirely, but I could feel the impact. That wasn’t just an arrow, but one magically enhanced. It even sent the bot staggering back half a step. Too bad, if that had come a moment later…
I needed to share what I had learned. Perhaps it should have been obvious, but it hadn’t come up. Especially with Ailen. But as much as I wanted to shout the weakness I’d figured out to everyone, doing that would compromise my best chance of actually using it.
What was the best spell for this? Splinters and shrapnel rained down on me, and the smell of burning wood reminded me to cast Energy Ward. I crushed one of my biggest crystals. One had to be fine. 5 mana. If I needed it and didn’t have it, it would be a lot worse than a bit of coughing up blood.
I wished I knew a larger variety of spells. Or had a dozen more levels. Or could have just Gated us away from this. But I didn’t have enough mana to cast it without passing out, and I didn’t have a portal to work with to reduce that cost. So here we were. That left me with two sensible offensive options. Maybe three and a half on the far end.
I gathered mana, feeling the ebb and flow of power around the bots. I needed a moment where the ones facing me weren’t firing but the largest number of others would be. I felt a moment that might have worked. A lull in the fire, two shooting elsewhere. I wanted more, but I realized I couldn’t be picky. So when I felt another moment, I took my chance. I couldn’t hold onto 13 mana for much longer anyway.
My staff poked above the roots first, a bit off to the side. Then my head poked up. The bots had to already be reacting. Something struck my staff. Lightning poured from the tip of it over the root, directly towards the bots who had already been firing for more than a few moments. Chain Lightning hit one, breaking through its AEGIS. And though they were undoubtedly resistant to shocks, that didn’t mean they were invulnerable. It just meant their sensitive equipment wouldn’t fall apart from a little static.
An arm exploded off of the first one as the Chain Lightning leapt to the next one, piercing through the AEGIS once more. These were more powerful than the ones the orcs wore, but with one caveat I could sense. They were powered by the bots, and either because of that or because they couldn’t properly shoot out of them otherwise… the power was lower while they were attacking. It wasn’t an instant change, which was why I had to target the ones steadily firing.
My head already ducked down before the Chain Lightning reached all of its targets. It would either follow my intentions or it wouldn’t. I should have at least caused real damage to one, and nuisance to one or two others.
I sniffed. Was that my hair that was singed? The tip of my staff too. And I thought I felt a bit of blood dripping down my forehead. Well, my skull still seemed intact so that was about the best I could imagine the whole thing going.
I crouched down, glancing back towards Ceira. The Shelter was gone- temporary magic could only sustain so much damage. Fortunately, Ceira was also gone. There was some clear scarring on the ground in the area, but I didn’t see her.
Senan’s location was fairly obvious as the source of the only chilly powers around, and when he lobbed something. He seemed to be avoiding direct assault, which I could wholly understand. Neither of us wanted to be filled full of lead or barbecued. At least the bots didn’t seem to have any more rockets.
With that thought in mind I was surprised they didn’t immediately fire one up into the trees, where Ailen was. But they really might have been out. The archer I could only track from the bursts of mana, and what I felt was terrifying. Their Hasted movement never stopped, but they were up in the branches. They had to be running along them moving from tree to tree as they shot down below.
I felt another impact, this time of a lightning enchanted arrow. It was once more repelled by an AEGIS. Disappointing. That hadn’t been the message I meant to convey. But immediately following that was another shot that circled around the back of the bots and struck one in the spine. Not that they fully had spines. They weren’t particularly humanoid, but the middle of the back was basically the spine. And the arrow pierced not just through the AEGIS- weakened as that one was firing- but also through the outer shell into something I hoped was important.
So now they knew that we knew, but it wasn’t too bad for us. Because if the bots stopped shooting, then they couldn’t kill us. But if they kept shooting, we could kill them. I couldn’t count on Doctor Doomsday’s bots to have any self preservation instincts, but if they did have them it should be colliding with their intent to kill.
I circled around the tree. I felt the power of the bots thin out. Apparently, the bots had decided to split up. Probably because of the Chain Lightning. I wasn’t going to tell them I didn’t have enough mana to do that again. Too many other things cast, but I wasn’t going to regret the Hastes that were keeping people alive or the other defenses.
It was unclear if the bot would be able to sense me coming, but one was circling the opposite direction of me. I gathered mana. I would prefer to surprise it if possible, but that might not work. My staff almost got caught.
Oh right. I was being stupid. I had one more move to use first. I had no idea if it would work this way, but I activated the magic in my staff and tossed it. I sure wasn’t willing to hope the bot politely let me get into melee.
My staff hit a surprised bot, and my magic followed up immediately. Just 5 mana. Sonic Lance was my punchiest spell for what I had remaining, though I didn’t expect it to pierce through an AEGIS.
But my staff had a good chunk of mana stored in it strictly for its dispelling feature. And as it turned out, Doctor Doomsday hadn’t perfectly insulated his bots against that effect, even though I stole it from him secondhand. It worked enough that my spell hit the chassis of the bot, at least.
We stood there looking at each other. It felt like an eternity, but was probably less than a second. Guns swiveled. I used the last of my mana to fire another Sonic Lance, holding back just enough that I finished casting the spell before I passed out. In fact, I got to watch the bot fall over and even managed to stagger into the nook of some roots before I fully blacked out.