“The rest of you flee! I’ll hold him off!” Swiss Arms called out as she blocked another beam from Doctor Doomsday, slamming her fist into his AEGIS and causing the spherical barrier to shudder.
Well if she was going to make a noble sacrifice out of it, I was going to feel bad. But I also wasn’t going to stick around longer than I had to fighting Doctor Doomsday himself.
A wall of ice blocked the orcs on the left side, stopping them from directly swarming us as we ran along. Ceira was… a little bit slow. Okay, very slow for someone Hasted. It came to mind that videographer wasn’t the most physically active profession, even if she went outside now.
Ice Guy recognized that, and instead of sprinting for the door instead stopped past where his wall reached, stepping towards the first orc to come along. And stepping closer. And closer. Hello, AEGIS? Are you going to do something?
The answer was that it was not going to do something. Ice Guy was practically hugging the orc, then he hooked his leg behind the big guy and shoved him back into the others.
Ceira was not fast… but she wasn’t so out of shape that going more than triple her normal speed she wasn’t able to outrun someone. She made it to the door only slightly behind Izzy, who had taken the long way around. Midnight wasn’t high on anyone’s targeting priorities, so he caught up a moment later.
“Where do we go?” Ceira said, jerking her head left and right. Fortunately, everyone was Hasted so we could talk basically normally.
“Back along the path we entered,” Ice Guy said. “There could be goons anywhere, so we have to deal with what is familiar. Perhaps we could even get to the incoming reinforcements.”
Ceira nodded, then took one last glance back into the room. “Shouldn’t we… help her?” Swiss Arms had just grabbed an incoming axe, then wrested it out of an orc’s hand to smash against Doctor Doomsday’s barrier. Her movements were taking full advantage of Haste, for as long as it lasted.
“Most of us would just get in the way,” Ice Guy indicated. “Come on, let’s go.” He briefly looked right down the hallway- the direction we had not continued down. With a wave of his hand, slippery ice coated the floor. Then we were off in the other direction.
We couldn’t afford to stand around for a single second, because not only were enemies doubtless responding- a couple handfuls of goons wasn’t anywhere near what I would expect in a base of this size- Haste would also end soon enough. If we ran into trouble after that, everything would be more difficult.
On our way back past the locked cages, I wished I could open them up and let the animals out. Not because I particularly cared for what happened to them, but because giant creatures causing havoc might help our situation. But I had neither the points to purchase a spell that could do that, nor the spare mana to cast it. I barely had ten or twelve points of mana.
Then we basically ran into a squad of bots. Ice Guy reacted fastest- at least in a way that could reach the enemies- lobbing a ball of ice that expanded into a shell that mostly blocked them off. And us, of course. As we’d been basically going down a hallway with no real splits, that didn’t leave us with much options. The sound of gunfire and flashes of beams indicated the shell wouldn’t block anything for long.
“Dammit,” Ice Guy shook his head. “Do we go back?”
“In here,” I said, slapping my hand on the button that opened a nearby door.
“What’s in-” Ice Guy stopped. “No way.”
I was already halfway to the portal when I looked back. “What?”
“Do you just go through any random portal in front of you?”
“Who do you think I am?” I shook my head. “Only when I’m not fighting stuff coming out of them.”
I stepped through, going from metallic floor to springy undergrowth and dense jungle complete with hanging vines and large trees. Not great sequoia large, but… nothing was small, either. The rest had already half followed me, and when an explosion appeared in the hall behind them they rushed through after me, with varying levels of uncertainty.
“Time to close this,” I said, stepping to the side of the huge portal. I didn’t want to get shot, but I wasn’t certain about fleeing along the line of sight of a bunch of robots with guns. Unfortunately, this portal wasn’t as cooperative as the other ones. After a full application of 10 points of mana, it went from a twenty foot semicircle to fifteen. “Ugh, I can’t do this.”
“We need to get moving! Follow me!” Izzy said, running off behind the portal- and as it was one-sided, that was the best place to avoid the bullets and explosions that were currently pumping their way out of the portal. It was a good thing the forest was very wet, so that fire shouldn’t spread far.
Just as we began running, Haste was wearing off. I’d juiced the one for myself and Midnight a bit more, so we probably had fifteen real world seconds after the others. But we couldn’t just leave anyone behind. Without mana, I considered how my pistol would function against full metal constructs. Better to just keep pace with Izzy.
“Ugh, move!” Ceira waved her arm angrily. Not at any of us, but the plants. “Come on, do something! Why do I even have powers if they don’t work? At least grab the things blowing you up!” she yelled towards the forest.
That was not supposed to work. But she had mana- and this seemed like a place that might be more inclined to move on its own. Either way, I saw some of the trees and vines bend towards the portal and the things coming out of it.
We didn’t run. We couldn’t, really, with the dense jungle. Or rather, most of us couldn’t. Izzy could, but she didn’t leave us behind. Instead, she used her blades to hack a way through for us larger folk. Midnight was keeping his position on the ground because being on my shoulder would just result in branches slapping him in the face.
A few minutes had passed without the sound of gunfire or explosions. “… you think we lost them?” Ceira asked.
“Only for the moment,” Izzy said. “Our trail will be fairly obvious, and they have to have some way to move around here to have brought back those big animals. Though the area around the portal didn’t look particularly worn down,” she frowned. “Perhaps they baited them through? Or moved the portal?” Izzy shook her head. “Whatever. We need to keep moving or they probably will catch up.”
Ice Guy sighed, “I was supposed to be going out to dinner tonight.”
“Sorry,” I said.
He shrugged, “It’s part of the job. And I can’t really say I didn’t want to go to another world. I just would have liked it to be… planned.”
“You seem very calm,” I said.
“You seem very calm,” he retorted.
“I’ve been through portals before,” I pointed out.
“And I know you’ve got the Gate spell. So though I imagine it will be an unfortunate amount of time we are away, our mysterious disappearance insurance will keep our apartments paid for and things like that.”
“Uh, I- I don’t have anything like that,” Ceira said. “Is that a problem? Wait, what about-” she looked at me. “My, uh, pets?”
“Cel and Bun were picked up by Shockwave, actually, so they’ll be fine.”
“And my houseplants?”
“Your jungle?” I shrugged. “Dunno.”
“… We could have picked worse places to end up,” she said. “I feel great. There’s so much natural- hey, are you alright?”
“Yeah, you’re looking… pale?
“Oh, hold on.” I turned to the nearest bush and vomited a mouthful of blood. “Hmm. Turns out that 20 mana worth of crystals within an hour or so is too much. But… I’m not going to pass out. So that’s a plus.” I took a deep breath. “Nice mana density around here though. I should recover to a reasonable amount soon enough.”
“I hope so,” Izzy said. “Because we’re in danger here.”
“I haven’t heard any signs of being followed,” Ice Guy commented.
“Not that,” Izzy said. “It’s the locals I’m more worried about.” She pointed to a tree with alarmingly large gouges in it. “We’re going through the territory of too many different things. I can’t keep avoiding everything forever. That’s not to mention the other problems with surviving out here. Food and water… should be available, if we can find anything safe. Shelter will be a big problem. No telling if this jungle gets cold at night, but that would kill us faster.”
“I don’t think that’s a problem,” Ice Guy said. “We can make a fire, right?”
“Sure. Especially with magic involved,” Izzy looked at me.
“I do have Firebolt. So if you find some dryish stuff I can absolutely light it.”
“I can make us an igloo then.”
“What kind of glue?” Midnight asked.
The rest of us- except Ceira- had similar questions.
“It’s like an ice house.”
“Isn’t that cold?”
“Not if you do it right. You can have a fire inside, and if it’s sealed it will keep heat from leaking out. I’m not going to guarantee any authenticity… but it will also be far easier on manual labor.”
“Hurrah for super powers,” Ceira said.
I idly checked my experience. It increased, certainly, but I was nowhere near a level. Then again, I didn’t really engage with Doctor Doomsday or any of the rest. I threw out one Chain Lightning and some buffs. For that followed by running away, the experience was in fact quite good.
“Oh hey. Ceira. Can you bring up your status window?”
“My what now?”
“We went through a portal,” I reminded her. “It could let us know if this is the same world Izzy and I are from, or another one. You might have a full power now.”
“Huh. I didn’t even- how do I- Oh. Oh!” she jumped up and down. “There it is. I’m level 8. Is that good?”
“It’s fine,” Izzy said before I could respond. “If you’d had your power your whole life you should be 20-something, but clearly you’ve put in real effort.”
“Well, yeah. I learned magic, obviously I was going to make it as good as possible!”
“… So I’m the only one here with a normal power,” Ice Guy said.
“No,” I countered. “You’re the only one here with a weird power. This is the normal thing.”
Unfortunately, despite both Midnight and Ceira having powers tied to this system, we lost that vote 3-2 instead of winning 4-1. But I stuck to my declaration that it was normal.
“So, uh, have you guys recovered a good amount of mana?” Izzy asked.
“I’m feeling much better at the moment, yes,” I nodded. I mean, all of my blood vessels hurt like I was being stabbed with needles. But that would solve itself over the next week or so. “I have about a third of my mana.”
“I think I’m full?” Ceira said.
“Good. Because I’ve been trying to lead us around things that want to eat us.”
“Okay…?” I tilted my head.
“Yeah. I did my best but, I think, uh. I might have missed some signs or something.” She pointed, revealing a weird black spot in front of us. Had we stumbled into some sort of magical void? I should have noticed that. But upon taking a better look, I could make out some shape to it. It sort of folded over and through the surrounding bits and pieces of the jungle, ultimately revealing yellow eyes. And presumably the rest of it was the other bits and pieces of a giant black panther.
I tried to think of the correct response to the thing. Ice Guy was halfway to trying to freeze it when Ceira began making weird strangled noises. I thought she was choking on something at first, but then I heard it transform into a sort of growl. Well, if she was provoking the thing at least we could more easily predict its movements?
“So, uh.” Ceira said. “The good news is I can talk to her. The bad news is that she says she’s going to eat us.”
Having druids around was pretty handy. Now I wouldn’t feel bad about setting it on fire.