The rain falling down on us was actually relatively warm. Unfortunately, there was little qualitative difference between warmish mud sticking to our shoes and colder mud. Ceira had managed to get replacements for her shoes, as it turned out random sneakers were not meant for trekking through wilderness for a month. We were lucky Ceira and Izzy’s gear lasted as well as it did, even with our efforts to keep things in good repair. We didn’t currently have any magic to help.
“We are approaching the lakes most likely to produce Rainbow Lotus,” Ailen declared. “We should arrive soon, and expect trouble not long thereafter.”
In short, this was the time to make use of Stoneskin. Midnight and I as a pair were the most efficient use, so I cast on us first. Ceira was the most at risk, so Midnight’s first use was on her. Izzy was next, because while I believed in her ability to avoid attacks, those that she couldn’t were quite dangerous for her.
“I will be alright with my own abilities,” Senan said. Well, without having to use it on Ice Guy, that left… Ailen.
The elf nodded, “I would appreciate an extra defensive advantage. Especially if we have to fight away from the trees.”
There it was, then. 18 mana spent for both Midnight and I. But we should be able to recover at least half of that by the time we encountered significant hostility. That was the plan, at least.
We came up to the edge of the lake to see some pale flowers floating in the shallows. “… They don’t particularly appear to be rainbow,” I said.
“Not yet,” Ailen agreed. “They will only transform upon the skies clearing away. Until that point, we must hold our position and fend off any attackers. Alternatively, we could stay away from the area, but that risks desperate beasts snatching the lotus before they complete the transformation, or powerful ones establishing a foothold.”
“Won’t we have to fight more enemies if we take over the position immediately?” Izzy asked. So we could secure our prize and get more experience. Sounded like a double win. But she seemed to know what I was thinking, looking up at me. “Experience isn’t worth anything if someone gets injured.”
I disagreed. But I was aware that injuries weren’t the worst that could happen. Every battle had its own risks, and it only took one bad move or moment of poor luck for things to go off the deep end. Especially where wild creatures were involved.
Senan offered his thoughts, “I say we should set up a defensive position. I can fortify the area to funnel things as we please. Ailen, would the local beasts be intelligent enough to focus on us, or would they fight with each other?”
“For the most part, they will attack anything they perceive as being in their way,” Ailen explained. “So we could make use of that. However, you will need to account for swimming creatures.”
Even as we were talking, he began to set up a basic perimeter. “What do we want? I can create something more complex if we have time…”
“Begin with a basic set of walls,” Ailen said. “However, make them as tall as you can while still being sturdy. One entrance would be preferable, perhaps where the lake and shore meet on one end. And optimally, we would have proper battlements to stand upon inside. Many of us can make use of ranged attacks, while few beasts have anything of the sort.”
“We might need multiple entrances,” Senan said. “There’s a limit to how sturdy I can make them, so it would be better to show a route through. I’ve seen some of the local creatures, and they could topple my walls easily enough if motivated.”
He was walking around, walls of ice growing up behind him. It was a mixture of clear and opaque ice, demonstrating his idea to visually funnel creatures towards our approved entrances. It was a good idea. While it was presumed that anything in the area would already know of the lotus flowers, as he walked through the water he made the walls around that area particularly opaque, barely even letting any light through.
“Things are gathering,” Izzy commented.
“… Should we do something about those trees?” Ceira asked, pointing to some with branches dangling over our walls. All of the plant life dwarfed our walls- they were somewhere around ten feet high, but Senan was just one man. Instead of waiting for an answer, Ceira used a bit of her own magic, twisting branches away from our little fort so nothing could drop directly into our fortifications.
“Where should we set up?” I asked Izzy and Midnight.
“The two of us,” Izzy gestured to Midnight, “Won’t be as good at blocking off an area. While we might bet on beasts fighting each other outside the entrance, I think we’d do better with two of us. You will at least make things hesitate.”
“Speaking of beasts,” Ailen interrupted. “Our first foe is approaching.” The elf gestured towards something plodding along in the shallows of the lake.
I hadn’t seen one in person at any point, but I was aware of the general aspects of a moose. People said they grew as large as a car, but those were the ones that didn’t live in a magical forest. This one was not quite tall enough to step over our developing walls.
Ailen took a shot with their bow and… missed. I blinked, confused. The moose only flinched back. Then it stomped forward with determination. “Oh well,” Ailen said. “That one has made its choice.”
I see. Attempting to scare it off, so we didn’t have to fight it needlessly. And hitting it might frighten it more, but it could also enrage a beast. Smart. But it didn’t stay away, so we would be getting the experience for this and that was fine. Though I was having a bit of trouble figuring out how to deal with the rack of horns on its head the size of a snow plough.
The twang of a bow, and then an arrow was sticking into the side of its massive neck. If only that had been enough to bring it down or drive it away. Instead, it seemed offended and lowered its head. I was quite uninterested in fighting such a thing in melee, despite my staff being restored to its proper shape.
In the interest of not dragging things out, I gathered a handful of mana for Sonic Lance. I couldn’t afford to use Chain Lightning on a single target, especially if we were going to be dealing with many attacks by beasts throughout the duration of the rains.
My invisible spell hit the thing right in the middle of its forehead. I would have aimed for its chest, but from my angle its head was completely in the way. The whole thing went sprawling backwards from the sudden force, splashing into the water. Even on its side, it was only half covered by the shallows. I watched it closely, seeing a thin cloud of red in the water. Then it began to move again, stepping shakily onto its feet. It was almost sideways to us, and I could see one eye focusing on us. Then it turned and plodded away slowly. I hit it directly in the head and it just walked away. What a tough guy. And smart enough to know he should leave, too.
Senan was almost done setting up our wall. Ceira had finished what she could, twisting branches away from our area. I climbed up a few steps of non-slippery ice so I could look over the wall. I’d prefer something else to stand, but Shelter wasn’t exactly durable. That wasn’t its purpose. I could see some creatures lingering about in the rain, back in the woods. And I likely missed more.
“So…” Ceira said. “I can’t do much else. I guess I can Entangle things?”
“That will be very helpful, especially around the entrances,” Senan said.
“I suppose,” she said. “I was thinking… could I try to talk to the animals? I do have magic for that. I’m not great at persuading things but I might accomplish something.”
“Good idea,” Izzy said. “If you could turn them against each other, that would be even better.”
“Right,” Ceira said. “Uh, what can I promise them?”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Well, if they’re going to do something for us… we should give them something. They probably all want Rainbow Lotus…” she looked at the floating flowers being rocked back and forth by the rain. “Do we need all of these?”
“There are eight of them…” I looked to Ailen. “Do you know how many will actually become Rainbow Lotus?”
“It is uncertain. Perhaps half. However, the process should have begun.”
“I can feel magical fluctuations,” I said as Ailen shot somewhere off into the trees. Whether to take down a threat or scare off something, I wasn’t sure. “But I can’t place them to individual plants.”
“I think it’s six of them,” Ceira said, moving over to the edge of the shore.
“This is why we have Druids,” I nodded.
“I want to try something.” She jumped into the water. “Ugh. I was already soaked, but…” she grumbled as she waded over into the middle of the lotus. I heard a growling sound from our downlake side, watched by Izzy and Midnight. Soon enough Senan and Ailen would be manning simple emplacements on either side as well. Ceira reached out, a small bit of mana in her hands as she touched two of the flowers. Compared to the others which had gained a bit of color, those had been slightly more dull, made more obvious when they briefly shimmered, ripples of magic flowing through them. “I think, maybe, this is more likely to make them proper Rainbow Lotus?” Ceira said. “They seemed like they needed a push.”
“Either way, we should not expect druidic magic to harm them,” Ailen said. “Be prepared for your parts.” The rain was intensifying as they spoke. “They rains will come and go quickly, but we may need to maintain our positions for up to an hour.”
Senan’s walls weren’t in jeopardy of melting. They were walls of ice between one and three feet thick, and formed of powers not sculpted out of true ice. However, I could tell that creating this small fort had taken quite a toll on him. Best for us to take the pressure off of him at the beginning of battle.
A large snake slithered in from the other side. Izzy and Midnight were upon it in a moment, slashing at it and striking with Shocking Grasp. I couldn’t focus on them, however, as some sort of thorny bush was walking towards me.
… Was this thing intending to devour the lotuses? Was that cannibalism? No, it was more like a berry bush. Not at all the same thing.
Ailen was very accurate with their elven bow, but as it turned out thorny bushes were not particularly susceptible to puncture wounds. So it seemed it would be up to me to deal with this thing, ambling thorny segments making it look like it was down on all fours. Not that it had properly defined limbs.
I held my staff in my hands, channeling Shocking Grasp through it. I wasn’t confident in smashing a thorn plant with just my staff, not without letting it wear down my defenses… so a bit of cheap magic seemed best. It seems I had judged correctly, because as my staff smacked down on the thing it quickly began to smoke. It also nicely blocked off about a third of the opening between our walls.
The pair of assaults seemed to be just the beginning of everything. There was hardly a moment of rest before more beasts and mobile plants began to pour from the woods. Ceira was making weird noises at a lot of them, but I couldn’t tell if it helped. What did prove useful was the relative narrowness of our entrances, because while they were easy to get through they also forced competitors together. Thus it became our job to deal with the things that slipped through clashing groups, all vying for some flowers. Flowers that were undoubtedly quite magical, but flowers nonetheless. Then again, us humanoids and Midnight in the center were risking our lives just the same. Hopefully these would actually help with the path to getting back home. Being around Comhghall too much bugged me.