Even though my muscles were extremely quick to recover from fatigue, it wasn’t so fast that I was available to do anything immediately. There was still the ooze boss down the hall… possibly artificial, but certainly quite dangerous. It seemed to have already overrun the cube in the way. It was fortunate that we had reinforcements who could handle the boss, or we would have no idea what it might get up to.
I watched from the end of the hallway. It was a bit close to the action, but going off by myself was actually more dangerous in case other oozes appeared and I couldn’t fight them. I could at least stand up and move if it became necessary… and hopefully my arms would feel like moving soon.
It didn’t take long for Kasner to explain what was happening with the boss, absorbing elements or at least attuning to them. Sage Norwood immediately started blasting alternating elements down the hallway with Kasner. More and more bits exploded, but there was still no end of the boss in sight.
However, it also didn’t seem as big as it once had. Perhaps that was Timmy standing in front of it, taking up most of the height of the hallway. He carried a large axe, and I immediately thought of the axe I’d gotten from the minotaur boss. It was a different one of a similar size. Impossible to wield in the hands of anyone who wasn’t a half giant… or at least much bigger than me.
The axe cleaved into the front of the giant ooze boss, leaving a trail that lasted at least a few moments. The effects were much different from me. Was he so much stronger than me? No, that wasn’t right. In fact, Timmy should be able to match me at best. That was still well over a thousand Strength, but that wasn’t the only factor involved. A heavier weapon allowed him to impart more momentum up to a point, but it was also clearly more magical. Perhaps he had better skills with the axe as well, but that was to be expected. He had been active for much longer than I had now, and he kept in shape.
I watched his movements, the way the muscles in his arms tensed and the angle he swung the axe. Maybe I could learn something… though I had to find a way to apply it with a difference of four feet in height and eight hundred pounds. Something like that, anyway- Timmy had to be pushing a thousand, perhaps more. With palms the size of my head, it made sense. He didn’t use just Strength either. There was a technique there… even if his target wasn’t particularly moving out of the way. The way he changed his footing as he swung the axe, stepping forward as necessary then backing away as the boss ‘lunged’ towards him to try to engulf him.
Chunks of ooze flew all over the place, sometimes splattering uselessly against the wall and sometimes reforming into small globs that the other reinforcements mostly took care of. Kasner and Alhorn were now sitting out of the fight, taking the chance to recover somewhat. Because we knew that after the boss… we weren’t necessarily done. That said, it was possible Lionel Tenford had already run off. I didn’t want to think about that, but we still had a chance to catch him. Especially with Socks involved.
Two things happened at the same time. First, the end of the boss was finally reached. I was almost confused when I saw empty space down the hallway, instead of darkness filtered through multicolored goop. A huge haze of experience hung in the hallway, absorbing into everyone’s bodies. Nearly synchronous with that, there was a tug. That was the best way to describe it. It was as if I was being pulled towards a certain point. Except… it wasn’t all of me. Just some of my more core parts. My Attributes. I had experienced attribute loss in various ways, and it wasn’t a sensation I enjoyed in the slightest. Along with that sensation came an overwhelming feeling of magic, permeating through the dungeon brick and stretching out as far as I could sense anything.
“Not good!” Sage Norwood exclaimed, “They’ve activated the magical formation! It might be missing some pieces, but it appears to still be functional. We have to stop them.” If it wasn’t clear where we were supposed to go from the tugging inside us, some of the lingering experience swirled down the hallway. Of course, I already knew where it would go- though it took a more direct route through the walls. “It will doubtless be more dangerous as we approach them, of course… but I doubt anyone here lacks the resolve to stop this.
I couldn’t say I was rested, but the experience I had absorbed had brought me up a level. It did a good job of replenishing fatigue along with the potions I’d taken. Everyone else started moving down the hallway- Halette and Socks leading the way. I picked myself up and followed behind, seeing familiar splotches of ooze that hadn’t been reabsorbed into the dungeon yet.
We hurried, not quite running so we wouldn’t exhaust ourselves but it was clear that moving slowly would be… problematic. I could see that most of my attributes had already been drained by several points. Strength seemed to have remained the same, but then again it had just increased from a level so I thought maybe I was misremembering.
The return to the broken through wall was the shortest and longest trip I’d ever been on. The oppressive atmosphere increased as we got closer, and I almost hoped the tunnels would be longer so we wouldn’t get there so soon. I have to admit I was afraid. It wasn’t dangerous just for me, but most of the people I cared about in this world… and many others I didn’t even particularly know. But there was nothing wrong with being afraid. Bravery wasn’t not being afraid, it was being able to act even when in a state of fear. And I certainly wasn’t alone in both fear and bravery.
Timmy found it a bit difficult to fit through the improvised tunnel, so everyone moved through first. He could fit through, but he would be a bit slower. I would have liked to have him up front, but we had to hurry. I felt the pulling increase… not just from being closer to the source but also the magic seemed to be increasing in power. If all of us adventurers hadn’t taken out all of those parts of the formation… I wondered if we would have been drained dry already.
We hurried past the pit where the ooze boss had been- at the bottom was just dirt and some traces of slime. Timmy was able to catch up to us after we circled around the pit, but the tunnels shrunk… at seven foot high, there was plenty of head room for almost anyone- but half-giants seemed to be an exception. I hoped we ended up in a larger room where he could fight. Or maybe didn’t have to fight.
Halette was up at the front of the group with some other scouts, looking for traps as they hurried along the reinforced dirt tunnel. They found a few, in fact, but were able to bypass them quickly enough. Then we came to a steel door, with solid walls on either side. It seemed to be a fully constructed area. “It doesn’t seem trapped,” the scouts said, “But it doesn’t seem simple to open.”
I stepped forward, but Timmy pushed past everyone in the narrow hallway. “Save your Strength. I have better leverage for this.” Timmy placed his hands on both sides of the doorframe, which stuck out some. There was a sound of cracking stone and wrenching metal as he tore the door away… then threw it into the room at a figure standing there.
Lionel Tenford ducked under the door, but I recognized his face. Maybe he liked that face, or felt no need to disguise himself in his own lair. They had to have known we were coming, but perhaps they hadn’t expected our entrance to be exactly in the manner it happened. At least, we weren’t met with an immediate barrage of spells.
Lionel Tenford wasn’t alone in the room. There were three others standing close to him at the center of a magic circle, someone with tusks and two elves- no, one of them was a half elf probably. Around the cavernous room were dozens of others, arrayed in a circle around the center four. There was a tense moment where it felt like nothing might happen… but then arrows and spells started flying from either side. Halette’s arrow in particular flew straight towards Lionel Tenford, who actually caught it in his hand. That show-off. I took a deep breath and dashed into the room behind Timmy, searching for the best opponent and trying to be wary of dangerous spells. It was honestly a good thing that our party hadn’t reached the area alone… we would have been wiped out in a few moments. No matter what we had accomplished already there were some things that just needed more than a handful of people. It was great that we had reliable friends and allies.