Book II - Chapter 33

Chapter 33

 

[Snake Report]

 

"Lieutenant Snake! Status of the offensive Water Magic!"

"Offensive Water Magic is primed and ready for action Captain Snake! It's spinning up at 95% capacity!"

"Will it be effective?"

"No Captain! Still almost completely useless!"

"Damn it all! What about our Earth Magic?"

"Sir! Also useless! Currently only good for dramatic effect!"

"By gods- we'll have to keep using it, then! Push that to maximum capacity: I want as much dirt swirling in the air as possible!"

"Consider it done, Sir! We've pushed ahead to full-throttle! What's our following course of action?"

"I'm afraid it's time to make peace with your Tiny Snake God, Lieutenant. We're going to have to heal them to death."

... No.

No, unfortunately, that's not the plan.

Much as I wish it were, that's not what's going to happen.

Sssssss...

I don't like this.

There's only one way we can go from here, and I've avoided it up until now.

Actively avoided, because on a fundamental level: I can’t take this sort of thing back.

This isn't what I wanted.

Not once, not ever.

Sss...

I think I've just gotten so used to my enemies being monsters.

Scary as monsters can be, they're simpler.

Giant and terrifying beasts that leap out from the shadows with hungry looking teeth. Alien features and eyes in the dark. In a way, that's almost better. Easier, because I have nothing in common with those things. I don't feel any sort of connection to them.

Still, in the end: they're not what's truly horrifying.

Humans...

Humans are scarier, in a lot of ways.

The perfect sort of predator, really.

Intelligent, powerful, tool-using... pack-hunters. There's a reason the Mankind ruled the world in my last life. We were dangerous enough without magic and supernatural abilities thrown into the mixer.

"We."

There I go again, kidding myself a bit.

I'm not really a human anymore, but those old ties are in deep. Even if the only place I'm still human is in my head, the feeling is hard to shake off.

The rest of me, though...

I don't even know for certain anymore.

At one point I would have just settled on being a monster, but ever since I woke up... it's different. As if, maybe, I'm starting to be more than just a Basilisk, or some monster. As if, I've passed some sort of limit, or I'm hanging right on the edge.

But, none of these things matter.

Not urgently.

Only a few seconds have passed, I think.

There's stilla little time left.

Just a little.

The thing that really gets me, is that I heard this before this spiraled out of control. Before I saw anything, I heard that sudden, distant sort of "Thwap" sound that made me turn back.

I guess that was an arrow.

My senses are much better than they used to be, but good reactions or not: the damage was already done. By the time I could mentally put two and two together, I was too late.

Even then, maybe I could have made a decision.

Maybe, there was still a chance: if I'd gotten us all moving before some of them ran around- down the side street to come out on Dren's flank. If they'd all been stuck on Eveth's side, the walls and a canal are the only alternative options, and they're both heavy stone.

But, I didn't.

The exit has closed shut, like a pincer.

So, I suppose that means we're stuck, now.

The barrier spells Eveth and Dren pulled together are coming down, both to the front and the back. There are a lot of people trying to get to us.

I can’t even find a joke to make about this.

They're coming to murder us.

Ssss…

Rough count, but twelve or so on one side, four or five by Dren: they're moving in for the kill.

What kind of person can just do that, I wonder?

Not in some sort of emotional state, but in a calm collected sort of way...

Who can just decide to kill someone?

I just don't... I don't get it.

Someone did it to me once. I died from exactly that, and I still don't get it. Whatever way of thinking drives this… it’s more alien than any of the horrible shit I've seen in the Dungeon.

It's strange.

Yeah... just strange.

Sss... I'm surprisingly calm about all of this.

The whole situation couldn't really get much worse, but I'm calm: watching this all play out from above, following all the pieces. The spells, the arrows, the people... Their faces, their shouts. It's all just "there" and I'm in the middle of it.

I already know what I have to do.

I’m just making my peace with it, listening as my usual inner-voices fight for dominance.

To run, to hide... but, there’s a new one, too. Louder and louder, harder and harder to ignore.

It’s stronger than I remember.

[THEY THINK THEY CAN STEAL FROM ME?]

Ssss…

The healing did it, I think.

Brought that back when I channeled Eveth's arteries together: just like when I healed Imra that first night. The magic I used carried it along, bubbling back to the surface. Now it's still hanging around.

Just screaming.

Over and over...

Over, and over, and over... it has me wondering if something's wrong in my head.

As in: damaged.

Broken.

It's possible.

Likely, even.

Later.

I'm tabling the subject for now. There are more important things to deal with at the present.

Much more.

Our next move, for example. Where do I go from here? What do I do? What does Imra do, or the others?

I already know, really. I said it before. I do.

I know how exactly this goes.

In some ways, I've been here before. Different circumstances, different pieces on the board- but the same story…

The only thing keeping me now, is that I'm trying to look for another option.

Another way.

Sss...

Considering the ambush, Dren and Eveth reacted well. Spells went out: two barriers of different variation. Eveth threw one up without a second of hesitation. Impressive, to keep that kind of magic at the ready. She kept it going for a long time while Dren attempted to stabilize her.

Shot clean through with a poisoned arrow and she still had the fortitude to summon one hell of a wall.

Made out of Air if I'm not mistaken, not Water.

It's strong.

Arrows, axes, swords: none of it got through, yet. They’re still trying, of course. It won’t last much longer, coming to pieces by the second, but it’s still holding up.

Eveth has seen some shit, I think.

Strong…

Yeah.

Eveth’s gotta be pretty strong to have managed this. Still, even in this ridiculous world: people have limits.

Doesn't matter if they're the best of the best, everyone is going to hit their ceiling eventually. As a party- defensively, I think in the we've just about reached ours.

The spells are going down.

Dren's own is barely holding with a slow backpedal. Eveth's wall is pretty much broken.

On account of the fact she's barely conscious, I’m not surprised. Killers are terrifying, but… this is also what makes humans scary.

Limits get passed.

One step- then two, then three.

Still, while I’m sitting here, debating things: Dren is digging in his heels, trying to force his barrier forward against four grown men flailing at it with axes and swords. Eveth is covered in blood and slumped like someone about to hit the dirt, but she's still breathing.

People don't die easy.

If you give someone a chance, they'll fight until there's nothing left.

Miss Paladin was like that.

Young Gandalf, too.

Eveth... she really reminds me of them.

I have to wonder if that means something.

I like to think it does.

Ssss…

These other people, the one's attacking us? I don't know who they are.

Looking over their faces, I don't see a single trait that sticks out in my memory. Fairly certain I've never seen them before in my life. Don't recognize them at all.

They're strangers.

The way they're hacking at the wall, the motions and postures they're taking: three archers spread to the back, melee assorted to the front... I've got to consider them tougher than the average local.

Professionals, then.

The average person I saw in the slums was lucky to have a weapon at all, but these guys have the whole nine yards. Leather or plated armor, some chain-mail with helmets. Swords, bows, and grizzly looking mugs for faces. Equipped for some serious combat, too… went right for Eveth. I'm guessing that meant they were intentionally trying to take out the magic first- and move in before Imra and I had a chance to even see what had happened.

Organized killers.

They've got numbers. They look strong- not pushovers, whoever they are.

It was a good plan.

Almost.

They don't even realize it yet. From the looks on their faces, they think they're about to win. Laughing, cheering, gloating... They don't have a single clue how badly they've messed up, but I suppose I can understand.

To them, I'll bet they think Imra is just some no-named notice with a spear, killing rats in an alley. Doesn't stand out much. Besides, what's one person going to do against such an overwhelming force anyways? I'll bet they expected us to run when Eveth got hit.

That would have been the smart thing to do.

Run away while we still had the chance.

Much as we all like to think we'd be heroes, I think a lot of folks probably would have run when faced with these sort of odds.

Pick the best option, between fight or flight? Most lean heavy towards the second.

I know it pretty well.

I'm not ashamed of it. It's a rational choice, self-preservation. That's what all living things are hardwired to do: [Survive at all costs]

We can’t all be brave, much as we like to imagine it’s that easy.

But right now, we're not running.

No... we're not.

It’s got nothing to do with bravery.

Bravery, would mean I feel threatened. That I’m doing something, knowing the odds are not in my favor. That I’m scared and choosing to stay despite this.

I’m not scared.

I’m… upset.

I don't like this.

In fact, I hate it.

No matter how hard I look for another solution, I already know there isn’t one. I’ve gone through it already.

I know I’m not making sense.

I know.

Maybe, I'm just going insane.

There’s a chance, too. That all of this is just coincidence. Complete luck, with no meaning or purpose behind it.

But, I don’t believe in that.

I believe that the Tiny Snake God lead me to them: left me a sign, in my darkest hour, to bring Imra to the Farstrider doorstep.

Even if it's not true, I'm going to believe it.

This isn't a choice.

I have to.

For my own sake, I have to believe there was a reason I've come here.

That there's a reason for all of horrible things that have happened: this is why I'm here.

These people matter.

I choose to believe that they’re important. In some way- some shape, some form, they're important to a figment of my own delusions, and maybe that makes me crazy. Maybe I've lost touch with reality, but it doesn't matter. It doesn't make the slightest difference.

They're what I was sent here to see. Them, and all the others in the Guild. They'reWhat I was lead here to do, to help, to become... I don't know why quite yet, but I do know this.

The Farstrider Guild is under my protection.

Even if it's just this once, I'm siding with that third voice.

The angry howl, rising in the back of my mind.

No one steals from me.