“Three crossbows, maybe four? Certainly, no more than five.”
“Hey, just move a little more to the left? This wall should block at least half of them.”
“Not if they have a skill! You idiot, all they need is-“
The stone behind them exploded into shards. Shrapnel showered Eveth as she ducked.
Green fire ripped through the air in front of her. It burst wide as it did, sweeping through the air as it intercepted something with a sudden explosion. Pivoting, it blasted again to Eveth’s right side- condensed cone of flame intercepting something too fast for her eyes to process with a burst of smoke.
“HOLY shit!” Distantly, a voice bellowed out into laughter. “Ho-ho-holy shit! Pem, Dult, did you see that? Right out of the air!”
“Aye! Can’t even fathom it!”
“She’s gotta be the mark!”
“Damn right she is! I think we finally found ‘er!”
From the edge of the foundation above them, Eveth saw movement, and she lunged backward just in time to avoid a wooden bolt as it smacked into the dirt she’d just been standing.
“Son of a bitch! They moved!” Around her neck, the Basilisk let out another huge swath of green fire. “Get to the other side of the wall, we’re going to need some sort of cover!”
“I thought I told you,” Eveth cursed back “Cover’s not going to work if they have-“
Another bolt cut her off, shattering as it collided with her attempt to get an improvisational barrier spell in place.
One hit, and the magic was already too fragmented to recover. Eveth let the spell go, along with several choice words under her breath.
Around her neck, the serpent moved to shoot another torrent of fire.
“Hot DAMN!” The distant shout cackled with laughter. “You’re something else, you know that? Where do you think you’re goin’ honey?”
“Eveth! Move!” In her head, the voice was distorting: badly. “Keep moving-“
The voice cut out, replaced by a thunderous shout.
“YOU DARE TRY TO STEAL FROM ME?”
The jet of fire smashed louder than thunder, as the force buffeted behind her: this time not stopping.
Air transformed into a haze of heat, updrafts pulling ashes and dust airborne in a wild mess so thick, that it cut off her line of sight.
Exactly as they needed it to, Eveth realized.
“Keep going!” Eveth shouted, as she raised her staff to cast a bout of her own magic. "Don't let up!"
The spell took place as she commanded it: not in an organized cluster, but a large arc.
There wasn’t a name for this- certainly not a real one, but her own efforts unorganized flame magic leapt through the air, morphing into a billow of smoke. Without hesitation, Eveth pivoted and rushed back a step.
Just in time.
“Ag!” She called out in pain as something cut deep into her arm before hitting the ashes. “That fucking hurt.”
“You’re hit?” The shouting in her head lessened, normal voice returning. “How bad is it?”
Abruptly, the fire cut off, as a greater sense of healing magic took over.
Eveth seized the chance to dive towards the closest supporting wall- motion carrying her closer what had once been the center of the Guild. Her tumble covered her in soot, but she came up beside her intended target, back firmly landing against stone, still blindly throwing out more covering smoke as she went. Then, she added a gust of wind, for good measure: picking up the ashes already on the ground around her, raising it all into a massive plume.
Something smashed into fragments two feet to her right.
Close, but not perfect.
“How many of them are there?” Cloak over her mouth, the words came in a cough and the taste of charcoal. “Snake?”
“You’re not tryin’ to leave, are you? After we waited all this time?” Somewhere, distantly behind her, a gruff voice shouted. “Little rude, don’t you think?”
“Listen, there’s one.” Around her neck, another burst of fire intercepted something with a flare of green. The snake pivoted, then repeated the motion. “There’s two.”
“Gods damn! Sure did find ‘er, Nul! That’s our girl.” Someone to their far left shouted. “Fuckin’ feisty!”
“The hell’ she got ‘round her neck?” Another voice called out: to their right. “Singed my bloody eyebrows!”
“That’s three- no, four… I think we’re surrounded.”
“Shit... alright, I’ll try again, see if I can get it past them.” Eveth, raised her staff, “[Barrier-
“Oh, hell no you don’t!” Something smashed into the spell as it formed, exploding into a shower of splinters. “Nul! Stop ‘er!”
“Fuck.” Eveth muttered. “That proves it, I think. They’ve got someone with [Spell Sense] or something close to that.”
“That like your [Adept] skill?”
“No, it’s more reactionary. They’re getting a sense of where a spell is being cast, and maybe who’s casting it.” Eveth gritted her teeth, as her wound sealed. “It’s not exactly a common thing, either.”
“Makes sense.” In her head, the voice seemed distorted again. She could clearly make out a second tone shouting in the background. “Just want to let you know, I’m burning through mana way too quick by blocking their shots. Talking to you isn’t exactly free of cost, either.”
“The hell am I supposed to do about it?” She coughed, choking on dust. “I don’t even know where they are!”
“I don’t know, but if you want to live, we’d better figure something out before-”
Around her neck, the serpent jerked sideways, and one more burst of green fire shredded the air. Unlike the previous display, this one earned a distant yelp.
“WOO- mother fucker! You see that?”
“Sure did! She almost gotcha’ there!”
“Hell-yeah she did!” The voice behind them shouted again. “Hot DAMN!”
“You can see them?” Eveth asked. “Through all this?”
“What? No, the smoke is way too thick: but I can hear them. That one was trying to line up a shot, I think.”
“Just keep moving. This dust and smoke thing of yours worked out. I don’t think they know exactly where we are.”
“You don’t have to tell me twice.” Eveth muttered, as left hand kept to the wall. She hunched low.
The building supports weren’t particularly long, but they were tall. Much taller than she was, which was good. Being next to one meant about half of shots in her direction had to run into a pace or so of solid rock: which meant she was somewhat safe.
Eveth sucked in a gulp of air, as she turned the corner and raised another unorganized gust of wind. It was a mockery of a real [Gust] spell, but it did its job well enough. The plume of smoke dust and ashes rose high, covering the entirety of the basement, at least ten paces up from the bottom they were stuck in.
Only problems now were, none of that mattered if they had the right type or skill- and of course: that meant she couldn’t see them either.
As if tempting fate, Eveth felt her boot slip on the next step, crunching through a crumbled piece of timber. She dipped forward, weight of her bag shifting, forcing her free hand to reach away from the wall and catch herself.
Then, something whistled past her ear.
On the wall where her head had been an instant before, an impact smashed hard enough to send pieces of stone flying.
“Upfront honesty: I may have miscounted.”
“These fuckers.” Scrambling back, Eveth reversed her direction half sliding, half crawling through the dirt. “This is such bullshit.”
“We need a chance to fight back.”
“No shit we do.” Eveth growled. “What a remarkable observation.”
“Testy, testy… can you get a barrier up? If we could figure out where they are, I think we could take them.”
“They shot it down last time. At least one of them has some sort of [Intuition] or [Spell Sense] skill, and they’re tracking me with it.”
“Well… that’s a bummer.”
“You can’t hide in there forever! Might as well come out!” Someone shouted.
“Yeah, just come on out!”
“What’s the worst that could happen?”
“These fucks.” Eveth cursed, “This is why I hate mercenaries.”
“You’re sure that’s what they are?”
“Come on’ out little Mage! We won’t hurt you!”
“We’ll leave that to the arrows!”
“Yes. I’m pretty damn sure, at this point.” Eveth replied. “They seem the type.”
“You’re really gonna make us wait? You know how rude that is?”
“Just comon’ out!”
“You know… I think they’re trying to figure out where we are. They must have lost track.”
“Doesn’t matter. The second I try to cast something, they’ll know.”
“Yeah… but, what if it wasn’t you?”
“The hell are you talking about? Who else would it… oh.”
“How the hell are you so smart, and yet so dumb?” The voice in her head began to fade, as the coil around her neck slipped away. “Seriously though, you owe me big for this...”
With that, the Basilisk was on the ground, slithering out into the dirt at Eveth’s feet. It was surprisingly quick, as it passed through the ashes. Up over charred wooden beams, and around clumps of stone.
Then it was gone.
Eveth crouched down, rubbing at her temples. It was as if her mind had just… lost something. Like a portion of her thoughts had just been yanked free. What had the snake called their connection?
Healing-based neural… something.
Whatever it was, Eveth found it profoundly disorienting.
Reeling, she made an effort to focus. Both hands moving to ready her staff, as the swirling mess of dust and smoke circled around her, Eveth concentrated on the task at hand.
Or, at least she tried.
There was no longer a friendly voice offering assurances or banter. Instead, she was alone and surrounded by enemies, with nothing she could do about it except wait.
So, Eveth waited.
“You think we’re just gonna pack it up, head off to the tavern or something?”
“We ain’t leavin’ without you!”
“Maybe we got her?”
“Nah, she’s probably just sitting down there. Shittin’ her pants.”
“Gods damn them.” Eveth quietly cursed as she sat down, breathing carefully through the fabric of her cloak. That was getting harder to do: she’d had to readjust it a few times already, and the patches of black gunk were leaving a trail on the cloth as she tried to pull through cleaner air.
Still, there was no recognizable motion. Nothing to indicate that a spell was being cast, or crossbow bolts were being loosed.
Had the Basilisk abandoned her?
There was a thought. Eveth couldn’t help but circle it now, just as the smoke spun around her. Would the serpent really do something like that?
She wasn’t sure.
She wasn't sure about a lot of things, if she decided to be honest with herself.
What did she really know about it? The snake could speak, possessed intelligence, and it had certain knowledge about the world and magic- of which Eveth apparently lacked. What else, though?
What else did she really know about it?
The smoke stirred, spinning about as something in the distance crumbled. Hollered voices echoed around, mocking tones and taunts.
Eveth ignored them.
The snake had said it was on her side. She remembered that, clearly: it had called itself a friend.
Was it really?
Maybe… it seemed to act the part. Healing her, protecting her from the construct’s sudden animation, and earlier: from the ambush in the alley.
Imra though… that was a different story. The Elf seemed to have indicated that might not be entirely true for her. Far as Eveth could tell, Imra didn’t seem to care about Eveth, or Dren, or any of the Farstrider Guild. In fact, she seemed almost hostile, which seemed to mean… what exactly?
In context, maybe Imra was only following the Basilisk’s instructions? To protect Eveth and Dren, because her ‘God’ told her to? But why?
Why had the Basilisk, the God- the whatever it actually was, decided to protect them? To what ends, what was the limit?
Surely, it wouldn’t die for them. Why would it? What if that monster deemed the situation unwinnable? Slither away and protect itself? Return to Imra and Dren alone, hiss out some quiet regret?
Eveth glanced above her. The dust was starting to settle. She was hidden for now, but another few minutes? The natural wind would draw most of it away, and she’d be an easy target.
Had the snake abandoned her, after all?
Should she try and cast a spell? Risk the gamble? Should she wait?
“AGGGG!” Someone screamed.
Green flames funneled through the air, almost like a beam of superheated death, as it passed over Eveth’s head. Smoke spun away, fire clearing the air enough so Eveth could watch a neighboring building burst into flames.
“HELP! SOMEBODY! HELP! IT BURNED ME’ BOW!” Following the shouting to its source, Eveth found the silhouette of a man trip and stumble to her far left, arms waving desperately. “GET IT OFF ME! IT’S BITING ME! OH GODS! IT’S BITING!”
Eveth wasted no further time.
“[Barrier!]” She slammed her staff into the dirt as the spell rose up, surrounding her in a freezing crescent of air that met with the wall at her back. “You picked the wrong day!” She shouted. “There’s plenty more where that came from!”
“She’s pissed, Nul! You pissed ‘er off!”
“I pissed ‘er off?”
“Her pet just torched me' bow! It was a fuck’n Basalisk!”
“Did it bite ya?”
“Of course it bit me!”
“Ah, yer right and fucked then. More gold for the rest of us!”
“You prick! You think you can just-AUAGGG”
“Why’d you shoot ‘im?”
“Why? You ‘erd em. Bit by a basalisk? God awful way to die. Saved him a whole lot of trouble.”
“Saved yourself a bag o’gold you mean.”
“Two birds, one stone!”
“Ha! Well, little Miss Mage is right and ticked off now. Ain’t that right?”
“Of course, you pissed me off! Who the hell tries to shoot someone as a greeting?” Eveth shouted over the [Barrier.] “You bloody bastards!”
“We do!” Came a cheerful reply, before another bolt exploded in front of her. “Not everyday someone greets back, though! Is it Dult?”
“Hell no, it ain’t!” A sudden puff of splinters rained through the barrier, crossbow bolt testing her defenses. “Starting to think maybe we haven’t hit ‘er yet.”
“I think so, she’s still standing.”
“I’ll be damned… should we ask?”
“Can’t hurt to ask, my ma' always told me.”
“Ha! Fair put.”
“Hey there, Farstrider! Did we hit you yet?”
“Why the hell would I tell you?” Eveth shouted over the barrier.
“We’re just wonderin’ is all.” The shout returned. “Poison is expensive, you know?”
“These motherfuckers.” Eveth growled, head turning as something caught her attention overhead: entire array of spells readying.
The sight of blue scales settled her nerves.
“Ssss…” Cautiously, the Basilisk met her line of sight, tongue flicking before it finally lowered itself and dropped back down to land on her shoulder.
An instant later, the chill of healing flushed through her skin.
“-so then I panicked and accidentally bit that guy on the ass.” The words hummed in her mind. “Just as unpleasant as you’d imagine it.”
“Why the hell didn’t you just burn that him?”
“We’ve really got to work on your ‘thank-you’ Eveth.”
“Fine, thank you.” Eveth replied, “I don’t suppose you have any clever ideas. Something like maybe, I don’t know: torching them with some fire magic?”
“Not sure that’s going to work, I think they’re really spread out. To get at one would mean opening up to the others… plus they keep moving.”
“Oh yeah, they’ve moved like five times since this started. I think the all the shouting is a strategy to keep you from noticing. Covering for one another.”
“Right? They sound like idiots, but they’re sort of smart.”
“Fine, they’re moving, but I take it you can tell where they are?”
“Sort of, acoustics down here are a little wild, but I’m fairly sure one of them is trying to climb up to take a shot from the roof across the street.”
“Perfect.” Eveth snarled, as she raised her staff. “[Array.]”
There wasn’t much space, to spare, but several lines of light began to form in the air around them. Slender shapes morphed as they began to leak steam, much like her [Barrier] surrounding them.
“The sword thing?”
“Better.” Eveth growled. “Let’s see how these pricks like a few spears.”
The shafts of frozen air flung upward, then arced downward, before crashing into hundreds of jagged fragments. Somewhere distant, she heard someone scream, followed by a loud “thump.”
“That bitch!” Several more bolts broke into puffs of cold splinters from several directions at once. “Dult! You alright?”
“She fucking shot me!”
“There’s a hunk of ice sticking out of my thigh! No, I’m not kidding!”
“You’re damn-right I shot you! You’re trying to kill me!” Eveth shouted over the [Barrier] “Who the hell sent you?”
“Who sent us?”
“Why’s she askin’ that?”
“Dead girl is wantin’ to know who killed ‘er I suppose.”
“Answer me!” Eveth shouted again. “Answer or I’m torching the lot of you!”
“Ha, no she’s not.”
“It’s a bluff.”
“I bet she’d terrible at cards.”
“What if we try it back?
“Shut up and answer me! Who the fuck sent you?” Eveth shouted. “Last time I’m asking!”
“Drop the spell and we’ll tell you!” A shout returned. “Nobody has to get hurt.”
“That’s a load of shit!” Eveth hollered. “You fucking liars!”
“Oh, you hear that?”
“I did. Maybe she is good at cards.”
“God damn it, my fucking leg is all fucked up.”
“Oh, shut up, Dult! It’s your own damn fault, climbin’ somewhere she could see you instead of just waiting like we planned it.”
“But it hurts, oh gods, it hurts! Just fuckin’ kill ‘er already.”
“King’s spittin’ on us for this one. Real bloody mess.”
“Aye, bounty’s no joke.”
“Did he just say bounty…?”
“He did.” Eveth muttered, before shouting over the [Barrier] once more. “Did you just say I’ve got a bounty?”
“Hell yes, you’ve got a bounty! What, you think we’d get all dressed up for just anybody?”
“For what? What’s the bounty for?”
“Does it matter?” The returning shout quieted for a moment, “Does it actually matter, Nul?”
“Fuck no, it don’t matter.”
“Yes, it matters!” Eveth replied. “I’m innocent!”
“No, you ain’t. You ain’t innocent, Miss Farstrider: not anymore. Murdered Oeth and his raggedy ass group, torched em’ all.”
“Because they tried to kill me!”
“Hate to break it to you, but killin’ the mercs hired to bring you in ain’t going to make your bounty go down.”
“Hell-no it isn’t.”
“Fine: what was the original bounty about?”
“Matter’s to me!” Eveth replied. “Bunch of bastards like you trying to kill me, and I don’t even know why!”
“Listen here, lady: only thing that matters is your barrier’s gonna come down sooner or later.”
“That, and your head’s worth a nice bag of gold.”
“Eveth, stop engaging them. They’re moving again.”
“I know, trust me I know. Can you still tell where they are?”
“Not really. I told you, acoustics are weird in here, and I can’t see much through the wall you made.”
“Can you do anything?”
“Well, if you’re willing to have a lot of collateral damage, I might be able to get a few of them with [Leviathan Breath] but that’s a big gamble. They’re all far off, and that attack isn’t exactly subtle.”
“Okay, what else?”
“Heal them to death?”
“I’m being serious here! They’re right, we’re on a timer.”
“You want honesty?”
“If I could get my Earth magic to cooperate, I think I’d have them down in a few seconds. Wrap them up with a little bow, break their weapons. The whole nine yards.”
“Absolutely, long as they’re close enough- which I think they might be, but it hasn’t been working. You’ve seen it.”
“… Try it out.”
“What, spin around some dirt?”
“No, try to lock them down, at least one or two of them.”
“It’s not going to work. You’ve seen it.”
“Try it anyways.”
“Wow… you really are desperate.”
“I’m-“ Eveth bit her tongue, resisting some choice words. “You said it stopped working, describe that again.”
“It doesn’t listen.”
“But obviously the magic is still doing something. You’re able to use it.”
“Sure, I’m able to do something useless with it.”
“So: you can still use it, you just can’t control it.”
“Then use it. Exactly how you would normally, call out the magic.”
“We’ll see if you’ve been telling the truth about how good you are with it.”
“… and you called me cryptic.”
“Just do it already.” Eveth replied. “Unless you’re trying to say that you can't-”
The sudden plume of ashes turned out to be more than enough incentive. If only to avoid choking on the cyclone of dirt that burst to life, Eveth shut her mouth.
For the most part, anyways.
Talk? No, she was done talking: the trouble was just that she'd never quite been able to keep her lips sealed when grinning ear to ear. Besides, whatever she might have thought to say? Someone else said it for her:
“Hell. It’s about time.”