I was trying to come up with any idea that could deal with her when I heard splashes from behind me. I glanced behind me only to see two cute girls' heads pop up behind the rocks. Worry was etched on their faces as they watched us. I kept glancing back and forth and without them doing anything they split my attention. I saw them begin to argue as the scorpion lady move closer to my downed puppet. I continue to give orders to suppress her and kind of regretted my earlier picks. My mage was made to slow people down and not to kill. I had been expecting the dead fighter and the thief's limited poisons to do most of my damage. Now one is dead and the other cannot even pierce her skin. Even the mage's power is not as strong because we were in a desert!
Ice spikes appeared in front of the warrior, blocking her advance. But the spikes were dull and weak and with a swing of her arms they shattered but, even so, it gave him enough time to get back onto his feet. More needles flew out from the thief's hands aiming at her face this time. Remembering the manga references about the fact that 'they can't be armored everywhere' I was hoping to hit a human's weaker points. Places like her mouth, lips, and eyes seemed to be the most likely areas and if that failed I was going to have to retreat… again.
'Ah, fuck it.' I needed the experience to get stronger and the XP from the quests would give me at least one more level. Having a hidden ability might be a great way to get out of trouble but what is the point when I was so weak that trouble would find me without fail?
With reluctance I ordered my puppets to retreat down the corridor. As they retreated, the scorpion lady rushed in to take advantage of their retreating backs. Only I stupidly stood in the way of a monster three times my size. I stopped fighting to keep my aura separated and it snapped back into a dome around me, just in time for me to cast 'Hiatus'. The claw she swung to knock me aside slowed, then stopped as her eyes clouded over. She quickly blinked away the haze, shook her head and continued her swing but I was no longer there.
She looked around and her head snapped upwards. The snake girls had pointed at me when she had looked about. I flapped my wings looking down at these monsters, my aura slowly turning amber as I cast. Time past slowly but without range they were helpless to stop me. The portal in front of me growing from a dot to something over three feet around. The vortex spinning within, pulsing and getting faster and faster as I got closer to finishing the spell.
"Festering Doom", I whispered.
With a pop, a grey beast fell from the sky. It stood over six foot tall but was skinny. It looked like there was nothing but bones under its flesh. Thousands of pustules on its skin sprouted like mushrooms after the rain. A hazy mist swirled around it from a few that broke upon its impact obscuring a lot of its details. Even so, the yellowed tusks jutted out enough for them to easily be seen. I did not fight for control. The brief contest against it showed how inferior I was. It growled and then leaped at the scorpion lady.
Her claws clamped onto its spindly arms stopping its forward momentum. Her claws dug into its flesh and with a hissing, as if a balloon had sprung a leak, a thick grey cloud quickly blocked my sight. Clacking noises, followed by more hissing, could be easily heard as the battle raged on. Occasionally a growl and a shout of pain as a blow landed would be heard emanate from the carnage that was occurring below. This calamity lasted for over five minutes as growls and high pitched female cries escaped from the mist.
As a leg came flying out of the cloud, her screeches of horror filled the air and I noticed the snake girls were sobbing and crying for their friend. One was holding the other back as she tried to go and help. It was such a human response I felt a little bad for my decision to unleash such a monster.
Soon the scorpion's whimpers became weaker and weaker. Sighing at my tenderheartedness, I began to send the Festering Doom back. It was not easy but the fact that it was distracted with the fight helped me to wrestle enough control to make it go back. By the end I was swearing in my head at its mental strength. It was freaking supposed to be easier to send your summoned monsters back but it sure did not feel like it was. As time pasted it would naturally get easier to send the monsters back but the time was based off of the talent of the caster and I did not know how long it would have taken if it was not distracted. The cloth below my armor was plastered to my skin, my hair in disorder and sweat rolled down my forehead before quickly evaporating.
While it was gone, the toxic mist remained so I sped up the rhythm of my flapping wings to create a wind current. It was not much but, with my efforts adding into the natural air current, I could began to see just an outline and then eventually, a mangled lady. Her skin, now gray, had punctures, rends, and boils all over it. Blood from a cut above her eyes blocked her vision and two of her legs had been ripped off. Instead of the blood being red it was dark brown but I did not know if that was normal or not.
Once the mist was gone, the girls rushed over to their friend. They hugged her, crying, but did nothing to stem the blood flow. She was dying. That much was obvious to everybody but I could see all the things wrong with her. Her health window was full of diseases that would soon spread to the girls that hugged onto her body. I watched them from above trying to decide if I should let them live or die.
I briefly wondered if this was how the gods of this world felt as they watched the mortals, but it was fleeting. The pain in their cries as they watched their friend die made my decision for me.
I began casting once more and I saw them look up at me in horror and then try to cover their friend with their bodies. The size difference made it impossible but still they tried. I cast one spell after another without pause. Spells like 'Slow Poison', 'Detoxification', 'Lesser Healing Light' and 'Purify' were quickly draining my mana pool because I had to keep recasting and the toxins' potency and severity of her wounds fought against my spells forcing me to re-cast over and over to keep her alive. It would be easier to just let her die and bring her back but that is a skill I cannot use while a stadium full of people were watching me. I also did not dare get close enough to split my aura into tendrils. While I could get better results, I still remember how she cut my puppet into two and I was not foolish enough to think I was any tougher than it.
I flew over to the rocks once I knew they would live. I did not heal the scorpion lady completely in case she decided to attack me again. But I could not leave yet since I had spotted something reflecting off the rocks.
I had to be quick. I left her injured but even missing legs did not mean she would not be able to kill me and that is not counting her friends joining in. I began to look around as soon as my feet touched the ground. Sitting slightly above the center of the blue water was a clear gem. It took longer for me to spot the symbols that were etched into a dozen rocks, that circled the water, like numbers on a clock and had indents right below those symbols.
Eleven of the rocks had symbols while on the twelfth was written;
"The sun shone down across the water
the wind from the waves blew across the land
which stoked the fires saving the people from death."
Below the writing were six gems in an assortment of colors; blue, yellow, black, clear, red and a dusty brown. As I gazed at the hint, the words 'Sun', 'Water', Wind, 'Land', 'Fire', and 'Death' became bolder. The six of the symbols on the rocks were triangles pointing up or down. Two of the triangles were unmarked but others had straight lines running through them. One triangle pointing up and another pointing down had a line running, 'from left to right', slightly below their tips. The next pair of triangles pointed up and down and had a lines splitting them in half. Another stone had a circle with a dot in the middle ʘ. Yet, another looked like a basketball in my opinion. Then there were two that looked like light bulbs without the bottom part, one pointing up the other down Ω Ʊ and the last one was a circle surrounded by fire.
I knew most of these symbols were basic alchemy ones and with a smile I tried prying out the gems below the writing. They each came out with a pop. They all fit into my hand since they were not very big. This puzzle was not very complicated and I moved the closest rock which was the circle with a dot in the middle. It meant the sun or gold depending on how it was used. I carefully lined up the yellow gem so the cuts lined up and pushed it into the hole. With a click, it fit snuggly in the hole and did not fall back out when I let go of it.
The next one was one of the ones I did not know so I kept moving. I saw a triangle pointing up on the third rock. It meant fire and I took out the red gem. I pushed it in and felt a growing pressure resisting my attempt. I kept trying but the gem blasted out, slipping past my hand, smacking me in the head. A stream of fire followed right after. The red projectile had bounced of my head, spinning off to god knows where, right before I was set on fire. The fire lit up my clothes, armor and hair before I staggered back into the water. The water doused the fire but not the pain it left behind. I felt the pain ebbing as my pain resistance kicked in.
I got up dripping water, my hair now a frizzy mess of melted hair. Scorch marks were all over me. I cast a healing spell on myself as I stomped out of the water and the pain faded away by the time I got out. I heard girlie giggles from the bushes but I ignored them. As long as they were not attacking me I did not care if they found me amusing. Just in case I tried to make sure I was not getting snuck up upon.
I spent the next five minutes looking for the red gem only to spot it under the text right where I first found it. The yellow one was also there. So after removing them again, I reread the riddle and began again. The yellow "Sun" gem was obviously the first one since it stayed in place. For my Second attempt, I was going to place them as they appeared in the writing. So starting with 'Sun' I searched for 'Water' and placing the blue gem I moved on. I placed the clear gem with wind, brown with land, red with fire. I would hear a click with each placement and the gems stayed in place. I stood between two rocks trying to decide on the last gems placement. One stone had the death symbol while the other had life. I just could not help overthinking the last part of the text "saving the people from death". Did saving people mean life was the answer or was it death? I did not know. What I did know was that I did not want to be hit by a beam of death. The fire hurt enough so with that though in mind I shakily placed the black gem into the hole that represented life.
Pushing the last gem into place I heard a slight rumbling noise come from the rock with the sun icon … then nothing. I sighed in relief that no beam of death or some other horrible trap was sprung. I turned to walk to where I heard the noise and I noticed the gem getting brighter and brighter. Finally an orange light shot out and struck the crystal that sat in the middle of the water.
It absorbed the light as the beam hit the gem. The water below began to boil and the central gem started to spin. As it picked up speed, it acted as a prism, shooting out five beams of various colors striking all the jewels I had placed into the stones. With pops, they exploded, releasing the elements they represented. The elements hovered in front of the stones. The only exception was the black one. It just sat there.
I stood there muttering to myself as I looked at the stone that didn't do anything. The beam hit the stone so it had to be right, right?
I did not expect an answer but heard a girl's voice from the bushes, "You saved my sister so I will help you. Collect the magic and grab the gem" and then with a rustle, I heard her quickly moving away. Her voice scared the crap out of me. I was not expecting a voice to come from behind me. Even looking I did not see her hiding spot.
Questions like 'Was she trustworthy?', 'Did I even have any better options?' And 'Why were these monsters so human like?' filled my mind and made me pause for a minute as I mulled over what to do. Sadly, I had no better option than to trust the monster to steer me in the right direction and I gave a self deprecating laugh as I walked over to the water element. It seemed to be the safest and as I touched it the water attached itself. It felt cold and slimy as it rolled over my hand but it did not hurt. I then touched the air element and the water started bubble as if it was carbonated. It tickled and I let out a giggle. I quickly moved on because it did not stop and it was becoming annoying. The earth turned the bubbly water into something that looked like poop... I mean pudding. Yup, definitely pudding. Sticky, clingy pudding.
I hesitated as I stood in front of the fire. I was not too sure about sticking my hand into the fire. I mean, who would do that? I needed to hurry up. There was a girl to save! Ok, I just wanted the XP. I plunged my hand in after steeling my nerves. The fire soaked into the goop, turning it a whitish gray. Amazingly, it was flexible and now resembled a glove more than anything else.
I completed the circle quickly and ended up back at the black stone. I did not dilly-dally this time and reaching out, I grabbed the black gem.