Rydr accepted Syrna's trade request instantly, still scanning the battlefield. In quick succession, fice pieces, the complete Ether-Guard set, filled the trade menu. Syrna's side lit up, showing that she'd already accepted the trade, with Rydr following suit.
The Titan "seized" the armor set with his mind, equipping it from the trade menu rather than waste more time menuing. Misty light coalesced around the giant, flowing under his pelt until it dissipated to reveal Rydr's enormous figure in the sleek, black armor.
An invisible weight seemed to lift from Rydr's shoulders as he glanced down at his new armor. Although the Titan would prefer that it was his product, he was grateful to have actual clothing.
The armor's padding effectively replaced his need for a shirt and pants, and the giant couldn't be happier. The extra stats are great, but I've been waiting so long for another pair of pants.
Across the pit, Lord Garzer began to scream at his forces. The hobgoblins started to shift as the smaller shaman raised his arms in the air, chanting something in goblinoid.
Hermes called out to Syrna, "Any idea what he's saying?"
Syrna paused, listening for a moment, before she asked, "Do you really want to know?"
"That bad, huh?' Urginok stepped up to the archer's side, hefting his warhammer as the tank's resource bars slowly filled themselves.
"All I'll say is that I regret learning their language. Just a smidge." The archer winced as she heard the shaman describe the taste of the party's entrails, promising blood and glory to his warriors.
Niko tugged Hermes closer to the team's impromptu huddle before she asked, "Do you think you could keep him talking? We need a little more time, and all our resources will regenerate."
Syrna bit her lip, nodded, and stepped ahead of the group. The next second, the archer lifted her head and shouted at the shaman, using the growling, screeching goblin-tongue.
Across the clearing, Lord Garzer's speech came to an abrupt end as he listened to a string of expletives spew out of the blonde human's mouth. When the shaman tried to interrupt the archer's sudden diatribe, Syrna increased her volume, shouting the hobgoblin down.
As the shaman somehow managed to turn red, Syrna continued to roast the monstrous midget, insulting everything about him that she could translate.
"Your mother was wort-stool, and your father sucks bears! I can't tell what's weaker, you or your seed. No, it's your stupid brain. What kind of leader lets half their clan die while they're snogging bog?"
Syrna honestly had no idea what she was insulting, but it was effective. Her best guess was that she'd just humiliated his parents as useless waste's of space, his weak body, inability to reproduce, and finally that he had to get in a warm bog to feel something close to sex.
As Rydr watched, the mighty shaman was reduced to a temper tantrum, waving his fists and stamping his feet while screaming hysterically at his hobgoblins.
In the meantime, the Titan's team used the chat interface to talk "over" Syrna's screaming and growling.
[Urginok: Should we retreat? Grotto is half a kilometer behind us. I can run interference and let you guys escape.]
[Niko: Against twenty-five hobs, and the shaman? Plus the six or so goblins? I don't think your taunt can catch that many. It would be you and Syrna dying, at best, if we run.]
[Hermes: It wouldn't look good to leave you guys high and dry. First night on the job, and all.]
[Urginok: It's got over 16,000 HP! Magic is still a substantial unknown too. He might just wipe us. Some of us should get back to town, at least. Rydr has to play babysitter in less than five hours.]
The tank tried his best to convince the others to leave, coming up with every reason he could. With their speed, they should get away from the horde of enemies and back to town.
With his resource bars all recovered, the tank finished his final message and took a stance beside Syrna, waiting for combat to begin.
Rydr sighed and threw in his two cents.
[Rydr: No way that's happening, Nok. So what if we die? The divers can wait a couple of extra hours before I play babysitter. It's better to cull their numbers here and now.]
Although Rydr sent a confident message to the chat, he felt none of it. The only advantage they held was the Ether-Guard armor, which gave them each fifteen percent MDR. Rydr was busy trying to guess what abilities a shaman might have.
Plants and animals? The dead? Curses? Where the hell does a shaman fall between a druid and a necromancer?
The tense exchange lasted only a few moments, Syrna insulting the shaman nonstop the whole time. Eventually, it was too much for the monster to bear.
The shaman raised his hands in the air, chanting under his breath as he glared death at the blonde human. From beneath the hob's feet, a field of deep green light expanded until it reached all the hobgoblins around him.
Syrna cut off her tirade, coughing as she warned, "Guys! It's starting!"
Rydr focused on the goblinoids as they began to swell, their muscles bulging and tearing through the skin that couldn't stretch fast enough. Even as the hobs fell to the ground, grabbing their bodies, they never tried to escape the field around their shaman.
The Titan quickly [Inspected] the hobgoblins across the pit.
[Uncommon Hobgoblin] Level 14
Abilities: [Berserker's Rage], [Totem's Fury (Temp)]
Rydr used his [Inspect] ability rapidly, examing the monsters' stats as their bodies continued to bulk up. Each time, the monster's health jumped up, hundreds of points at a time, until they finally leveled off.
At the same time, the hobgoblins warriors began to climb to their feet. Steam began to rise from their bodies, the telltale sign of [Berserker's Rage], as the now grossly muscular creatures stood to their full height.
Steam and blood leaked between the creases and joints in their Ether-Guard armor, green light suffused into their bodies and igniting a green fire in the monsters' eyes.
Lord Garzer put his arms down and threw his hand forward, screaming. In response, the hobgoblins let out bloodcurdling screeches and charged forward into the pit.
Seemingly unaware of their lesser kin, the hobgoblins trampled over their smaller cousins in their blind charge. The goblins lucky enough to get out of the way watched their brothers getting ground into the bloody muck, suffocating until they burst into light.
Hermes and Niko took off at a dead sprint, circling the pit.
Behind Rydr, the Titan felt the air displace as the two speedsters departed. Together, the giant and Urginok stepped in front of Syrna, shouldering her behind themselves.
Syrna acquiesced instantly, firing [Double-Shot] as she let the boys stand front and center before the charging horde. For the first time, the archer's arrows failed to knock back her targets. The hobgoblins absorbed her arrows, eating the damage as they threw themselves forward.
Urginok raised his hammer defensively, shouting at Rydr, "Break their charge, or we're dead!" Without waiting for his giant teammate, Urginok activated [Crescent Charge], using the skill's acceleration to close the distance between him and the monsters in a flash.
Six meters away from them, the lead hobgoblin suddenly found itself staring up into the shadowy canopy. Then, the gleaming metal head of Urginok's hammer eclipsed its sight and buried the monster face down in the red muck of the pit.
The tank recovered from his charge in time to brace the shaft of his weapon, blocking the wild swings of two hobs as they trampled their downed companion beneath their clawed feet.
Rydr was a beat behind his friend. The Titan bent his knees, digging his toes deep in the cold mud before he launched himself forward in a spray of red muck.
Adrenaline thundered through the giant's veins as he flew straight into the group of ravenous hobs, bowling over the first two lines of monsters. Rydr watched several of the hobgoblins get thrown bodily over their kin, feeling their bodies impact his own.
They weren't particularly damaged by Rydr's bull-rush, but he'd succeeded in breaking their charge.
What few hobs remained on their feet lunged for the colossus, only to fall to the ground as a blur passed behind them.
Niko and Hermes weaved between the crowd of hobgoblins, doing their best to deliver damage and dash out of danger. Fighting high-level monsters reduced their damage to the point that the bleed effect from their daggers was more effective than their actual attacks.
With most of the hobs rolling in the mud, only a handful continued to throw themselves at the giant diver.
In the absence of a real weapon, Rydr decided to attack first. The colossus leaped forward with his leg cocked back before capitalizing on his momentum to deliver a punishing kick to the nearest hob's chest.
Bold damage numbers floated into the air near the Titan, but his target was far away. The hobgoblin bent double over the giant's foot, air whooshing from its lungs before it was flung away hard enough to bury the creature a meter into the wet mud of the pit's slope.
Rydr turned to his right, only to find Urginok firing a rabbit punch into the back of another hob's head. The tank wielded his weapon like a staff, switching between defense and offense fluidly as he fought to keep the monsters on the ground.
None of the goblinoids were dead, and more were pulling themselves out of the mud to hurl their bodies at the diver's legs.
Rydr lifted his leg and stomped on the back of a hob's head, crushing the monster's face deep into the red muck when it tried to tangle itself in his legs.
To his left, another hob raised its weapon, slashing at the Titan's flank. Too close to properly dodge, Rydr performed a super-powered side hop and body-checked the monster before it could swing.
Back on the slope, Syrna fired arrow after arrow into the pit, doing her best to pin the beasts to the ground, but no avail. The mud was too deep and loose for the archer's arrows to find traction, and the monsters stood up angry.
Lord Garzer began to weave his hands together on the other side of the clearing, casting light into the air as mana quaked around his small form.
Syrna activated her [Eye], studying what the goblinoid was doing even as she switched targets, firing her arrows straight at the shaman to interrupt his casting.
As the arrows neared their target, their flight warped. The mana around Garzer was so intense that the disturbance swatted the missiles out of the air without the shaman's interference.
Before the archer's eyes, the shaman's form grew bulkier, rolling around under its robes until a mass of thorny vines exploded from the right side of his body.
Multiple tendrils spiraled into the air as they began to interweave, creating one massive vine that the shaman whipped far behind him before throwing the monstrous limb forward across the pit.
The vine stretched impossibly far, pouring out of its emergence from the shaman's shoulder.
Before it was halfway across, Syrna screamed, "Rydr! SMASH THE SHAMAN!"
The colossus looked up in time to see the giant vine halfway across the pit. Not questioning the archer, Rydr crouched and hurled himself at the vine.
He arrived next to the vine instantly, wrapping his arms around its circumference as he continued into the air above the pit. The vine's thorns dug into his hands, one of the few spots on his body not covered in armor, but the giant ignored the damage.
Lord Garzer suddenly found himself dragged into the air, his little weight unable to compete with Rydr's momentum.
Still, in midair, Rydr realized the shaman was still attached to his attack. Behind him, the vine curled in on itself, trying to wrap around his body.
Desperate and adapting to his situation on the fly, Rydr kicked out in midair, channeling his trick spell in a burst of power at the full extension of his leg.
Rydr's [Eyes] revealed the explosive beauty his trick spell had evolved into throughout the night. Wind mana rushed to a single point, pulling its element into a hyper-dense ball of air before exploding outward into a flat plane.
For the brief moment that it existed, Rydr's air "platform" flexed under his foot. The Titan's body jackknifed to the side, dodging the vine's whiplash and forcing himself into a controlled spin.
Lord Garzer accelerated into the sky, pulled along by his shoulder as the boss monster screamed in panic. The shaman passed close by the giant diver, meeting his luminesce, red eyes before hurtling past the Titan.
Rydr whipped his legs and hips around, curling his body almost into a ball as he flung the shaman straight down, as hard as he could, releasing the vine to send the monster flying.
Lord Garzer's body blurred toward the ground, his vine arm trailing after him, before slamming into the ground hard enough to shake the surrounding trees.
On the ground, Urginok shielded his eyes from the sudden spray of red muck, his legs wobbling like a drunk as he fought to maintain his balance against the shockwave.
In the pit's center, a new, lower crevasse formed around Lord Garzer's form. Steam billowed out of the new hole in the ground as the shaman's vine arm contracted towards its caster. Like a measuring tape, the vine whipped back and forth before vanishing into the pit.
The goblinoids froze, staring at the new hole.
Niko and Hermes never stopped attacking the hobs, slicing up their prone forms. The rest of the team seemed to have the same opinion, as Urginok and Syrna continued to target the down hobs while Rydr handled the shaman.
A second, stronger quake traveled through the ground, knocking the two speedsters off their feet and sliding through the muck. On the slope, Syrna lost her footing at the hill collapsed underneath her, spilling the archer into the bloody pit.
Urginok used his hammer as a crutch, keeping himself on his feet as more quakes followed, rocking the forest floor.
Red light joined the geyser of steam pouring out of the shaman's hole. The earth shook as the floor began to rise above the crater's rim, shedding mud and forcing the team to retreat.
I'm sad to say that this will be my last regular update for a while. I don't plan to abandon the project, but chapters will have to come out as I'm able to write them.
Roommates ran off without paying rent, so I need to return to my full-time job. For my patrons and fans of the story, I'm sorry. My Patreon page will be taken down in a week or so once everyone manages to cancel their pledges.
Thank you all so much for your support. It was a beautiful dream, but this diver must log off for a long day.