Axebeak Redemption – Chapter 65
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Jim peeks into the next room and shakes his head. “More nonsense ahead. I can’t spot the bird that is supposed to be just inside the next room. With how badly they did against Ace’s group, the dungeon must have switched things up right away. Though the room looks to be about the same from what I can see without entering it.”

Kelly shrugs, “likely the birds are a wandering mob instead of any actual action from the dungeon. It should have just placed a flock in the room and Ace got lucky having one of them down by him.”

Jim shakes his head. He hasn’t delved this dungeon except for that first time, but he had a feeling about it. That aside though there isn’t much he can do about it so he gestures for the others to form up and enter the room.

As soon as they spot the wayward bird at the back with the rest of the flock. The axebeaks don’t even seem to notice the group down by the entrance. Kelly whispers, “see? They are just gathered together at the other end. We aren’t exactly prey nor are we close enough so the flock ignores us for now. Ace just got unlucky that the one bird was able to alert the rest.”

Jim raises an eyebrow but otherwise lets her opinion pass. He only has his own hunches and while he trusts them more than Kelly’s the opposite would probably be true as well. For now, all they need to do is clear the floor. Mysteries can be unearthed later. He gestures to Kellinger to lay down his favorite spell. After all, what’s more fun than a grease spell right in front of an enemy that likes to charge?

Trap in place, the group cautiously approaches closer to the flock. Jim’s plan is to get close enough to attack them once they fall over. A decent strategy he had used in similar situations out in the forest. Doomed to fail though as once the team had advanced further into the room all the birds as one turned towards them.

Jim sighs as he pulls an arrow out of his quiver, “I guess we know their aggro range now.” And the axebeaks are off running.

Jim and Og both manage a single shot before the birds are upon the grease. Susan and Sammy tense as they prepare to assault the birds while they are down, but once again Jim is disappointed. The axebeaks do squawk as they move over the grease. They do not however slip and slide.

Missed by everyone so far is the fact that axebeaks have very rough and spiky feet. Like natural cleats, this feature is useful for getting up to speed quickly and they now serve double duty in providing grip on the slippery surface. Quick on the uptake, Susan withdraws so Sammy can shield everyone. Behind them Og decides now isn’t the time for accuracy and once again fills the air with stones.

Kellinger on the other hand is slow to react at first but his second is well worth the wait. He drops the grease spell and goes for another classic, stone shape. Kellinger kneels down and with his palms on the floor raises up a misshapen knee high wall a few paces in front of Sammy.

The first couple birds don’t even have a chance to react. Their attempts to flank just end up with them sprawled on the ground to either side of the party. The last two coming down the center have just enough time to hop over the wall, but this prevents them from gaining too much speed.

Sammy yells out, “dodge left!” and does so, blocking the left bird head on. Quite literally as the axebeak slams into her with its beak and the shield she was using shatters and the others can hear an off-putting crack. To the right, the other bird that is still on its feet doesn’t get to stay that way. As it runs past the group Susan ducks down and swipes out with a dagger, cutting the tendons and effectively removing it from the fight.

As everyone had dodged left, this put Jim in a position to take care of the downed bird right there. From a sheath on his back he drew out a kukri, then drew it across the bird’s throat. While the axebeak tried to flail about, Jim’s experience out in the wild both before and after the system let his strike land true.

With the nearby birds under control, Kelly fires a couple bolts of rocks at the downed bird on their right. While not killing the axebeak the birds’ attempts to stand back up are prevented. As this works she continues to pound it into the ground with rock spells. She figures either it will die eventually or be held down long enough for someone to come help her.

That help isn’t going to come from Sammy. With her arm useless at her side, broken from the blow with the remnants of the shattered shield Sammy isn’t in much of a position to help anyone. That doesn’t stop her from raging at the axebeak. She rains blow after blow down on the bird with her sword. Though having lost all thoughts of proper form none of the hits leave a wound worth talking about. Still, like with Kelly, the constant barrage of attacks confuses the bird, keeping it in place.

Susan sees the state that Sammy is in moves around the left flank to attack from the side. A front assault would have worked as well, but for some reason she doesn’t trust Sammy to not hit her. This delays her attack but allows her to hamstring this bird as well. The axebeak doesn’t fall over right away as it shifts to balance on the other leg. A move destined to fail though, as Sammy is still attacking wildly.

The axebeak falls to the side right into Susan. As a final attack, it tries to drive its face into her but she slides under the attack while leaving a throwing dagger lodged in the bird’s throat. Susan trusts this is enough to take the bird down so turns to the two remaining monsters only to find them dead as well. Og had joined in on stoning the far away bird, and after enough rocks to the head it died.

And the bird she had hamstrung at the start? Jim plied his throat slitting ways on it as well and had an even easier time. The other bird had just fallen so well and ready to kick around. This last one had been bleeding heavily out of what must have been a major artery, and so Jim’s actions tasted more of mercy than an attack.

With all the birds dead Sammy calms down enough to feel the pain from her broken arm. It was a clean break from what Jim could see, but that doesn’t make it any better. He sighs as she grimaces while holding the arm tight to her chest.

Jim claps his hands, “welp, our dive ends here. Our only true frontline fight not only lost her shield but broke an arm as well. We need to get her healed up quickly so we can try again later.”

Og sighs, “Bill is going to tease me something fierce for not being able to clear the dungeon.”

Susan pats him on the shoulder, “you think that’s bad? My husband won’t let me live this down. He comes out with these tales of all the stuff to harvest in the last room, and I can’t even make it that far. Still, I can’t exactly solo these early floors or anything silly like that. Better to know our limits than die finding them.”

Kellinger sighs, “even if we continued, I wouldn’t be of much use. It would take me much too long to cast anything else. That stone shape shouldn’t have taken so much out of me, but it felt like the dungeon resisted the changes I was making to it. Beyond that, even if we wanted to use it to skip to the end I can’t do that. Just below the surface layer of dirt and stone there is a hard barrier. The rock stops being just rock and becomes fully a part of the dungeon. Felt like I was trying to shape an earth elemental like one of the people in my tutorial could summon.”

No one is happy about having to give up but they all know their limits. After moving much of the weight out of Sammy’s pack they go back to the second floor’s entrance portal and choose to leave the dungeon.

Once outside Jim turns to Doc who is waiting at the side and points to Sammy. “She broke her arm. Should be a clean break so see what Doc can do about it.”

Worried, Ace walks up to him and opens his mouth. Jim stops him, “no, we didn’t clear the second floor. The axebeaks got moved to the back of their hall. Kellinger laid down an oil slick, but the birds apparently can just run right over it. Quick thinking on his part saved us with a stone wall, but Sammy ended up taking one of them head on. Her shield and arm broke. Though I have to say we are lucky, that is all that happened.”

“We need real gear. She was using a decent pre-system shield and it still shattered like glass. The bird didn’t even use a skill or anything. Just rammed right into it. In fact, if it wasn’t for the fact it had to jump over Kellinger’s wall, she might have lost her hand. I can’t be certain, but stuff made from the start with mana is different. Even if the item or animal isn’t using some sort of power, the fact it has it changes the equation.”

Ace frowns, “that... that might actually solve a problem I have with the people who plan to leave before the wolves. They believe that we don’t have a chance here and now that your group has failed to clear the second floor it will only reinforce the belief. Because of this Jan has been pushing me to give them the better gear. We have some stuff crafted by a couple woodcarvers in their off time, but no one wanted it. If what you just said is true, we can probably trade all our pre-system gear for it.”

Jim facepalms, “of course she would want to strip us of any chance to survive. Though I should point out that any wood we have is pre-system as well at the moment. If they have a skill for wood craft though then it should be fine. I made my bow and it is quite the fine weapon. Originally, my assumption was my skills just guided me right. However it might be because by using a skill I infused it somehow.”

Ace shrugs, “because of all the guides warning against it, no one is too keen on sharing their skills. I don’t blame them either, though we might have to change that for those of use who plan to stay behind. We are already planning on sharing a life-threatening secret, so what’s another? Though for those wood carvers I am willing to bet they all have some sort of skill for it. Neither of them had any skill with it when they started, and now they are carving like old hands at it. Sadly, neither of them plan to stay”

Jim sighs, “well, I at least can help with bows. Though we can probably scam them for good gear. I bet Jan would cozy right up to them and put them in positions of power if we start trading pre-system stuff for their best efforts.”

Ace frowns but then just shakes his head. “I don’t want to scam them but we can’t let them know the actual value of their work either. At this point, including us, I have thirty people who will stay and a handful of maybes. Once we start trading for carved gear I don’t think any of the maybes will stay. We can’t chance them not trading their work with us, so an unfair trade is all we can do.”

Jim shrugs, “meh, we can make it up to them when we survive. If they return that is. Though of those thirty you really should angle five or so towards crafting skills. I can identify and use some of the herbs out there but I’m not an alchemist. Of course, the Barrai’s might have us covered on that front.”

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