“The more of you know about a plan, the less likely it is to succeed,” Zeno paused in the dispensation of his wisdom after he caught sight of one of the dragonborn. “Harry, why do you look like that?”
Harry glowered. “I don’t want to die again.”
Felegum dismissed this valid concern, no doubt having already played out the scenarios in his head. “I’m just concerned about lighting it.”
There was a brief spell where we discussed using Huey to deploy the explosive and using my skills to make him into an invisible zombie bomb. Which would be hilarious, but ultimately we weren’t sure if that was going to be the best strategy, since we had some other ideas that would allow Zeno to still keep Huey versus sacrifice him to the explosion.
We took a break and once more I sat and patched myself up. Felegum took the opportunity to take the manticore tails out from HFVNN and cheerfully plucked off their spikes. “Guys, I’m so glad these are finally good for something.”
Then he went around asking for people to contribute sharp things. Harry tossed in a steel mirror, which was hard to fit in there with all the spikes, but somehow Felegum managed to stab as many of the spikes into the barrel as he could.
“Anyone have a good rag?” Zeno asked, assembling the fire-lighting part of the bomb.
Harry wordlessly tore off a piece of his already torn-to-shit clothing, then offered the plague sword as well. It was still very weird watching him handle that in his bare hands, but I guess he was good with it now. I certainly wouldn’t want to do it.
Helli tied a torch to one side of the barrel.
Zeno, meanwhile, was all about amping us up. “Look at this monstrous device we’ve created!” he boasted. “We’ve done this before. We’re gonna be a well-oiled machine. We’re going to do this.”
He held up my hand. “For Csipherus!”
I looked at my wrist held over my head like I was some sort of champion.
And for a moment there, with Zeno’s words still echoing in my head, I felt like I could be one. With everyone else on my side, maybe I could be.
Thus inspired, I also felt a little better about handling the water crossing. It wasn’t going to be easy, but with this nice wolf pelt wrapped around my hand, I’d probably be okay. Yet, something about the cloak that Felegum had leant me kept calling out.
It was so, so very black. Unbelievably metal.
And like, I mean. Come on. It would look really cool. I already had Milto’s cloak on, but like, this was a nice little accessory. I wrapped my knife in its sheath in this instead. Even if it was only on loan to me from Felegum.
I stuffed the beast fur back into my bag instead.
And from there, we went into motion. Felegum cast his resilient sphere spell on the barrel. Zeno cast his telekinesis spell on it as well, getting the orb to submerge, and I gave Felegum a shoulder-pat of encouragement to swim well.
That done, there was nothing left but to hit the water.
And then, there was pain. It would have been worse without the sheath and the cloak, that I knew, but it still hurt and it took a good deal of my concentration to be able to guide Tem as well as swim. I did it, just not happily.
Helli swum up ahead in her cloak, agile with all those extra limbs somehow helping propel her through the water like a pro, and surfaced. Zeno maneuvered the bubble along and Felegum continued to swim and maintain it.
“I got it!” Zeno said in an eruption of bubbles, lifting the explosive up.
“Nisbit,” Helli likewise bubbled, “let go!”
I couldn’t see exactly everything that was going to go down above the water, but I had a feeling we were close to ignition. I swam up as Tem touched Harry and muttered some invocation to Bahamut, positioning myself next to Felegum and waiting for the right moment to strike.
This next interlude was a lot happening at once. The barrel was successfully out of water, in Zeno’s telekinetic grasp. Unsurprisingly, the familiar noise of terracotta armor clanked above– we’d been spotted. Through the surface of the water, I saw Helli get out her fire starter as the warriors fell into their ranks.
Meanwhile, Tem bumped into a wall behind us.
Knowing that this was both going to be a battle, hopefully our last for a little bit, and that Tem was going to have a time of it if she couldn’t see, I called forth my wings, illuminating the area. It was weird having them out underwater, but not bad. It helped me swim better, that was for sure.
Harry, above the surface, was next to Helli and ready to light the torch affixed to the barrel, in the meantime getting set to defend himself. Beside me, Felegum walked out of the water and conjured a small ember in his hands, ready to ignite the torch.
Then Helli snatched the barrel, lit it, and handed it to Harry. “Good luck,” she seemed to say, and then swan dove back into the water with the rest of us.
Zeno swum up to me, floating the barrel the rest of the way into the midst of the gathering undead forces. Harry threw his torch and Felegum’s spell allowed the mage to move the nearby flame onto the rag leading into the powder. The wick was lit.
Then he too dove back into the water and safety.
Above the surface, the terracotta lines moved up with their spears at the ready. They were well within range of the barrel. Seeing that a battle was close at hand, Tem moved close to our group as well, now able to see.
Also sensing the closeness of a fight, I surfaced, said the words for my many-selves to defensively move around me (and gave my dagger-holding hand a rest), and then dove back under.
“Cover your ears!” Harry yelled on the surface.
Felegum ducked and covered in the water, as did Helli, though knowing her she was probably taking this as an opportunity to look for shiny things.
Zeno seemed to be trying to do something with a spell, but I couldn’t tell what until a zombie fell over. The terracotta phalanx advanced again, and a not small part of me was nervous that they were going to keep advancing right into the water, that the bomb wasn’t going to go off or work, and we’d all be sitting ducks treading for our lives and hoping the incendiary sand hadn’t gotten wet in transit.
Tem got ready to dash out with another torch, and I invoked a blessing on myself, Harry, and Zeno– Zeno had been pretty rad lately and I felt kind of bad about not helping him out the last fight more.
All that being said, though, the zombies were still advancing, the bomb was not activating or doing whatever bombs were supposed to do. Wasn’t this wick taking too long to burn? Something had to be wrong.
Harry reached down for a rock.
And then, light. An indescribable, unrelenting light.
I had my hands over my ears but the force of it sent waves shaking through the water, lighting everything up so that for a few seconds all I could see were the black-red afterimages of the figures around me. Harry, somehow, was not knocked down, though some of the terracotta zombies around him were full of manticore spines.
It had worked.
Despite being present at the blast, Harry hurtled in. “Y’all can’t tell me otherwise because I can’t hear!” he said in a weird atonal way that made me think maybe he really couldn’t hear.
He stomped one terracotta warrior that lay on the ground and then another. Clearly this deafness was not affecting his ability to beat the crap out of things. He continued to wail on the terracotta zombies and even threw one like fifteen feet away.
Then Felegum emerged and cast one of his signature tidal wave spells onto the phalanx. I was all about this. We knew how bad those things were and we were going to get rid of their ability to use it as soon as we could. Definitely full approval on that one.
Helli scooted up to Harry and stabbed the zombie next to him, which was starting to look pretty gravely wounded.
Then Zeno emerged and sent forth Huey into the fray before turning to me. “Thanks for the bless!” he called over his shoulder. “And bless you!”
It was goofy but I felt better.
Then a random zombie lifted into the air and I was briefly confused and concerned, only to see a smiling Zeno twisting his index finger in the air, making his foe spin gently mid-air.
While this was hilarious, it did not ingratiate him to the terracotta warrior, who threw its spear at the bard in retaliation. It hit Zeno squarely; unsurprising, as those things tended to have good aim.
Felegum winced in sympathy. “That’s rough, buddy.”
Helli also got stabbed, though the terracotta zombie who stabbed her immediately got clown backward by an emerald shield of light. At first, I thought the flash of green was kelp, but no, it was too shimmery and glittery– perhaps the spider legs had more tricks than just climbing up walls and begging for arms. Anyway, that was the end for that zombie.
Another spear angled toward Harry, and Zeno shouted out, “That’s no way to handle a spear!”
Unfortunately, it got the dragonborn right in his side, undeterred by Zeno’s goad.
Tem rushed out of the water herself and attacked with her greatsword, cleaving through enemies.
And then, I rose on my glowing wings, all eight of them. “Be afraid,” I said, and lit into one of the terracotta guys, inflicting a heavy blow.
The other non-terracotta zombies managed to score a hit on Huey, but missed me and Zeno. The zombie attacking me actually tried to hit one of my duplicates and missed that, so good job there.
Harry attacked the terracotta zombie in front of him twice, and then Felegum grabbed a pinch of dust from the walls and said, “Welcome to pound town!”
A hailstorm frothed into existence overhead. It was a little trickier than I’d expected to dodge out of the wall of the hailstones, but luckily I remembered how cool I was with Zeno and kept my cool.
Helli flipped her poisonous dagger out from her bag and into a hand, deftly stabbing the terracotta zombie before her again. This time, it collapsed.
Somewhere to her left, a zombie fell out of the sky and another lifted up in its place. Zeno was at it again. “Huey!” he called. “Get over here and take out the trash!”
Huey lumbered on, accurately slashing through an unwell-looking undead dude on the verge of attacking me. I flashed him a thumbs-up. Huey, stoic as ever, gave no reaction.
Then the lines of terracotta soldiers began to move. I took a slash at one as it departed, another went wide on Tem, and a few more tried to hit Harry. Another warrior blasted through two of my duplicates, leaving me just with one. I remained unhurt.
Tem, perhaps wanting to make up for the last time she and Harry were fighting together, took a savage swing at the terracotta warrior who had attacked Harry, bisecting it. As it fell to the stone floor, Tem stepped on it and advanced.
I too took advantage of the opportunity to slice out with the spicy knife while our opponents were distracted by this sudden loss. My strike was true, piercing right under a layer of the stone armor. When I slid out the knife, the body exploded in a breath of dawn colored light.
Rad. Very metal.
Then I moved next to Harry, hopefully forming our own little phalanx with me, him, and Tem. Dude had died enough times for a while.
The regular zombies continued gamely forth: Huey was unphased despite a chunk of him falling into the water and another attacked Zeno with a billiards pole. Weird how things ended up down here. Maybe that was a funeral offering at some point, who knows.
Zeno too was mildly baffled. “You got a game room over here?” he asked with a wince.
Another simply hit Felegum with a big rock. “Oof, ouch!” the sorcerer cried. “My bones!”
Still another went for the sorcerer with some coral. (“Ouch! Sharp!”)
Some dead guy with a stalagmite club hit me in the wing, which hurt but didn’t disrupt my balance flying (I can only assume because so many things have hit or tried to grapple me while flying that now I’m just used to it).
Harry whacked the terracotta dude next to me with a strike that paralyzed it, and then just went to town hitting as many as he could in a small period of time. I was never sure what they taught him at that monastery or how, but it had resulted in truly wild acrobatic abilities and lightning fast punches. Also, somehow tattoos, but that didn’t seem as related.
Felegum iced up another zombie and it froze where it stood (for different reasons than Harry’s), as it had just become a corpsicle.
Zeno licked it, clearly unable to help himself.
Then he was actually unable to help himself because his tongue got stuck to it. It looked a little like he and the zombie were making out, which was weird but also hilarious.
Seeing the predicament Felegum and Zeno were in, Helli moved over to defend them, slicing through a nearby zombie and sending it once more to its eternal rest. One down, she stabbed the zombie next to Felegum for good measure.
Zeno, at this point, was able to get himself unstuck from the corpsicle and directed Huey. “Huey, stab it! Punch it! Whatever you have to do!”
Appropriately, Huey slammed his head into the zombie, in a clear imitation of Harry’s trademark finishing blow.
Nodding in approval, Zeno heckled Huey’s opponent. “Learn to use your head, man!”
The zombie fell apart, ashamed, and Zeno patted Huey on the back before backing up. Another zombie did hit him as he backed up, but Huey seemed like he’d be much better cover in general. “Good job,” Zeno gritted out to the zombie who’d managed to hit him.
The terracotta warriors were by no means out of commission, and that was where most of my attention was.
One managed to land two stabs on Harry, another attempted to hit Tem but missed, and then on its way to Felegum, Tem intercepted it. It wasn’t quite enough to stop the terracotta warrior, though, and it still ended up striking the sorcerer.
Not pleased by this, Tem retaliated by destroying the zombie that had hurt Felegum and followed through to the terracotta solider next to it. This next one still didn’t perish but seemed to be barely standing. Seeing my opportunity, I moved in, destroying another in a second burst of dawn.
The regular zombies had so far been easier to evade, but one of them still managed to take out my last duplicate, leaving me just glowing by myself. Another missed me.
One more hit Harry, and another went for Felegum again but this time Tem’s interception technique work, and she destroyed the creature before it could do more damage to our mage.
Another zombie went for Zeno and couldn’t get their attack to connect, but alas, the one who went for Huey did, and at last our stalwart companion from Trash Man fell.
Harry continued to stomp on the terracotta guys around him, moving lightning quick and then pushing his opponent away.
I looked up, calculated an angle for a strike, and went for it. Another zombie, gone. Harry took out the other terracotta solider that had begun to sneak up on him.
Likewise, Felegum’s aim with his frost was spot on, turning yet another zombie next to Zeno into a corpsicle. The temptation to lick this one was probably difficult to resist, but as far as I could tell, Zeno did.
“Ugh,” Helli said with a sigh, “none of my friends are near zombies.”
I, who was near multiple zombies, shot her a look.
“Oh, don’t worry about that,” Felegum said as she contemplated leaving him to his own devices, “I’ll be fine.”
He said this in the way that made you certain that he was about to be very unfine.
Still, Helli came up to me and stabbed the zombies who were distracted by my presence. Somewhere behind us, Zeno sighed.
“Eh, screw it,” he said, “let’s melt a brain.”
I didn’t want to look back and see what he was doing, but it definitely sounded like zombie entrails were falling atop more zombie entrails. Effective, but gross.
Moving myself into position away from any allies, I unleashed a wave of electricity through a group of zombies around me, annihilating one of them and wounding the others.
We still had a few zombies to deal with. One hit Helli and this time the kelp armor lashed out in reprisal, and then four tried to go for me, and I evaded all but two of them. One went for Harry and two others went for Tem.
Harry, who had been good but not extraordinary, suddenly saw his opening. He took aim and sunk a shiny, somehow sandy punch to the jaw of a zombie and it totally disintegrated, as though it too were made of grains of sand. He missed another guy, and then threw a third, which I destroyed with my knife.
To finish things off, he headbutted the last terracotta dude into the water.
Meanwhile, an unprotected Felegum staggered back from three heavy blows and pointed at a zombie by Helli, emitting another ray of frost.
“Another zombiesicle!” Zeno said.
“You were saying something, Tem?” Felegum said, turning his back on the three zombies looming in the distance.
Helli, seeing this, rushed to intercept them before they could get to our sorcerer. One bit the dust thanks to her dagger, and she lit into another one next to Felegum. Zeno spun around, pulled out his rapier, and struck a dramatic pose.
He did one extra spin and then struck into the corpsesicle right next to him. Tem moved and stepped southward.
I flew in and unleashed another thunderwave blowing back zombies and annihilating another in a shimmering of light. I moved next to Tem and the last zombie, and though it still cut into Felegum, Tem caught it with a slash.
There were still some zombies left, but we’d done it. Next stop, heart number two.