In a lonesome cavern, hundreds of feet underground, stood a single woman. Her ears were pointed like an elf’s, but she was undeniably not one of the many humans who had transformed only a little more than a month ago. On top of her head protruded a pair of long antlers, and while her body was undeniably on the smaller side, she was growing quickly in this environment, regardless of the dark and dreary conditions. Her entire body was wrapped in a layer of leaves and vines that kept her somewhat decent, while her alluring face bore a faint, slim smile that exuded a sense of deep dignity.
“Don’t worry, my little Aesir. I am drawing as much as I possibly can here to feed you. Soon, your leaves will pierce the heavens, and everyone will look to you as a source of might and power.” She tenderly caressed the slim branches of a sapling, her voice full of care.
The woman was a Dryad, one of the highest levels of evolution for the nymph race. They relied heavily on cultivating their own trees, often bonding themselves to a tree or group of trees. And although they were secretive, and largely believed to simply be mythical existences that were a pipe dream for the lower races, there was currently one right now, who was well on her way to establishing her dream.
Next to her, was a single sapling, one that she had an intimate connection with from the moment she was born. In a matter of a few weeks, and it would begin its growth stage and grow at a rate so quick, that it would shock anyone and everyone who witnessed it. Although any normal sapling would normally have a much slower process, due to her creators, she had been granted an Aesir seed, a mythical and holy tree so grand, that it was rumored to have pierced the heavens.
“Hm, another group so soon? Well, with any luck they’ll die before they reach here.” The Dryad’s lilting voice said.
“No, it’d be best if you waited longer, darling. I’ll take care of them.” The Dryad laughed confidently.
She was currently standing in front of a clear, crystal-like pool of water, which was reflecting a group of monsters, one of the many which regularly swarmed the surface near her center. They had made their way to her location far above ground in an attempt to advance themselves and gain power. The large swelling of mana she had gathered to draw towards her beloved sapling had pooled above ground and allowed them to grow, but at a considerable cost. As they grew in power from the high levels of mana in the air above her beloved sapling, their limited intelligence grew to be more and more influenced by the sapling, and equally, the Dryad. As they were now, they were nothing but guards who would repel any who would come too close.
This group of monsters had surrounded a small group of four, and the monsters looked to be in the prime position to wipe them out. The humanoids were horribly outnumbered, and given that over half the goblins had evolved due to the extensive radiation of her darling’s mana, they would be the ones to finish the group off.
“Wait… what… is that?” The Dryad looked on with an intent stare an imp sprayed a storm of shards down on a fog wall that a wizard had created. Under any normal conditions, the magic a stray imp that was connected to a humanoid would do minimal damage, but the hobgoblins that were hit were screaming in terror the moments the shards pierced their skin.
Those who were hit in their torso collapsed in a stuttering motion, and she felt the mana that she used to control them be absorbed into the crystals. Soon after, the crystals began to draw on the lifeforce of the hobgoblins, and the skin of the creatures began to crack and splinter as it began to draw on the lifeforce of the creatures as the mana in their bodies depleted.
Those who were only scratched suffered minimal injuries from the strange magic, while those who were hit in their limbs were still able to survive for a period longer than the others. Still, that wasn’t the worst of it. The horned man, the one she believed to be the imp’s master, looked to be using a similar magic. It was strange, he wasn’t using the crystal shards that the imp was, instead relying on a custom weapon made up of a clawed gauntlet.
The mana that made up the gauntlet looked to be even more potent than the imp’s, as he charged forward into the mist and began to slaughter those unlucky enough to be caught inside the fog wall. With every hobgoblin he attacked, came a miserable cry in agony as soon as the crystal gauntlet pierced their skin.
“Why is it the humanoid who is the more powerful of the two?” The Dryad looked on with suspicion as she watched them fight. “If the imp was the source of such magic, those crystal shards would be the one who was affecting the hobgoblins more.”
It was undeniable, that duo was the most powerful of the group. Why such a humanoid was even associated with others who were of considerably lower power was curious, but the trouble was, they were making quick work of her guards.
“He and his imp already killed six in less than a minute, while the other three are only just now finishing off my goblins. Haaa…” She let out a long sigh as she peered at the remaining members of her guards. “They simply aren’t strong enough.”
Various groups of humanoids had managed to find her center aboveground, but they had always been quick to run away. They had never tried to fight her miniature army with force, or enter her lair, and so were able to get away with their lives. But now, the first group she managed to catch had a monster of a humanoid in their group. He had single handedly saved them with that strange magic.
“So annoying. At this rate, they’ll all die… What to do, what to do…” She pondered to herself shortly, before widening her eyes with the light of a sudden idea. Chuckling to herself for a small moment, a small, almost insignificant seed sprouted from her hand. Despite that, it glowed with an imperceptible force.
“Well, let us see just how impressive you truly are.” She pressed the seed to the ground, as the cavern began to shake and echo.
With a sickening laugh, Drake drew his hand out of another Hobgoblin. It unnerved him at first, given the creature’s more human-like appearance. He had never been one to intentionally cause anything to suffer as a human after all, rather, he was always the first one to oppose such things. But now, surrounded by the thrill of combat, Drake could feel the intoxicating sense of combat to wash over him with every moment that passed.
“Hehe.. just the right mixture of danger to practice my movements. Haaa… it reminds me too much of a game really.” Drake chuckled to himself with a deep, slow laugh.
It was all too easy to dissociate the bloody slaughter he was causing with the thrill of combat, especially after he got started. Anyone who fought with another, even for a moment, could begin to feel their blood begin to boil. This was simply an extension of that.
As for how he had managed to kill so many, Yami alone had outright killed two as the demonic crystals absorbed their life energy within moments after it had fully drained them of their mana. The chest was truly a prime spot, given its proximity to all the vital organs in the body.
The other ten had varying degrees of injury, although half of them were only glancing blows. For Drake himself, the faint, ethereal mist he used to search out the demons in the city had heavily permeated the fog Morgan had released by this point. While he had minimal vision, much like the hobgoblins, that faint mist was more than enough to sense them out, and let his enhanced physical senses compensate for the rest.
In the end, blinded and without a way to know where he was attacking them, these hobgoblins were nothing more than a smarter, more physically adept version of a normal goblin. They had no formation, merely using their overwhelming numbers and force to unthinkingly attack any enemies. Take away their vision, and weaken them from afar, and the results showed themselves easily for Drake.
Just four more… Maybe I’ll even take them all out before the others are finished. Drake thought to himself with another crude laugh.
However, just as Drake began to position himself to gut another Hobgoblin, he suddenly felt an intense rush of mana surround him, putting him immediately on guard as he jumped out of the fog that Morgan had created.
“What the hell…” He cursed to himself. “Yami back up!” Drake quickly looked to the sky and ordered her out of harm’s way.
[R-right.] She answered after a short moment, just as in shock of the sudden mana flux as Drake was.
“Drake, what happened in there?!” Luke called out in a panic, as Morgan and Peter continued to stand guard against the strange energy inside the fog.
“No clue. Whatever it is, it has nothing to do with the Hobgoblins. Something else is helping them.” Drake shook his head angrily. Just another minute and he would have cleared out the rest of the hobgoblins. This was undoubtedly making things harder.
As the small group looked on, a sudden blast of energy scattered the fog around the hobgoblins, which left them in awe at the drastic change in them.
Compared to the rags that covered them before, they had been covered in a strange, dark brown suit of armor. What’s more, it was clear to Drake’s eyes that they were letting out a large amount of mana, enough to radiate out in a large wave of energy in all directions.
Goblins, and even their evolutions, the hobgoblins, had no way of letting out such a large source of energy. Even evolved, Hobgoblins were still low on the totem pole, and only the most adept of their species would be capable of using magic. These ‘warriors’ were simply that, mindless brutes. They should have had no methods at all to imitate such an energy source.
[Yami, blast them with another wave of crystals.] He knew that with a new threat, it was always best to take care of them at a distance if possible.
[Will do.] She replied with a mischievous smile, before raising her hand. Waving her hand in another fan-like motion, a cluster of crystals appeared which fired into the remaining four hobgoblins.
As the crystals hit, something which Drake had never seen before occurred. Instead of piercing or even deflecting off the strange armor, it sank deep into it, before the crystals suddenly lost all their color, and faded into a black, empty color before falling to the ground. Not a second afterward, the damage from the crystal that was left in the armor healed, leaving the hobgoblin completely unharmed.
“What?!” Drake cried out. There was actually a method that countered his own abilities?
“It looked to be a form of holy magic, but how is it connected with a suit of armor?” Peter murmured among Luke and Morgan, who looked suspiciously at Drake and Yami, before staring at the Hobgoblins. Peter knew of the normal magic available to humanoids. Almost none had a negative reaction to holy magic, especially among the type used for combat.
“Whatever the case, the hobgoblins don’t seem to be wearing conventional armor at all from the looks of it. It reminds me of wood, but why would a tree even have anything to do with a party of goblins and their evolutions?” Morgan talked among the other two, as they discussed the possible reasons behind it.
“Dammit, we’ll talk later, they’re coming!” The trio prepared themselves for battle as the Hobgoblins screamed out and charged them.
The fact that the hobgoblins had been attacked so viciously, combined with the normal advantages they held being overturned incited the inherent violence in them. However, compared to the blind, haphazard attacks they were replying to Drake with initially, they each took up a guarded charge as they approached. Holding their armored arm outward, they looked to be using their own body as a shield, trusting fully in the magical armor that now covered their body instead of the small wooden shields they relied on before.
“Aghh…” Drake jumped back towards the others, with Yami close behind. They both knew that with Drake’s magic significantly weakened against this strange armor, that the fight would be significantly harder without his true power. His crystal gauntlets could only compensate for so much.
While Yami had certainly improved as well, even to the point where she could even surpass Drake’s own abilities before he became a Lord, but that level of power simply wasn’t enough.
As the first Hobgoblin charged forward, he swiped towards Drake, who swiftly caught the iron blade with his gauntlet, before shattering the blade in his hand. Surprised but undeterred, the Hobgoblin simply scowled before madly launching towards him with its claws and teeth bared.
Shit! Drake swung hard into the stomach of the Hobgoblin, sending it flying back against the others of its group, making them stumble over one another. The blow did minimal damage, the wooden armor absorbing the blow entirely.
“Come on!” Drake cried out in disbelief at the solid build of the armor. With Yami’s piercing attacks doing little, he had hoped to be able to crack it open with brute force. He had after all, felled a tree with his physical strength before, at least in his Draconian form. This armor was on a whole other level, however.
“Peter, any ideas!?” Drake looked to the others for help. “Your group seems to know what this is!”
“A-ah, well, not exactly. At the least, we think that the armor is influenced by some sort of holy source. That explains the healing factor of that strange armor. As for the armor itself…” Peter slowly sank into silence. He had ideas, but it simply made no sense. Playing off a wrong assumption could easily get them into more trouble than him staying silent.
“In any case, stand behind me. Luke, Drake, I’ll draw their attention while you two attack the gaps between their armor. Morgan, slow them down as best you can. Frost spells would be best.”
“Already planned on it. Ray of Frost!” Pointing her staff towards the mass of Hobgoblins, a solid, freezing cone of frost condensed in the air, before hurtling towards the group of Hobgoblins. As it hit, a thin layer froze onto their skins, slowly their movement significantly.
“Good, now let’s go!” Peter charged forward, his heavily armored form making a strong bulwark against the equally armed forms of the hobgoblins. His axe and shield outstretched, he immediately engaged with the hobgoblins, strafing from left to right, all while keeping the ravenous band of hobgoblins working against one another to attack him.
Standing right behind the large beast man, Drake was impressed by his skills. He had clearly established a way of fighting that kept himself safe while keeping his allies well protected behind him. Such a fighting style could only be the result of his own innate bias. That would be the only explanation for how he was so adept at such a fighting style within the span of a month.
“Drake, now!” Luke signaled to Drake, as they both launched towards one of the hobgoblins who had been caught off guard by a sudden attack by Peter’s shield. Approaching from both sides of the stunned creature, Drake ruthlessly attacked the gap at the hobgoblin’s neck, while Luke drove his short sword deep into the creature’s chest through a small gap under its arm.
Drake advanced one more step, eager to finish the job. Taking a page from Yami’s book, he manipulated the tips of his gauntlet deep into the creature’s body, weaving in the shards of crystal and expanding ever deeper into its body using the energy he could harvest. Using this method, he left his companions none the wiser to the horrific death the hobgoblin was experiencing.
With a pained, haggard scream, Drake withdrew his hand as the creature fell forward, dead on the spot.
“One down, three to go.” Drake laughed cruelly. Now that they weren’t outnumbered in physical combat, Drake launched forward, spearing one of the hobgoblins square in the stomach, and embedding his hand deeply in the wooden armor.
Drain! Focusing on the hand that was embedded in the armor, Drake fully released the Sin of Greed within the wooden shell that had surrounded the hobgoblin. To his annoyance however, as soon as he did, he felt a considerable mana source resist him completely, purifying his mana entirely before moving onto Drake’s gauntlet.
“Tch.” Withdrawing his hand, Drake leaped back behind Peter, his eyes lowered in a gaze of hatred. The tips of his gauntlet had faded into that dead, black color from before, the same effect it had on the shards Yami used. With a bit of effort, he was able to refill the dead crystal, but that wasn’t the problem. It wasn’t just Yami’s reduced capabilities, even his own mana was helpless against that strange armor. If he was in his Draconian form, maybe…
No, there’s no point in thinking like that. Drake scowled at the thought, as he parried a sword blow from a stray hobgoblin with his gauntlet. Going all out against weaklings like this, even if they do have some special armor, would be pathetic.
“Magic Missiles!” Hearing a shout from behind him, Drake watched as a series of blue, ethereal balls of energy slipped seamlessly in between himself and the others and slammed ruthlessly in a splash of blue light into the hobgoblin in front of him. The blast of energy staggered it severely, and left it wide open, collapsed on the ground due to the force of the blast.
Perfect. Drake glanced at the stray hobgoblin, his eyes narrowing in a dangerous, predatory fashion.
Seeing the other two hobgoblins were occupied with Peter and Luke, Drake dashed forward at a blinding speed, his finger pointed in a blade-like fashion at the Hobgoblin’s throat. Lunging forward, Drake’s crystal gauntlet slammed into the thin crack that made up the neck joint of the wooden armor, splintering the crack into a larger opening as Drake forced his hand deeper.
There was a slight pause. Time seemed to stop for both Drake and the hobgoblin, before a brief burst of crimson liquid burst forth from the neck joint of the hobgoblin, and Drake knew he was successful.
Now die! Seizing the opportunity, Drake utilized the full force of his mana, again forcing several lines of crystals throughout the hobgoblins body, as it cried out in agony.
Unlike Yami’s own use of such a method of attack, which was really nothing more than an extended form of torture given its use on such a large enemy, Drake’s use was quick and precise. Once a single point of his gauntlet entered the enemy’s body, he quickly utilized this point of weakness, using it to attack the enemy’s vital organs and kill them as quickly as possible.
Drake was only capable of such a brutal attack due to two different conditions. His sheer proximity to his opponent, and his considerable advantage over the hobgoblins compared to himself. Unlike the disabled and half dead wyvern Yami tortured, against an enemy who was still fully capable of fighting back, Drake would be hard pressed to imitate such a method at range. Attempting such a technique against the wyvern at full strength for example, would be nothing short of suicide.
As the crystals spread throughout the Hobgoblin’s body, Drake watched with sick pleasure as the creature’s scream slowly petered out, and blood sprouted from its mouth as it slumped in place. Satisfied, Drake yanked his hand free as it fell to the ground, dead.
Both Peter and Luke looked to each other with a triumphant grin as they watched Drake finish off another Hobgoblin. Although they weren’t sure how it died, just the fact that there were only two enemies left filled them deeply with confidence.
Behind them, Morgan was equally impressed, but she wasn’t one to be showed up so easily. Raising the hand holding her crystal again, a mass of mana coalesced around her before focusing into three balls of magical energy.
“Magic missiles!” Yelling out the spell, the three balls of energy raced forward as they inexplicably passed around Peter and Luke before slamming into the hobgoblin’s right in front of them. Not one to pass up such a chance, Luke rammed his buckler against the helm of one of the hobgoblin’s, while Peter used his superior stature to force the other to the ground.
Taking advantage of his enemy, Luke quickly rammed his short sword through the visor of the creature. Withdrawing the sword in a quick motion, he left a line of blood in the air as he quickly turned to the remaining hobgoblin who was quickly finished off in a similar fashion, given how Peter had grappled it completely, and held it in place.
“Whew… finally done.” Luke collapsed on the ground, with a short, content laugh escaping him shortly after as he relaxed from the stressful fight.
“You’re telling me, haa…” Peter joined in with a satisfied sigh, just as happy that the fight ended. Although their initial fight against the goblins went without a hitch, fighting against a strange, upgraded form of hobgoblin, one with armor that their weapons couldn’t even hope to pierce proved to be more than troublesome.
Still, given their situation, they were more than happy at how everything had turned out. Morgan’s sleep spell had allowed them to get out with minimal injuries, and Drake alone had proven to be much more experienced than any of them expected. According to Cassandra, he was just a lone wanderer that recently entered the city. Thinking on it now, who knows what sort of battles he had gone through before finding the small settlement that had been formed. The sheer fact that he had an imp, and was so intent on hiding it proved that point.
“Something bugs me about that fight.” Peter mulled to himself over Drake’s attitude, as he muttered quietly to himself. “It’s true, both myself and Luke would be able to deal with several normal hobgoblins, they’re unorganized and generally leave themselves open to counterattacks. But after we finished off the goblins, Morgan intentionally warned us away from the Fog Wall she summoned. Drake had essentially told her to stay out of his way, given how he never left the fog so she could assist him. And… during his fight, all I could hear was Drake’s laughter and the hob’s screaming, along with the imp occasionally firing into the fog alongside him.”
To face a dozen hobgoblins, all by yourself and take out over half in under a minute. Such a feat required skills or power that they themselves only hoped to achieve at the moment. Drake didn’t act cautiously either, it was like taking on that many was nothing more than a challenge, rather than a fight of life and death. That mindset was what truly bothered Peter. What sort of power did he have to think of it as nothing more than a game to be conquered?
That kind of thinking makes him dangerous. Peter’s eyes narrowed slightly as he looked at Drake and Yami. Despite that, however…
“Drake. You made short work of most of the hobgoblins with your imp there. Good job.” Peter congratulated him.
Drake was still standing as a crazed grin slowly left his face, with Yami floating by his side. After a moment, the compliment registered with him, and he quickly returned to his typical self as he scratched his head awkwardly.
“No, it’s really thanks to you two. Taking on those hobgoblins when they were armored like that was a mess. I have no real armor, so I just took advantage of the openings you two made, along with the support from Morgan.” Drake wasn’t stingy with his compliments. Without their help, he really would have been forced to reveal himself.
“Still, that was some fantastic fighting man. I didn’t think you had it in you. We’ve had a few new guys with us before, and they always try to stay back with Morgan.” Luke chimed in with a goofy smile on his face. His feelings on the matter was clear. He was just happy to have another person to fight alongside him. With support on both sides of Peter, he was able to act much more offensively. He likely wouldn’t have been able to take the chance to attack otherwise.
“Well, this was my first time fighting such a large group, but for single opponents, I’ve had worse.” Drake admitted with a smile. Besides the spare goblin he encountered, practically all the creatures he fought were more powerful.
“I knew it. Well, glad to have you on board.” Luke added.
“Hey, uhhh… guys?” A faint voice cut into the conversation, as they all turned around to look at Morgan.
“Look.” Morgan slowly pointed over to their supplies for the trip, which had been among the scuffle with the Hobgoblins and Goblins. A tell-tale freezing mist had completely frozen over their supplies they had unpacked from the ground dragons. In her haste, she had completely looked over them, resulting them in being hit along with the Hobgoblins.
“Sorry…” She scratched her head hesitantly, a guilty look clear on her face.
“Augh…” A chorus of cries and moans came from the others, who reluctantly looked to one another and sighed before walking over to clean off their supplies so they could set up for the night.