Chapter Fifty-nine: The Best Kind of Victory
Gauwyn bit his lip, ignoring the insult. He did not need goading to attack. In fact, he was already planning his assault.
There were an untold number of hobgoblins in the fort, but Gauwyn was confident he could eliminate them and their commander without issue if he went at it right. Every hobgoblin he had seen thus far was either a rank two or three. In most practical scenarios, they could be written off. It was not like they could all attack him at the same time. The problem would be in breaching their defences, avoiding whatever countermeasures they had in store and, of course, defeating their commander. For now, Gauwyn pegged the leading hobgoblin to be a rank five, enough to be a challenge but not pose too much of a threat.
It was only the sound of Verrin’s scared voice that brought him back to reality and reminded him that he was not alone.
“Are they going to attack us?” she asked in a quivering tone. Having just come from a close brush with The Grim, she was in no mood or mind for a second.
“Don’t be stupid!” an annoyed Geoffrey spat. “They’ve got a fort! Why on earth would they leave it?”
This prompted the warden to take a look at the team he had at his disposal. It was a reminder that the mission was theirs, not his. Unfortunately, besides the assassin and the sorcerer, none of them looked ready for the sort of assault he had in mind. The mage was clearly shaken from her near death experience. Gauwyn knew that though her physical wounds were healed, it was too soon to send her back into the thick of battle. What she needed was time.
The same was not true for Ogbad. The cleric did not look steady on his feet. His responses were slow, and if his actions after the ambush were anything to go by, he was in no shape to even continue with the dungeon dive. As for Geoffrey, the warmonger seemed alright on the surface, but where the warden had expected the reckless youth to be screaming for and preparing for battle, he stood to the side, a bizarre pensiveness about him.
It did not take much for Gauwyn to realise that he could not rely on The Bloodsoaked Foxes to help with what was to come. Given their performance thus far, he doubted they would have made the cut even if they had somehow come out unscathed from the ambush.
He would have to go it alone.
The thought made him pause. He glanced at Geoffrey once more. Then, his eyes went back to the fort and to its commander. The hob had quit with the obscene gestures. Instead, he conferred with a couple of what the warden assumed to be officers in his troop.
In his heart, Gauwyn burned with the desire to attack, to assail the enemy base with his powers and see what it held. It was the warrior’s call and duty. Unfortunately, it was not his. Not this time. Besides, doing so would spit in the face of the very things he had tried to teach the young adventurers next to him. Attacking a fortified position with no preparation, no intel about what it held and no knowledge of the capabilities of its defenders was the epitome of recklessness. Not to mention, he had even considered going without any help or back up. That meant he would be relying on nothing but his own power and whatever he had in his bag of holding.
The warden glanced once more at Geoffrey. He realised that he was basically about to do the same thing he had berated the warmonger for. Additionally, he had been about to leave The Bloodsoaked Foxes on their own. While it was unlikely to happen, they would still be open to a counter-attack from the hobgoblins and any other monsters in the dungeon while he was gone.
Reluctantly, he turned once more to the hobgoblin fort, burning it into his memory. Then, he turned away, putting the temptation behind him.
The sprites cheered when they saw the adventurers give up on the fifth floor. Their shrill voices were filled with the joy of triumph. All about the faeriethorn, tearful sprites hugged when their fears were laid to rest. The standby force of warriors put together by Proudsprout breathed sighs of relief. They were honestly relieved. Despite their faith in Brandr’s words and protection, seeing the adventurers make it within a floor of their base was more alarming than they would have liked.
As for the dungeon core, he stared at the panel noncommittally. His other senses following the adventurers as they returned to the fifth-floor entrance and then used their medallions to transfer themselves to the first floor. If he were honest, the only emotion Brandr would admit to feeling as he watched the adventurers leave would be; disappointment. He had been looking forward to seeing how they would fare against his asuras.
While he understood why the Elder had led them away, he was annoyed nonetheless. If they had come here for experience as he had first assumed the axe man should have called it off at the third floor when it was made clear that the challenge was greater than his wards could safely handle, but they kept going. The incomprehensible fourth floor should have sent alarm bells ringing in any responsible ‘teacher’s head. Under normal circumstances, any scenario that spun out of control or deviated from predictions called for retreat and reassessment, but this group continued.
When they pushed on even after one of the younger students died, the former daolord was confident that this was a life or death trial at the very least. That was what made seeing the Elder chicken out that the last moment so disappointing. He had hoped to use the opportunity to learn more about the upper tiers in this world, but now, the chance was gone.
Closing his eyes, Brandr consoled himself by consolidating the essence he had absorbed from the adventuring party. That last great burst he received when the archer died was especially plentiful. It was to be expected. The most significant benefits came from killing and devouring his prey instead of directly siphoning their essence. The rank of his victim also mattered. Just this one death gave him more mana and life essence than he got from all the ones who had died before. Her gear factored into this, making him wish her companions had not taken off the best pieces. But he did not complain, as it was, he was lucky they did not take the body with them. He had the Elder to thank for that. Was it a custom? A hunter’s observance? Maybe, carrying the bodies of the slain away was a taboo of some sort? Whatever the case, he was grateful.
New item added to codex!
|Name: Adler’s Elixir of Superior Restoration | Rank: Three | Grade: Superb|
|Description: One of the signature creations of Master Alchemist Lawrence Adler, this elixir is a regenerative draught that is one part healing and one part invigorating. Major wounds, severe fatigue, minor aches and hair loss; this elixir cures them all. It works best when drunk, but it can also be poured over wounds to help or hasten healing.|
| Warnings: |
• Neither the healing provided nor does the stamina it replenishes come instantaneously. Users are reminded to give the elixir time (Ten seconds at the very least, more if your resistance is D grade or higher or if you are suffering from an inhibitory curse or hex.) to work and not to take this medicine with the expectation that it would be a last-ditch lifesaver.
• Taking too many doses of this elixir within a short period may or may not overdraft your vitality and endurance parameters. Users may also experience skin blemishes and strange growths within or on the body. Please limit your intake to one every three hours if your VIT is C grade or below. Contact your local physician, apothecary or alchemist if symptoms last longer than a fortnight.
• The alchemist wishes to remind his patrons that this elixir is no way intended to be used to enhance sexual potency. While it might restore stamina and restore muscle to peak efficiency, it has absolutely no effect towards making you last longer or magnifying sexual pleasure.
Brandr took another look at his most exceptional spoils. It was the elixir that saved the other lady’s life. He had reconstituted from the drops that spilt onto his floor. Already, he could think of several ways to use it.
He was very grateful to these adventurers.