As we move through the narrow and boiling hot tunnels we start to see evidence of the demons’ passage in the form of littered Biomass and visible signs of damage on the walls. Claw marks, deep gouges in the stone and even scorches along the floor, not an easy feat in this lava filled place. Whoever we’re tracking must be packing some heat, in the literal sense.[Tiny! Try to keep it down!]
“Harrr?!”[Shhh you damn ape! We’re trying to be sneaky right now!]
Despite having the stealth abilities of a mack truck that’s been loaded on a train, Tiny does seem to understand my point and stops randomly punching the walls whenever he gets bored. Having inspected his core, I know he followed the directions I gave him pre-evolution and ensured that he remained at the level of Cunning that I insisted he not fall below, but I swear to Gandalf he acts even dumber than that when he can get away with it.
It’s as if he would rather be stupid so he just shuts of enough brain to achieve the desired level of dumb. Next evolution I’m going to insist he set his Cunning to fifty! He can discuss philosophy instead of punching walls all the time! Hah!
“Down this branch. I don’t think we’re that far behind them,” Brilliant tells us.
“Great work. Keep your head down for the next bit, I don’t want you getting caught up in the fighting.”[Brilliant says we aren’t far behind them now, so we should be ready to fight at any moment. Anyone in particular want to go in first?]
Tiny’s hand shoots up.[Anyone else?]
Despite wearing armour, I still don’t want Tiny to throw himself in the line of fire. He’s not a tank and he never will be. The only real candidates for going in first are me or…[I don’t mind,] Sarah says. [I-I guess there’s no better way to get used to fighting demons than to throw myself into it, right?] [Well said, Sarah! Not to worry, we’ll all be here to back you up. You aren’t going in alone.] [Thanks.] [Tiny and I will make up the second wave, with Invidia and Crinis running support. Al, you hang back and keep an eye on the hatchling, we’ll reserve you for our trump card in case the fight goes bad.] [I will watch the little one.]
I have a thought.[When I say watch the hatchling, I also want you to make sure she doesn’t get hurt. It’s more than just looking at her.] [I see.]
After some more creeping, we finally get a bead on the targets. The first sense to trip is actually my antennae. The monsters don’t necessarily emit that much gravity, but even those tiny fields are enough to set my senses a tingling.[I can feel them. Two hundred metres, maybe less. Keep an eye out Crinis.] [I will!]
A few minutes later.[I see them! Seven demons! Some of them are quite strong…] [Alright, we should be able to handle that many. Invidia and Al, help me suppress our mana signatures. We should be able to sneak up on them, at least a little closer.]
Dampening mana and preventing it from being seen at a distance is a highly technical and difficult process. My own Skill sin this department aren’t great, and Invidia’s are only a little better despite his greater brain power. Al on the other hand, is a freaking expert. The guy spends most of his life floating about completely undetectable to everyone around him. If I hadn’t repeatedly stressed how unnerving and creepy it is having him pop out of thin air all the time, he’d probably be invisible right now.
With the three of us working together, we manage to dim the glow of our combined cores to a significant degree, allowing us to sneak even closer to the group of Orpule demons. After we poke our noses around a tight bend, we manage to lay eyes on them for the first time.[Al!] I mentally hiss. [Take a peak and tell what sort of demons you see. I want to know if there are any exceptionally dangerous types.]
The floating eyeball flickers and vanishes before (I assume) he wanders to the edge of the tunnel and has a look around the corner.[There is a pride demon who I assume is the leader of this group…] [Why always pride demons?]
They seem utterly incompetent to me. Overconfidence and arrogance are quite literally their defining features![They are one of the few types of demon who cares about leadership. Most others cannot be bothered with it.] [That… makes a lot of sense.] [There are two slaughter demons in the group, along with a blood demon. There is also an envy demon and a grudge demon.] [A grudge demon? I don’t think I’ve seen one of those before.] [They are not very common, but they are immensely difficult to kill. I do not believe we will be able to manage it.] [Are you kidding?! Aren’t you tier seven?!] [In this instance I must draw the line between defeating a demon and killing it. The grudge demon will not be hard to defeat, but we will not kill it. It will escape, and grow stronger as we feed its nature.] [You mean, it’ll have a grudge against us?] [Yes.] [Well that’s just great. And wait, did you say an envy demon?]
I turn to Invidia.[Looks like we found one your people! How do you feel about that?] [I will takesssss everything from them!] [Yeah… Yeah I suppose that’s about right.]
It’s wrong to think that demons of the same variety feel any kind of kinship with each other. They aren’t ‘clans’ or ‘siblings’ in any way. To be honest, having multiple entities who are chasing the same obsession is probably a inconvenience to a demon. If you’ve got two slaughter demons working together, that’s literally halving the amount of slaughter that they get to enjoy!
Maybe enjoy is not the right word…[There’s one more, right? What else we got.] [The last is an excess demon.] [Isn’t that what Grokus evolved from?] [Correct.]