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though showered with corrosive acid rain. The water on the stream turns into a swamp of bubbling poison. The air is not fresh anymore, but somewhat choking and damp. Skeletons and dissolving remains of fallen hunters and trespassing beasts are scattered here and there along the way. Iris becomes alert and shouts,
‘Who touched the things here? Not you, eh, Chris?’
Chris shouts back in protest, ‘No! I ain’t touching anything!’
‘I warn you! Don’t lie! Speak up, anyone!’
‘None of us did! I even put extra effort by looking at you all the time so I don’t have to look for anything else around!’
Iris blushes a bit at Chris’ remark, but before she loses her concentration she finds the answer of all these changes. The nymphs turn into banshees (wild forms of nymphs, nature’s variants from the dark banshees), several plants turn into carnivorous mutant plants, and the once tame animals are mutated into grotesque, horrifying monsters, all attack at once on a large group of hunters. Apparently it was one of them who violated Enia’s warning on the plaque – trying to flirt with one of the nymphs. And the whole contingent including Robert’s party is considered impure and incompetent to enter the sanctum and must pay for this with their lives. And now they have no choice but to fight their way to get into the entrance of Enia’s Sanctum. One by one, hunters meet their demise by the banshees and the mutants.
Robert’s party is among the more skilled hunters that are lucky enough to slay some of the mutants and few of the quick-moving, flying banshees. Carolyn even casts Fireblast once to clear the way ahead, scorching a few mutants in the line of fire.
‘Eshmyr!’ Iris casts Wind Slash, shredding a banshee into pieces in mid-air, but after the banshee wounds her with its claws in split seconds when Iris is gathering wind aura in the casting process. Christopher rushes to aid Iris, but is confronted by two mutants. As Chris is about to strike them with his Three-Point Chain Slash, a flying mutant swoops down and bites his outstretched hand. Then the other two mutants spring forward to bite Chris’ neck and stomach. The first mutant misses Chris’ neck as Chris avoids it, but the second sinks its teeth into Chris’ armor-protected belly. Its teeth break, the rabbit-like mutant roars painfully and Chris quickly decides to end its pain by slashing through the mutant with his trusty sword Wyrthal. Grunting, Chris tries to detach one mutant dangling on his right arm by its teeth but alas, he is intoxicated by the poison from the mutant’s teeth. His right arm is blackened, Chris is weakened and numb. A second before he passes out, he can still feel a jerk of pain as something hits his arm and the mutant dangling on it, parting it from Chris’ arm. Lucky lad! It’s Andreas! The dwarf healer quickly draws out his bottle of mandrake extract and dabs three drops of it on Chris’ wound. The blackening diminishes slowly as mandrake extract works as an antidote for most poisons, it lifts enchantments and brings a transformed being into its normal form.
Chris whispers feebly, ‘Thank you, father.’
Andreas in response lifts Chris up and supports him, saying, ‘Don’t talk now, laddie. Hold on until the blackening vanishes so I can heal the wound. We must keep walking.’
And Andreas is right. The mutants come in dozens, as though the waves of their coming never end. Robert, handling the situation with his comrades, goes back and guards the rear; taking down a couple of large antelope mutants with two-times Crescent Fire Slash. Chris gets the urge to utter a commentary, ‘Fried mutant antelopes, anyone?’ but he changes his mind and keeps on walking, staggering with Andreas’ support.
The other hunters and wizards also fight desperately for their lives. A few of them aren’t as lucky as the others. One has his head severed by a banshee with her elongated nails like scythes. A wizard gets his leg bitten by a squirrel mutant, and he burns the mutant on the spot with Agnios spell, setting his own leg on fire along with it, trying to prevent the poison from getting into his body.
‘AAAAGH! My leeeg!’
Without noticing a healer present among them, the wizard runs away, limping panickly and jumps into the swamp to extinguish the fire. But alas! The swamp is very poisonous.
Where Loyalties Lie by Rob J. Hayes (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo) - *Official Author Website* *Order Where Loyalties Lie over HERE (USA) and HERE (UK)* *Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Heresy Within* *Read Fantasy ...
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