Scorpion Machina (Mechanical Scorpion)
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‘Oh, that is a maintenance probe,’ says Paliades. ‘They are flying golems assigned to repair and maintain the elementals and other things that are damaged or shut down through the maintenance shafts.’
Iris is surprised to hear that. ‘What? Those things can repair the ice elemental generator, giant rock golem and the wind elementals! Now our way back is really sealed! Perhaps if I destroy it…’
‘No!’ says Paliades. ‘Don’t destroy them! If you do, security probes will come swarming on you and shoot you with their razor beams and you’ll get lots of additional holes all over your body!’
‘Just imagine that,’ says Kyflynn humorously, pointing at his nose with two fingers then he points at every part of his body with the same two fingers. Nobody laugh at that. All seem to be extremely wary of everything around them.
Paliades adds, ‘And be careful of the guardians of this place: the fire elementals. They’ll wait and ambush you in all unexpected places. This area is the hardest test of all: the test of bodily and mental strength, and finally the heart, too.’
Andreas says, ‘Aye! So what are we waiting for? Let’s get going!’
Paliades continues, ‘There are three paths here. We will split into three groups. Robert, you and your team take the lower path. Sheena and Kyflynn’s team take the upper path. Lord Adler, Prince Alexis, Don Hernan, Orlevant and the elves, and Eidos follow me to the middle path.’
Robert says plainly, ‘Dar’gum will come with us.’
Paliades answers hesitantly, ‘Ah… yes. Have it your way, then.’
Ney’varìth speaks up, ‘I’ll also go with Robert’s team.’
Robert’s friends and Dar’gum himself are surprised. Robert the Orcbane actually invited a group of orc grunts to join him after he fought fiercely with the orc champion just now! Even Iris pinches Robert and asks,
‘Er… Rob, is it all right if…’
Rather than explaining his actions, Robert begins walking to the lower paths.
‘Hey, wait up!’ says Iris. ‘Man, he is touchy, isn’t he?’
‘Haha, aye, that’s our Robert,’ says Andreas. ‘Always full of surprises, he is. Anywhere, anytime!’
‘The more you know him, the more you’ll be surprised by him! All we can do is to trust him. He knows what he does,’ says Carolyn with a giggle, following Robert along with Iris and Andreas.
Dar’gum and his comrades decide to follow Robert quietly, despite of their grudge against Orcbane. Dargum thinks, he’s an orc-hater and goes berserk every time he sees an orc. He killed my brother A’bong, fought with me and I spared his life. But just now he acted civil by recognizing us when Paliades didn’t. Hm, this doesn’t settle your debt, Robert, oh, no. I’ll finish things with you sooner or later. Nak Par’dush*)!’
(* Nak Par’dush : ‘Mark my words’ in ancient Orcish.
Dar’gum and Robert’s group follow the stairs downwards. Robert and his party lead in front, and Dar’gum and his fellow orcs guard the rear.
Suddenly a jet of vapor bursts from one of the valves, and hits a swordsman in the middle of the formation. The poor man falls to the front, lies sprawling on the floor, screaming in agony. His face turns blue in an instant, and blisters come out on his entire body. The hot vapor is indeed poisonous, the by-product of fire-water-air mixture and combustion in the engines.
Andreas takes out an herb from his bag and presses it on the poisoned hunter’s hand. ‘Quick! Eat this! This mandrake leaf will cure any common poison and magical side-effects – in case you don’t know it.’ The hunter immediately eats it, he can’t say that he already knew what Mandrake leaves are for or even think whether Andreas is trustworthy or not. But he’s really lucky this time because the antidote begins to take effect, turning his face from blushing blue to normal, neutralizing the poison within his body. All he must do now is to take out his healing salve to cure his blisters. ‘Th-thank you,’ he says.
‘And there’s plenty where it comes from,’ says Andreas with his usual, unique chubby smile behind his bushy beard and moustache. Robert doesn’t want this delay to last any longer and shouts, ‘C’mon, all, let’s get moving! Keep the formation! Watch out for nozzles and valves around this area!’
As soon as it is said, Robert sees a series of nozzles on the left and right walls that spit fire across the path.
‘Halt!’ says Robert. ‘Let’s check the timing of the fire flow first! They must be following a pattern or something!’
‘Let me at it!’ says Iris. But instead of observing it, Iris shows off her superior agility – again – by doing somersaults and a series of acrobatic moves to avoid the spitfire and goes across the nozzles with ease. And then she shouts as she arrives in a safe place.
‘Well, how ‘bout that?!’ says Iris.
Robert answers in irritation, ‘That’s a nice one, Iris. But unfortunately, not every one of us shares your agility!’
Iris shuts her mouth and with a stupid, childish look on her face, saying, ‘Oops, sorry, chief! Guess I overdid it. But I did manage to calculate the timing. There are five seconds burst and five seconds idle between each burst on every nozzle. And the burst order is: number 1, 3, 5 upper left nozzles, number 2, 4, 6 lower right nozzles, number 1, 3, 5 upper right nozzles, and number 2, 4, 6 lower left nozzles.’
Robert answers still with a serious face, ‘Well, that’s great. We’ll count on you for now on… WATCH OUT!’
Iris is snapped on hearing Robert’s warning. She quickly turns around and attacks her foe with her elven dagger. It’s a fire elemental attacking her from behind! Iris moves to the back of the fiery monstrosity, slashing her dagger trying to split it apart, in vain.
The fire elemental breathes fire on Iris, which she neutralizes with a timely Wind Slash spell. But the elemental is already coming too close to her, it’s almost impossible for Iris to avoid the next attack. The fire elemental is going to give Iris a fiery Bear Hug, trying to roast Iris alive. Iris tries to back away but the monster’s hand is already grabbing her hand.
Iris screams in pain. But something suddenly happens. The fire elemental is sprayed with water and lets out an eerie scream before it extinguishes. The remaining water burst also hits Iris, but Iris gets nothing but wet all over – you know how it affects Iris’ looks: all messed up.
Iris then looks straight forward to find out who her helper (and who messed her looks) is. ‘I knew it!’ she says. It’s Ney’varìth! Nearly as agile as Iris is, she is the second person who passed the fire-spitting nozzle series and extinguished the fire elemental with her Petravia (Water Spray) spell.
Without speaking, Iris touches her hair. A magical green glow appears on her hand, and every part of her hair, her face and her body she touches becomes neat and dry again, just before she was soaked with water.
That’s a great thing of becoming an elf. Always uses magic in all aspects their life, although sometimes the magic is used for wrong things or with bad intentions, and being all-magical creatures sometimes makes a lot of them arrogant, feel superior than any other beings, or just a show-off like our dear Lavennia Iris here.
‘Hey, thanks a lot, Ney,’ says Iris.
‘No problemo,’ says Ney. ‘Anytime you need a shower, just call the water girl here.’
‘Of course… but certainly not here.’
Robert is the third one who gets through the nozzles, and with Iris’ precise calculation, almost all hunters get through the traps successfully. Andreas who, being a dwarf, is not actually quick-footed, gets burnt several times. But the dwarf priest’s protective aura on his body is still active, so he only comes with minor burns and scratches, and it’s nothing that his healing salve cannot heal.
And two hunters are burnt to crisp as a result of miscalculation and forgetfulness. One of them is the hunter who was cured from poison by Andreas earlier. We never know whether Andreas regrets helping that man or anything – he is busy with his own wounds, and something reminds him to do an important thing. He renews the Mass Protection spell to make sure every one in the group is divinely protected against physical and mortal harm.
Two more fire elementals pop in by surprise, ambushing a sorceress, but she and the hunters defeat them with ease, with Ney and Iris’ help, and without anybody getting hurt at all. Then, once again they face another series of nozzles, this time all of them spit pillars of fire from the ceiling. Again, Iris goes in first to determine the timing and order, and shouts her report at the end of the row.
‘Twelve nozzles, two on each row! Five seconds burst, five seconds idle! The order is: row 2 and 4, then row 1, 3, 5, and 6.’
It means you have to be extra quicker to get through row five and six. But this time there are no casualties, because all is protected by the divine protection aura.
And then, after a bit of walking, avoiding steam-blowing nozzles and a few more encounters with fire elementals, they arrive at the water reservoir on the lowest tier. It’s a very wide, deep and big pool of hot, boiling water which is about to be transferred to the ice chambers and back to the engine room as cool water into the cool water reservoir on the highest tier.
‘You see there,’ says Robert. ‘We must get across this pool through these moving platforms and the paths here. I’m telling you, this must be a tricky business so be careful, all of you. It’s not as easy as you think. There may be more surprises in store for us.’
A swordsman comments, ‘This is a big, boiling hot trap!’
Carolyn sees the fear in every hunter’s eyes and speaks calmly, ‘Don’t worry, my friends. As long as we keep protecting and helping each other, and set aside our fears, we can overcome everything! Remember stone chambers!’
Carol’s effort to rally her comrades is indeed fruitful. There’s more determination in everybody’s eyes. If they can do it in the stone chambers, they can do it here. Nothing can stop them now.
Now the hunters led by Robert begin to walk on the platforms, and disperse on their ways of choice. But suddenly a hunter accidentally bumps into a maintenance probe passing by in mid-air as he jumps from a moving platform to a path. The hunter lands safely, but the probe is knocked and falls into the hot water, damaging it completely.
And soon enough, about sixty dragonfly-like and scorpion-like security probes come swarming towards the hunters. They must’ve sensed something or someone messed up with a maintenance probe, and the missing probe must’ve sent a silent alarm signal before it drowned. It’s now thirty hunters against sixty probes and the odds have never been worse.
The mechanical dragonflies immediately shoot razor beams from their round, faceted eyes. Although they are considerably larger in size than real dragonflies – about thirty centimeters long each – the mechanical ones are twice as tough and thrice as fast. The mechanical scorpions on the other hand are slower than the robotic dragonflies, but they are surely bigger, tougher and more lethal. So they’re real tough foes, hard to hit and harder to destroy. The hunters in Robert’s group don’t need to be told about this. They draw out their best efforts to survive. They try very hard to avoid or deflect the razor beams from the dragonflies or being stung by the long, large, lance-like needles on the tails of the robotic scorpions. Many try to hit the probes with whatever skills they can pull out, even throwing things at the probes as the very, very desperate attempt.
Iris yells angrily when her precious wind-enchanted arrow misses a dragonfly probe by less a centimeter away. Ney on the other hand casts Water Blast – Aquepetra and sends three probes crashing into the pool.
Carolyn destroys two mechanical scorpions with Fireballs, but she doesn’t have time to be happy about it because a dragonfly shoots her from behind. Carol’s Galatea’s Force Field reduces the damage of the shot into only a minor wound, and the lucky sorceress moves aside quickly to avoid the dragonfy’s sting, and arrives at the edge of a path. Carol loses her balance and is about to fall into the pool of boiling water.
She falls, but lands on a hard surface. It’s a moving platform! It seems Carolyn’s lucky charm works again. But will she always be this lucky? Nobody knows.
Meanwhile, Robert tries to hit the probes with his kiliji and a couple of Air Slashes, but only manages to destroy one probe so far, while he keeps moving to find the way across and stands guard against the robotic scorpions. Dar’gum who wears no armor, relies all his attack and defense on his Il Khatl J’nadh axe. And he can’t help feeling thankful that without the shielding force, he would be utterly destroyed by the rain of razor beams and the scorpions’ stings and tweezers like giant scissors.
Author's Code Note: May08 Rev3 Pg297end next 298start