Chapter 115 - Hordes
Ferah throws her hands up in frustration “Why are you asking me all this stuff? I’m like not even ten winters old. I don't know how to run a school! I used to gather herbs in the forest, not apprentice under the town’s major.”
Ket looks at the pouting girl as he suppresses a smile. Carelessly throwing a small pebble, he shifts his seated position to something more comfortable. “That’s great. Now how would you motivate people to learn certain subjects?”
“Stop asking me these questions!” An angry expression on her face, Ferah rolls on her back, staring at the endless void surrounding the moon. “Give people rewards? My granma used to give me food when I washed clothes.”
Ket sees the girl suppressing tears, and stretches out his hand. Halfway to her furry little head, his hand stops. “Food? No way. I’d eat it myself if I had Teach’s food.”
“How about news? The tea circle my gran used to run always traded rumours.”
“That is a great idea! Let’s see. There are some rumours about slave raids that I gathered. Here, would you people like this as a reward?”
Ferah grabs a small green stone from the pocket of her white dress. Putting it on her forehead, she gasps. “Fortown is gone? Fortown never gets attacked.”
“Why does Fortown never get attacked?”
“Fortown has super high walls. Me and granma went with the caravan once to trade for new metal tools. Those walls are really, super high. And on one side it's mountains. And the other side is a river.”
“Database, who rules in Luzden?”
A flat, staccato voice whispers near the discussing duo. “Baron Kardel.”
“Wha? The same Kardel as in, Peak City Kardel?” Ket tilts his head as he looks down at the white rock, his gaze focused beyond the floor.
“Unknown. Reward for that information is now one hundred points.”
Ferah stands up and pats the white dust from her dress. “Database, what’s the chance of this rumour being false?”
“Calculating… Seventy-five per cent chance that the rumour is exaggerated. Ten per cent chance that Fortown is razed.”
“What’s the reward for scouting that area?”
“Three hundred points for a basic information report.”
“Great! Assign that mission to me, please!”
Ferah freezes mid-stride. “Why not?!”
“Minimum level of power needed for mission assignments outside Tree is core forming. You're qi gathering.”
Waving her arms around, Ferah starts jumping up and down. “LET ME OUT, stupid Database! Stupid bearded guy! I just want to know if my grandma is still alive.” Dark spots appear at Ferah’s feet as she clenches her fists. “Do… do you know if Goodsummer is… if anyone from Goodsummer still lives?”
“Goodsummer is unknown, clarify.”
“It.. it’s a farming town down the river from Fortown.”
“Ten points awarded for that information. No additional information found.”
Tears silently continue to drip from Ferah’s eyes as she stands there, on a white moon in a dimension separate from all that she has known in her entire life. Over the white horizon, a large tract of land containing two mountains and a massive Tree spins across the sky.
Ket watches as the girl crumples into a heap and starts sobbing.
A black-feathered tiger stalks through the forest. It jumps into a shadow, only to appear tens of meters ahead. A streak of blackness dives down from the trees, crashing into the stalking feline. The figure of a girl is seen as she holds on to the softly yowling beast.
“Gotcha, ya big lump!” Rubbing its fur and feather affectionately, the duo of shadow intent users make their way through the forest. “Now you’ve got to be my mount for twenty years. You shouldn’t have taken that bet.”
More soft yowls sound out in protest.
“Nor should you have accepted the five before that, yeah. I hope you have learned a lesson?”
In response to the teasing tone, the tiger tries to shake Tess by making sudden turns and jumping around. Hair flying everywhere, she only smiles broader while clinging to the large beast. Not a minute of this high-speed rodeo action later, the trees suddenly give way to a clearing.
“Hoo there, we are here.” The tiger disappears in a dark flash the moment Tess jumps off its back. Tess lands and surveys the clearing. She ignores the shrill screech not too far away that sounds a lot like a small critter being eaten. She shudders a bit as the wailing sounds are suddenly replaced by crunching noises.
“Maybe I should stop making her angry.” She then shrugs and climbs a tree. The same horde of animals she got her kitty cat from spreads out in front of her, having grown even bigger in the meantime.
Tess pulls a rectangular object from her ring, aims it and presses a button. Putting the object to her forehead, she checks the recorded image. Walking up to one of the silent animals, she puts a hand on the rough-skinned donkey.
“Earth was… empathy and apathy.” Her face grows concerned and empty in short order. “Perfect balance of dim and bright mana.”
She walks up to another animal and finds the same balance. “Not a single sign of mana imbalance or mana mutation. Maybe the beast hordes won’t be so bad this year?” Summoning her mount with a short whistle, she jumps on. They immediately start running towards the east.
Sometime later, Tess takes a break. Now on the wide open grasslands around Tower City, the surrounding mountains have started growing bigger. Patting the slightly winded animal, Tess starts munching on some snacks. She nearly stumbles as her tiger vanishes, only for it to re-appear with a small, chitin covered deer in its maw seconds later.
Tess looks at the cake in her hand. She then looks at the bleeding corpse dropped at her feet. Sighing, she tosses the snack to the cat, who eats it in a single bite. Tess forms a black dagger and kneels by the small animal. She pokes it a bit, turns slightly green as organs start popping out of the cut in its abdomen, and walks away.
Her tiger pounces it and eats it in two gulps. “Stop trading dead animals for proper food, okay? I won’t give you my food in the future. You don’t need to eat that much anyway. You’re a qi condenser now...”
Tess stops talking as she looks at the ridiculously cute display in front of her eyes. The fierce mount is now rolling in the grass, looking at Tess with big eyes. It coyly bats at the air with its paws. “Mrrauuw?”
“...Never mind. Let’s just get going.”
The sun is low on the horizon by the time the duo reaches the forests to the east of Tower City. The dense green blanket covers the foothills that separate the Shi-eit kingdom from the rest of the world. The thin ivory spear is visible behind Tess as she guides her mount to jump on top of the trees. The cat makes some protesting noises but follows her directions after only minimal kicking. Tess holds on as the cat uses shadows to propel itself further up into the canopy.
Then Tess freezes. Her tiger makes an inquiring noise, only to be slapped into silence. She jumps off and lands on the ground, immediately putting her head on the moss covered ground. Closing her eyes, she just listens.
“Come, follow me, and be quiet.”
Tess had been taking it easy before. They had been leisurely making their way to the east, not in any hurry. Now, however, her tiger mount needs to put in the effort to keep up with her, even without a rider slowing it down.
Tess is now a black streak, moving closely to the ground as she runs at full sprint. The shadows seem to swell as she passes by, aiding her every step. Trees and bushes are dodged at full sprint, larger obstacles like rocks and cliffs are skipped by jumping through the shadows.
Until the forest ends and Tess sees the mountains east of Neutalinn properly for the first time. Sees the small clusters of gathered animals for the first time. Sees the mana mutants for the first time.
“Shit, fuck, all the hells and dungeons. Piss on your crystals and mana.”
Now pale as a sheet, Tess starts mumbling to herself like a madwoman. “Twenty… fifty… observed a minimum of a hundred full mana mutants. Each leading a group of half-step mutants. No way. How did… Heightened bright mana concentrations in the clearing means… That mana must've come from somewhere, right?”
The rumbling sounds she heard earlier are made by a legion of hoofs, claws and paws. She sees all kinds of elemental corruptions on all kinds of animals. She sees more groups making their way across the mountains, all looking towards a certain clearing behind her. The only barrier stopping them from trampling the kingdom is the wide river in front of her. The river that is slowly shrinking now that winter is coming.
Tess turns around and starts sprinting faster than ever.
“Database, I’m filing a mission request. It will pertain to the escort and safeguard of student Ferah as she scouts Goodsummer.”
Ferah’s shoulders stop shuddering. She stands up from the dusty white ground and looks at Ket. “Wha?”
“Request filed. Escalating to relevant party.”
Tess is dead tired by the time she stumbles into Ket’s old house. Actually, house is a big word. Shack or hovel would be more fitting. She kicks the only remaining door from its hinges and sees the white vertical tear in space ended by two semi-spherical rocks.
Her eyes want to slide off off it. She only found this place because Ket showed her the map, to be honest. She ran past it three times in her haste. Pulling the big cat by its tail behind her, she crams a wave of qi through the white line.
The small tree on her ring glows for a split second, the tear then opens into an oval and Tess jumps through.
“I agree, it’s totally weird. This dungeon core is just sitting here in the open.” I tear my gaze from the massive crater to look at Rhea.
“It’s not out in the open. It’s in a massive crater and floating in the air. Tower City has one of these on level one hundred?”
“Yep. I wasn’t strong enough to withstand it’s reality fuckery back then. I can easily block it now. It’s also sending out one frequency of the soul mutating radia...” I stop as my qi clone pings me with a high priority request. I open the information packet and look at the info.
Hoho, this is an interesting development. Is Ket looking to build an interspecies harem or is he just running away from the cult he created?
Another high priority ping comes in. This one a scouting report from Tess. Speak of the devil…
And it's bad… Shit… Yeah, it’s pretty bad. There is no way I can describe mana mutant levels multiple factors higher than usual as anything but bad. I really hope that the beastkin tribes are better defended than the human kingdom, there is no way that they can withstand a beast horde this size.
Tess even-handed in some preliminary analysis. She is giving me all the blame. The beast clearing I got my blue bear mount from had elevated light mana levels, hmm. So that elevated the dark mana levels in the surroundings, hmm.
Yep, this is totally my fault. I start rubbing my forehead as I make some new missions. I will have to spend a long time in the kitchen, with all the rewards I am putting up. But then again, this might be fun?
I turn to Rhea. “Hey, you want to go and beat up a large horde of mana mutants?”
“How powerful? I can fight the monsters in this jungle, but the bosses are a bit much”
I admire her ability to give an objective judgement of her power for a bit. A dragon’s ego is weird. “No bosses. I managed to make the yearly beast hordes a bit worse than usual.”
She looks at me with an odd gaze. “How much worse? The humans lost a third of their army a decade ago when a mana tide occurred.”
“What’s a mana tide? Ah, no, not important. Tess just reported a hundred full mana mutants leading groups of partials.”
Rhea blinks a bit. “In my territory, the human kingdom and parts of the beastkin tribes, an entire beast horde season has two hundred full mana mutants.”
“Tess observed these numbers on a single mountain.”
“Drew, what did you do?”
“Ah, there, that feeling? That anger? Yeah, I want you to channel that into something constructive like beating up the beast hordes, okay?”
Rhea is cracking her knuckles now. I have never seen her do that before. From where did she pick up that habit? “The beast hordes you caused.”
“Haha, we can talk about this, right? Let’s save the violence for the beasties!” I start walking away from the irate dragon. “And stop cracking your knuckles, that’s bad for you!”
“That was disproved, I checked the database. Stop lying and running away from me, come here!”
I then spend five minutes calming down a rampaging air dragon while formulating the rest of the needed missions.
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