Chapter 135 - Reaching
Tess vomits on the grass, emptying her already empty stomach once again. She's entirely covered in the sour bile, each drop of the thick fluid only leaving her mouth very slowly. “Fuuuuuu… This fucking ring...” *HUURK*
Ket hovers around her, freaking out and uncertain of what to do. He wrinkles his nose but quickly schools his face back into neutrality. He stops for a moment before a resolute look comes across his face. He reaches out and holds her hair back.
“Fuck you Teach. I’ll get you for this!” Panting hard, Tess mumbles to herself as she spits on the ground a few times. The duo is surrounded by a large number of corpses in varying states of mushiness. Ket pulls a thick cloth from his ring and hands it over. Tess takes it without daring to look at him
“I’m not sure that Teach thought of this scenario. Or if he did, he must’ve judged the likeliness of a cultivator vomiting so low that he didn't build in safeguards taking this scenario into account. The ring takes a small amount of power from our cores to project this film, try pumping in more power?”
Tess coughs a bit more before being covered in a dark sheen. The qi vanishes from her body, allowing the drops of bile and vomit to drop to the ground. She groans. “Couldn’t you have said that earlier.”
“Who knew that the field also stops vomit and that it takes a while before it strips the qi from it? Having a large ball of vomit stuck to your face is not a good look.”
“I’ll stab you if you ever tell anyone.”
Ket laughs uncomfortably at this. Tess stands back up, casting another glance at the carnage surrounding them. “Let’s get the fuck out of here. All the good stuff is still in the carriages or trampled into dust.”
Ket nods and they both stride off. Ket doesn't even glance at the corpses they are stepping over, which causes Tess to glance at him oddly. “How are you so desensitised to this stuff?”
Ket looks at her, nearly stepping on a soldier’s flattened chest. “How come you aren’t? You ran through the Tower for years. You must have seen all this before, right?” Ket waves at their surroundings. Spread across a few kilometres lay the trampled remains of the small convoy. The bloody trail of trampled and upturned ground leads through a small forest before it veers off towards the east.
“I was a sneak! The Tower had eaten everything by the time I got close enough. As soon as the last person dies, everything vanishes.” Tess rubs the cloth over her face while drinking from a bottle of water.
“Ah… Where were you ten years ago?” Ket allows his face to look pained and haunted for a few seconds.
“I’d never have taken the worst baggage carrier under my wing anyway. The delvers would probably have hated that unsocial stick of a boy even more, had they known that you wanted to sneak.” Looking anywhere but at the ground, Tess eyes go glassy as she recalls memories. Then she feels Kets’ hand on her shoulder, stopping her.
“Unsocial? Why do you think I barely got any work?”
Tess also ignores the squishy sound her boot makes when she nearly stumbles. “What? Being a baggage carrier is just carrying stuff. It would take incredibly bad social skills to be the worst at that.”
Ket stares her in the eyes. Tess watches as an emotion unknown to her flashes across his face. They stare at eachother for a full minute as the bloody stench around them slowly seeps into their clothes.
“Who is the first to die?”
“Wha?” Tess looks back into his eyes, confused at the intense stare.
“Of a delver team, whose duty is it to die first?”
“The big guy with armour in front?”
Ket shakes his head, his eyebrows in a sad slant. “The carrier. New loot can be gotten another day. Getting a new front liner or mage is worth more than a single day’s work. They avoided me because I was fast. A good carrier doesn’t live long. A good carrier does not avoid a hamstringing blow delivered by their employer when things go south.”
Ket releases her and walks on. Tess stands still for a moment, bewildered at the intensity of the previous moment.
Not sure what to feel, Ket just walks for a moment, trying hard to keep his head clear of thoughts. A sound breaks his morose mood. He hears a faint gasp coming from further in the woods. He jumps over a pile of splintered trees with a burst of qi pumping through his legs, nearly landing on another unfortunate servant.
He follows the sound a bit deeper into the forest and comes across a blood trail. Following this trail, he finds a figure slumped against a tree. The bloody and terrified eyes of the convoy’s noble stare at him, terror and relief intermingling.
“Ahh… you! K-Ket Kardel, I n-need your help. You shall be rewa-” Here the noble devolves into a coughing fit, spitting up blood. Both his hands hold onto a leg that is completely purple and flat. Multiple cuts and scrapes paint a bloody picture.
“Why did you go?”
“Will give you all the m-money… what? Why did I g-go where?” The boy starts shivering.
“Why did you decide to go and raid the beastkin villages in beast season?”
“Why not? My grandfather is a council member, you will be rewarded grea-”
“Why did you put all these people at risk? Do you have a good reason?”
“S-stop whining. I wanted to have some fun, t-those beastkin girls are soft. And the l-last one just died. And they were out of stock. Now help me, you petty dimwit! My grandfather is a duke! HELP ME!” Coughing once again, he covers his mouth. Blood starts dripping through his fingers as he struggles for air.
“Thanks. Another datapoint advocating the trustworthiness of auras. I hope your soul didn't get too tarnished from this life.” Ket bows slightly and turns around.
Gathering his strength, the noble tries to stand up, tears rolling across his face while struggling. “HELP ME! I COMMAND YOU! I WILL BE AN ARCHDU-” The metal knife punches through the young man’s heart and the tree he is leaning against. The grey string it's attached to stretches taught. Ket pulls. The knife explodes through the tree and the pierced chest of the dead man on its way back to Ket.
“Come, Tess, let’s leave.” Ket holds out a hand towards Tess, who was watching a dozen meters back. She nods and snuggles under his arm.
“I’m at core forming now, you know.” Tess whispers.
“I know.” Ket’s mouth curls into a small smile as he looks away from the carnage they are leaving behind.
I am holding Ferah at the scruff of her neck. This feels like the only way that I can be certain she won’t run away. She sprinted towards the forest the moment we crossed the river, her nose still twitching with something she must have smelled. Angeta fell face-first into the muddy riverbed and is now washing out her fur.
“Nice disguise, should I change too?” I turn and see Rhea stretching as she yawns.
“Probably. I don't think that survivors of a slave raid will look kindly upon any type of human they meet. It’s taking half my thinking power to keep this form accurate, so you will have to transform on your own.”
Rhea shrugs and closes her eyes. I preemptively will some of my qi into a perfect absorber, catching radiation of any wavelength, and cover her with it. The light escaping from the bottom is still bright enough for me to squint my eyes. The glow fades, and I retract the perfectly black qi.
I am very conflicted by what I see. Her previously lean exterior is now fluffy, round, and springy. Her slightly loose dress is now stretching under her bulging mammaries and her ass... Oh gods, that ass...
“Squeeak?” Lola is staring at her with extremely rounded eyes. Re-Haan, mighty dragoness and member of the Flight is now a bunny. I am very conflicted. I’m pretty sure I don’t have a fur fetish, but my dick seems to disagree.
“Drew?” Her question shakes me from my stupor. But my hands feel something soft yet firm? Why am I groping her butt?
“APOLOGIES, PLEASE DON’T KILL US FOR NOT NOTICING!” Angeta’s shout wakes me from my daze entirely. I step back and see Angeta bowing, having forced Ferah to do the same with a hand on her neck.
“Oh, wow. Maybe save that form for later?” I wink at her with the most perverted smile I can put on my face. “And Angy, this is Rhea, what’s up?”
Angeta takes her still wet face from the grass and looks upwards. She explodes in anger. “FIRST THE TRASH PEOPLE, THEN ASSASSINS AND NOW ROYAL GUARDS? AAARRRGHGH!!” Pulling on her hair and tail, she flails around. Ferah looks at this scene with mouth agape.
“Okay Rhea, save that form for later.” I wink at her some more. She rolls her eyes and starts to shine again. I cover her with my black qi and moments later she looks similar to me and Ferah, reddish fur with a white belly.
Angeta stomps towards us, grass shuddering with every step. “For fuck’s sake, do not randomly change into castes without telling me first. You would have caused absolute chaos had you changed into the royal guards' caste somewhere populated.” She glares at Lola and refuses to look at Rhea before stomping off again.
“Good to know which ones are high risk, then… Ferah, lead the way!” We follow a timid Ferah. I turn to Rhea. “Did you know what that caste was?”
She nods, a crooked grin on her furry face. “Yep. She reacted even better than I expected.”
I stare at her. “So you knew all the things about teeth and fur and castes all along?”
She shrugs. “Not all of it. I did visit the beastkin once in a while though.”
I interrogate her some more as we mount up and move towards the forest line, a kilometre or so from the river. Ferah gets more and more agitated the further into the forest we travel. Keeping half an eye on her while chatting with Rhea, I see her freeze, nose twitching. She then bolts. I feel the qi raging through her entire body as she springs into action. Angeta is a fraction too slow to catch her.
Turning a bit of qi into potential heat and handing it over to a scanning process, I sense a collection of buildings in the distance, maybe a hundred houses or so. I check again for any corpses but find none. I kick my bear in the flanks and speed up.
Broken wooden huts, crumbling stone walls and skeletal burned out frames come into view as the trees thin out. The entire place is surrounded by a thick band of tilled and trampled earth, signs of a hurried and premature harvest everywhere. Old burned wood and death is in the air. I see dark spots that smell like old blood here and there, a large swath of freshly dug soil covered by large rocks to the side. Ferah runs around frantically, whining as she speeds through all the buildings still standing.
I breathe out more potential heat and increase my scanning range. I narrow the rotating beam, increasing its coverage. I sense moving figures much deeper into the forest, a few kilometres from our current position.
“Ferah, come!” Kicking my bear into motion again, I leave the ruined village behind. She half crawls back on Hotfeet, ears drooping as she holds onto Angeta. We ride in silence for a bit.
Three kilometres later, my ears pick up a shrill sound. It's followed by rustling leaves, a small beastkin a hundred meters ahead of us drops from the trees and bolts. Ferah is still depressedly clinging to Angeta, tears beading in her eyes.
My scanning process informs me that a small contingent of larger beastkin carrying bows and staves has split off from the larger group and is now marching towards us. I guide my bear to the side, picking a route that will avoid any other scouts while avoiding those guys.
The shrill sound is accompanied by sounds of hammering and chopping. I glance over at Ferah, who doesn’t seem to hear anything, her ears still pointed downwards. Is it cruel to keep her in the dark? Maybe, but I really want to see the look on her face. I spin a small sound dampening construct around the sad beastkin.
Once again, the clearing ahead of us comes into view. This time, instead of the ravaged ruins, I get to see a town under construction. Beastkin are busily chopping down trees, tilling the soil, sawing planks and preparing food. In the middle of it all, I see a grey-furred female beastkin, similar features to Ferah and a stern look on her face. The shrill sound was her voice, barking orders at everyone around her.
I dissolve the sound barrier. Seconds later, we are spotted, and the clearing goes quiet. Ferah has bolted upwards and is looking over Angeta’s shoulder, eyes wide open. She then bolts off, towards the old female.
“GRAAAAANMAAAAAAAAAA!” The old woman freezes, turns around, sees Ferah sprinting in her direction with superhuman speed, clutches her chest and keels over. A mix of surprise, pain, and happiness is on her face.
Ferah speeds up further and catches the woman before she hits the ground. “I’m back! I promised I would be back. You don't have to worry now! Gran? Gran?” The old woman looks at Ferah, smiles one last time and dramatically closes her eyes.
I sigh. Maybe this was a bad idea? I don't always think my pranks through. Lightning already cracking around my fingers, I hurry towards the fallen woman.
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