Chapter 144 - Invasion
Rodrick is alone again, a single axe and a lot of trees for company. He’d thought that he adjusted pretty well, all things considered. Just when he was getting comfortable in this weird and bizarre new place he found himself in, Teach pulled him outside.
His leg bones shine brightly, even visible through his cloth pants. The glow travels through his hip bones, spine, ribcage and finally his arms as he moves power through each part of his body. The gleaming axe in his hand whistles through the air before smacking into a large tree.
Splinters fly as he chops automatically, his thoughts elsewhere. The memory of fire followed by a human on horseback knocking him out before he can defend himself is used as fuel for his movements. The humiliation of being appraised like livestock or hunted meat is turned into momentum. The fact that has rescued by Angeta - of all fucking people - feeds the last furious chop that separates tree from stump.
The sound of snapping branches and rustling leaves soothes him as he watches the large perennial fall down. Then he remembers the sight of his village burned - the very place he had hated with such ferocity at first. The reality of what happened pales compared to the things he wanted to happen to that place when he first arrived there.
Some of that old rage reignites a blind fury that made his sight go red until physical exhaustion forced him to sleep with blistered hands. That feels so long ago now, many years of quiet village life forcing him into some semblance of peace and calm.
Physical exhaustion is hard to achieve these days. The qi trickling through his bones seeps into muscle, organ and skin, allowing him to swing harder and faster. It used to take a dozen trees before his well-trained muscles gave out. Now? Rodrick pauses his chopping to glance at the pile of trimmed trees for a moment. The annoying, opportunistic leech of a green-skinned woman is sitting on top of it, at least thirty meters high. A few more and she will be able to look over the surrounding treetops.
He slams his axe through his latest victim, uncaring that a large part of the trunk explodes into splinters. Unwilling to stop, he moves on, breathing hard. He felt something just now, something above the normal way in which he started using his qi. The qi flows through his body as he fells tree after tree.
“Dricky! Driiiiiickeeeeey! I just discovered something!”
Shaken from his daze, the big man turns to the bouncing woman. He had managed to forget about that eyesore completely. Of course, she won't give him more than a few minutes of peace.
“You told me to figure out stuff by myself, so I did! I know how to proceed with this bone system. I did some circulating stuff, but that didn’t work...” Here she is silent for half a minute, frozen in sudden shocked realisation. “Wow, I just realised what an effect a cultivation system can have. Braincore me would have smacked me for just trying stuff instead of thinking and planning...”
Rodrick walks off towards the nearest still standing tree before being stopped by a flustered female. “Anyway, you should try extending your bones into the connective stuff between bone and muscles. That’s the only thing that feels like it’ll work.”
“Yeah, I understand that. Going from bone to muscle will just tear the tendons. I think it’s bone followed by tendon, muscle, and finally organs or skin. Epithelial tissue should come last, I think, but I’m not sure about the order of nervous and other subcutaneous tissues. What do you think?”
The green skinned woman tilts her head as she blinks rapidly. Rodrick takes a deep breath and goes chopping again. The woman sits on the pile of logs, kicking her legs as she looks at the sky, moon, and suns.
Rodrick loses himself in the chopping of trees again, unknowingly circulating more and more qi through the axe he wields. Until his axe gets stuck in a random tree and he yells out in pain while blowing on his hands. Really looking at the tree for the first time, he sees a large cluster of ice piercing the bark halfway up the trunk. He kicks his axe free, wary of the cold fog wafting from the frosting metal.
“What the Flight? It’s not dying, but it's also not adapting?” Caressing his frostbitten palms, the big beastkin examines the curious crossing between plant and qi infused ice. Database has generated many small quests concerning the cleanup of the ice and lava pollution, but Rodrick had largely ignored those recent events. His head was still too filled with other topics to care about some mountains exploding or a cooking frenzy.
“The lumberjack? You’re going to spit on me too?” Turning around, Rodrick sees a dejected Angeta. The village chief’s daughter that used to be so vibrant and alive now has a broken look in her eyes. Vibrant and alive with a sense of total superiority and arrogance, sure, but something inside the big man’s heart isn't comfortable with seeing the woman so broken.
“Why?” he asks.
“Because now you can, of course! No more daddy to protect me. No more guards to threaten...” Tears wet the fur beneath her eyes as she starts shuffling through the forest again. She stops as she feels a large hand on her shoulder, turning her to face a half-frozen tree.
“The big golden tree over there isn’t happy, a lot of its brethren got damaged recently. Help me fix them.”
Absolutely confused, Angeta stumbles towards the icy trunk. She gingerly touches the bark covered in ice crystals, wincing at the absolute cold piercing through her fur. “You chop them down, why bother?”
“I give them a purpose. Those will live on for a long time as houses or furniture. This is just needless suffering.” Rodrick hefts his axe as he walks over to another tree.
Angeta stares at his broad back for a long time before laying her hands on the half-frozen bark. The silent lumberjack was known as a taciturn recluse with a temper. He had become more social only in the years before the raid that ruined everything. Offhandedly wondering what the big guy has been smoking, she starts examining the stricken tree.
“Tango Four reporting in. Making our way to point Tango Romer.”
The small black item in Re-Haan’s ear is silent for long seconds before she presses a finger against it. “It’s tango romeo. And say over when you end a sentence, over.”
She suppresses her irritation while shifting in her chair. She has her feet up on a footstool while sipping on a glass of some rather nice wine that she found in her ring. She overlooks the human Capital - a sprawling mess of tightly woven streets and buildings - from on top of a large rock. The coastline to the west of the city’s harbour is fairly rocky and has many hills higher than the city walls. She picked a place allowing her to overlook the metropolis to oversee the mission in comfort.
The city’s centre is dominated by a large, circular building - the royal castle. She takes another sip as her eyes search for their target again. The sinking sun paints the entire city in a red glow, and the target build shines yellow in the fading light. The large, square building was white once, but long years of little use have guaranteed it a layer of grime.
She stares at the large library near the harbour at the edge of the noble and crafter district. How easy would it be to stand up from this comfortable chair and just float over there? Teach would never need to know how she got the data, after all.
Re-Haan pulls another random dish from her ring and starts eating to distract herself. The thin strips of meat are coated in a near black sauce, its smokey bitterness matching the bright green sweet vegetables perfectly. She suppresses a moan as she licks her fingers clean. Things are going well so far.
“Uniform two at the rendezvous. Moving towards uniform oscar… Over.”
“Acknowledged, report anything out of the ordinary. Over.” Re-Haan makes a mental note, moving the figures of two cultivators towards their overwatch positions in her mental map. Everything is going according to plan, so she expects to be done in ten minutes or so.
She has multiple teams getting into position, preparing to infiltrate the library one by one from different angles. Each team is made up out of two people, one physically focussed cultivator and one with a mental focus. Usually, this means a heart- and a braincore, but there are a good few gutcores sprinkled in here and there.
“Reporting something out of the ordinary, over. My uniform is not holding up, over.. This is Alpha one, by the way, over. This material interferes with my climbing technique, so I ripped it. The interwoven stealth formation now has a negative qi flow. Every single person in a hundred-meter radius is looking at me, even through brick walls, over.”
“-slipped and fell. The hook’s handle is slippery, and now my number one has a fractured leg. What the fuck do I do, over.”
“-was Delta one, by the way. Over.”
Re-Haan stops snacking on some dried meat and starts rubbing her eyes. She immediately regrets that as the meat was covered in some rather hot spices. Tears running down her reddening eyes, she tries to understand what is going on as multiple people try to report in at once.
“-ost my number one. I think I’m fucked, wait WHA-”
“-ose idea was it to only allow a single channel to be active at a time? Let that be a lesson, never listen to that slimeball. Over.”
Re-Haan pumps some qi through her eyes, flushing out the irritating oils while bringing her finger to her ear. “Shut up everyone. Starting from alpha, sign in and give a status report.”
The small radio remains silent for a long time. She rubs her eyes and presses the small button on the radio again. “Over.”
More silence follows. “This is beta one. I saw alpha one and two move towards their overwatch position a minute ago. Have not heard from them since their stealth enchantment reversed. Me and beta two have eyes on the target. Please advise what the fuck I should do? Over.”
“Charlie two here. My number one is still moaning with a broken leg. I can't heal shit and he refuses to touch the wound because, and I quote:‘oh fuck my daddy up the ass, it hurts so much’. Over.”
“Delta one, everything is perfectly fine. I am not in a hostage situation, everything is fine. Nothing is wrong. Over.”
“Echo one, we are lost? How are we lost, number two, you had the map, right?” A slapping sound comes through the small device “You incredible… dense… The castle is right there, stop telling us to go left. We don’t need to go left. We went left the lasts six times… Over.”
“Alright, I’ll do it, you hairball. Foxtrot two here. My number one has problems. The talking thing doesn’t want to stick to his ears because he’s a fuzzball. And the grappling launcher is all sticky, why is the grip melting? Number one can't get the goo out of his fur. And I can't lift my arms above my head without ripping my clothes. This is shit. I want to go back to my cabin… Over.”
More and more teams sign in with varying levels of success. Four of the twenty-five two-person teams did not sign in at all while only a handful managed to get to their objectives. Updating her mental map, Re-Haan sees a rather confusing picture.
The orders she gave for this mission were pretty simple. She equipped each team with the dark clothing, a grappling launcher and a communication device. She divided the mission into four parts. Each team was to move through the portal and then sneak through the noble’s garden to their assigned rendezvous point, also known as romeo.
They were then to surround the library by moving to their overwatch - or oscar - points, wait until full dark, followed by a speedy infiltration. Each team got a piece of specially modified write-only black jade, on which they would then copy all books they could get their hands on. This was then to be followed by a sneaky retreat.
The reality of the situation is completely unlike anything Re-Haan predicted. Less than half of the teams are at their designated overwatch positions, a few are lost, a few are incapacitated, and she has lost contact with the rest.
She checks everyone's reported position and notices that the majority of her missing teams were assigned the northern oscar positions. She stands up and starts manipulating the air in front of her, forming lenses.
“So, we're just waiting here until its darker? It’s pretty dark already, why not just go in now? Over.”
“There are still people inside, over.”
“I can see that, but we could knock them out, right? Half the city knows something is up after Charlie one started screaming like a baby. Over.”
“-IS THAT, NO LEAVE ME AL-”
Re-Haan sees the library surrounded by dark forms hiding on top of roofs and huddling next to smoking chimneys. A shadowed shape leaves two unidentified lumps behind as it moves towards another spot she designated as an overwatch.
“Say ‘over’ when you finished talking, or miss Re-Haan will get angry. It’s not hard, just say over, over.”
“-just saw team sierra get taken out by something, it’s getting too dark to see. Oh, Flight and Dungeons, it’s looking my way, NO STAY A-”
“-gaging with some unkow-”
Re-Haan winces as she pulls the black item from her ear. The ear-deafening noise pouring from the small item is the droplet of shit that overflows her bucket, and Re-Haan gets angry. A simple mission, infiltrating the library. How hard could that be, right?
She knows that doubting her own path is not a productive thing to do, but decides to do so anyway. Delegating is great and all, but sometimes you still need to get your own hands dirty. That can be a part of her Dao too, Re-Haan thinks.
She speeds off while re-structuring part of her cultivation base. Anger in her eyes and wondering how Teach’s chaos got so infectious, she speeds towards the library. Grabbing the air around her, she slides through it while refusing to let the disturbance of her rapid flight propagate far. Silent as a soft breeze, she tears through the evening fog.
She comes to a sudden halt above the library and closes her eyes. The temptation to pour out a cloud of qi to scan with is great, but that would invite enforcer mutants to the middle of the city. She is still in charge of this kingdom as a Guardian of the Flight, after all. And using activated qi to scan with is very taxing, only allowing her to examine a very small range.
Instead, she listens. She hears the gurgling of digestive fluids from some guy sleeping below. Slapping sounds are ignored, and it takes her a while to filter out the entire orchestra of bodily racket produced by a half sleeping city.
The shuffle of soft boots over stone… There… She opens her eyes and sees one of her own teams pacing around on a rooftop. The shattering of plates startles her for a moment before she hones in on another sound, the recognisable rhythm of soft fabric rubbing against brickwork.
She watches with narrowed eyes as the strangely elegant person encroaches on one of her teams. She starts moving downwards with speed, but the figure reaches the team of cultivators first. The duo falls to the ground a few quick movements later. Re-Haan grinds her teeth and wills herself down faster, keeping an iron grip on the air around her.
The figure is about to jump to another roof and another team when Re-Haan smashes into him. The person shows a surprising amount of resistance to her flying tackle. Re-Haan spins the qi through her mind faster, allowing her a good glimpse of the persons face before they both smash through the building's roof.
She shields herself in a layer of qi while her fist smacks against the persons face. A bloody tooth goes flying before Re-Haan’s air is driven out of her lungs by the combination of a gut punch and hitting a solid stone floor flat on her back. She uses the bouncing force to flip positions, forcing her opponent into a technical wrestling hold.
The person on the ground coughs while the dust settles. Re-Haan is sort of frozen, not sure what to do with the person she is half-strangling. “Fucking dungeons shitting on a slave, release me you fucking cu… Dragon?”
“Hello, king. How are you.” Re-Haan replies.
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