Chapter 48 - Avoidance
A pale fist smashes into a furry face.
“YES, finally got a *pant* hit in.”
Angeta covers her bloody nose while glaring at the celebrating Vox.
“You have to fully answer, so it must be more than a single sentence.”
Her glare intensifies a bit, but she nods anyway.
“Tell me your backstory.”
The glare is back with a vengeance. She jumps towards the redhead, fists flying at his vitals. He swipes them away with his forearms and tries to retaliate with swift kicks. Their previous amateurish movements from the dungeon have started to gain purpose. Instead of wildly flailing, their movements are now direct and to the point with little wasted effort.
Angeta growls for a bit but then spits out a word. “Fine!”
She starts speaking in a halting manner, pausing in a rhythm along with every attack or block she makes.
“Father was a powerful fighter who joined a new village ruler. This lord had just earned *Ooof* a border farming village, lots of goat folk.”
Angeta looks like a sapling, swaying in the breeze. She constantly shifts on her feet and keeps her weight balanced correctly now, allowing her to quickly change position.
“Got settled in, then got *HYAH* attacked by slaver party. Got captured along with half the population, the rest got killed.”
Vox is a mixed blur. He shifts from extreme speed to performing precisely positioned dodges and counter-attacks. His attacks come lightning fast as opposed to Angeta’s, hers start slowly, like a tree keeling over. Vox is using this small break in her fighting style to narrowly dodge the forceful attacks coming his way. Every attack of the redheaded boy causes Angeta to jump back immediately, her form swaying around the attacks.
“Learned that it was a *Hyuck..* noble’s son’s vacation. He wanted to do some casual slaving and thus he brought a lot of mages. Then Teacher captur.. freed me after I was split off from the rest.”
Neither of them has an edge in the battle until Vox overextends his foot by half a centimetre. The beast woman capitalises on this mistake by stepping in and planting a knee in his midriff. The attack lands with the force of a falling tree.
Instead of doubling over in pain, Vox retaliates with the same move, flinging Angeta a few meters backwards. She does double over in pain and lies on the ground, gasping for air.
Vox pulls his shirt up and moves his fingers over the exposed white scales.
“That is the single good thing about these, I have extra armour here.”
There are a couple of dozen pristine scales growing around his navel. They don't look like they give much protection, but Angeta’s powerful knee attack failed to do much to Vox. He smiles wryly while pulling his shirt down.
“We both earned a question, honey. It's your turn. Want to hear mine?“
She nods in response so Vox starts talking while he gets into a fighting stance.
“There was a noble boy whose parents were human. His siblings and teacher were human. And on his twelfth birthday this-” *ACK*. Vox uses both arms to defend against the kick Angeta had been preparing while lying on the ground. He rubs his forearms while retreating.
“On his twelfth birthday, this boy discovered an itching spot on his belly. He scratched it and showed it to his mum. She *HOooh* realised that her son was not human and sent him off in a carriage. On vacation in the middle of a dangerous forest. With just the clothing on my body. Because that boy was tainted goods.”
Vox’s ability to switch between fighting styles is improving with every punch. He was a bit awkward with the sudden transitions at first, but the alternating fast and slower styles of fighting have started to flow into each other.
“I lear.. That boy learned a lot in the following year.” Vox’s aura becomes savage for a split second. Angeta’s short, stumpy tail poofs up in an instinctual response.
“That boy knew a lot about the world, he had pretty good educators that gave lessons at home, in the past. Even some *ACK* basic sword lessons. He did not know a lot *huff huff* about the real world. When I found a way out of the forest, a year later, that had changed.”
Voxs’ attacks had started out as timid probes, hardly worth the effort of dodging. Now, they gain a sharp edge, causing Angeta to focus on defence in order to avoid the savage and sharp attacks.
She jumps back, creating a short lull in the duel. “Is that why you act so… flamboyant sometimes?”
Vox attacks while replying. “Do you know what happens to delvers who *Huck* show a nobles’ mannerism?”
She blocks every punch and kick coming her way, her defence getting better with each blocked hit. “Do you have a question left?”
“Can’t I ask questions? Didn’t the rule only force someone to answer if hit?”
“Who said you can't ask questions?”
Their focus goes back to fighting for a while. They try to hit each other, but they both have learned the other's fighting style, and everything gets blocked or dodged.
“Does something bad happen to delvers who act like nobles?”
Vox’s face goes blank, no expression visible as he dodges a punch that grazes his eyebrows. “Then what about the fact that noble delvers always end up dead?”
“So you were a high noble or something?” Angeta timed her voice her with her punches.
“Why didn't you suggest to go and rescue your own people when Teacher asked our input?”
Both fighting figures now have grim masks on, their casual sparring kicked up a notch. Both now aim for weak points and vitals, trying to truly hurt the other.
“Hooh, stop for a second.” Vox puts both his hands up while jumping back. “Small break.”
The beast woman eyes him wearily while he walks to the edge of the clearing. They are located halfway between the Tree and the edge of this small world in a cleared piece of forest. A hairy tube is curled up in a corner and Vox walks up to it. He grabs a ring lying on the furry snake and pulls a green piece of stone from it. He puts it to his forehead and closes his eyes.
Angeta is on the opposite side of the clearing, scratching a dark grey rodent under the chin. The four-meter-long rodent covered in spiky dragon scales with faint flames coming from its feet and face makes happy noises while enjoying the petting.
“Hmmh, so from that… no this transition should… that punch from that stance, alright.” Vox murmurs to himself as he opens his eyes. He puts the stone back in the ring and the ring back on the curled up animal who seems asleep. He then walks back to the centre and gets into a stance. Angeta also puts her piece of jade back and walks back while talking.
“Who was the scale-kin in your ancestry?”
“How can a noble family have tainted blood in their family line?”
“Did those scales appear out of nowhere then?”
“What would you do if you had to choose between admitting your entire family should be slaves or doing away with your second son?”
They appear at a verbal stalemate. Vox slowly raises his hand, causing Angeta to flinch back.
“Let's say that I have been healing myself, should I admit it or keep it to myself?”
Angeta’s eyebrows raise up. She starts saying something but is cut off by a sparkling display of light flowing into her body. Her slightly downcast shoulders straighten back up as she starts bouncing on her feet again. The same lights also sparkle across Vox himself.
“So, entire family line executed or banished or make a single son disappear?”
With those words, he attacks her again. His switching between maximum speed and maximum precision is nearly instantaneous now, both styles flowing into each other. Angeta is swaying around his advances like a leaf in the wind, but attacks with the force of a massive tree crashing to the ground.
“Would you return to your home if you would just be enslaved on sight?”
Vox halts in his movement for a split second but blocks the incoming punch just in time. He uses the incoming momentum to pull Angeta over, launching her with a throw. She lands on her feet and jumps back into the fight, kicking up a spray of grass clumps. The fight continues for a long while, but neither of them gains the right to force an answer out of the other.
So I have been on this planet for two weeks now. This marks day fourteen, and I am spending it the same as the last few, riding my blue bear. We have been travelling for the entire day, following the road going north. Forests started surrounding us around noon, so we are walking in the shade.
It is fairly busy on this road, Angeta is inside the Tree and Vox is keeping her company. They are truly fighting each other now. I feel like giving them some privacy for some reason, so I don't peek much.
Back in the beast clearing, I showed everyone a few tricks on how to become a proficient leatherworker easily, using qi of course. Bord has trouble with this type of fine qi control, he decided to do everything manually. He can clad his fingers in a qi blade without problems but his qi control stops at a few centimetres above his skin. Honestly, he did better than I expected.
My other five disciples did a lot better, their qi control was fine enough to make clean cuts and shove thread through leather from a distance. So we transformed from a group of weirdos with a zoo into a shady team of mercenary merchants.
Now we either sell you stuff or beat you up. All our animals have dark leather straps holding bags and crates strapped to various places. It gives the animals a really cheap do-it-yourself-goth vibe.
There is actually valuable stuff inside the packs, and Ket has a real knack for negotiating prices. My students are earning pocket money from selling their share of the loot. They cleared nearly half the dungeon, so I magnanimously gifted them one-tenth of the loot pile. They each got a share of the loot worth a literal tonne of gold, so they have all been pawning their wares at the various rests tops and small villages.
I don't need more junk in my ring, so I use my students to clean the place up. We stop for a few hours every night and they used to spend some time sleeping or meditating in their own homes. But now they spend most of that time in market research. They are either rooting through the piles of items or attempting to craft new ones.
We have been making rather good progress, we will reach the first northwestern mountains later today.
“Who would win the mountain climb now?”
My casual question shatters the relaxed atmosphere. A big cat lands beside my blue bear without a single sound. This is a concerning development actually, Tess has been in total stealth practice mode the moment she met that cat. She is always creeping up on someone, often her own mount, who is creeping up on her in return.
I give an internal scream of despair, Lola already ended up weird, with her headbutt and horn fixation. Don't let the fake happy girl become a creepy sneak girl, please.
“I would win again.”
I look at the rest, Bord is riding his chitin covered bull, Celis sits proudly on her black feathered chicken and Ket rides a fairly boring metal horse. I think about changing the subject but Ket cuts me off.
“Bord will win.”
Everyone looks at him. They shift their glances to Bord shortly after. Tess scoffs and rubs her cat between the ears. We ride in silence for a while until Ket breaks it.
“Teach, can you tell us some more about the wo...”
“Hometown” I interrupt him. “You want to ask questions about my hometown? Sure, but please remember that everyone can hear us.”
Ket looks at the other people travelling this road. We are overtaking a lot of peasants riding wagons. They all seem to be moving to Tower City or the capital further north.
Ket coughs a bit before continuing. “Your… hometown. Was everyone a wielder of such… powers?”
I think on what to tell him. I really should save this topic of discussion for later, but talking about such sensitive subjects can be fun. Let see how good my students are at verbal sparring.
“Everyone thought with their guts. Some people really used their hearts, but they were looked down upon. Like dumb brutes only good for guard duty.” I nod to myself. There were small sects in the far reaches of civilisation that practised body cultivation, but they were seen as dumb brutes on a dead-end path. Their main occupation was bodyguard and food taster for influential mortals, a body cultivator has impeccable danger instincts and is immune to a lot of poisons after all.
“I think that back when people first started to understand these energies, some must have tried to think with their heads. They must have become insane after a while, I only discovered that I could automate by accident. That at least explains why all the ancient texts of my hometown were filled with dire warnings against using your head.”
Ket rubs the back of his head while Bord scratches his chest. Selis is looking at flowers while Tess has disappeared again. I can feel a big shape flitting through the forest around us. It then gets tackled by a smaller shape dropping down from a tree. She seems to be having fun.
“It is getting dark again, we should make camp.”
They all perk up at my muttering. We could keep going through the night, but that would be suspicious. The only way to attract more attention than that would be to completely cover ourselves in armour and ride through the night. We would be accosted by everyone who would see us.
I start looking for a place to settle down, but Tree seems to want my attention. I wave the minuscule thread of golden qi away and touch my necklace.
I see that Angeta and Vox have stopped fighting as they are both sitting down. Both are producing some weird qi fluctuations.
“Let us stop here, your other two fellow disciples seem to be trying to advance.”
I grin at the small group following me. I am curious how they got in that situation, their mentalities are not ready for such an advancement by a long shot. I guess I’ll intervene before permanent injuries start to happen.
Previous Chapter Next Chapter