Chapter 68 - Encounter
“Who do you think is winning?” I ask with a glance at the lady standing next to me.
She looks at me with a funny expression on her face. I turn the wheel a bit, and the ship turns into the next meters high wave, the crashing bow sending shudders through the vessel.
“The fat kid seems to be winning, but I think the shadow girl has the most points.”
Bord is making quite a show of the fact that none of the other disciples can even hurt him, casually taking brutal punch after punch without flinching. He then uses his higher bodily mass to pin his victim down and give them a couple of dozen light slaps per second. Vox is getting this treatment right now, and his body is once again becoming red as a lobster, but this time not from sunburn.
Tess is flickering across the deck, using every single shadow to pop an arm or leg out of, claiming some beautiful slaps. Selis is finally feeling what kind of mistake that brutal fighting style of hers is, at last! Why the timidest and cute looking girl of the group asked for the most brutal and dumb fighting style, I will never know. I do know why, of course, I just don't want to look it up.
Ket has bowed out, his physical strength is the weakest and the external qi limitation really shut him down. He is now chilling on top of the mast, out of easy reach. My eyes become wide as I see the thread that Ket is holding though, taking a better look at the students, I see them behaving like they walked through spider webs frequently. Is external qi control inside of an object also external?
I created a small hit counter program to keep count, and I was wondering why it was requesting more brain space. I check the numbers and see that it has trouble counting all the hits Ket is making with his thread control. Technically he is winning, the sneaky bastard. Good job!
Vox has squeezed out from under Bord, but that's only because Angeta went full crazy cat lady on the fatty’s face. Tess attempts to slap Selis, but a heavy smash blocks the shadowy hand. I see the thread brush against Selis’ face, and she does the ninja dance that most people do when they walk into a spider web.
I did not expect her to stand still, cock her arm back and punch with such ferocity that the raindrops in the air form a steam cannon, though. Ket hastily shimmies behind the mast, using it as a shield against the blast of superheated water and air.
“The guy in the mast is using a thread to make the most hits, though… I don't know if I should count those.”
“Hah, devious, as expected of a human. Blue girl has impressive arm strength.”
“See Bord, the fat kid? His body glows with an inner light every time he sits down on somebody.”
“He seems to be getting heavier? What kind of mana technique is that?”
I cough a bit. “Nice weather, right?”
Great, that killed the mood. Didn’t I already tell her about qi? Did she forget or did she even pay attention back then? We stand there in awkward silence for a few minutes. Loud sounds of the crashing ocean and fleshy slaps resound around us, but I still feel like this one of those uncomfortable silences where both parties are busily thinking of something to say.
I am almost thankful for the new contact my scanning process picks up. It also tells me that we should be exiting the storm any moment now.
My students are too occupied with scoring more points to look my way.
“TWO! ONE! END MATCH!”
They all freeze and land on the wet deck one by one, breathing hard.
“We will exit the storm in a few seconds and there is an unknown ship out there. So, go clean up or something?”
They are all staring at me like drowned rats. Their clothes are in tatters, dripping wet and their faces are swollen. They ignore another big spray of water as it floods the entire deck, they are just staring at me. This is getting creepy, what do they want?
“I’ll figure out who won later, for now; unknown ship just outside of the storm. They are not moving, so they are some sort of observers. I am not sure how well the stealth field will fare against mages.”
They keep staring at me as the rain drips down their faces. It seems like they really, really want to know who won.
Purnicia is, as usual, despairing over the uselessness of her fellow journey mages. She is inside of a rather small but speedy boat. Instead of sails, this vessel runs on mana. The mana is currently being supplied by her useless companions, so she is occupying herself by studying the massive stationary storm front that suddenly appeared out of nowhere.
Her group got a mission over the com crystal embedded in the boat’s control centre. Their team has the only competent air mage in their area, so they got ordered to investigate. The single competent mage is Purnicia herself, of course.
She looks over the rest of her team as loathing fills her heart, which is also as usual. In response to the emotion she is constantly feeling to some extent, the air around her starts to talk to her. She pushes that incredible feeling to the side for now and looks the sorry figures accompanying her over.
Taran is staring out into the distance as he supplies the boat with mana. Multiple mana sensitive people can supply the clear mana storage crystal at once, but they decided to take turns charging the boat. Purnicia really dislikes him, even more than the others. Like all other dark mages, the dead fish expression on his face is still as waxy and lifeless as ever.
Then there is that wimp Resen. Disgust prickles across her skin as she contemplates the earth mages normal behaviour. Pretending that he doesn’t care about the world and showing absolute disregard for everything and everyone. This type of behaviour usually gets punished severely, the hierarchy is everything in the mages’ factions, but earth mages tend to be judged less strictly on this matter.
Purnicia does not even give the second female on board a glance, the anxious wreck that is called… something... something, is a fire mage. Fidgeting followed by incandescent hate is all she ever does.
And then there is the worst of all. Ares, the female light mage. Her constant smile and cheerful disposition have actually helped Purnicia a lot. Such an easy target to loathe helped her grow in power quicker than her peers. The air mage realises that she should be thankful for this on some level, but will never admit that.
The constant headaches plaguing her are also not helping. She should be feeling overjoyed, as fierce migranes are a clear sign that a journey mage is about to reach master mage levels, but the painful pounding she is feeling makes it hard to be happy. She is already looking forward to the forced seclusion that all journey mages are required to go into when they are about to reach master level. She clings to that thought, the lure of a lot of distance between her and her current teammates is one of the few things getting her through the day.
“Uhm, guys, how long are we to remain here?” The nervous and unsteady voice of the fire bitch gets no immediate reaction. “B-because I think the storm is getting pretty close now, and um...”
The weak voice fades off into nothingness as the weakest member of the team gets ignored, as usual. Purnicia keeps staring at the roiling clouds a hundred or so meters in front of them. The sea is rather calm, natural storms would have whipped up the water into a rougher shape. And the entire storm is glowing with air mana, further proof that something unlicensed happened here.
“Kay, that is all the mana I can spare today. I did my part, I’m going to sleep.” A vein starts to become visible on the air mage’s forehead as she hears Taran’s words. She just uses Taran’s stumbled steps as he climbs into his bunk as further fuel for her loathing.
Purnicia narrows her eyes as she feels something getting closer. The storm feels uniform in mana density to her emotionally charged senses, but the form is changing. A ship suddenly breaks the rotating cloudbank, oars extended as it ploughs through the waves.
She narrows her eyes as she observes not a single flag. They could be ripped from the mast in the storm, but the lack of any other visible identification is a pretty sure sign that this ship is illegal. No flags are painted on the hull, not even a ship name. She sees some figures standing on deck, frozen in some sort of staring contest.
She turns around and notices that none of her colleagues are looking at the ship. She frowns and looks back, only to see empty sea and the storm. The rising anger gets expertly diverted to more disgust and loathing.
How could those incompetent wastes of space not realise that the wake of the ship is still fully visible? Simply following the foam trail to where the ship should be is enough to crack that pathetic attempt at stealth. Absolutely disgusting.
“Attention! Ship sighted under some sort of cloaking field. Man the cannon.” The other mages, except Taran, jerk upright. They peer at the sea, following their leader's outstretched arm. She hears none of the customary confirmations though, so she decides on a new course of action. “Blast them.”
“Okay, I am awake!” Resen stumbles out of the small cabin and walks towards the bow. A tubular design is bolted to the wooden forward pulpit on a ball swivel. Resen groggily aims the things at the sea while the rest all gather around the charging stone.
“Where is it, I don't see it."
Purnicia sneers at the earth mage’s uselessness and growls. “Just shoot along my arm, you piece of...”
“Alright, alright, no need to get so worked up, eh?” The crooked smile on Resen’s face only helps infuriate them further, but a massive *KER-BOOM* blocks any chance of a reply. The small tube mounted on the front of the ship shoots out a large quantity of coloured smoke, the beam made from raw mana piercing into the storm without any immediate results.
It did have some effect though, a big sphere of air distorts like a lens while a ship materializes not fifty meters from the mage filled boat. All the group of mages does is just stare at the bow rushing closer. They keep pouring out mana as half of the ship's oars stop in the water and it makes a hard turn.
“Time to recharge?”
“Ten more seconds.”
Her face twists in disgust at Ares’ words. She really has to do everything yourself. With that thought, she bends down and touches the stone hung above the cabin entrance. Purple light dances across her fingers as she drowns the stone in mana. Engraved channels then seep the power towards the cannon, filling the entire thing with raw, explosive evergy.
Her face slackens a bit, the usual sneer dimming. Resen keeps the tube pointed at the ship, whose oars just barely miss the mage boat as it turns. He checks the meter sticking out of the magical cannon, waiting to fire until the needle reaches the red.
At his trigger pull, the compressed mass of mana explodes out of the barrel, racing towards the pale hull of the interloper. A shield around the ship becomes visible as the stream of power smashes into it, sending mainly violet streamers of mana racing to the side. Half of the port side oars are blasted away, their ends sticking out of the protective barrier vulnerable to the attack.
The figures on deck start moving again as they walk to the railing. The oars manoeuvre the thirty-meter sleek vessel as it turns around, circling around the smaller boat.
The female air mage barks a command. “How much left?”
“One out of three.”
Purnicia nods as she tallies up the totals. She herself just used half of her mana in one go, she can’t risk another shot. What does protocol say about this situation? Maybe this is the vacation vessel of some grand or high mage? Cold sweat starts to cover her back at the thought of just having fired on a superior. Make contact then? Make contact it is.
Her voice booms across the water as she speaks through a small spell. The larger ship suddenly stops as the figures on deck seem to be discussing something. Not ten seconds later, the oars start moving again.
“How many expert galley slaves does that ship have?”
“Aren't those oars a little bit too big to be swung so fast?”
“They are really good at coordinating, only half are rowing on the starboard side to compensate for the destroyed oars.”
She schools her babbling group of charges with a snappy command. The ship is quickly coming into speaking distance now, its course angled so it can pull up beside the mage craft. The cannon is still pointed in the ship's direction, but charging it with their current total amount of mana will take at least a minute.
The oars start retracting until the last few bring the ship to a halt. Both groups just stare at each other as they study the other party with intensity.
Two pale skinned, redhaired figures stare at each other, ten meters of sea separating them. That is until tears start to appear in both their eyes. The man standing on the bigger ship jumps quicker than any of the mages can react, and is standing in front of Ares the next moment.
They fall into each other's arms as tears and snot drip down both their faces.
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