Chapter 69 - Abandon
“Ket, what is the chance of this actually happening? I feel like I’m in a horrible drama.”
“The chance of a pair of noble twins meeting again after the boy is outcast from his home because he grew beast traits and the girl happened to have a mana affinity? And that the meeting is in the middle of the ocean while the boy just happened to be on a ship near the sister’s vessel, who just happened to be patrolling in the area? One in a million.” Ket looks at me as I see something flicker through behind his eyes. Is that humour? “But if we take your propensity for… chaotic movement into account, I’d say one in a billion.”
That is definitely humour. So this is how it begins. Now they joke about me. Next, they won't listen to what I say, and then they stab me in the back, I recognize this pattern. I narrow my eyes at him to let the upstart know I’m onto him. He is at least a thousand years too young for this kind of stuff.
Then I remember I hate hierarchies and etiquette. I give him a grin and punch the little shit in the arm. “Thanks for the analysis, dipwad.”
“So what do we do now? Drug everyone again?”
I frown at my student. “How dare you sugg... Nah, we did that last time. Got to keep life varied, right?”
I look at the still sobbing duo on the small ship. Vox is holding someone, I assume his sister, in a tight embrace while bawling his eyes out. I think she might be called Ares, but I’m not sure.
Not annoying at all. Especially the fact that they are calling each other with pet names is not aggravating at all. I totally knew that Vox's full name was Voxander, after all. His little sister calling him something other tahn his name - Vox - did not throw me for a loop at all... The other people on both ships are just staring at the scene, with highly varying levels of attention.
I’m starting to lose interest in the entire situation, so I begin checking the ship’s formations. The shield held out, but only because I reinforced it at the last moment. The mana levels in that ittie-bittie cannon of theirs were off the charts. That, and the missed shot showed me that the shield needed a bit of reinforcement to withstand the mana blast fully.
I fiddle around with the symbols embedded in the steering column. There's a small qi crystal inside the wooden pole the steering wheel is attached to. I set it to passive mode with active scans. It will burn through the crystal in a couple of thousand years, the used up qi turning into heat energy as it does its thing. It will do for now.
The shield will then be cranked up to appropriate levels of power, based on the sensed danger. I put the lines of symbols through a simulation, and they work flawlessly. Barely any qi wastage and perfect protection.
I get distracted by a prickling from my core. I finish up the formation, running it through a quick optimisation pass before installing the modifications. That done, I focus on my core. There is something here, something like my contract with my students or Rhea. I still my other thoughts and drift in the silence for a moment, offloading my external senses to running on autopilot through dedicated mental processes.
The massive agreement with the dragoness is easily sensed, the other two books of aerodynamics must have boosted her power even more than I thought. The contract is that strong now. The contracts with my students are also visible because they’re all standing very close to me. There is something else though, something unpleasant.
I remember my adventure so far and realise that I have other contracts running. The very first circle I drew inside Tree is still there and still functioning. It’s also in my core, the connection faint but visible. I thus search for the other circle that is still operating; the Tower protection. I find it as soon as I look for it, a minuscule pinprick of angry light.
I focus on it and feel a foreign strain. I feel the power that the circle needs to contain, and the fast-approaching limit. I focus on it further, but the actual circle is too far away for any clarity. I do get the message though, it’s full and bulging under the collected qi. I will need to empty it very, very quickly.
I force myself to stop calculating the chance of another apocalypse scenario and look around. A woman on the smaller boat is screaming, but Vox is still happily embracing Ares. My students are looking at the scene. Bord is passing a bowl of nuts around.
I make a side note to teach my students how to make popcorn. I clear my throat and begin speaking. “I need to go for a little bit.”
Their gazes slowly turn my way. “The circle on top of the Tower is breaking. Miscalculation or increased production rate, does not matter, I have to get there within an hour. Hold the fort, okay?”
I grab Lola from my shoulder and look her in the eyes. “Protect them. Here.” I turn the switch formation inside of her hat. “Now they won't see you.”
She just wiggles her nose, so I drop her to the deck. She hops onto the railing and starts looking at the other boat. I pull a crate of food from my ring. “Rations, I don't know how long I will be gone. Only eat when you guys get really hungry, or something.”
I wave my hand and look around the ship. The circle keeps screaming at me, now that I know what it is I can't just decide not to listen. I look at Rhea. “See you later; you’re welcome anytime. The rest of you, this is a test in independence. Do whatever you guys want.”
With that, I jump away. I start running towards the south, slowly at first, but I speed up with every step I take. I jump into the storm and try fiddling with the air mana. I do something right, and the wind starts blasting at my back. I speed forwards, dodging large streaks of lightning by pure reflex. A few seconds later, the sky clears again.
I look back and see half of the storm following me. Looks pretty neat. I focus forward and kick at the air. I form and yell at a shell of qi around me, gliding forward, my air resistance largely gone. I kick a wave, the exploding blast of water propelling me further ahead.
Vox looks around. The shouting and ruckus around him suddenly stops, and the lack of noise catches his attention. He slowly lets his sister go as he takes in the sights. The storm which had been lurking a hundred or so meters from their current position has a dent in it.
It’s like a giant being punched it witha giant fist, causing it to bend on a massive scale. Slowly, the storm further transforms as it lengthens and stretches backwards. The inner engine seems to be broken, and the storm starts disintegrating slowly.
Vox then feels a hand touch his face. A faint power wants to invade his skin, but his subconscious protections are enough to withstand the pressure. Ares is holding a glowing hand up to his cheek, her face the picture of contentment.
“No need,” Vox says with a smile. He circulates the power from his core through his bruised face and ribs. Pinpricks sparkle across his skin as his superficial wounds heal.
Ares gasps. “You’re a light mage too?”
“Something like that, come with me for a second.” Vox then grabs the girl by her waist and gently jumps. Ares’ eyes go wide with shock, and she holds a hand to her mouth in order to prevent herself from screaming in fright. They soar through the air for a few seconds until they land on the bigger ship with a gentle thump.
“...left before he told us who won, that's kind of rude… Hi, Vox.” Tess stops speaking as the redhead plonks down on the deck, gently setting the girl down.
“This is Ares, my sis. Where is Teach?” Vox sees complicated looks all around. “And where is the tall lady that suddenly appeared? Teach called her Rhea?” More complicated looks are cast in a lot of directions.
“He, um... ” Selis tries to explain but seems to be at a loss for words.
“The Tower containment spell is full; he's going to Tower City to fix it, I think.” Ket fiddles with his clothes as he looks around, not making eye contact with the newly arrived duo.
Vox looks at the black haired boy. “He just left? What’s in this crate?”
“Rations. Only eat when hungry or something.”
Vox taps his cheek as he looks up into the sky. “So… Teach is gone, just when we make contact with a group of mages?”
“Test of independence!” Selis cheerily smiles at the redhead. She walks over to Ares. “Hi, I’m Selis. Are you Vox’s sister? You two look really alike.”
The redheaded girl still has tear tracks running across her cheeks, her hair a mess from the sudden jump, and her eyes puffy. Still, she musters up a smile. “Nice to meet you, Selis.”
Selis nods and starts rapidly talking. “This fatty is Bord, the gloomy guy is Ket, the furry chick is Angeta, and the girl no one ever notices is Tess.”
She yanks the black haired girl forward, presenting her to Ares. Ares however, is staring at the beastwoman. She raises a trembling finger. “W-what is someone like her d...”
Selis dramatically slaps her forehead. “Ah, almost forgot that other people are still this silly.” This time she pulls Ket forward. “Ket, you used to be a racist piece of shit, what are your views on being with other external features than you have now?”
Ket’s eyebrows try climbing to his hairline as he remains silent for a few seconds. “I did some calculations, and racism is inefficient.”
“See, he doesn’t care! Neither should you.” Ares is so overloaded by the barrage that she can’t get her thoughts in order.
“RETURN HER NOW BY THE ORDER OF SUSPENSION AND WAVE!”
Selis frowns as her introduction is rudely interrupted. “What should we do about them, though?” She gestures to the other boat, still filled with potential hostile mages.
Ket makes a vague gesture, and the rambling shrieks coming from the mage-filled boat are muted. “Some quiet, that’s better. So, Teach is gone and has given us a free pass to do whatever we want. Vox, congrats on finding your long lost sister or something like that, but what do we do now?”
Angeta is the first to speak. “Teach is going to gather more q… energy for us all to use right? The energy in Tree is getting kind of low. Mana can be turned into energy, so should we go to that mana mine dungeon thing?”
Vox speaks up. “Teach is obviously hitting on that woman, but she doesn't have a trace of energy. Are you guys sure that introducing a new face to that whole… conundrum is wise?”
“Ah, the dragon lady?” The water dripping from the sail and boom is suddenly very loud as everyone stares at Bord. ”Didn’t any of you feel like someonw was watching you over the last week? And there always was this mysterious white dot in the sky right above us. I think Teach is pretty cool for trying to bang a dragon.” He continues picking his nose as he talks with a slightly bored expression on his fat face.
Angeta is twitching while some object wrapped around her waist squirms wildly. Ket just freezes as steam comes from his head, Selis is staring with mouth agape, Vox is rubbing his eyes, Tess is in the beginning stages of curling up again and Ares is just all around confused.
“I knew Teach was something, but that is pretty insane even for him,” Tess says.
“Maybe stuff like that was normal in Teach’s w… hometown?” Selis asks while fidgeting.
“Rhea is Flight? Rhea is Flight.” Ket is mumbling those three words over and over, seemingly stuck in a loop.
“Uuuhm, Ket? What are the chances of us running into trouble we can't handle?”
Ket glances at the difficult to notice bunny, who is still staring at the mages' boat, as he replies to Selis’ question. “Under twenty per cent.” He looks around and only sees blank faces. “One out of five,” he elaborates.
“Ah, thanks. So let's go the mana mine. Vox, you’re responsible for your sister?” Selis looks around as she asks this question. She sees nods from all. “She’s your responsibility then. I don't want Teach withholding foo… getting mad at us for something like that.”
She turns around and looks at the boat. The single mage who is still standing is getting more and more red in the face as she tries to scream through the sound barrier Ket placed. “What do we do about them, though?”
“I have something for that, I think. Ninety per cent certainty. Ares, you know what this is?” Ket pulls a stick topped with a small gem from his ring.
Ares goes pale and stumbles back. “Where in all the hells did you get that?” She starts shaking as her hands involuntarily grasp for the object.
Ket just nods, turns around and walks to the railing. He then throws the stick with a long and carefully measures arc towards the smaller boat. It lands perfectly straight up in the middle of the rowdy group of mana wielders. All the mages immediately look at it.
Purnicia is the first to go pale. Taran and Resen both start shaking as their eyes grow wide as saucers. The other leftover mages quickly follow in this behaviour, freezing up while going pale and shaking. None of them react as the bigger boat extends it oars and slowly paddles away, leaving the mages behind.
“What was that thing?” Selis asks as the entire group is standing around the steering wheel.
“Something that dropped in the Tower. Teach just took some raw materials for himself but left the rest to us, right? Ares, I think it was earth, so not useful for you, but can you explain?”
The girl has been staring at the slowly shrinking mage’s boat the entire time, but this direct question is enough to snap her attention back to the group. Awe, fear and reverence fill her voice as she speaks. “That was a mage wand. It will double anyone's mana control. Entire kingdoms have been destroyed over those items.”
Ket grins savagely. “Just a heap of weapons and materials seemed - to me - a way too small a reward for reaching the levels Teach did, so the Tower must have granted that item to make him go away or something.” He starts humming a tune as he pushes some buttons on the steering wheel, making the oars move faster.
“But… But won’t taking Ares with us raise suspicions?” Vox asks with a worried glance to his sister.
Ket only grins wider at that. “The little I know about mages tells me that they won't hesitate to kill each other over that item. Taking a single mage from that patrol group won...”
A massive blast of multicoloured mana exploding behind them seems to underline his words. “Heh, not my fault the greedy nutcases can't control themselves. Sorry if there were any friends of yours among them, Ares, but I couldn’t think of any other efficient way to get rid of them.”
The blast of wind gets diverted by the still active shield. Ket pushes a button and the barrier disappears as the ship fades from view. Ares smiles as she watched this happening. “No problem. I thank all of you for taking care of my little brother while I couldn’t be here.”
Vox unconsciously rubs his stomach as Ares literally starts glowing with contentment.
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