Chapter 77 - Assault
“Everyone knows what to do?”
Ket sees nods all around, with just one exception. The outlier, Ares, is softly talking to Vox. “You guys are crazy. Any kingdom would be wiped out if they did this. Please don't do this.”
“First Selis and Bord, then Angy, and me. Vox, take your shots at random. Ares, do nothing. You are kind of useless here.”
Silenced by that harsh judgement, the girl wilts and sits down on the splintered deck.
A massive stone sphere looms over the ship. Rough buildings and jetties stick out haphazardly, all kinds of boats moored here and there as robe clad figures of all colours putter around. A cluster of higher buildings appears every few hundred meters or so.
The ship lies still before the biggest cluster of buildings on the structure, a dark entrance at water level going deep inside. A shimmering field flowing over the vessel hides it from sight as the group of disciples plans their strategies.
Selis is softly rubbing Lola’s back. “I'll keep her with me.” She holds up the rabbit and looks her in the eyes. “Don’t move when Tess brings us along, kay?”
“Angy, have you secured the hold yet?”
Angeta looks angry at Ket. “Our mounts are safe, stop asking. All the bowls are secured too.”
“So, everyone knows what to do?” Ket waits until they all nod their assent once again, including Ares. “Then let’s go!”
Tonn Vink is still. He is still of body and still of heart. That is the way his magic works, after all. Ever since the headaches, he is a lot more content. It used to take him such effort, keeping his mind clear. Now it is clear by default.
He sits on top of the arched entranceway into the most guarded secret of the mage factions, the mana dungeon entrance. The entire mage economy is built around the thing, none of the grand workings or formations will hold out without a steady supply of the hard-won crystals. He takes another sip of his gold-rimmed cup, completely content as he silently enjoys the last rays of the setting sun.
A group of mages shuffles along the walkway just beneath his seat, returning from their daily dungeon duty. The dungeon provides, and the mages exploit the endless source of mana crystals with fervour. Another mage standing by his side makes a note on a piece of paper and walks through a doorway. The daily quotas have been met so the stranglehold the magical factions have on the continent can continue another day.
So when a massive dragon made of water rises up from the sea, he has to put some effort in to feel surprised. He sits there, the honour guard of the mana source, a nice comfortable chair and as many fawning mages as he could ever want. If he knew that this position would come with a water dragon staring him in the eyes, he might have changed his mind.
It even starts to roar! The transparent beast shakes as a massive sound reverberates through his chest. The sound is of such volume that the beast itself… starts to shake and collapse? The clear dragons starts foaming as it loses its shape.
Tonn opens his eyes a fraction wider. For him, this is the same as gaping with his mouth open. Soon, the dragon is nothing but a frothing puddle in the sea.
Absolute silence reigns as everyone regain their baring. A lot of mages secretly hide wet patches on their robes while standing back up. Faint voices travel over the sound of waves lapping against the quay.
“You idiot, don't shout so hard!”
“You wanted me to roar.”
“Yeah, but not hard enough to make me lose control of the water, you fat dumbass! That was half of my qi in there!”
A shrill female voice starts to argue with a young male voice. Tonn casts his eyes around but sees nothing amiss. His eyes glide over a patch of sea right in front of the entrance without focus, but the mage does not react.
Tonn feels something slimy against his calf, so he looks down. He does not expect the wet, green piece of seaweed that is wrapping itself around his feet at all. A single thought combined with a hand motion causes shards of stone to fly from the floor, shredding the intruding plant.
He looks around and sees the same happening to all the other mages. Just when he is about to say something, the plants all give a simultaneous pull, launching half of the mages on guard into the sea.
“That’s how you do it!”
This time a gruff female voice glides across the water. Just when it dawns on the mage that they might be under attack, a metal ball knocks against his head.
Splashing sounds everywhere, Ket gives a signal. Tess is holding a rather pale Ares as she sinks into the shadows. “Distract them.”
Angeta becomes covered by a green sheen as she waves her hands about. The surging strands of seaweed entangle more mages, but most of them manage to avoid the barrage of aquatic plant life. Fireballs, leaves with razor-sharp edges, jets of air, and rock fragments start to litter the sea as the mages start reacting.
The boat positioned a couple of dozen meters in front of the dark ornamental entrance gets hit a few times. Bord slaps at the air, shattering a beam of darkness. Selis darts away, avoiding a thin stream of fire as she lands and dances across the water with pounding steps. The stub of mast gets further abused as a blast of high-speed brown dust shatters the last standing splinters.
Tess pops back up on deck, pulling Angeta with her this time. Bord breathes in deeply as his chest rounds even further. A powerful exhale causes a gust of wind to scatter some of the random attacks.
Both the suddenly appearing Selis and the gust of wind causes some mages to point towards the source of both. The barrage starts to intensify as the mages see their projectiles vanish into thin air. Metal balls whizz back and forth, knocking robed figures unconscious at a rapid pace.
Another flash of black and Tess is back. “Sel, come back on deck.”
After that shout, she pulls Vox - who was hiding behind the ship’s balustrade - with her. Bord moves faster than a normal human eye can follow, blonde hair fluttering as he blocks bolts of lightning streaking towards Ket. The black-haired boy gives a short nod of thanks. He waves his hands through the air, directing the metal projectiles as they wreak havoc among the mages on the pier.
Tonn wakes with a start, the cacophony of sounds around him loud enough to wake the dead. He's still in his comfortable chair, a throbbing lump on his forehead. He sees the few mages still left conscious around him casting a myriad of techniques into the sea. Following these mana arts with his eyes, he sees them disappear into a patch of sea no different from the rest.
That is what it looks like at first, but narrowing his eyes, it's like there is a shape there. He looks at it via the corner of his eye, and he sees a dark form bobbing on the waves. Looking directly at it causes his eyes to scream ‘Normal sea, nothing suspicious here’.
A flash of spray catches his attention, and he barely sees a short, blue-haired figure flit into the ‘normal sea’ zone. He coughs a single time. The rock around him moves in a ripple in response to his cough, countless stone shards separating from the dark floor. A single wave of his hand and a single change of expression later those stone shards jump towards the suspicious spot.
A sudden boom of wind coming from the invisible zone scatters a large amount of the projectiles. Tonn’s hair gets ruffles from the strong gust of wind as a metal ingot coming from a tricky angle knocks him unconscious again.
“That punch took a lot. We got to go.”
“Nearly got them all,” Ket replies through gritted teeth.
Bord looks back to the mess of dark stone buildings surrounding the dark entranceway. He sways on his feet, seemingly unsteady, but Ket just saw him pour all that motion into a focused punch. It seemed to crack the air as the wind blast shattered the incoming hail of stone shards.
Another dark flash and a tired looking Tess appears.
“One sec.” Ket starts waving his hands around and a storm of metal objects flies towards him. He holds up his ring bearing hand and the stream of projectiles disappear on contact. “Done.”
Tess nods and pulls Ket into a shadow. Bord jumps upwards, rocking the boat, as he spins around. His foot kicks out, turning all the rotational force into a single direction. The last mages immediately change their aim, the round shape of Bord clearly visible in the last rays of the evening sun.
A lighting mage must have been saving his power for this opportunity as a large streak of thunder hits the fatty. He spins away wildly as the bright beam hits his shoulder. More projectiles come towards him, but he uses his spinning to launch a sweeping kick, shattering the brunt of the attack.
Bord lands and the mages lose him as he enters the stealth field of the ship once again. His fat figure starts bouncing around the deck as he dodges the last few elemental spells. He jumps towards the dark shape of Tess appearing behind the mast and fades into the shadows. Spells continue pelting the deck for a long time after it has been abandoned. A small formation of grey qi on the steering mast causes it to drift away slowly.
“I still don't see...” Tess takes deep gulps of air as she regains her breath. “...why all that was necessary.”
Seven shapes are gathered inside a stone room. The only light comes from the end of a long tunnel. At the end of the tunnel are two doorways, swirling dark mist visible in one, stairs leading down in the other.
“This entire tunnel is one large deathtrap. We had to wait for nightfall because nobody is crazy enough to dungeon delve at night.” Ket grins widely again. “Except for us. We had to distract the mages enough to prevent them from activating the countermeasures. They can flood the tunnel and dungeon entrance with all sorts of nasty stuff. There are too many redundant mechanisms for me to safely disarm them all.”
Tess has dark circles under her eyes. “Well, I am not taking so many people with me in this short of a time again. I feel like I’m dying.”
Selis is slapping Bord on the arm as she gets ignored. She is using her other hand to scratch a shoulder mounted rabbit under the chin. “That dragon took me a lot of effort and qi to create. Why did you shout so hard?”
Vox is pestering Angeta. “That seaweed trick was genius! Did you create those plants or did you pull them up fro-”
The pumped up atmosphere is rudely interrupted by retching sounds. More sloshing and wet squelching noises follow as Ares empties her stomach. Vox is by her side the next second, pinpricks of light flashing over both their figures.
“Sis, what’s wrong?”
“Ubuuuugh HURK” Another stream of vomit comes from her mouth followed by many dry heaves.
“Healing is not working, what’s wrong with her?” The pinpricks of light grow in intensity as Vox holds Ares up.
Then an alarm and a loud voice echoes between the stone walls. “ALARM, THEY WERE AFTER THE MANA MINE!”
Mechanical sounds are suddenly everywhere.
“Shit, we got to enter the dungeon.” Ket’s panicked tone causes them all the barrel towards the stairs. Vox hauls his sister over his shoulder as Bord pulls a half sleeping Tess along.
Arrows barely miss the descending figure of Bord and Tess as green mist pours from the walls. Blades extend from the narrow slits, making the dungeon entrance and preceding tunnel into a deathtrap.
“Don't breathe in, there is poison behind us.”
The group stumbles to a halt at the end of the stairs.
“Don’t stop yet, get away from the entrance!” Ket’s second comment causes the group to keep moving. Green trails of liquid trickle down the stairs as blades and arrows clatter down the steps. Colourful trails make their way into the first dungeon floor as the group runs through the first tunnel.
She just left! I hopelessly stare at the three dots that are growing smaller. This scenario was not inside my calculations. But then again, this always happens. My mind is still too busy with, ahum, processing the memories after such encounters that I tend to forget the big picture.
Looking back, throwing her at her kin might have been a bad idea. It worked with Lola though… But that was a rabbit and a dragon, not a dragon and a dragon. It seemed such a great idea moments before I did it.
She rotated in the air with the agility of a clumsy cat, landed on the brown dragon and clung to his scales. I sensed a dense wave of qi explode from her and wrap around the trio of dragons. I make a note to teach her the finer points of qi control, if I ever see her again, that is. If she starts giving that mass of qi mental commands… Let’s just say that brainwashing would seem like a petty trick in comparison.
Now be strong, don’t let her see me...
I give in and form the air in front of my face into a lens. Her half-naked figure appears, riding the earth dragon, shirt fluttering in the wind. Why is she sitting backwards, though? Ah, she is looking my way.
So we stare at each other as she flies away. Typical, I need to go that way too, but now it looks like I'm going to follow her. So I just look at her as she flies off
An alarm goes off in my mind, a predictive process concerning my disciples. Potential casualty? Time limit? Three days until guaranteed lethal. Did those idiot disciples forget to expunge qi from food given to Ares? Vox might be pissed if I let his sister die.
With a deep sigh, I wave a single time to the disappearing dots and jump of the Tower. Focussing on my core, I feel a slight pull straight north. Rhea went north-east. I don’t like destiny and fate, so let’s not leave it up to them.
Her braincore should be kicking in over the coming week. The mind is a fragile yet sturdy thing, a sudden influx of qi like she just received takes some time to settle in. She has a heartcore and a braincore, so she should be extremely well coordinated. She was tripping over herself quite a bit just now. It seems like the supernatural coordination that comes with a heartcore also needs some time to kick in.
I don’t really know how to feel about this entire thing. I just lost over half of my power and she just gained the strength of a hundred humans. I consider going after her for a bit while trying to get some perspective over the past few days.
She had obviously never done something like that before, and my new cultivation was also still wet behind the ears. No way in hell could something like this ever have happened if that wasn’t the case with both of us. We basically both had to be virgins in order for such a connection to form. And she has a rather shoddily put-together but powerful body.
There were some precedents though. Dao companions always converge their power bases. It will become less effective with each new pairing, but the power difference between two parties does even out during sex. It’s just that… Why would a mighty expert ever allow half of his power base to be stolen? Why indeed.
I pull a piece of jade from my ring and fill it with braincore cultivation basics. Her mind will adapt to her new power base over the coming weeks, so she will end up crazy in a month or two. Let’s not risk it.
A thin metal chain appears in my hand and I sink it into the green stone with some atom manipulation. I implant a near infinite small circle too. While falling, I cock my arms back and release. The boom caused by the qi structure guiding it should draw some attention, so I cover myself in a stealth field.
I fall down the tower once again, moving my body to skydive perfectly north. I gather all the rosy feelings I had going on over the last few days and pack them away safely.
I’m totally fine.
Let’s go exploring again!
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