Chapter 99 - Shrubs
Bord is sweating. Angeta’s fur is matted with sweat and blood. Tess looks even worse as she holds her left arm close to her chest, keeping the fractured bones from moving too much. A slender palm tree suddenly twists, smashing into Bord's face and sending him flying. Angeta grits her teeth and jumps after the spinning boy, only to get caught up in a dense weave of vines that springs from the ground.
Tess takes in big gulps of air as she bends low, avoiding a small storm of sharp leaves that shoot from a bush. Another deep lungful later, she sinks into the shadows as the jungle goes quiet once more.
Angeta struggles in her bindings, the green glow that previously surrounded her body now only apparent in her eyes. Large swathes of the luscious jungle are turned into fragmented compost material. Kilometres of vines lie shredded and scattered across broken trees, bushes and grasses.
This trail of destruction can be followed back to the beach, where the trio first set foot on this island. The area affected by the fight grows wider the deeper inland it goes, the forces used by both sides, plant and disciple, growing exponentially.
Now the plants lay shredded and the students exhausted, and all is still again. All but a single tree. A wooden door swings open where previously not a seam could be seen. Dark green cloth covers a small procession of people as they step outside the large tree.
“They put up quite a fight.”
“This is going to take years to regrow. Such a pain.”
“WE SHOULD KILL THE FUCKERS NOW!”
“There there, we should praise them for getting this far.”
“Noo! The little shits, that crushed tree was planted by my great grandfather!”
A small squabble breaks out as the group find the unconscious form of Bord. Some harsh words are uttered and contrasted by arguments filled with compassion, but an agreement over who will carry the heavy burden is quickly reached. Angeta is hogtied with ropes and carried by two robed persons while the majority of the group start carrying Bord.
A dark patch of shadow moves closer slowly, unseen by the green-clad group.
“Angy, can you hear me?” Soft whispers go unnoticed by all, only Angeta’s sensitive beast ears catching the sounds. She growls in response.
“Hoo, this one still has some fight in her. Let’s beat her up!”
“Yes! Fuck this bitch for causing such a havoc on market day!”
“Stop it you two, be thankful the work of our ancestors helped to put down this threat.”
The two angry voices carrying Angeta get shushed by a warm voice that sounds out of breath from the task of carrying Bord.
A single leaf falls from the tightly wrapped bundle that is the beastwoman, a near invisible thread still connecting the two. The leaf starts vibrating as the shadow creeps under it.
“What do we do?”
The shadow freezes for a single second. “I don’t know. I can stay in the shadows for a few hours now. I will follow and see if we can escape.”
“Grrr, fuck this island.”
“It was your idea, Angy.”
“Can’t you just beat these mages?”
“I'm nearly out of qi. We have been fighting the plants for hours, remember?”
“Sure, but can’t you just kill them? You’ve got weapons in your ring.”
The shadow pauses for a second. “Teach said no killing. And shush, they are carrying you inside a tree. I need to focus on keeping up.”
Angeta’s head knocks against each step as the two mages carry her down the stairs. The group carrying Bord already look exhausted. They drop him the moment they reach the opened tree and unceremoniously kick him down the stairs. The duo carrying Angeta barely gets out of the way as Bord bonelessly flops past them as he rolls down the stairs.
Some of the mages chuckle while some smile wryly under their hoods, none of them noticing the darker shadows moving along with them as they walk downwards. They all reach the end of the twisting staircase and step into a different world.
An underground city stretches out around the group carrying their two captives. Mana crystals giving off light hang everywhere in all sorts of luxurious fixtures. The roads are made from decorative wood or neatly carved stone. Every doorway branching off the wide street is a work of art. Every richly curtained window shades a luxuriously designed interior.
Tess freezes as she peers through the shadows, looking out at the overabundance of luxury and decoration. A drop of drool appears from out of literally nowhere as Tess wipes her mouth.
“We are going to be so rich.”
The shadow quickly moves to catch up with the procession, the many lights and detailed ornaments making traversing this space a lot easier than the stairwell of before. The underground road gets even broader and gaudier as the group moves towards the centre of the island.
The ceiling slowly rises away from the street level as the buildings get more elaborate. The roads sink down as the roof rises further, causing a huge elliptical cave to become visible. The underground streets start filling up with a wide variety of green-hued robes as the group makes their way to a towering building situated in the middle of the massive cave. The group weaves through market stalls laden with luxuries until they reach the central building.
“Two? There was a scouting report telling of three.”
“Can't you FUCKING SEE WE-”
“Calm down, two it is then. They will be fuel soon enough anyway.”
The guards wave the small prisoner carrying parade through the ornamental gates, ignoring angry glares from some of the group. The halls they walk through look like a contest was held and detail density was used as the only deciding factor. The chaotic jungle up above looks like a simple collection of shapes when compared to the intricately ornate decorations covering every single square centimetre of the underground building.
Meanwhile, Tess is thinking hard, as if her life depends on it. A twinge of regret for the usefulness of a braincore in this situation shoots through her mind until she remembers the extreme boredom. Plan after plan gets formed and discarded. The qi she is generating from breathing while in the shadows is barely enough to keep her in the shadows while moving, her recently gained power-level of the qi condensation realm the only reason she is still hidden.
She follows the group as they take more stairs for an indeterminate amount of time. She focusses only on keeping herself in the shadows while remaining unseen as she slinks after the captured duo.
This ends when she follows the group through a door and sneaks into a large chamber. Small rooms ring the circular area, a leaf motive altar sitting in the centre of the round space. Tess is so focused on following her fellow disciples that she misses the old men, chained up near the altar. She also misses the green skull on said altar.
The fact that the small rooms at the edge of the room are cells is harder to miss, as Angeta and Bord get thrown inside one each. The group then leaves, the ones that carried Bord doing excessive amounts of stretching and complaining about sore muscles. The few mages that are not complaining are consoling the rest. The outside brightness gets cut off as the door slams shut.
“Wake up fatty. Don’t move, Angy.” The room is now dim again, the only light from the sparse few crystals on the ceiling and the green glowing skull. Tess drags a knife through the tightly woven vines and ropes, causing Angeta to take in deep breaths of air as she struggles weakly to free herself.
Tess covers Bord’s ears as Angeta curses like a sailor who is very good at cursing. “Wake up Bord!”
“Shit god fuck whore, this hurts.” Angeta furiously rubs blood back into her arms and legs. Tess slinks back to the first cell after Bord kept sleeping.
“All the hells… Okay Tess, how do we get out of here? I couldn't see anything on the way in.”
“I don’t know! We are in the middle of a city with green mages everywhere. The streets are packed with them. Also, Bord won’t wake up!”
Angeta sniffs the air a bit, moving her nose towards the cell Bord is in. “He's just sleeping. Can’t we just fight our way out of here?”
“And get beaten by the plants outside again? Not without qi. And generating qi goes really slowly here, too much nature mana.”
Angeta looks up suddenly. “Ah, that’s why breathing in mana does nearly nothing! So Teach was right when he said that more types of mana generate more qi.”
Tess frowns at the beastkin. “Teach has never lied, why would you doubt that?”
“Is not saying something lying?”
Tess thinks for a bit before shaking her head. “Not important. We need to escape.”
The two quietly discuss for a while, going over all the ideas Tess has come up with so far. Angeta chimes in with a few and slowly but surely a plan is formed.
“So, the plan is clear then?”
“Yeah, you sneak through the shadows and look for mana crystals.”
“Once I got them I will bring them here. You breathe them in and with the qi will make us plant armour which we then allow to dry, thus killing the plants.”
“Yeh, that way the mages can’t control it. I will also form wooden puppets and stage atheistraction.”
“We then make the catapult, ask Bord to decrease his weight, launch him towards the ceiling and force him to become heavy, smashing our way to freedom.”
“I will also look for barrels of oil, a kilometre of rope and twenty live fish.”
“Especially the fish, don’t forget; the bigger, the better.”
Tess nods firmly in return. “Do you need help with knocking out your teeth? I know we can regrow anything with qi, but it still sucks we need those for the plan.”
Angeta waves a furry hand at Tess’s concern. “No problem, I can pull my own teeth. Just don’t forget the pillowcases.”
“Kay, I’ll be goi-”
*KER-BOOOM* *CRASH* *THUNDEROUS CRASHING SOUNDS*
Tess stares wide-eyed at the centre of the room. Angeta has jumped to the ceiling, her tail standing straight and poofy behind her. Bord mumbles a bit as he scratches his ass while turning around.
The ornamental, circular room is now covered with dust. A sound like someone landing from a fall is heard, followed by some coughing and footsteps.
“And nature skull get! Gotta catch them all! Dun-dun-dun-dududuuuu!” Tess and Angeta stare at the figure with astonished faces. A bearded man is stretching his hands in the air, a green skull hovering just abovehim as it slowly rotates. Tess froze in the middle of standing up and falls to the ground as she loses her balance. The bearded man jumps a bit, snatches the skull from the air and turns around, dust swirling around him.
“Hey, Tess. How is life? Hi Angeta.” *SNIIFFFFF* “Hmmh, that explains why you three are so empty of qi. Hey Bord, stop pretending to sleep. Here.” The man’s hand shoots out, launching a cloud of shards. Mana crystals in all colours except green land around the three captives.
“I’m going south for a bit. The rest are all going north-west. Here.” A green gem flies out of his hand this time. “That will lead you to the ship. Don’t worry about...” The man obviously holds back his laughter for a bit. “...about getting beaten up by bushes and trees, this skull held all that together.”
He looks around and nods once. “Yep, that’s about it, cya later!”
Tess and Angeta slowly look at each other. “Almost forgot, you old guys, wanna leave or become a skull-shaped tool? Your choice.”
The two girls slowly swivel their heads back to the centre of the room just in time to see a few of the chained up old men disappear. “Now I’m going for real, laters!”
The light coming in from the massive hole in the ceiling starts to light up the ornamental chamber, making all the golden and colourful decoration sparkle in a riot of colours. Tess is the first to snap free of her stupor, grabbing the mana crystals and stuffing her face in the small pile.
*SNIFF* “Hurry and fill you qi.” She inhales again, deeply. “If what teach said...” *HUFF* “...is true then getting...out should be easy now...that the defences are down.” She breathes in deeply, her pale complexion shifting back to a healthy glow as her energy reserves replenish.
“Which means we will be rich if we start looting before they notice what is going on.” Angeta also grabs the crystals and starts inhaling.
Tess walks up to the bars, shifting through them with small trails of black smoke escaping from her body. Crystals clutched to her chest with one hand; she forms a thin black knife in the other. Two slashes later and a few metal bars clatter to the ground. She then kicks the large shape lying in the cells. “Hurry up Bord, we got shit to do.”
Bord jolts upright, a glint in his eyes. “Yay, we can go? No need for me to help with the difficult plan, right? I got tired just listening to you two.”
Glaring at the fatty with lifeless eyes, Tess replies, “No need, we can just jump through the ceiling.”
“Let’s go already then! There is food to be eaten and stuff to be stolen!” He jumps up, his own pile of crystals in a single hand as he squeezes himself through the bars with quite some effort. The door to the chamber explodes into dust as he barrels into the city, only adding to the commotion already happening outside.
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