The thick forest is usually so thoroughly drenched in life that we’re fighting off the bugs and beasts without a moment to rest. Today however, the smarter beasts can sense the violence in the air, and the dumber beasts have stumbled into battles too much for them and are already dead, or soon enough dealt with.
Scavengers that would usually gather at the scent of blood are overwhelmed by what violence has stirred in the cavern they call home. Most are still licking wounds from the last time war overwhelmed this cavern, and they’re not prepared to die today. The violence that had reigned, has cleared away most of the reckless sort that call this place home.
Eshya and her team of warriors, reckless in their own right, stand at the edge of the cities wall, they’ve yet to breach it. Most other groups have gone ahead of them, but Eshya cannot easily fly, so they’ve been delayed, much to my lovers growing dismay.
Her flicking eyes, and twitching hands are a familiar sign of her unease, and I know that it’s not caused by some sudden realization that violence is bad. No, she’s simply bothered that she’s been left behind because of her own lacking ability.
I expect that she’ll be dedicating herself to finding a means of flying when this war is through.
"I can do this." She whispers to herself. Hearing things through this Skill is not easy, but when focusing hard, it’s manageable.
There remain only a stray few gremlins on the wall before her, the majority called to battle around Lakesh’s army.
"Be careful" I write her as a message, but I delete it again a moment later. I will not strangle her with my worries. She will survive. I know it.
"Now." Eshya whispers, leading her team out of the forest, charging the wall with tremendous speed.
"Striking now." The flying, blood-sucking lizard says, leading the small group of fliers to tackle the gremlins nearest the warning bell.
I’m sure that the gremlins here have the messaging system in their own support devices, but then again, I’m not sure I could trust them to make reasonable, sensible use of it. That, and there’s a chance that the bell is somehow connected to enchanted defences, that we wouldn’t want firing.
Eshya runs at the wall using her mana surge movement technique to sprint with a speed that would put Olympic sprinters to shame. Each bounding step crossing half a dozen metres, her footsteps sinking into the earth behind her. She hits the wall with a grunt, kicking herself up using the momentum that she’s built up losing momentum only as she grasps the edge of the massively tall wall.
"Made it." She whispers, rolling up and over the edge and up to her feet. The gremlins up here are already dead and dried, Ptir, the second in command of their hit squad having drawn out their blood to reinforce his shield.
"The walls are cleared." He says aloud, looking out over the city. While the message system is undoubtedly superior, most people still rely on their own spoken languages to communicate. "Our targets are in the towers over there, but the city is a mess of traps and enemies."
As he reports, between the tall towers there’s a mess of buildings and streets that have been built upon by many generations of people; none of them were qualified engineers at a guess. Wooden towers have been built surrounding the towers, and overhanging structures cover the streets.
Larger buildings have been turned into enclosures for larger beasts, that might be farms, might be traps, or might be some nature of petting zoo for all I know. The gremlins still busy themselves in the streets, looking for where the fights can be found and yelling and shouting at one another.
Small gangs march through the streets with their poisoned weapons, a few taking notice of Eshya’s team on the wall make their way closer, but no one really cares. They can’t even gather any of the other gangs to follow after them.
Any number of traps could be hidden here and it would be impossible to see them in advance.
Gerry, a plant warrior, slayer who decided to join us for this battle, crawls up the wall behind Eshya. His flesh is red rather than green, and his body is made up of layered leaves rather than roots or vines as I’ve seen from most his kind recently.
"Looks rather busy over there." He comments, his eyes turned towards the gremlin army that’s still moving about in the distance. The numbers have only grown, but they’ve refrained from taking any direct action yet, which is concerning for all of us.
From above I have a clearer view of them, the writhing mass of grey flesh might be made up of weaker creatures, but they’ve survived and thrived here. There is a reason they’re not extinct. There’s a reason they can claim this city as their domain.
Lakesh is going to have to be prepared for when the enemy army makes its move, whoever is guiding them has something dangerous in mind. I do trust my own commander to at least keep my people alive, the walls of solidified blood are not the only defence that he’s preparing.
When they clash it’ll be violence of an entirely new level. Hopefully someone can find Loekan before then, and we end this game before I lose anyone.
"Let’s go." Eshya says, falling from the wall with her sword drawn, ready, and pointed down.
The gremlin gang that noticed them earlier is already at the foot of the wall where she’s falling, throwing knives up at her. She easily deflects the attacks, gathering her mana into her sword as she falls.
A bright blue light shines in the tip of her blade as her mana gathers into a single point. The sword stabs through the skull of the gremlin she falls upon, jarring her arm as it over penetrates and clatters against the harder cobblestone.
As she draws the blade out of the corpse, the mana runs along its length easing its passage through flesh and bone. Two fluid slashes follow, bisecting another pair of grey-skinned gremlins while the rest are disposed of by the rest of her team.
Some, not quite dead, lay screaming in pain, but she easily ends their suffering with quick thrusts.
A half-elven insect boy, and another vampire lizard make up the rest of her team, the both of them able to fly while Eshya and Gerry are still bound by gravity.
Without another word spared they charge into the city towards the distant markers that point them towards the twin bugs that form Loekan’s elites. Beetle and Roach.
I couldn’t convert them to our side in the short time I’ve been messaging them; I think one of the big issues is that they’re still more scared of Loekan than they are of me. No amount of benefits or raises can make a person set aside that fear. No, I need them to believe that I can protect them from their last boss before they’re willing to swap sides.
I haven’t been able to contact them since the battle began, but surely they can see me in the sky, burning with enough magic to force Loekan to duck and hide. If between this, and my offers for a better life, they still stand with Loekan, then violence is the only end to this.
My magic is spinning up into something more and more powerful, but the progress has slowed, allowing me time to let my Skills and abilities adapt to the mass of mana I’m now working with. As I grow accustomed to keeping the magic stable, yet also ready to be cast, I slowly feed more of my mana into it, which summons even more from my talent.
Down below me, magic stirs and beasts roam, armies move and kill squads hunt. The war takes further steps towards an end, through bloody means, but Loekan remains in hiding.
Eshya’s feet pound across cobblestone streets, stopping to kill only the gremlins that try to slow her team. Her passage through the city streets has been without remarkable trouble thus far, but such fortune can’t last forever.
A small gang of gremlins gaze at them from the rooftops ahead, preparing something. I message Eshya to make her aware, but she’s faster on her feet than I am with my messages, it’s already too late to go around when the gremlins make their move.
With a wild scream, the gremlins hammer at the wooden structures overhanging the streets. The pillars shatter, and the precarious structure falls, crashing down into the streets where Eshya and her team are now standing.
The overhanging structures collapse outwards, covering the entire breadth of the street, as they fall like dominoes all along the length of the road.
Eshya doesn’t hesitate, using her movement Skills she sprints ahead. Wooden debris crashes around her but she slips through the gaps, deflecting a few sharpened, poisoned sticks that nearly impale her. The spears attached to the building to make this trap complete.
She races against the collapse, tense seconds fly by as I completely lose sight of her, and her own gaze turns dark. My heart pounds in an uneven pace as my magic spins and spins, growing stronger for my terror.
Eshya opens her eyes, gazing back at the ruined buildings, the flying members of her team turning back to see her unscathed.
She’s fine but Gerry wasn’t as fast on his feet, now buried in the mess of smashed wood. He’s fine from what I can tell, digging himself out while abandoning his elvish imitation, but as he follows the light towards his escape, something else moves.
Seeds burst open all throughout the fallen structure, birthing vines that spread throughout the pile of debris. They cling to the shattered wood, consuming it while spreading with terrifying haste. Gerry lashes out at it while digging to his freedom, but while the vines don’t attack back they resist his clawing attacks.
More screeching from the rooftops gives away the gremlins game, as they start hammering on the next row of dominoes, tyring again to crush Eshya and her fliers.
"Atop the ruins." Eshya says, climbing onto the mess of wooden debris that nearly crushed her. "We’ll free Gerry and keep moving."
She kicks herself up and over the ruins, running on the quickly spreading vines, as she kicks their tendrils away.
The gremlins give up on destroying anymore of the wooden structures and yell and screech at our warriors from afar. Some seem to be laughing even.
The trap is certainly slowing them down, and it could’ve been lethal in that first moment if they’d been a little too slow, or a little too weak. I watch closely, worried for any further tricks.
So, I don’t miss seeing the signs of the vines hardening. The living mat of vines pull tight to the debris that they grow from, shrinking the pile and further crushing Gerry.
If it was anyone else they’d be struggling under the pressure, but it’s just an added frustration to the man who’s body is made up of leaves. Not all plant people are so resistant to this nature of attack.
A large bud forms from the centre of the massive plant, forming as if from nothing and in moments. There’s magic involved for sure. I don’t need to tell Eshya about it, it’s impossible for her to miss, but again we’re too slow to anticipate the trap.
By the time I see the water spurt gathering in the upper lake a few hundred metres aside from me, it’s too late. The bud bursts open, swirling with a small puddle of moisture that calls to the waterspout on the ceiling.
A massive tornado of water rushes down towards them, unstoppable, and carrying tremendous force.
Eshya ducks and grabs onto the vines, unable to do anything else in the moment’s warning that she has. The others of her team take flight to avoid it, while Gerry continues to struggle to free himself.
Eshya closes her eyes, but I can still see the scene through the eyes of her team, as the rushing, glowing water crashes down upon the massive flowering vine. Waves of water wash over the surface, sinking through the gaps and threatening to wash Eshya away.
Yet, it’s within the debris pile that the waters effect is most evident. Moments after the waterspout forms, the air cavities in the ruins are flooded with water.
If Gerry was one to breath, he’d be fighting not to drown right now.
Fighting against the rushing water, Eshya finds her feet and throws off the tendrils that try to tie her into place. The tide of water spraying over her not nearly as strong as any of us had been expecting.
The trap is far more deadly I’d thought it would be, they managed to survive it so well by simply being fast enough to escape, while Gerry is simply able to weather the worst of it. They’ll have to tread more carefully from here, because whoever the mastermind behind this was, I expect that they’ll have worse around the city.
Some of what I see happening to the other teams shows as much to be true.
After a few minutes of struggling, with the help of the others, Gerry manages to pull himself free and the team continues on their way to hunt the bugs that have holed themselves up in their home tower.
Perhaps I really did get to the pair of them, if they came out to hunt during this mess, they could easily ambush my people at their most vulnerable.
As Eshya gets control of her situation and her team moves on, I turn my attention to the broader conflict.
While I may be watching some people specifically, my multi-minded focus is split into seeing everything in as broad a sight as possible. Or that’s what I’m trying for. It’s not fully working.
I can technically ‘see’ everything that my people see, but it’s almost more like an extension to my peripheral vision. Even with my split focus granted by my multi-mind Skill, I can’t take it all in at once.
Even so, I can build it up. I can train. I can figure out the right angles to stick the perspectives together, so that I can aim a little bit more accurately.
I turn my gaze from the fights, and battles, and traps, seeing through the eyes of my scouts instead. I settle on Shy in particular while I try to spread my gaze out through all of them.
She sneaks through the paths under the city, I’m not quite sure as to the magics and abilities that allow for a person to enhance their stealth, but she’s certainly doing something special. The gremlins walk right by her as she presses herself into the shadows, moving with a grace that I’ve not noticed from her before.
She listens and watches as she sneaks down through dark tunnels. Underground stone halls make up about half of the passages she walks, but they break open to the root-walled tunnels that I’m all too familiar with. She wanders through it all, while looking for signs of magic that might hint of Loekan’s presence.
A jar of white fire burns in a small bag by her side, but I only know of it because I gave it to her. All my scouts have a sample of the parasitic fire on them.
Her tasks are twofold, finding Loekan to let me end this conflict, and finding his enchanted forest.
The enchanted forest, as we’ve come to call it, is referring to the trees that he summoned on me the last time we assaulted his city. They’re something special and far more dangerous than most anything else in this city. Red is convinced that they’re of a similar nature to my armour, in that he can share his mana with the trees that he summons.
I can’t let that continue, so we have the fire.
The parasitic flames only burn living things, as I discovered through a little testing, and by feeding it a small ‘living’ rock that I got from the rebel traders, we’re able to keep it stable for a time. It should be able to burn away Loekan’s summonable forest if we can find it.
That is one plan at least, but there’s no guarantee that it’ll work.
I have had some countermeasures and lotion treatments prepared if it all goes out of control. If it does still turn for the worst, it might even be necessary to evacuate the entire cavern until it settles down.
There were a few complaints, more reasonable than not, but I can’t fight Loekan without taking risks. We should be able to handle it if our enemy can’t.
Shy continues through the dark tunnels, taking particular notice of a root here and there that lead her deeper into the dark tunnels. Her footsteps are light, but confident as she avoids traps that I can’t even see.
Through the darkness, she chases after clues that I can’t see, until she reaches a wall that’s different to the others. The roots are weaved into a neat pattern, but through the small gaps I can see signs of something beyond.
Shy nods to herself, pulling out a dagger to pry a gap into the wall. The hardened roots resist, but with enough work she does break a small enough gap in the wall to see more clearly beyond.
My excitement becomes difficult to control as I see a small oasis under the ground. A pond in the centre of the room glowing bright, illuminating the underground forest that’s somehow hidden here.
As she pulls out the white flames, Shy’s hands tremble a little. A short pause and a calming breath steadies her as she throws it through the gap into the room beyond.
The glass container shatters, and the flames joyously escape their confines. Spreading through the enchanted forest, with a maddened cackling that almost sounds like something from a conscious, living being.
Should I try sending it a message before this is over?
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Skills & Stats
Current mana density: 52,798 units
Mana sense: 0/100%
-Tag and Film
-Mana surge movement
-Annihilation flame burst
-Eyes of an Empire
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
More chapters available