The warriors fighting are more experienced in killing than subduing their foes, but the gremlins are simply that powerless before them that they’re easily swept up in bindings of blood. One in the group from my warriors uses some sort of invasive blood magic to steal away the consciousness from the little grey skinned critters, before easily throwing them aside back towards Red and Giant.
The wild beasts that follow the gremlins my warriors have no qualms against killing, and they easily slaughter the lot of them. Whether they were rendered mad by their long years of captivity, or their natures are simply close to mindless, I’m not sure, but whatever the case, they’re nothing but mindless, violent beasts now.
Giant slows down as the gremlins are haphazardly tossed around near his feet, and Red doesn’t press him as she could, letting their fight slowly come to a stop as the tall hairy man slowly comes to his own decisions.
Eshya steals my attentions back towards her as a blade thrusts through her chest, missing her heart. The grazing closeness of the wound is enough that I can almost feel it splitting my own chest. Eshya no longer seems to care, cutting the limb off in the moment before Beetle can pull away.
Now separate from the insect, Eshya grabs the blade, careful of it’s edges, and pulls it out from her own chest. The little healer bug, quickly appears with another potion, pilfered off of Gerry who’s busy keeping Roach distracted.
The fight has lasted longer than it probably should already. The pair of bugs show no sign of killing intent which might be the only reason that my warriors are still alive, though the opposite holds some truth too. Though it hardly seems like it, Eshya is holding back.
She’s had the chance to strike at their hearts and heads, the only means to confidently stop them, yet she held back the same as they have. Because of this, the battle has dragged on more than it ever should have.
To make matters more difficult for Eshya and her team, the bugs move too quickly to be easily struck, and their mana dense carapace is difficult to pierce. The black goop covering every surface of the room lets them glide about too easily, while slowing my side considerably.
Sometimes one of them will duck through a wall, or the floor, or the ceiling and attack from the other side whilst supporting their partner. They take half as many wounds as they inflict, but while Eshya and her team have healed their wounds with potions, the bugs don’t seem to have anything to use to heal themselves with.
Eshya, stabbed through the thigh for the third time, has finally had enough as she stabs into Beetle, her sword penetrating deep, but doing frustratingly little damage. This isn’t the Earth, and unlike mundane humans, they won’t bleed out from a few petty stab wounds. Eshya’s sword technique, while powerful enough to damage even those much more powerful than her, doesn’t have the power to end them without hitting something lethal.
Spitting at the ground, and ignoring her injuries to save her potion, she turns away from the bugs, carefully guarding herself from their attacks as she approaches a spot that she’s been observing closely.
While I can’t read her mind, her eyes do flick back here more than perhaps she should let on.
I’m not the only one who noticed her glances, and as she stands under the spot where the pair of insects crawl up through to the roof, the pair notice her.
"Stop!" Beetle shouts, her carapace covered in the Gerry’s vines. She pulls herself free, staggering as they pull her back.
Roach doesn’t shout, but slides over the ground, only stopping as a bloody shield slams into his side and tosses him off course. Eshya smiles, preparing herself carefully and leaping up into the black goop that covers the ceiling.
She hits hard, but she’s not the one to give way. The door hidden inside the viscous fluid opens way for her as she flies up and beyond it, slamming into the ceiling above. Prepared for as much, her mana has already condensed about her hands, and she simply pushes herself back to the ground, ready for a fight.
The room around her is covered in much the same black goop, the snot-like consistency of it now covering her head to toe, she cleans off her face for a better look at the room.
Small, white balls are clustered all around the room, each the size of a tennis ball, black liquid holds them in place, but doesn’t fully cover them. Eshya cautiously steps closer, peering inside.
Inside each one is a small tadpole like creature, forming in the milky liquids that fill them.
"Eggs?" Eshya asks, looking about at the countless hundreds of eggs clustered about the room.
"Don’t hurt them." Roach says, crawling up through the black liquid, looking like something from a horror movie. He lowers his face to the ground. "Promise us that you won’t hurt them, we’ll surrender."
He doesn’t look to be lying. Beetle crawls up after him, while Eshya looks between the two and back towards the clustered eggs.
"Thoughts?" She asks me.
"I’d like to accept on certain conditions." I say, "They stay here for the rest of the battle, not assisting Loekan against us. When the battle is over and I win, they will respect the rules that I enforce, and will not kill any of my people. If they have any idea of where Loekan is hiding, they tell us now. They must also cease any communications with him."
Even if they refuse I have no intent on frying their eggs. I’ve done similar already, but not to a species that’s proven itself intelligent enough to surrender. A certain gremlin child floats through my mind, but I supress the thought. I didn’t have a better choice, then. I couldn’t think of one.
I’m not in that position now.
"We do not know where Loekan is." Beetle says in a rush. "Under the ground somewhere, maybe, but I don’t know. He could be somewhere else, if he’s not there, please don’t punish us."
I appreciate respect, it usually makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside, but this feels… not quite right. This isn’t respect, it’s simply fear. Deserved, absolutely deserved, but still distasteful.
"That’s fine." Eshya says, easily shrugging off their bows and subservient attitudes. "I’ll warn you, however. If you betray us… then all of this will be annihilated. Do not cross us."
"If Loekan wins…" Beetle asks worriedly.
"He won’t, but to assuage your worries, this deal is for this battle. If we retreat, then we’ll return to being simple enemies. We won’t destroy your nest. Agreed?"
"Thank you." They say at the same time, their heads held firmly down towards the ground. If we asked them to, they’d wear collars willingly to protect their spawn. They’ve lost to us, and now they have no choice but to capitulate, or suffer.
My choice to take this city was a single step towards freeing myself from the tyranny of others more powerful, but in the act I’m tyrannising others. I don’t feel overly sympathetic of their suffering. They serve a man who I do not have any great respect for, but a stirring worry does appear in my heart.
I can’t let myself become like Loekan, or like the leaders of the Unified States of Mana, or any of the other corrupt examples I can think of from Earth. I want my people to be as free as I am, so long as they do not harm me and mine. Actually, making a society to reflect that desire, while keeping everyone safe, and reasonably happy, will be… quite a task, but if I can get this mana under control, I’ll have forever to figure it out.
"If you choose to join us after this is done, you won’t have to worry about all the bowing and scraping." Eshya says with a smile. "Now, you two stay in your room. I have to go tend to a little birdy of mine."
Eshya heads to the exit, but pauses a moment before reaching it.
"Oh, and just in case." She says, pulling out one of the explosive crystals filled with my magic. "If you betray us, this will go off and destroy everything in here. Stay in your room, and protect what is precious to you."
"This isn’t…" Roach asks, looking nervously at the crystal. "You aren’t going to kill us anyway… are you?"
"Why would I?" Eshya asks, "I’d like to have a proper sparring session with the two of you when this is over and we’re on the same side, so don’t screw that up for me, alright?"
The pair nod eagerly and Eshya hesitates only a moment before sliding through the dark goop covered trapdoor. Gathering her team, she wastes no time in going after Vii. There are no other elites to worry about that we know of, and saving Vii and the others is too important a task to forget about.
Elsewhere in the city, another truce is slowly forming. Another battle coming to a close, and for reasons not entirely alien.
Giant and Red face against each other in the courtyard where they’ve been fighting. The unconscious gremlins lay scattered about at their feet, and the massive hulk of a man refuses to take a step for fear of killing them. From the look in his eyes, I’m sure that he’d react if attacked however.
Red just waits, watching the corpse pile slowly building around where the rest of Red’s team is working. If Adler hadn’t spoken up, that’s where the gremlins would be right now, and elsewhere in the city, they’ve been piled up just like this.
Meat is meat.
Bone is bone.
Plant matter is plant matter.
Mana is mana.
How intelligent that meat, or that plant, or that mana was, doesn’t really matter once the intelligence, the emotions—and the ‘soul’ if it even exists—is gone. It becomes food for something else, or in some cases ingredients for potions or some other magical devices.
So, we kill the people of this city, and we take their homes. Invaders, conquerors, beasts vying to increase their territory, yet that is the way this world is. The only way to get this city, and the safety of its walls, is to take it from those who own it.
I will make something better than this, and hopefully, I can find better than this already thriving out there. The rebels can’t all be war mongering monsters, though I already know that the Unified States, for all it can occasionally do good, won’t accept anything short of full submission to their own culture and values.
I know for sure there are at least cultures out there like the second and third grade societies that I can possibly cooperate with. Groups that I can interact with in a way that isn’t defined by bloodshed and war.
That’s not to say I’m giving up on violence, I need to expand to grow more powerful if I ever want to survive in this universe. Either I grow strong enough to defend myself and my nation, or I wait for someone stronger to come by and do what they want with me and mine. In which case being collared again is only one horror on a list of many potential nightmares.
Pulling my mind away from the dark problems that I’m going to have to face one day, I watch Red and Giant face down once more. Neither is fighting anymore, as they gaze out over the world around them.
"I just want to protect my home." The large man says, staring down into his hands. "Why do people like Loekan and your Empress have to ruin that for all the rest of us?"
"Because they’re trying to protect their own homes too." Red says simply, looking up to the big man. "You’re whining that those stronger than you are causing you trouble, while Loekan and Kyra, when faced with the same difficulties decided to grow strong enough to stand against those that would take from them. If you have a problem with defending yourself and your home, then stop whining and get back to training yourself, become strong enough to deserve the respect of those like Loekan and Kyra."
"I don’t want to fight." Giant’s voice rumbles loudly over the cobble stone streets. "I want to build."
"Then stick close to the side of someone that will fight for you, you big idiot." Red replies with a laugh, shaking her head. "But be ready to support them. Kyra can’t hold an empire together by herself, but if she keeps on this path, then maybe she can be someone we can all rely on."
Giant lets out a long and tired sigh, falling to the ground and sitting down, pulling the unconscious bodies of the gremlins closer to him.
"Your empress will win?" He asks, "Loekan will punish me if he wins. I don’t want that."
"Kyra won’t win on her own. We’ll win together." Red says, staring up at him.
"Join us." I say to him. "Let’s protect your home together."
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
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