Chapter 32 — Subjugation
It was just as Soran said; his voice was still fading when they felt underground movements. Leaving their spoils, the guards and Soran immediately ran away from the scene. In less than two minutes, the earth bulged once again, and ankhegs showed themselves one after another. A total of three new ankhegs appeared from the ground.
The escaping guards looked back and shuddered as cold sweat broke out on their backs. If not for Soran telling them to leave straight away, a few of them would have died already.
A single ankheg was already hard to handle, let alone three. Even with the strength of the head guard, who was a Grade 3 Northern barbarian, they would have been annihilated. With three consecutive volleys of acid spray attacks, half of the guards would have lost their lives, and the remaining ones would have been unable to put up a good fight against three ankhegs.
This was the very reason why ankhegs had a higher challenge rating than the snake demons belonging to the Abyss.
Once the ankhegs discovered the corpse of their pack member, they headed toward the escaping men while hissing sharply, most likely out of primal instincts. However, despite travelling underground, the three monsters were still unable to catch up with the fleeing guards who were riding horses. They poked their bodies above ground and could only glare in the direction the guards and Soran fled. Even wolves took revenge for members of their pack; supernatural monsters like ankhegs would certainly do the same.
“Thanks man.” The head guard patted Soran on the shoulder, then held the heavily injured guard in his arms and went back to the merchant squad on horseback.
Soran’s injuries were not that serious, with just his shoulders being slightly corroded by the acid. However, the guard who took the acid spray head on was not so fortunate. Despite blocking a large portion of the spray attack with his shield, a lot of the acid still landed on his body, causing burns all over him.
The most fearsome feature of the ankhegs’ acid was that it was not only strongly acidic, but also poisonous. Perhaps it was the guard’s luck that they only encountered ankhegs, not wyverns. If they came across wyverns, which had a challenge rating of 15, even full plate armor would be rendered useless by the wyverns’ acid.
Ankheg acid was child’s play when compared to that of wyverns; wyvern acid was one of the most corrosive and poisonous substances in the world (apart from legendary items), not to mention the fact that wyverns lived in groups as well.
The merchant squad soon came into sight. The merchant guards patrolling the surroundings reacted quickly, one third of them unsheathing their weapons and guarding the merchant squad while others went to receive the injured members. The merchants hurriedly ordered the workers to gather the carts, forming a simple defensive cart formation—this was a method commonly used by experienced merchants to fend off bandits.
“Bring me to the mistress.”
The head guard gasped for air as he carried his injured co-worker off the horse. The heavily injured guard was already as pale as a sheet; it was due to the toxins which entered his body and the severe blood loss from his wounds.
Enemies were not the only factor which could end one’s life when adventuring in the wilderness; untreated wounds would deteriorate and kill them as well, even if their bodies were sturdier than those in Soran’s original world.
The merchant guards soon gathered and set up in a defensive formation. Archers and crossbowmen were stationed on top of the carts while fully armored warriors held shields in front of them; it almost seemed as though they were a disciplined army.
Northern merchants—they were the strongest among all merchants in terms of combat strength. Many players who became thieves and bandits out of desperation called them 'the tough ones' as many of the Northern merchants' guards were retired soldiers.
The alluring mistress of the merchant squad appeared from within the large carriage in the center of the defensive formation. She glanced at the injured guard and said in a stern voice, "Clean the wound and bring him to my carriage."
She turned and looked at Soran. "You too. I have a special ointment, so let them treat your wounds with it."
While the head guard reported what they had encountered ahead to the mistress, the others cleaned the wounds of the injured ones. Everything was done in a calm and orderly fashion, with none of them showing any signs of panic; the only person who could maintain such order within the squad was none other than the mysterious lady.
The descendant of a Northern witch—all her orders were executed perfectly. The merchants who were initially perturbed began calming down after receiving her command, and they began ordering their workers to bring out the ointment as requested.
Northern witches were powerful and unfathomable beings, and they were more menacing than their Southern counterparts. Not only could they cast mysterious spells, they also innately had some witch doctor abilities.
It was one of the most difficult professions to advance in at the early stages; it had a prerequisite of having Grade 3 in the basic profession, Level 5 spellcaster level, and most importantly, the ability Divination.
The head guard personally treated the heavily injured guard, covering his wounds with the special ointment and making him drink a potion.
Despite having minor injuries, Soran could not stop Vivian from applying ointment all over his body as if he was gravely injured. She did not hold back at all and used as much ointment as she needed and even made Soran drink a potion even though it was pretty much unnecessary.
The young girl rarely cried. Unlike other girls who would weep and sob at the sight of even the slightest of injuries, Vivian was used to treating Soran's wounds as he often returned home injured back in the old days. The siblings had outstanding chemistry, and Vivian was always ready to become Soran's accomplice in crime despite her young age.
"Ankhegs?" The mistress furrowed her brows, glanced at Soran, and spoke to the head guard, asking, "So, what now? Do we proceed?"
The head guard had a troubled look as he answered, "I'm not too sure about the habits of these creatures either. Perhaps this guy knows more."
Everyone at the scene turned to look at Soran, who was cheering Vivian up with terrible jokes. The girl was amused despite the unrefined jokes Soran made, but then pulled her brother's sleeves as she noticed everyone staring at them.
Soran quickly realised his blunder but proceeded to speak as if nothing had happened. "Ankhegs are stubborn monsters which never leave their territory.
"There must be some reason for them to appear over here. Considering that they settled down in this location, they won’t be leaving on their own any time soon.
"There's only two solutions to the situation. One, we send men to kill them. If we don't, they will surely attack us if we trespass in their newly claimed territory. Two, we take a detour and avoid them. I can assure you that the ankhegs will not pursue us."
The mysterious mistress frowned after hearing the word 'detour,' and she immediately issued an order. "Norald! Bring your men and exterminate the monsters."
Her stern voice implied that she had no intention of retracting her order. The head guard Norald unhesitatingly replied, "As you wish, Mistress. I will now bring men to take care of the trouble."
Norald took his leave to gather his men and equipment for subjugating the ankhegs. He ordered the workers to bring out large shields and left half the guards to defend the merchant squad while the other half went ahead to eliminate the ankhegs.
Most of the merchant squad referred to the mysterious lady as 'Mistress,' indicating that she was of high social standing. Despite not being her slaves, everyone present was her subordinate. Soran could not help but feel curious about the mistress' real identity.
Northern witches—these ladies who could have their own territory within The Frostmaiden's nation could not be simple women, and their dangerous abilities further consolidated their threatening nature.
Soran thought for a while, then stood up and said, "I'll go as well.
"I have experience against ankhegs. It will be easier to kill them with me there."
Soran assured Vivian that he would be fine, then hurriedly joined the group of guards. As he was only tagging along, the mistress did not order him to join the subjugation group out of respect. Nonetheless, the head guard expressed his wish for him to join the group by glancing at Soran while gathering his men.
The mistress nodded her head in approval.
The head guard approached Soran on horseback and said, "Don't engage in combat later. It’s fine to just tell us their weaknesses."
Soran touched the hilt of his curved sword and tested his body, then replied, "Got it.
"Then, please tell the men to bring more shields as leather armor is useless against their acid. I'll bait the ankhegs out when we get there."
Soran received over 900 Slaughter EXP just from landing the killing blow on the ankheg. After reaching Grade 2 in his profession, the requirement for reaching Level 6 Rogue was 3000 EXP; it was not something which could be fulfilled just from picking locks and disarming traps. He needed to engage in combat and kill monsters.
With such a large combat force, it was relatively safe for Soran to gain EXP. It would be great to receive 900 EXP more in the following combat as it was unlikely for him to meet such strong monsters again, not to mention that he was not confident he could take down a single ankheg on his own.
In typical adventures, he would only receive around 800 points after killing a group of fifteen to thirty kobolds, even with a kobold sorcerer included in the group, as the EXP was split among the team. Soran simply could not let the opportunity to raise his strength slip from his grasp!
(Author’s Note: Regarding the energy consumption of the explosive state when engaged in combat, please take a look at a heavyweight boxing match. Professional heavyweight boxers would have 15 Constitution, but their stamina would still drop drastically after a few rounds.)
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