Hardcore: Qi Worlds

Chapter 65

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 The sun crested the horizon as Benzhi viewed the troops arrayed before him. There was the hardened and reliable Stoneskin defenders, a handful of Gael berserkers and four deadly Guardians. Joining the elite fighter from the Alpine Forest were a ragtag bunch from Vaugend.

 Benzhi had to hand it to them, this mob could have sat back and hoped the warriors from the Alpine Forest were triumphant, removing the never-ending threat of the Gnoll invasion for them. But, no, here they were, in their amazingly crap gear, ready to put their lives on the line.

 “You will follow Skandear’s orders, or you will go home now,” Benzhi addressed the throng, “I guarantee if you do this, you will have a much better chance of survival.”

 The ragtag Vaugend militia eyed Skandear, uncertain what to think. Skandear looked like a tank, he wore Mastercraft dwarven armour from head to toe. The rune etched, qi enhanced plate shone, and it was supported by a gambeson below. The runed tower shields of the dwarves would interlock, allowing room for a spear through an alcove. Unfortunately, there were only six. The dwarves had left a few members behind, and their overall numbers had dwindled from the battle with the deep dwellers.

 “I will leave them to you Skandear, if they disobey, leave them, do not endanger warriors to save someone who does not follow orders,” Benzhi stated for all to hear. He spied the young woman and boy amongst the crowd and gave them a nod. The boy beamed, and the young woman nodded back, giving him a fierce look. The gnolls did not stand a chance.

 “The Vanguard will deal with the portal spawn, your main priority is to stop us being surrounded by swarms of regular gnolls. Otherwise stay out of harm's way of the third wave,” Benzhi reiterated the scope of Skandear’s troop. They had been over this, in more detail, the night before. The Gatherers would stay behind, Skandear would fetch them when the danger was past. He would also have to ensure their safety, which meant no gnolls were to break through to the city.

 The Vanguard headed out, Gisael and Anastasia restocked with as many arrows as they could carry, outpacing the support troop as planned.

 Reyas was in her usual leathers, pickaxes by hanging by her side, her bladed staff in hand. Her dark flowing hair was tied back into a ponytail, it bounced and bobbed as she ran. Despite all the days training outside her skin was still alabaster white contrasting her dark eyes and red lips.

 Gisael wore her trademark bamboo fibre coverings, and covering was an ambitious word, as her clothing just hid her groin and breasts and not very well. Not accustomed to covering up, Gisael was not concerned that her outfit did not encompass her beautifully toned posterior. She wore two quivers on her back, the Guardian quivers were masterpieces like her bow, among them one hundred arrows were tightly packed. Her ebony swords hung by her sides, the scabbard strapped to her thigh to stop them flapping as she ran.

 Anastasia was still wearing her white robes, which like Benzhi’s were worse for wear. White did not go well with a dusty, dirty environment like Vaugend and its surrounds. She had removed the inner layer, leaving just enough material to cover herself up. She too had dark hair, but her complexion and demeanour differed from Reyas, she looked older, possibly due to the fact she was actually much older than her nineteen-year-old body, and they knew it.

  She ran with long strides and confidence. Anastasia was determined to learn everything Benzhi had to offer and was not only grateful to be here, but she was also ecstatic. Her driven demeanour was underpinned by her maturity, but she was not without vanity. Her eyes and lips were surrounded by dark eyeliner, where she acquired it Benzhi had no idea, and with her tanned complexion, it gave her an exotic look.

 He wondered if the advanced lump she received was customisable? Benzhi just got what he was given, and it had a penchant to change on a whim. He looked like an elf, however, neither grey nor wood variety. His ears were not pronounced as the wood elves, and he had fewer vine coverings than other males. He was taller with long white hair, it was not blond, it was bleached white. He had an athletic build, not quite lanky. He was over his white robes, they were impractical for adventuring, they probably suited city living, but not the Alpine Forest.

 The Vanguard had no plan, they did not know what they were up against, and with outside factors, Benzhi did not want to delay. Not that he was usually patient anyway. They would assess what they were up against when it was known and devise a strategy on the spot, that tactic never failed anyone, did it?

 The mass of burrows was eerily quiet, the several hundred Gnolls they killed yesterday must have had an impact, but there were more, and Gisael confirmed these had disappeared.

 What happened to those Gnolls was soon apparent, the third wave had emerged from the portal, and the remaining Gnolls were gathered around worshipping their Alpha and his entourage.

 The Alpha Gnoll was impressive, he was twelve foot high and several wide, he was all muscle and fur, he wore no armour. The Alpha was of the darkest hues of grey, giving him an ominous look compared to his lightly coloured kin. Unsurprisingly the Alpha had large claws and fangs, what was surprising is he had no visible weapons other than his natural defences. It seemed his natural weapons were formidable, given its size, speed and strength.

 Benzhi viewed the Alpha under qi sight; it was brimming with qi, retaining a significant core as well as impressive circulation, its core was surpassed only by Benzhi’s and the Myrkalfar cores.

 The Alpha was supported by fifteen elite gnolls all larger and darker in hue than the elites from yesterday. These gnolls were naked as well, their thirty eyes were a malevolent red contrasted by their dark grey hue.

 The only Gnoll that stood out within the Alpha’s entourage wore robes and was almost as tall as the Alpha’s twelve feet. It had a staff in one hand and small totem in the other, the totem was painted wood decorated with feathers, hair and god knows what else.

 “My gut tells me we have our work cut out for us,” Benzhi stated. “The Alpha and Shaman have large qi cores, the elites are talented. At a guess the warriors have qi abilities that enhance physical prowess, but who knows what the shaman can do. Gisael, Any clues?” Benzhi asked.

 “The Shaman may have qi shields, but its attacks will be in line with its elemental affinity. Whether it is earth, air, fire, lighting or water we do not know, and I cannot tell by looking at its dress,” Gisael replied flatly.

  “We should kill the Shaman at the first opportunity,” Benzhi stated, “Anastasia and Gisael, take out the fifteen elites from the pack, Reyas do your best to keep the Alpha busy without getting hit, while I take care of the Shaman. Once the Shaman is down, I will assist with the Alpha. Any objections?”

 “It is a good plan,” Gisael replied, “I would prefer to take on the Alpha, but with my bow, I am well suited to occupy and decimate the fifteen elite guards from the pack.”

 When it came to melee combat, there was not much difference between Gisael and Reyas. Reyas had speed and strength on her side, where Gisael had experience and agility. The development of new skills had them vying daily for superiority, if they had kept score, it would be five hundred wins each, standoff.

 The Vanguard closed to within four hundred paces. Gisael aimed for a crowd of elites and fired and long-range effort.

 Benzhi was not concerned with too many instructions before a fight, they would utilise their connection and adapt as needed. He even doubted their initial plan would last long.

 The arrow found its mark, skewering the back of one of the elite gnolls, it growled in pain, and all the third wave heads swivelled towards the origin, thirty-four bright red eyes glared at the Vanguard.

 The Shaman Gnoll literally barked orders, and the elite pack members bounded across the four hundred paces towards the Vanguard.

 Gisael and Anastasia proceeded to fire in earnest, given the outcome, understanding came through the connection. Benzhi and Reyas would stay put if possible taking out the elite before the Shaman and Alpha became engaged.

  Gisael was only able to fire twenty arrows before the elites closed the four hundred pace gap, and of those, the first couple were ineffectual due to the distance. Anastasia had fired four, that was the gap in the skill level of the master and apprentice.

 Gisael was unable to wound any elite gnolls until the last five arrows when they had reached close to the hundred pace mark, the reflexes of the elite gnolls allowed them to swat away arrows like they were flies. However, at one hundred paces, the arrows flew at such a speed, and Gisael was able to change the trajectory ever so slightly as to fool the elite gnolls.

 She was able to wound two and take three down before they reached the Vanguard. Let’s assume it was good practice for Anastasia.

 ‘Anastasia, watch the Shaman and Alpha while we fight these, try and stay out of combat, we need to know if they move,’ Benzhi sent images and thoughts to that effect through the connection.

 Twelve Elite Pack Gnolls bore down on the Vanguard, they wore no armour nor wielded any weapons other than their natural ones. Claws and fangs enhanced with qi, the reason the Elites did not use weapons was their natural weapons were far superior to any they could procure.

 Benzhi would fight with qi sight, which would assist the other Vanguard members as well through the link, they all knew instantaneously that the claws were qi enhanced, by the looks of the patterns and flows the claws had enhanced sharpness and strength.

 The Elite Gnolls had similar qi abilities to the Gaels, they possessed pure physical enhancements, speed, strength, agility and stamina. Benzhi had to resist the urge to study too closely, he was about to enter deadly combat with a talented opponent. One thing he did notice was the flows and patterns differed to the Gaels, there was more than one way to skin a dog so to speak.

 Reyas battle POV

 Reyas spun her bladed staff in anticipation, Benzhi was on her left and Anastasia was behind him. Gisael was on the other side of Benzhi, guarding his left flank. Her bladed staff sliced through the air in sublime movements, Reyas had to admire its beauty. Her pickaxes were effective, and the chosen weapon of her people, but this Dwarven staff was of godly standards.

 The spear point at once end and a blade on the other, she could stab or cut depending on her needs, she could also use the staff for defence, it parried blades, spears and charges efficiently.

 The speed of the elite gnolls was far superior to the ones from yesterday. However, they were not on her level. Reyas brought the staff down from overhead as the first Gnoll lept at her, timing the strike perfectly, with assistance from the connection, as it closed with-in reach. Her reach was far superior to its claws and fangs, she arced the blade down into its neck slicing through its jugular, it would be dead in moments. She kept the momentum of the staff spinning it half circle before halting to stab the next Elite Gnoll in the chest.

 Two down, within moments all was going well, Benzhi moved forward shunpoing out of her vicinity. Reyas followed with her own shunpo, seeing an Elite to his right turn to face Benzhi she took the opportunity to skewer its side, stabbing the spear end through the side of its chest. It howled in pain, she was feeding her staff qi, and it allowed her to damage its insides beyond recovery before she pulled the staff out.

 Benzhi lept high, landing on one Elite Gnoll, his foot smashing it to the ground while he stabbed another, that was attempting to charge him, in the face. Reyas could see nowhere to assist at the moment all the elites were otherwise engaged. Anastasia allowed her to see the Shaman and Alpha were merely watching the battle, assessing their enemy.

  Reyas had killed three Elite Gnolls in as many blows, out of fifteen this was not good. She pouted, damn Benzhi hogging them all and Gisael with her bow.

 She could feel through the connection caution, yet Benzhi charged. ‘What is with the conflicting messages? Damn him.’ She thought to herself. She followed Benzhi towards the Shaman and the Alpha. Gisael and her would take on the Alpha while Benzhi dealt with the Shaman. He was more concerned about the unknown abilities of the Shaman than the sheer size, speed and strength of the Alpha.

 Anastasia watched their backs, she wasn’t happy about it, but her inexperience could be fatal in a fight like this. Where her vision, through the connection, was invaluable.

 Benzhi shunpo’d towards the shaman, closing the gap lightning quick as the Shaman pointed its staff at him, although the Shaman had witnessed the last fight it was still caught unawares by the sheer speed. Benzhi had taken it up a few notches. Reyas could not compete with that speed, not yet, her qi technique for speed body was mastered but the effect on her feet, to give extra height to a stride or leap was still at novice level.

 Gisael circled the Alpha, warily waiting for its first attack, preparing to dodge. Reyas circled the other direction, between the two of them the Alpha was flanked.

 This did not concern the Alpha apparently, as it charged her, it was more than twice her height, and despite the size of her staff, its reach was superior. Reyas retreated, parrying its paw with the bladed end of her staff attempting to slice its fingers off. Her bladed staff bit, she probably damaged the Alpha. She didn’t know because the impact of the parried blow knocked her flying.

 Although the blow from the Alpha did not hit her, she was still affected by it somehow. Benzhi’s qi sight was of no assistance, he was fighting the shaman, in fact, he was struggling all his blows were repelled from the qi shields the shaman had erected.

  Reyas got to her feet, this was not going to be a simple fight. Time to get angry. Reyas dropped her staff and pulled her pickaxes. The Alpha had turned on Gisael after smacking her easily aside, she charged and lept the last ten paces, she used her new abilities coupled with her old; true strength and speed.

 The Alpha sensed her approach, but instead of dodging it was turning to face her. It must not have expected her to charge and leap. Because, before it had finished turning, Reyas had implanted both pickaxes, one in its chest the other in the side of its shoulder, she then proceeded to rip them out viciously. Dealing as much damage as she could in the process.

  The Alpha roared but otherwise seemed unaffected by its wounds, suddenly something happened to Benzhi, he was lost to the connection.

 Benzhi lay motionless on the ground outside of the Shamans qi bubble.

 ‘This is not good’, thought Reyas, she and Gisael still had their hands full with the Alpha, it was up to Anastasia to help Benzhi.

 There was nothing to be done other than charging the Alpha again, a pickaxe in the face will not be shrugged off so easily. 

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