Hardcore: Qi Worlds

Chapter 68

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 POV Aeson Grey Elf Master Tailor – Aeson was the tailor who Benzhi first met and made his robes. He accompanied the Grey Elves on the expedition to assist the Gaels. 

The reason for Aeson POV or third person follow, is to give the reader an insight into the crafting system. Aeson has spent the last few days getting to know the dwarves and the Gael crafters. This is what he has learned.

The grey elves and gatherers had been working non-stop for the past few days, gathering cores and skinning elite gnolls and the gnoll leaders.  Gleig, the tanner and leather worker from the Staggan Clan of the Gaels, was leading the team in retrieving the precious hides.

 The leather workers from the Gaels, including Gleig’s wife Nasven, had been learning from the dwarven crafters for the last month, where they needed no instruction was crafting excellent leather armour, but they had never created qi armour. This armour required a design, the dwarves called their creations runes, that would direct qi flows to cause an effect. These flows enabled anyone, who was able to control their qi, to power the design and gain the effect.

 When it came to armour, dwarves would build stoneskin into the design, as it made the most sense. They knew designs for strength. However, this would not grant the wearer strength, but the armour itself. When it came to high-quality armour, they would create runes for stoneskin, the strength of the armour, suppleness or flexibility and possibly qi storage where plates with qi strike could be adhered to.

  The stoneskin runes would enable the armour to be impenetrable from normal means. It would require either massive force or a qi weapon. And in the case of a qi weapon, it would have to be more powerful or much better quality than the stoneskin design. The only other way to penetrate would be if the wearer ran out of qi, or for some reason, was unable to power the stoneskin runes.

 A design with armour strength would allow the armour to be almost permanently new. Only severe damage such as a qi weapon would affect it. Normal wear and tear would not occur.

 The dwarves mainly worked with ores, they also worked with gemstones, crystal and other materials from the earth. They did not work with fibres and hides.

 The reason mithril, which is the smelting of white silver (aka titanium) and vanadium, is so precious is it was the only metal that could sustain five design effects, in fact, it usually sustained four, but Barrin’s level of skill had enabled an extra design.

 How this translated to hides was; the better quality the hide, the more designs it could contain. This is why the Vanguard wanted to kill the third wave, it was not certain, but it was probable, that the third wave of Gnolls would have the equivalent of master qi practitioners. It did not matter if they were sentient or pure natural beasts, in fact, the more natural, the better, what mattered was their level in the magical beast scale. And if they had a usable hide or not.

 The Ancient Kodiak, friendly, thanks to the Mother’s influence, which roamed the Alpine Forest was a divine beast. The other beasts in the alpine forest ranged from mundane to mystical.

Magical Beast Scale (Extract from Aeson’s notes)

Mundane – (no core, unusually all portal spawn has a small core, thus far)

Noble - 1 RD

Spirit - 2 RD

Mystical - 3 RD

Divine - 4 RD

Dragon (Dragons are Divine Beasts, but also possess the ability to manipulate qi and learn techniques, and they can fly)

RD (theorised maximum runic design capacity)

Not only did these beasts have a solid core if defeated, which Benzhi had discovered could be added to the Land Core. The dwarves speculated, with good reason, that the higher a beast was on the magical beast scale, the more qi technique designs, or runes, could be sustained by the crafted armour. This also depended on the skill level of the crafters.

 As Barrin was a Grandmaster crafter, he was able to embed more runes than a master crafter. It would be safe to assume a novice would waste a divine beast hide or a mithril bar. The weapon Barrin created for Benzhi, the spear, had a total of five runic designs. It was speculated that a Mithril bar was equivalent to a Divine Beast hide. Thus a master crafter would be able to imbue a divine beast hide with four runic designs and a grandmaster five.

 If the hides from the Gnoll Shaman and the Gnoll Alpha were Mystical, which the size of their core would indicate, then the master crafters Gleig, Nasven and himself, if given the opportunity to assist, would be able to imbue three runic designs. If Nasven were a grandmaster, like Barrin, four would be possible. However a grandmaster is not something bestowed upon you, the dwarves have a system that as soon as you can imbue five runic designs into a Mithril piece, you are deemed to be a Grandmaster.

 It was a title earned by the achievement, the title did not bestow the ability.

 The elite gnolls, the dark grey variety which did not wield weapons and of which there were fifteen, would be classified as noble beasts, the lowest on the scale which would normally possess a core, based on old world lore from all the races. These elite gnoll hides were going to be used first to practice the art, and they should be able to hold one runic design successfully.

 It was Bharelsia, or Bhar as she insisted on being called, the now leader of the expedition leaving only protection to Skandear, who discovered the mundane portal spawn also have solid cores. Aeson would recommend to all grey elves to do as Bhar says and immediately, short of putting your life was in danger and even then possibly so.

 Bharelsia held a special place in the culture of the Alpine Forest, she was known as a Daughter of the Stoneskin Clan. The grey elves had no Daughter or Son, which was a pity because these individuals were extremely talented in qi and were revered amongst all the peoples.

 The other Daughters were Gisael and Reyas, who along with Benzhi, were in the Vanguard. These individuals were insanely adept warriors and qi talents. These daughters followed Benzhi, Aeson was not sure if it was the fact they followed him that made him the leader of the Alpine Forest or was he the leader, so they followed him?

 The only person in the Vanguard who held no position amongst the Alpine Forest, other than being a member of the Vanguard was Anastasia. She was Benzhi’s disciple and perhaps lover, this was uncertain but much discussed as good dinnertime conversation.

  Aeson assisted Gleig where he could for the last few days. The process of skinning and preparing hides was certainly something he had little, to none, experience with however his precision in cutting made him a better assistant for Gleig than anyone else other than Nasven.

 They had seen little of the stray gnolls, Skandear and his warband accomplished the task of removing the threat to such a degree they wouldn’t even have known it existed. Which was fortunate, as the last thing Aeson wanted to do was defend himself against these vile creatures, it was bad enough dealing with the dead ones.

 The gnolls fur and skin would make excellent hides, something Aeson would not have expected, but according to Gleig, it was just the right blend of tough and supple. The Alpha’s hide was very clean, he must have had a harem, back on his own world, who looked groomed him. He could not imagine such a beast doing it himself.

 What possessed this beast to come through the portal and in ever-increasing strength, known as waves, was a mystery not only to Aeson but to the dwarves and wood elf guardians. It was indeed strange, the only information he could gleam were stories of games the Myrkalfar invented for their own training, testing and amusement. This whole world was like an amusement park of Myrkalfar design.

 Like the Mother, their most accomplished qi practitioners could create and terraform worlds, it just consumed massive amounts of power. This spawn was a blessing, with each containing a qi core, Benzhi and the Mother could collect power without delving into slavery and sacrifices like the Myrkalfar did. Aeson shivered just thinking about it.

 He did not have any knowledge of what passed between Benzhi’s old people, the rulers of Dawnharbour and the Myrkalfar. But he was worried if the Myrkalfar did create this amusement park, then, how did they not know about it? He would have to inform Benzhi of what he knew and theorised when he had the chance. The only problem was, Benzhi was not aloof, he was just unavailable most of the time. Always on a mission, the half-elf never stood still.

After a few days had passed, his opportunity came, the Vanguard returned from their scouting expedition to check in on the harvesting and emigration progress.

 Benzhi approached to view the now skinned hides and the solid core haul.

 “Ah, Benzhi, sir, I need to talk to you about a few things that have been bothering me,” Aeson interrupted his inspection.

 Benzhi smiled, “Anything for you Master Tailor, but don’t call me sir, Benzhi is fine. We have time now, spill the beans.”

 Aeson was pleased, Benzhi automatically bestowed him his old title of Master Tailor, giving him equal standing amongst his peers, although it was a tiny bit disconcerting that he still did not know his name, he always called him Tailor or Master Tailor.

 He explained to Benzhi his concerns over this world, putting together what he did know of the Myrkalfar and his theories.

 “…the Myrkalfar would create this training, testing and entertainment constructs, like the Tower at Dawnharbour. The QWP gentlemen called them themeparks. What concerns me is the nature of these portals, it did not occur to me until I came here to the Gnoll war. This is similar to the themeparks they create but on a much larger scale. Most of the landscape has evolved by itself, but, my intuition tells me these portals are no accident. The clues are the way the beasts come in waves and the fact they all have qi cores.”

 Benzhi stared at Aeson, considering the gravity of the theory.

 “So, if the Myrkalfar created this place, then how could they not know about it?” Benzhi asked.

 “If they did, they would certainly know about this place, will they follow us here?” Aeson said concerned, “the Vanguard is powerful, but, the Myrkalfar are many and have many powerful warriors. I am sad to say, more powerful.”

 Benzhi contemplated what Aeson said and then replied, “they may think you are dead, to the demon swarm, that was my plan all along. To release you and then create an event that was both a diversion and a reason for your disappearance. I hoped, and still do, they assumed you all perished.”

  Aeson nodded, that was not his only concern, but his people would see no end of suffering for daring to escape the Myrkalfar, it would be better to end their own lives then be recaptured.

 “There is something I wanted to ask you. What do you know of the Myrkalfar sacrifices?” Benzhi asked

 Aeson sighed, Benzhi had mentioned, in the past, how this disturbed him, and rightly so, it was one the main factors that pushed him to betray is people and act so abruptly.

 “Just as we collect solid cores from portal spawn, so do the Myrkalfar collect solid qi cores to power their many activities and to strengthen themselves. Their prime warriors would do as you do and defeat enemies and harvest their cores. But, when someone, like the former rulers of Dawnharbour, comes to trade, the currency most valued is these solid qi cores,” Aeson paused, took a deep breath and continued.

  “These solid qi cores no only come from dead portal spawn, they come from any creature who possesses talent. For instance, if you were killed your solid qi core could be harvested, and the same goes for the sacrifices. The sacrifices would need to be beings who were talented. The Myrkalfar would either breed them or simply kill them and harvest their core. Probably the former as two talents are highly likely to produce a talented offspring.”

Benzhi had a horrified look on his face, it made sense, but it did not make any less horrific. “Do you know where the QWP got these sacrifices, where they are from?” Benzhi asked.

 “The QWP?” Aeson asked.

 “The former rulers of Dawnharbour, they are the QWP,” Benzhi supplied.

 “Ah, no I do not, they never came through Dawnharbour, not that I saw,” Aeson said.

 “They probably traded directly through another portal from the QWP to the Myrkalfar,” Benzhi speculated.

 “Are the Myrkalfar looking for you?” Aeson asked.

 Benzhi nodded, “according to my friend and sometimes spy, they do not know I came from here.”

 Aeson was now out of his depth. He would just have to trust Benzhi would protect them, whether, by force, or subterfuge, he had already done more for them in a short amount of time than anyone had in generations.

 “If you come up with any more good theories, please, tell me, and if I am not around, tell Mother, she can nearly always contact me, she would find a way if it were important,” Benzhi added.

 Aeson nodded, “thank you, sir, er, I mean Benzhi,” and with that, the leader of the Alpine Forest left to go about his business.

 The team assigned to hides was ready to depart the ruined city of Vaugend, the core gatherers were as well, it was only the new emigrants who were in various stages of disarray. They had no one leader and were not organised. Also, some of them were more concerned with leaving to the Alpine Forest, where others were determined to loot anything left of value in the ruined city or the gnoll hive.

 In the end, Bharelsia gave them an ultimatum, come now through the portal or walk all the way later, up to you.

 On the fourth day, after the defeat of the Gnoll invasion force, the people of the Alpine Forest returned through one of three portals created by Benzhi. It was certainly a luxury to walk fifty paces and be back in the Glade, or a Gael hold or as most were headed the Dwarven Stronghold.

 Aeson would leave his brethren and go to the Dwarven Stronghold, it was decided he would learn the craft as well, being a Master Tailor willing to work with hides. The Wood Elf weaver would refuse, Arcaena would only work with fibres from plants. This is one of the areas where the two groups of elves differed. Aeson had no issue working with hides, he had no special affinity to the forest, in fact, he had never been in one until now.

  The wood elves would kill animals and would use their parts if it was deemed in keeping with the balance. However, they usually let the animals kill each other and acted as overseers if they lived by the survival of the fittest philosophy all the animals would be dead in a few weeks. They lived in harmony, and that usually meant not killing animals themselves. If they needed clothing, they would harvest bamboo or other fibrous material and weave it into the fabric.

 Aeson had to admit, he had never seen any fibre with the qualities of bamboo, wool and cotton came a distant equal third, based on the requirement.

 Bamboo was light, strong and it breathed extraordinarily well, and it was easy to grow. The material was almost on the quality of silk, just without the elegant sheen and visible allure that silk possessed. It even breathed better than silk. 

  Carrying his tools, clothes and minor possessions on his back, Aeson marched through the portal to the Dwarven Stronghold. Who would have thought just a few short months ago he would be doing this, he chuckled to himself.

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