Chapter 70: Kingdom 12
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The Vanguard waited for the volunteers who were making last minute preparations. The expedition entailed travelling south to Loctris, forging and establishing a safe path through the portal spawn, one which could be repeated by traders with little protection.
The volunteers were from all the peoples, there was a Gael skinner, a wood elf fletcher, a dwarven keeper and the young woman Carney. No grey elves were permitted to come, the Vanguard determined that if they did run into anyone from QWP or a Myrkalfar, that it would probably be best that they were not seen in the company of a Grey Elf.
Benzhi’s current skill with portal creation allowed him to create a portal back to a Land Cores in the Domain, and so far no distance had been too far. He expected that while they remained on Basal, this would remain the case. He could create a portal to any point within the domain, while at one of the Land Cores.
However, what he could not do, was create a portal from the Domain to a point outside, it was because he did not have an anchor, something he could connect to. It would be possible, Benzhi had not worked it out, yet.
Benzhi’s attitude on qi manipulation was that anything was possible, you just needed the power, knowledge and skill to accomplish it.
The party would collect cores while on the way, this should more than make up for the drain of the three portals remaining permanently open at the construction site for New Vaugend. There was quite a bit of debate on the name for the large town, it was too small to be called a city and too large for a village, outside of the Dwarven Stronghold.
Some wanted a departure from the Vaugend name, arguing it brought connotations of the old, but in the end, the name established a link to the old while making a statement that it was different, it was new.
Gisael was still wearing her bamboo fabric outfit, consisting of an autumn coloured top which barely covered her perky breasts and similarly coloured sash around her waist. Which while it covered her front, did a poor job at covering her rear. Her fine buttocks were on show for any lusty male to perve on, none were stupid or brave enough to go any further, however.
She relented in only one area, allowing the leather straps to harness her swords. Her quiver was strapped over one shoulder, lashed down on the opposite hip, and she could attach her bow to it, in the way all wood elf quivers were made.
Gisael refused to wear leather amour, she insisted that she would just not get hit. Benzhi could not knock any sense into her, the hides were not from some unduly killed forest animal, yet, she still refused. Her training of stoneskin technique had begun, it would be necessary along with qi speed, to ensure her defence did not suffer because of her stubbornness.
Reyas, on the contrary, now looked all of the part a barbarian warrior princess from the epics. She had leather leggings, segmented below and above the knee, intricately carved, with hardened plates on her thighs. Her picks hung from a harness that started on her shoulders and was strapped all the way down to her waist.
The harness formed a web pattern of leather, showing skin, small triangular patches cupping her ample breasts and the harness offered some serious support to hold all three of her weapons. The two picks oh her hips and her bladed staff in a back sheath which was strapped in two places. The staff was long, so it protruded well above her head. As she ran it did not move, such was the efficiency of its holster.
Reyas’ raven hair and alabaster skin were on show more than ever before, she no longer lived in the snowy mountains, so the furs were gone from her outfit leaving large swathes of her skin shining demurely in the morning light.
Her alluring neck, cute nose, full lips and white skin with her dark eyes combined to make it difficult to believe how fierce she could be.
She was just as much, a toned fighting machine as Gisael. She still had all her muscles from years of climbing and kept in shape with the massive amounts of training, running and fighting the Vanguard participated in.
As a member of the Vanguard, Reyas was barefoot, she had become accustomed to it over the past month. Fortunately, Benzhi healed her through the worst of the adaption.
For anyone who wanted to tree-run and shunpo it was exponentially easier if they were barefoot. Benzhi’s skill at qi manipulation had progressed to the point where he could wear shoes, however, what was the point? He had adapted to living without them, the protection that shoes would offer was countered with increased mobility and offset by his qi healing.
Reyas was just as devastatingly beautiful as Gisael, where one was light the other dark. Where one was ice, the other fiery.
Anastasia, on the other hand, was different altogether. She thought differently to everyone, including Benzhi, her views and the way she viewed the world added an extra dimension to the Vanguard. It was as if she was the heart of the group.
Although she had dark hair and light skin, like Reyas, they looked nothing alike. Anastasia had sharper features and eyes that conveyed the depth of her soul. She was young, full of vitality, her skin was smooth, but her eyes, they were the window to her soul, and they made her seem older. Even without the knowledge of her background, one would assume she was a wise woman in the body of a teenager.
Anastasia’s leathers were elegant and at her behest held a design of the yin-yang. Her armour covered more skin than Gisael and Reyas added together, with only her shoulders and upper chest visible. The patterns carved into her armour were the same as Benzhi’s and Reyas, however where Benzhi’s and Reyas were made from the Gnoll Alpha, Anastasia’s was made from the Shaman, and it had a lighter hue.
Benzhi’s armour was a vast improvement, regarding protection, from what he had possessed previously. His armour was similar to Reyas where he had segmented leather leggings, which also acted as padding to his mithril shinguards. His chest was covered in a web-like harness. The qi pattern for stoneskin was not only carved into the leather, but it was also formed by the harness pattern. And while parts of his skin were visible through the web of leather, the stoneskin effect covered his whole body from neck to ankle. Only his head and feet were vulnerable.
Benzhi could wear his shield on his arm, or on his back with his spear. He preferred it on his arm, as it was strapped on with his sword on the inside. He was always prepared to act at a moments notice. He may look odd to some people, walking around with a black round shield on his arm most of the time. He was used to it. He could also charge the qi storage, trickling qi in all day with it on his arm. Something he could not yet do when it was on his back.
Over the months his hair had grown long, and while he allowed Reyas to trim it, Gisael would not allow him to cut it short. Insisting that he keep growing it. The white hair now stretched down his defined back, well past the shoulders. He was clean-shaven, and he barely showed a tan, his robes had covered him up for the past month.
Benzhi had eaten well, trained hard, lived hard, played hard for the past year in this lump, which was now his body. With the qi techniques he constantly practised probably having a factor, particularly body enhancement and healing, the body was the epitome of health, strength and vitality.
He did not have trouble attracting the attention from the opposite sex, probably because of his height and well-defined muscles. Benzhi did not think about this much and just took it in his stride, it was not like there were many mirrors, the dwarves had some, the wood elves did not. He was never around one in his daily routine, so for the most part, Benzhi was consciously ignorant of his appearance.
He had Reyas and Gisael with him each night, he did feel the need to worry about it. They would certainly let him know if something was amiss, like bathing, grooming, why did he need a mirror? Even Anastasia enjoyed brushing his hair each morning, and he had less than a quarter of the amount of hair that she did.
Fully equipped the Vanguard was ready to depart. It was time to inspect their support.
Kaenn was the Gael skinner, he was older with small patches of grey hair streaking above his ears in his otherwise brown hair. Like all nearly all Gaels could use qi body techniques and enhance their strength, speed and stamina to an extent. Reyas was exceptionally talented, none in the Clans were at her level, but they were not bereft either.
His role was to harvest any worthwhile skins they came across and to lead the other support members in harvesting qi cores. He had packed; an array of tools, including a sewing kit, so he could make basic bags on the move, and like all members, he had as much food as he could carry.
Flek was a young artisan from the wood elves, she was adept at woodwork and apprenticed to Paphyra the Master Bowyer. Her role would be to assist Kaenn and when the opportunity arose, gather materials and craft arrows for Gisael and Anastasia.
Flek would be able to repair some of the arrows which may have been lost in the past. Not all were able to be repaired, but most would be, especially given her qi skills. The reason Paphyra put Flek forward was her ability to shape arrows using qi, just as Paphyra did.
Benzhi had learned the hard way, arrows run low and out. And when they did they lost one of the main weapons from their arsenal. Even restricting the number of arrows Gisael would use in an encounter was limiting the Vanguards efficacy.
Skorrick was one of the dwarven ledger keepers. His normal role was in logistics of supplies for the stronghold, its miners and artisans, but he also worked on the dwarven trade ledgers. His presence was not really necessary. However, the dwarves were keen to send someone, despite the current construction works.
It was deemed that a person who could assist with any trade talks, in regards to what they had to offer and what it was worth, would be ideal. Skorrick was young for a dwarf and was looking forward to the adventure, he would assist Kaenn during the expedition with whatever Kaenn required, this was understood.
Skorrick would also monitor all the supplies for the trip, which was not a major concern, Benzhi could open a portal and get more food at any stage if they were desperate and also send back gathered cores, or ask for a delivery of arrows.
Theoretically, Vanguard could travel to Loctris and Benzhi could open a portal for members like Skorrick and Carney. However it was not certain he could, and Kaenn would need assistance, he could not do all the gathering himself. Not to mention, perhaps they did not want to open a portal in Loctris, there could be unforeseen repercussions. Thus, all members of the essential group would travel all the way.
The last member of the support party was Carney. She was not the only trader amongst the people of New Vaugend, but she was useful with a bow and was certainly the prettiest. That is what Benzhi was accused with when selecting her, and she was certainly keen to join the expedition.
Carney could also cook, which meant that Anastasia would have some help. In reality, everyone could cook, and the wood elves were proficient at supplying prepared trail food, but with expert cooks, foraged food during the trip would be much more appealing and foraged food was essential in reducing the amount of baggage required.
“We will be travelling at speed until we pass through what was the gnoll territory. This area will be clear now due to the portal closure. Anastasia will be tasked with protecting this group and will be able to reach the Vanguard remotely if needed through qi communication,” Benzhi began.
“Has anyone got too much weight to carry?” He asked, perusing their packs. Looking at Skorrick, he asked, “is that going to slow you down?” Skorrick was carrying a pack almost as large as himself.
“I travel the same speed with this pack or without,” Skorrick answered.
Benzhi nodded, “very well. We have a couple of days before entering dangerous territory we can discuss more on the way. Is there anything pressing before we leave? Anything we need, any questions?”
Heads shook all around.
“Okay,” Benzhi said and opened a portal to the edge of the domain, when it was open, “let’s move. Ladies first.” Gisael went first, and Benzhi would go last and close the portal once he was through.
Benzhi, Gisael, Reyas and Anastasia
Keann – Gael Skinner – Leader of support travelling party (Male)
Flek – Wood Elf Artisan – Fletcher (Female)
Skorrick – Dwarven Keeper – Trader (Male)
Carney – Human Novice Trader - Cook – Archer (Female)
The party moved at a rapid pace, to assist the support members Benzhi practised his remote qi technique control by working qi body technique stamina through each member every couple of hours as they travelled.
This technique revived the party members’ muscles and helped Benzhi improve his manipulation skills at the same time. He was nowhere near the level where he could manipulate and maintain four streams at once of qi body speed. But even this small aid had dramatic efforts, by the end of the first day’s hard travelling no one was sore, and no one was physically tired.
“That is amazing,” Carney said to Benzhi, unlike others she had never been afraid to talk to him, “I never even knew masters could do such a thing.” Carney was apprehensive at first, worried that Benzhi was invading her with his qi, but the results quickly changed her mind.
“Do you do this to yourself all the time?” Carney asked Benzhi.
“No, not all the time, usually only during a battle or long runs. When we fought the gnolls, there was three hundred in one day. As you know, fighting takes a lot out of you, much more than things, even as taxing, as building a house with stone. So, I refresh my entire body every ten enemies or so.” Benzhi explained.
Carney laughed, “you make it sound normal, “oh ten enemies or so” she mimicked him teasingly, “no wonder you thrashed the duke and his army.” She said shaking her head, “I best get started on dinner,” she moved to help Anastasia.
Carney had similarities with Bhar, she was down to earth, logical, forthright. And although she had no qi talent to speak of, Benzhi would watch her closely to see how she handled trading negotiations with whichever organisation they approached after arriving in Loctris. She had potential.
As she helped Anastasia Benzhi studied her, she had that fiery red hair, it was well tied up in a bun at the back of her head, coupled with her green eyes her exotic looks were incongruous with her down to earth personality. The freckles that spread across her nose to each cheek were adorable.
She was tall, her legs were long and shapely, they were so attractive they did arouse the animal instinct of desire within Benzhi.
Anastasia peered over at Benzhi, feeling his lust or interest through the connection the Vanguard had. Benzhi swore to himself, he should have closed it, at times like this it was embarrassing.
Anastasia asked Carney loudly as they worked, “do you have anyone back at New Vaugend Carney?”
Carney was taken aback, she sounded hurt, “ah I lost my husband during the gnoll invasion and have not had time for such things since.”
It was Anastasia’s turn to look aghast, “oh I am sorry, I completely forgot, the first time I saw you, you bravely declared your desire to fight to Benzhi. I am so sorry.” Anastasia’s shame came through the connection to Benzhi, he was about to go over to comfort her, he had forgotten as well.
“No, do not be sorry Mistress. It was a set marriage, and we were new to each other. I was angry with the gnolls killing my entire family, only I survived, my ma and pa were killed in front of me as I escaped. That’s why I declared my intention to fight,” Carney replied consoling Anastasia, although she was the one who had lost her family.
Anastasia nodded sadly, “I lost my family too, they think I am dead now,” she was quiet for a long time and so was Carney, “but I spent many years with them, it was a full life,” Anastasia continued introspectively. “They will miss me, but it is different for you, you are so young to lose everyone.”
Carney looked at Anastasia, baffled, “Mistress you are not much older than me, surely.”
“Oh don’t call me Mistress, love, call me Anastasia. And looks can be deceiving, especially in this world of master qi practitioners, look at Gisael. Her boobs haven’t dropped one iota, and she is going on fifty.”
Benzhi’s jaw dropped, ‘Gisael would never tell him how old she was, these women must share details when he wasn’t around. Fifty omg. Well. She was a wood elf. They are different in many respects.’ Benzhi thought to himself.
Benzhi sidled up to Anastasia, “almost ready? I am starving.”
She glared at him, it was a poor glare compared to Gisaels, “I will tell you when it's done.”
“Oh by the way,” Benzhi said putting an affectionate hand on Anastasia’s shoulder and whispered, “don’t call people love. It makes you sound like a hundred.”