Hardcore: Qi Worlds

Chapter 71

Chapter 71: Kingdom 13

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Reyas rolled, brought her spearhead up, piercing the underbelly of the giant lizard-like creature. These beasts ran on four legs, had a large, powerful tail, tough, scaly skin with spikes on the top of their head, body and tail. Their underside, however, was less well armoured and made for an easier target to breach.

 The lizard beasts had a muscular neck which supported their massive heads, their mouth had two lines of razor-sharp teeth. They effectively had four weapons without counting their rear clawed feet. Standing five foot high to the shoulder, they could bite you, whip you with their tail, or claw with either front paw.

 The first wave did not have any qi powers, they were mundane if you could call the powerful beasts that. They ran in packs of four to six, with the new armour, weapons and mobility the Vanguard possessed they were relatively easy to dispatch.

 “Tell the support to stay at the camp until we find the portal, these Cold Ones, as Gisael calls them, are roamers,” Benzhi asked Anastasia. She would run back to Keann while the other three searched for cores in the carcasses.

 After twenty minutes of digging through hard skin and soft flesh they had six cores, and Anastasia arrived back well before they were done.

 “The gatherers are much more adept at this,” Gisael said to no one in particular, her hands bloodied.

 “Benzhi, don’t touch your face after you have your hands deep in a lizard belly,” Reyas wiped his face with her hand and some spit, “you have blood all over your cheek.”

 Benzhi shrugged. “We won’t harvest anymore, we will leave it for Kaenn, it was just to bide time while Anastasia was running back and forth.”

 The Vanguard slew their way through group after group of Cold Ones, zig-zagging southwards, moving either southeast or southwest.

 “Can’t you sense a portal?” Anastasia asked Benzhi as they ran.

 “No, not that I know of, never tried. I wouldn’t know where to start to be honest,” he replied, “the more I learn, the more I know I don’t know. Take that shaman, for instance, the Gnoll shaman.”

 “Yes, I recall a lightning bolt knocking you on your ass,” Reyas laughed. It was a lot more serious than that, she was downplaying the event, but they all knew that.

 “What is this lightning affinity Gisael? How did the Shaman get it and what can you do with it,” Benzhi asked.

 “Wait, another pack,” Gisael replied.

 The Vanguard launched over the hill, working as a team which possessed shared vision and telepathy, they all knew which Lizard Benzhi would charge first and switch to second, as the pack converged on him the three women attacked the Cold Ones targeting their open flank.

 It was over quickly, these fights were brutal. They would have been much more prolonged, as it would have been difficult to lay a decisive mortal blow, without a qi weapon. After killing the first six Cold Ones, they had determined their weakness was their sides and underbelly, overhead slashes were not effective, even with a qi weapon.

 Benzhi would knock, or flip the Cold Ones, and if all else failed he would charge with his spear and use it like a lance.

 “Affinity to the elements,” Gisael continued their conversation. “The Shaman was a master of qi, and he had an affinity to lightning. I suspect the dwarven master crafters have an affinity to metal or mineral elements. It is not rare for masters to have an affinity.”

 “Why don’t you or I have an affinity?” Benzhi asked, “or Mother?”

 Gisael looked at him as if he were stupid, “Mother and Paphyra have affinities.”

  “What?” he asked, “what affinities?”

 “Is it not obvious? Paphyra has wood element affinity, and Mother has three, which is rare; wood, plant and animal.” Gisael informed him, “Flek will one day most likely gain wood affinity, she is talented and works with wood every day.”

  “How come no one told me this?” Benzhi asked.

 “You are still new … everything in time,” Gisael informed him. “You grow so quickly, you are like a wild weed, out of control.” She giggled at her analogy finding it funny.

 “I hear more,” she said, not needing to point, their link informed the Vanguard where she sensed the pack.

 “There sure are a lot of these, we must be getting close to the portal,” Benzhi said.

 “Last time we fought….” Anastasia started but stopped. The message she received through the link was to begin the fight now and discuss after. Benzhi took off, flying towards the pack at high speed hoping to catch them off guard.

 There were only four in this pack, one each, except the fact Benzhi hogged two leaving none for Anastasia.

 “I need to train, to gain experience,” she protested with Benzhi.

 “Next time, less talk, more fighting,” he responded.

 “You are one to talk!” Anastasia laughed at him, “what I was going to suggest was, rather than killing all three waves to close the portal, do you think you could close one from what you have learned?”

 Anastasia really did have a sharp mind, Benzhi thought, and she was not limited in her thinking. Gisael was experienced, knowledgeable and she was intelligent, but her background and upbringing did not encourage experimentation or questioning as Anastasia did. Anastasia knew nothing, like Benzhi, so was open to trying anything.

 Reyas sensed Benzhi’s thoughts through the link, she poked him in the side. ‘well you are primarily focused on fighting and errm touching..which are my two favourite things’ he smiled at her. She grinned back.

 As he had become more at ease with the link, he closed it less and less. His privacy becoming less important as each day passed until it was of no importance. Anastasia, on the other hand, was confident in herself, she was self-aware and assured. From the first day she had no fear of her thoughts being constantly shared, however, it did take her a while before she knew the extent of the communication.

 “That is an amazing insight,” he said, out loud, finally, “but won’t we miss the opportunity for larger cores, for Noble or better hides?”

 “They are not necessary,” Gisael reminded the group, “if needed in the future there are plenty more portals. If you can close the portal, the making of the trade route will be more efficient.”

 “The two in the Alpine Forest did close before the third wave,” Benzhi said thoughtfully, ”it was because of the Domain being set, but even so, we know it is possible.”

The Vanguard continued to search for the portal.

 “We will give it a go,” Benzhi said finally, “I have thought of a few things I could try.”

After slicing their way through two more packs the Vanguard found the portal, it was comfortably sitting on a large flat rock on the south side of one of the larger hills in the area.

  Gisael and Reyas were on high alert, a pack could emergy from the portal at any moment. Anastasia was more interested in what Benzhi was going to do, she attempted to form qi sight and was failing dismally.

 Benzhi sent out a stream to the portal, it was not like his portals, it was larger and had a red layer instead of the blue that his contained, another interesting difference that added to the mystery of their construction and origin.

 A repulse washed over him as his qi thread intertwined with the frame of the portal. It was rejecting him, fighting him. Benzhi focused, determined to push through, he began to draw qi from his shield rather than drain himself.

 He was in a battle, a battle with the portal’s frame, he made some progress and was pushed back. Benzhi changed tactic, rather than push back the red qi circling the portals frame he started to undermine it. Pushing his qi underneath and forcing the red out of the channel and it was working, he had taken over half of the portal frame when suddenly a burst of power issued forth.

 Everyone jumped, a creature had come through the portal, it was not a Cold One.

It was tiny. A tiny little furry demon with horns.

 The small little creature roared its cute roar in anger. It was less than a foot high, with various shades of white and grey fur with a streak of red. It stood on two clawed feet and had clawed hands as well. Its eyes were like crystals, it had no pupils, two translucent white crystals shone with anger.

 “What do you do!” It exclaimed, “do not interfere with my gate.”

 Benzhi looked at the creature, it was cute and scary at the same time. It’s high pitched voice was the furthermost thing from intimidating you could get. But, Benzhi was wary not to judge a book by its cover. He looked at Gisael for insight, she shrugged, sending a message of lack of comprehension to what this thing was.

 “I would like this gate closed, um, what can I call you?” Benzhi asked the creature.

 Its eyes gleamed when it looked at Benzhi, and it sniffed at him. “It was you!” It accused him.

 Benzhi nodded, “yes it was. These gates are dangerous to the people who live here.”

  “Who lives here? This is not normal world,” the creature asked.

 “A lot of people live here, I do for one,” Benzhi waved to the warrior women, “as do Wood Elves, Gaels and Men.”

 It looked quizzically at the women, “No matter. I have task to do, and task is keep gates open. If you want it closed, you must do so through completing the quest.”

 “Why?” Benzhi asked.

 It looked at him, and if the creature could look incredulous, this was it, “this is my task. It is simple. I already told you this.”

 “But why is it your task?” Benzhi asked.

 The creature stood still, thoughtful, it pulled out a pipe, from nowhere and lit it. It started smoking from the pipe emitting wisps of smoke into the air. The creature puffed away for a minute, then removed the pipe from its mouth, “because I am given qi kernels. I do my tasks, I eat qi kernels, I become bigger, stronger.”

  Benzhi pulled out some of the solidified qi cores they had collected from the portal spawn, “like these?”

 The creature became interested, looking closely at what was in Benzhi’s hand, sniffing it, “yes. But better. They be weak kernels.”

 “Do you open all the portals here on the plains?” Benzhi asked.

 The creature said nothing, at first, tilting its head, before stating, “I no know what you mean plains.”

 Benzhi waved his hand, “all this area, how many portals do you control?”

 “All of them,” the creature said.

 “Have you already been paid to keep it open?” Benzhi asked.

 “That is my task, I get paid,” the creature answered unhelpfully.

 “If I paid you, could you do tasks for me?” Benzhi asked.

 The creature nodded, “yes, you pay, I work, that is how it is done.”

 “Can I pay you to close this portal?” Benzhi asked.

 The creature shook its head, “no I already paid to open portal, you mess with my portal,” it pointed at him accusing Benzhi again.

 “What If I paid you to train me, could you do that?” Benzhi asked.

The creature looked thoughtful, puffing on its pipe, “train you in planar magic?”

 Benzhi nodded.

“No, I am too busy,” the creature answered, “and you are too poor.”

 “I have more, how can I contact you, other than messing with your portals?” Benzhi asked.

 “You will need much training,” the creature answered, “give me some of your qi, I taste.”

Benzhi wasn’t sure what the creature meant. Gisael supplied, “give him a drop of your blood.”

 Benzhi nodded and promptly nicked his finger producing a small rivulet of blood. He leaned over offering his finger to the creature, it licked it.

 Its eyes widened, “you are not normal. Oh no. I have taken your qi. You tricked me!” It accused Benzhi again.

 “I have no idea what you mean,” Benzhi said totally confused. He looked at Gisael, she shook her head, she had no idea either.

 “You will not make me be your slave?” the creature asked.

 “No,” Benzhi answered, “why would I do that?”

 “Because you can,” the creature answered.

 “What is your name,” Benzhi asked the creature.

 “I am Kebo, gate guardian of the second order,” Kebo replied.

 “Well, Kebo,” Benzhi began he had no idea what gate guardian of the second order was exactly, but it was not a stretch to conclude it was to do with portal magic, “I will not make you a slave. Even if I wanted to, I do not know how.”

 Gisael sent Benzhi a misgiving, perhaps he did not have to tell Kebo he did not know how. Too late.

 “Your training will be expensive, you know nothing,” Kebo stated, “watch closely.”

 Benzhi enabled qi sight, Kebo was a tiny creature, he looked like he was purely condensed qi. There was no circulation, there were currents and flows through his tiny body. His aura spread, a mist like qi bubble encompassed the entire hill.

 ‘Perhaps you should have used qi sight as soon as he exited the portal,’ Gisael sent. All the Vanguard could sense what Benzhi was seeing if not see it exactly. Kebo was powerful. He came in a tiny package, but he had qi concentration, in places, similar to that of a land core. He was complex, but there was no doubt, he was a being naturally suited to qi manipulation and control.

 “Watching?” Kebo asked.

 Benzhi nodded.

 Kebo sent out a tiny bubble of qi, it floated through the hair and made its way over to Benzhi, it joined his circulation and ran with it to his core. ‘Kebo will not come cheap,’ came a message loud and clear in Benzhi’s head. Similar to the telepathic links he had established through connections. It was not just the message, it was instructions on how to form Kebo’s pattern for communication.

 Benzhi tried, he formed the bubble and gave it the pattern for Kebo, they one he just received, ‘Benzhi will pay Kebo what he is worth,’ he added to the bubble and released it.

 It floated similarly through the air and landed on Kebo’s forehead where a tiny crystal was embedded, similar to his eyes. It was his third eye, most likely Kebo had permanent qi sight.

 Kebo nodded, “now pay, give me those poor kernels.”

 Benzhi handed over the six small cores they had gathered from the first six Cold Ones, Kebo popped them in his mouth, chewed and swallowed.

 “It will find me almost anywhere, just takes time,” Kebo informed Benzhi, “next time bring a hundred times these ones. No more, bring more.”

 With that Kebo walked through the portal.

 A group of Cold Ones immediately exited. ‘Did he do that?’ Benzhi thought to himself.

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