Chapter 72: Kingdom 14
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The Vanguard fought Cold Ones for the rest of that day bringing forth the second wave which consisted of groups of two and three giant bipedal mace wielding lizards. These lizards were semi-intelligent, naturally strong, resilient and they spat acid.
No one had a name for them, Benzhi decided to name them, Gilarex. As the bastard child of the Gila, an acid-spitting lizard, and a Tyrannosaurus rex. They were twelve feet high, with a thick scaly hide. Fortunately, they moved slowly. They reach they possessed with the mace, and the acid spit was greater than anything the Vanguard claimed except for the archers.
Arrows were unable to cause any lasting damage to a Gilarex, they were just too tough, and even if the arrow could penetrate with half of its shaft, that would do little damage due to their size. The telepathic link, the shared vision, allowed the Vanguard to dodge mace blows and acid attacks with a consummate performance of mobility and perception.
Their new armour would block normal weapons with piercing or slicing into their body, but, if a blunt weapon such as that mace could not be avoided the shockwave would reverberate through the body, causing internal damage. Just as stoneskin armour would not save a person if they fell from fifty feet, it would also not stop most the impact damage from the giant two-handed mace wielded by a Gilarex.
The Vanguard’s sheer mobility and exquisite perception served them well against the slow-moving Gilarex’s it took a days work to decimate the second wave.
After the second wave was dealt with Keann’s group started harvesting cores, and when that was done, they would skin the Gilarex. These hides could be used to provide leather armour for the Gaels, Men and any Grey Elf who needed them. Judging by Gisael stance, the guardians would probably not wear leather armour of any type.
The Vanguard rested, after two long days of fighting. Benzhi sat, Reyas put her head in his lap, as was her want, Anastasia lay in a heap exhausted, and Gisael sat across from Benzhi with her usual perfect posture.
“What do you make of Kebo?” Benzhi asked, now there was a break, they had been fighting almost non-stop,
“It is a strange creature, I have not heard of its like in the tales,” Gisael answered.
“Your tales seem to have large gaps, for ones so longlived and travelling the planes,” Benzhi was curious why the wood elves would not know of a creature like Kebo.
“We do not venture from our forests often, you are strange Benzhi, I am glad to follow you, but, if it weren't for you, we would still be in the Forest. Just Mother and I,” she replied.
Benzhi was thoughtful, Reyas looked up at him. “Look what you made the wood elves do, you took them out of their comfortable forest,” she chuckled teasing Gisael for once.
Gisael sat with her back straight as if she were not tired at all, her posture was always exemplary. She merely smiled and responded, “I am content,” she gave Benzhi a meaningful look.
Looking at Anastasia, Benzhi thought he should do something, all of them were exhausted, and while they knew qi body stamina, only him and Reyas had more than a cursory knowledge. He sent qi streams out, replenishing both Anastasia and Gisael.
“Ahh,” Anastasia purred, “you could charge for that. I would pay anything.”
Benzhi laughed, “you don’t have any money….oh,” he said realising, “…neither do I.”
“You forget,” Anastasia said merrily, “Skorrick has a sack full of gems.”
“Ah,” Benzhi said, he had forgotten. He added after considering, “You know, I do think that after meeting Kebo the solid qi cores are a form of currency as well. They could be the main currency of the planes.”
“What do you make of Kebo, Benzhi?” Anastasia asked.
“I would like to talk to the Seer and Mother,” he paused, “if I was to hazard a guess myself, he works in the aether the place between the planes which links the portals. He was a being of pure qi, I have never seen the like.”
“He said something interesting about you,” Anastasia said, “he was worried you would make him a slave, he said you were not normal.”
Benzhi clicked his tongue, “Yeah, that was strange.” He began to unconsciously stroke Reyas’ head, running his fingers through her hair while he was lost in thought.
“You may have a rare affinity that he was aware of when he tasted your blood,” Gisael guessed, “if you can afford his training, you should ask him to train you in affinities, and to find yours. I am already suspicious of the nature of your affinity.”
“Assuming he can train me in that field and don’t just say you are suspicious, tell us!” Benzhi exclaimed the last.
“How many times do I tell you, you are strange, not many can communicate through a connection like we do. Without you, this would not be possible. I suspect you have an affinity for telepathy,” Gisael stated.
“But Mother and others can do this,” Benzhi stated.
“Mother is not normal either, but ask the Seer how many people can he speak to other than you. My people, the Fae, can speak to Mother and sometimes each other, but never outsiders. An affinity does not mean you are the only person with the skill, it just means you are capable of much more than others,” Gisael informed them, “this combat understanding we have, I have never heard of the like. It is a powerful ability, perhaps your our most fruitful.”
Gisael just opened a new world that Benzhi did not know existed, “I see what you mean if Kebo can train me in this … there could be so much we are missing out on. He may be powerful and knows everything about portals, but that does not mean he has knowledge of all qi techniques.”
Gisael nodded, “that is true. If he could do everything and anything. He would not need to perform tasks for qi kernels, the strong take from the weak.” Gisael’s worldview differed greatly to Anastasia’s and Benzhi’s. They were from earth, which did most likely abide by the philosophies of the wood elves, survival of the fittest and all. But the wood elves lived by it, with one exception, they removed themselves from the strong. That is why they called themselves guardians, not kings.
“When are you going to contact Kebo?” Anastasia asked.
“Well, he wanted many more solid qi cores, so probably at the next portal south after we have cleared all the cores here and the first two waves there. We should have much more than he has asked for by then,” Benzhi replied.
“Assuming we can kill all that,” Anastasia questioned.
“Only the Gnoll Shaman has proven troublesome for us so far, and we worked out a strategy for it,” Benzhi said, “we have a big day tomorrow, let’s get some rest.”
The next day, the Vanguard faced off versus the third wave of the lizard portal. Only one creature come forth through the portal, it was another giant lizard walking on all fours and rather than being bulky, like the Cold Ones, it was long and lithe. Its slenderness was relative because it was still quite large, it was over thirty feet long and nine foot high to its shoulders, its head was twelve feet off the ground.
It ran with its left two legs, coming together, in tandem and then its right two, it twisted side to side as it ran. Its skin did not look as well armoured as a Cold One or a Gilarex, its back was a dark hue of reds and oranges and its underside yellows and grey. It was quite beautiful.
Its wide flat head swivelled to face the Vanguard for the first time, they were already ready for an attack, its pupils were slitten vertically, like a snake, the pupils were black with a fine red iris surrounding them, and the sclera was a bright yellow.
The Vanguard waited, they had no idea what they were up against. The fact that it was alone spoke volumes. The Gnolls third wave was seventeen in number with two deadly opponents.
The giant lizard approached at a slow gate and stopped twenty paces from the Vanguard, it was close enough to leap. Benzhi viewed it under qi sight, its core was massive, larger even than a Trolls, ten times larger than his. He shook with trepidation. But still waited, wanting to see what they were up against, he asked the others to back off through the link.
Under protest, they did so slowly. If Benzhi was not so adamant and by showing them the massive core through the link; Reyas at least would have disobeyed. Gisael would have overruled in her own mind so it would not be disobedience as far as she was concerned. It would have been a veto of his order. But on this occasion, they acquiesced.
The circulation of the lizard was not as impressive, rather than having many thousand intricately woven qi veins, it had several large conduits, half of which went to its throat and mouth. That was a clue…a breath weapon, the Gilaflex spat acid, this lizard was read and yellow…fire…it was a Salamander!
Comprehension dawned on Benzhi, aided by thoughts from the Vanguard, they were not the borg, but, on occasions like this, many minds could assist in cogitation.
Benzhi kept its attention at the forefront, Gisael, Reyas and Anastasia began to flank the Salamander. They kept at range, at least one hundred paces, they ran, Anastasia behind, Gisael and Reyas to its sides.
As they were getting into position the Salamander’s eyes began to glow, brighter and brighter red, then its eyes seemed to catch fire, the cracks between its scales started to light up, in what looked like rivulets of lava. Its qi was a swirling mass, Benzhi had no doubt it was going to spit fire at him.
He began to retreat, and fast, the Salamander ran towards him, assisting the flankers circling it with its movement, it did not allow Benzhi to get out of its perceived range.
Benzhi held off using shunpo, the Salamander seemingly satisfied with its buildup and the range Benzhi was at pounced. Leaping high into the air, impossibly high given its large frame, it catapulted its body to strike at Benzhi. It did not breath fire as expected, it was trying to pin him or get into close range.
Benzhi sped forward, using shunpo, to the position the salamander had come from, as it catapulted past him it turned its head and hissed, a beam of molten lava sped from its mouth, it was nothing like Benzhi had imagined. Rather than a burst of flame, like a firebreathing dragon from the movies, the Salamander spat a laser-like stream of liquid fire or lava straight at him.
As Benzhi dodged, it turned its head and followed, he could swear the beam was bending towards him as well as if controlled like qi arrow.
If it were not for the superior reflexes, from qi body, the speed from shunpo, the training with similarly talented individuals he would not have been able to dodge this beam of lava.
Benzhi was fairly certain his armour would offer no protection versus such an attack, and he did not want to find out, he really needed to work out how the shaman’s shields worked. The staff and totem were given to the dwarven artisans for study, but, they were worlds apart from how the dwarves created qi effects in their weapons and armour.
The Salamander dropped to the ground and ran quickly at Benzhi again, given its size its speed and agility were tremendous.
An arrow, from Gisael, flew towards its eye, a spectacular shot given the movement of the Salamander, however as the wooden arrow touched its eye, it burned away. The intense heat was enough to combust a wood elf’s arrow.
Benzhi kept the Salamander occupied, dodging left, right, small leaps and rolls as it chased and spat beams of lava at him. It would have been comical if not for the lethality of the situation.
Reyas closed in on one side with her bladed staff, while Anastasia closed in on the other. Gisael had stowed her bow and was drawing her swords, angling to catch up.
Reyas was first to strike at its side, stabbing behind its foreleg, she pulled her spear immediately as red-hot liquid poured out of the wound, the Salamander’s head turned in her direction. Warnings screamed through the connection, as a beam of lava shot at her she lept, but the beam followed, she was in the air, she could no longer dodge, there was nothing to push off, she twisted, but the beam was getting closer, inching closer by the moment.
Benzhi used this opportunity to stab his spear into its head, piercing its skull driving deep behind the Salamanders eye.
The beam connected with Reyas, she screamed, it burned away her foot, melting it when suddenly the beam disappeared. Benzhi’s attack had severed the stream of lava.
The Salamander whipped its head around in pain, hot red liquid and a clear substance pouring out of the wound in its skull. Benzhi pulled his spear, jumping back, preparing for the death throes of the Salamander.
The wound closed, the red lava-like liquid congealing with the clear, incrusting over the hole left by the masterwork qi spear.
The Salamander spat a lava beam at Benzhi. Of course, it would not be so easy to defeat a third wave beast that came by itself. This was no simple fight.
Pain from Reyas could be felt through the link, she rolled on the ground, struggling to stand, determined to continue. Her foot, what was left of it, was a white hot mess.
Anastasia’s blade bit deeply into the Salamanders right rear leg as she shunpo’d into close range, the beast was focused on Benzhi, Anastasi pulled back her sword for a second overhead slash, she was attempting to sever the leg.
The Salamander twisted its body and mouth to address a new source of pain, Benzhi shunpo’d back to the Salamander, this time shield bashing the side of its head knocking its aim wide of Anastasia as she swung for the second time.
Gisael was pulling Reyas out of the immediate area, all the while Reyas was protesting. They couldn’t afford this, Benzhi sent through their link that Reyas was now stopping Gisael assist, she needed to hop away on her own and allow at least three of them to fight. The communication through the link took place in moments.
Dropping Reyas, Gisael speed into the fray, she was on the opposite side to Anastasia.
Benzhi was driving his spear into the side of the Salamander’s neck, Anastasia was dodging the poorly aimed, due to the bash, beam and Gisael was closing.
They trio whittled down the Salamander, its body healed itself, but its energy was depleting.
After three minutes of trading blows, dodging lava beams, the Salamander’s massive qi core was almost spent.
Its mobility was hampered by losing its right rear leg, it was dodging and twisting on the spot or leaping using its good three legs and twisting mid-air.
Benzhi finally pinned its head to the ground, driving his spear through the top of its skull and into the earth. The lava-like liquid failed to melt his spear. It would probably not be a good idea to attempt that sort of thing with an ebony sword. The mithril was exceedingly strong. However, it was the imperishable runes protecting his spear from disaster.
Anastasia began to chop at its neck in crude blows, severing its head from its body on the seventh swing.
It finally lay still, its qi was depleted. It was unable to regenerate or heal its wounds.
Benzhi ran to Reyas, pulling on qi from his shield to immediately assist her.
“You are always getting into trouble,” he said to her affectionately.
“Pfft,” she spat, “I will train harder. I do not like being the only one to fall.”
She was competitive even in her current state.
Benzhi had nothing to knock her out, but he was able to dull her pain by severing several nerves to her foot, he could repair them once the worst was over.
It was going to take a lot of qi power, but with the storage in the qi shield and the cores they had on hand, it was something he could manage. He would eat as many as needed to heal this woman. Kebo came a distant second.