Chapter 73: Kingdom 15
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The Vanguard and their support party sat by a fire after a hard days work. The Vanguard had been clearing out the next area which consisted of Manticores and Minotaurs. While the support party had been harvesting cores before moving on to skinning. Benzhi had opened a portal for Keann to send all the skins back to Gleig who was stationed at the Dwarven stronghold.
The Stronghold had become the centre for crafting in the Alpine Forest, even some of the Grey Elves moved there. The vast areas set aside for artisans were slowly filling, only the wood elf artisans stayed in their tree homes, secreted away in the Glade. But with the portals permanently open it was no inconvenience for Paphyra, or any other wood elf artisan, to visit during the day.
“I can’t believe you skinned so many in one day, there is only four of you and Keann, you are the only skinner by trade,” Benzhi praised them.
“It was nothun, these lizards may be tough, but the hide separates easily from the flesh and these…,” Keann waved a hand across Flek, Skorrick and Carney, “were soon adept as any at parting a dead lizard from its skin.”
“How goes the next region?” Carney asked excitedly.
Benzhi shook his head, “those damn manticores.”
“They flew,” Anastasia said still in awe of the creatures, “they were flying lions with a stinging tail!”
“Benzhi didn’t like them because he couldn’t hit them, only Gisael and Anastasia could bring them down when they took off,” Reyas added.
“Wow,” Carney said in wonder, “they flew… I have never seen a lion let alone a manticore. How many were there?”
“Not many,” Gisael answered, “they were solitary predators, we only had to bring down twenty to bring the next wave.”
“Only,” Carney rolled her eyes.
“What type of beasts were they? Are the hides worth it?” Keann asked Benzhi.
“They were Noble, and a couple could have been spirit, they used qi to enhance their wing muscles when flying. Otherwise, they would probably never get off the ground,” Benzhi speculated.
Keann nodded, “what was next?”
“Minotaurs,” Reyas said enthusiastically, “the type of foe I like.”
“Reyas overpowered an eight foot monster with arms the size of her waist,” Anastasia informed the party.
“She enjoyed herself thoroughly,” Benzhi agreed.
“How many minotaurs are there? Are they worth skinning as well?” Keann asked.
“Always, work work work, with you,” Carney said and slapped Keanns shoulder in a friendly manner.
“It is his mission,” Benzhi said seriously. Looking directly at Carney. She pouted back at him. “The minotaurs were in packs of two and three, they were noble or spirit, the same as the manticores. I would guess we killed close on a hundred.”
“Hmm, ninety-two,” Gisael stated succinctly.
Benzhi shook his head at her, “you can still surprise me. How did you keep count?”
Gisael tapped her head, “I used this…” and she smiled at Benzhi her white teeth gleaming in the firelight.
Reyas was leaning against Benzhi on his left, her head on his shoulder, she sat up and tapped his head. She made a hollow knocking sound with her mouth. He grabbed her hand, she growled at him. Benzhi bit her finger, and they began to wrestle in the grass.
“Do you two want some privacy?” Skorrick asked in all seriousness.
Anastasia laughed at that, “not usually,” and then everyone laughed, except Benzhi who stopped wrestling and just surveyed the crowd laughing at him.
Benzhi, scowling at the party during their ceaseless laughter, attempted to change the subject, “tomorrow we will take on the last of the second wave, and the third wave will come the day after most likely, how much longer do you need here?”
“We can spend two more days skinning here, that should bring in nearly all the useful skins,” Keann replied.
“Are you not afraid of the third wave?” Carney asked, “can’t a trader in the future just travel wide of the portal?”
“The third wave does pose a risk,” Benzhi replied in all seriousness, “but it cannot be left alone. No one would be safe travelling through here, and we don’t know if the portal will spawn first and second waves again after time has passed.”
Carny nodded, “I cannot imagine how the nobles made it past all this portal spawn,” she thought out loud. She was referring to the nobles from Vaugend who had abandoned the city and run south to Loctris.
“They could have if they gave the spawn a wide margin, but yes, it would be difficult. When we last did the crossing with the dwarves if we came to close the spawn would attack, and we dealt with them. If the nobles could not deal with something that aggroed, I do not know how they would make the crossing,” Benzhi answered.
“Not to mention the mountains with the yeti,” Reyas said, “there is no way they could take the mountain pass without fighting their way through the yeti.”
“When will you call for Kebo?” Gisael asked. The original plan was when the first two waves were cleared, Benzhi had assumed Kebo would have to use the red portal.
“After the third wave,” Benzhi had changed his mind, “if he is a portal master we don’t need an open portal for him to find us. And I would like to have the qi solid cores in hand.”
The Minotaurs, with their two-handed axes and enormous strength, had been cleared, they had not posed any real threat to the Vanguard as long as the companions kept their concentration on the task at hand. When they didn’t, the link and usually Gisael, was there to remind them. Her mental focus was exemplary, ironically, for a wood elf, she was awful close to a robot.
A light breeze crossed the plains, the sun was arcing up into the sky, it was going to be a beautiful day, not a cloud was in sight, and the temperature was mild without being cold. None of this really mattered as the Vanguard were about to enter a life and death battle with whatever came through the portal, the third wave.
So far there had been manticores and minotaurs, both curiously from Greek mythology, as far as Benzhi could recall, until confirmed by Anastasia. What would be next? A titan? A cyclops? Benzhi and Anastasia were chatting about Greek mythology and their limited knowledge.
“It reminds me of our tales,” Gisael said while they waited.
“Your tales are an accurate verbal history, ours are mostly stories, usually invented,” Benzhi said.
“But, if they were invented, then, how do you explain these things actually exist?” Anastasia said.
They all thought about it for a while.
“Well,” Benzhi started, “either they come from our imagination, or there are so many planes that anything that could be imagined actually exists, or the stories have some basis in truth.”
“I like the third theory,” Anastasia said, “what about the Gael, Reyas, do they have stories?”
“Most of our stories are told by skalds, and the same tale changes from one skald to the next. I think they are mostly for merriment during a feast or evening meal,” Reyas said.
Benzhi laughed, “the same from where we come from, most stories are for entertainment.”
“It comes,” Benzhi said, he could feel the portal disturbance moments before the shimmering began.
A giant snake-like creature issued forth.
‘Don’t look at it!’ Benzhi sent through the link and immediately closed his eyes and engaged qi sight.
The movies from earth did not do this creature justice. It was thirty feet long from head to tail, its head was eight feet in height from the ground, where its remaining snake body slithered behind. Its face was pale white, almost human, it looked like marble, hundreds of tiny snakes weaved and bobbed about the top of its head instead of hair. This is why Benzhi immediately acted, thinking it was a medusa and knowing the tale.
This medusa had no bow. Instead, her eyes glowed a bright golden light, and she had not two, but four arms. Each arm wielded curved sharp white blades, the Vanguard took in a few details before blinding themselves, no one had turned to stone.
Benzhi could see its qi circulation and core. The Medusa was a being of considerable talent, her qi pathways were complex and intricate, she shone like a diamond, her core was substantial and hidden amongst the multitude of pathways. Distinguishing its exact size was hard. Its eyes were certainly dangerous, they glowed brightly with qi and had an array of pathways feeding them.
‘Be ready to dodge something coming out of the eyes, I will give a warning if I can,’ Benzhi sent.
As with the Salamander, the Vanguard waited for the spawn to make the first move, whether this was the best strategy was debatable, they just wanted to have some idea of what they were up against before deploying.
Benzhi watched as the four white blades, possibly bone, ivory, were layered in qi. They were qi blades.
The Vanguard spread, surrounding the Medusa. This movement agitated the Medusa into action. A thin beam of light issued forth from the point of the curved white blade as the Medusa turned, lifted its arm high and pointed the tip one of its qi blades at Gisael.
Benzhi sent a warning as soon as the Medusa moved, its qi moved at the speed of light before the beam issued forth, there would be no warning from qi activity. The physical aiming would have to suffice in alerting the Vanguard one of these beams was about to issue forth.
The beam lasted a full second, which seemed like an eternity, it was aimed at Gisael, who was the first to move, the companion heading to the rear of the Medusa. Gisael first sped up, the beam following her, she then backflipped over it before moving forward again, and she slid underneath it this time as the beam climbed. The Medusa moved the beam back and forth slowly, unable to change direction quickly.
Where the beam hit the ground, it seared the earth, cutting deep swathes into the ground. The Medusa had fricken laser beams!
As the Medusa was occupied with Gisael and Benzhi assessed, giving her his sight, Reyas attacked from the other direction. She had opened her eyes, ignoring Benzhi’s initial warning on instinct.
Another of the Medusa’s blades lifted, pointed at Reyas and a second beam issued forth. Reyas dodged left, strafing towards and away from the Medusa, the beam followed, Reyas just picked up speed as it closed in on her.
Benzhi was unable to act, he was watching the Medusa intently giving as much warning as possible on incoming attacks with his vision. He walked slowly towards the Medusa, one slow step at a time, inching forward.
Reyas, Gisael and Anastasia were charging and disengaging the Medusa. Even with all of them provoking the creature at once they could not get close. The deadly beams kept them at bay. Gisael came within ten paces when the Medusa’s eyes lit up, Benzhi screamed a warning through the link, a beam ten times the thickness of the qi blade beams shot out of its head, a ray of death towards Gisael.
She was forced to change direction immediately. If she had lept, she would no longer be able to dodge. She would have been a sitting duck for any of the Medusa’s beams. Gisael stayed on the ground, darting, rolling, diving, using direction change to keep herself unscathed.
Gisael and Anastasia backed off and started to fire arrows from fifty or more paces, moving after each shot. These arrows, even Gisael’s qi arrow which weaved through the air under her control, were unable to penetrate the Medusa’s defences. It either brought a blade down on the arrow or placed its tail in the arrows path, like a massive shield.
Its tail was covered in a protection similar to stoneskin, a qi pattern similar to its own physical scale pattern. Arrows just bounced off, usually breaking on impact.
The Vanguard had finally encountered an enemy which had perception equal to theirs, the little snakes on the Medusa’s head, fed it with sensory information, alerting it to arrows, charges, any movement coming from any angle. It had no blind spots. The only difference was the Medusa had only one vantage where the Vanguard could have a few.
The Medusa’s melee defence had not even come into play, its ranged attack was that good, that the Vanguard could not close to melee without taking a light beam to the chest. Calling it a Medusa was probably inaccurate, it did not turn you to stone with a mere look, it could fry you with qi light beams and had multiple qi blades. It was probably the origin of the Medusa story, but it also had some similarities with other mythical beings.
Benzhi had closed to thirty paces, inching forward, all his focus on every movement of the Medusa, its qi techniques, its core. They had depleted some of its core, but it could fight like this all day, he was sure, and during that time it would regenerate some qi as well.
Benzhi began to create a web patterned qi shield, on the outer layer of his shield, it was only in a small area, but large for him, when it came to this technique.
It did take much of his concentration and what was left was focused on the Medusa. Fortunately, his companions were keeping it busy, and as he took no aggressive action, it was ignoring him.
The Medusa did send a stray beam at him now and then, he would step aside using shunpo at the very last moment, leaving the Medusa no opportunity to follow him with the beam. The beam dissipated in a second, being a stray shot and not a concerted effort like the Medusa was targetting his companions with, who were trying to close to melee and had fired arrows.
Reyas finally got close enough to swing her bladed staff, she swung, stabbed in a frenzy of attacks. The Medusa parried them all. Gisael used this opportunity to close to the other side, but the Medusa entered into a frenzy of its own, five beams simultaneous spreading, ripping flesh from Reyas’ body, she was injured again, she would not be happy. But that was the least of their concerns, Reyas reluctantly backed off, trusting Benzhi’s orders, she wanted to take the injuries and apply some in turn. Her shoulder had a gaping hole, the wound had fused, but it was hampering her and must have hurt like hell.
Gisael fired three arrows from close range, strafing and firing, assisting Reyas with her withdrawal. Anastasia stopped and started firing as well, unlike Gisael, she could not fire on the run with any accuracy.
Benzhi used this opportunity to finish his shield, but instead of activating the web and charging, he slowly walked closer to the Medusa. He sent out a qi stream towards it, during its frenzy it did not notice him attaching to its core, he started to syphon its qi and put it into his shield, adding to the storage.
At first, he syphoned tiny amounts of qi, hoping to go unnoticed, within the frenzy of the battle, the Medusa did not register it was losing a tug of war of its own qi. It did not react. Benzhi was emboldened, he drew more and more qi. He began to fill his shield, which in turn powered his qi barrier which hugged the surface of his shield.
Benzhi had syphoned half of its qi and began to drag even greater amounts, he had done more damage to its reserves in a minute than the entire fight.
The Medusa realised something was wrong, as Benzhi pulled its qi with all his might, a torrent poured into his shield, he normally only trickle charged it, the shield was pulsating under strain, but it was holding.
The Medusa aimed its eye beam, the most powerful by magnitudes at Benzhi, straight at him, he had closed to twenty paces, and it was upon him within moments. He held his shield in front, blocking the beam, a flash of light ensued when the two forces met. There was a blinding flash, followed by sparks showering towards the ground as the beam smashed against the shield and was repulsed.
Benzhi’s plan was working, if he had not stolen the qi, he would be in trouble, maintaining the shield. The barrier did not use much qi, however, the sustaining of it during this onslaught did. He was using the Medusa’s qi against itself, as it now wasted tremendous amounts maintaining its eye beam. It had begun to tug against Benzhi, stemming the flow of its qi to him.
Benzhi did not know its skill level, but, as soon as the Medusa started to tug back, he was under strain maintaining any qi flow in his direction. He continued though, if he could keep it occupied trying to stem the flow of its qi, it would not be doing other things like shooting five beams at him simultaneously or paying attention to his companions who were now closing from all directions.
Reyas had her revenge, the Medusa was focused almost entirely on Benzhi, had shot a beam at Gisael who closed first while Reyas stabbed her spear end through its throat, severing several qi connections to its eyes. Reyas then brought the other end of her staff to bear slicing into the Medusas arm as it swung a qi blade at her.
Anastasia had now closed, she lifted her two-handed blade over her head and brought it down at the last moment, with her momentum behind the swing, her sword dealt a massive blow to the Medusa’s tail. While the Medusa struggled to bring its tail up to defend, Anastasia continued to hack into it.
Benzhi began to pull more qi from the Medusa, draining its reserves, hampering its efforts to defend against the onslaught.
Gisael arrived last, she had been dodging a beam, she lept high and past the Medusa, slicing into its already injured neck. The Medusa’s head flopped back, its neck gaping open, the head holding on by a mere thread of skin not yet severed. Another savage blow to the Medusa’s chest from Reyas shook it and the head free. It plonked and rolled across the ground. Stopping after several paces near Anastasia’s feet.
It was over, the Medusa’s qi core went dark.
“Third waves are a bitch,” Benzhi said to no one in particular.