Chapter 74: Kingdom 16
https://www.patreon.com/skullysln - Advance chapters and other material on Patreon
Benzhi rushed over to Reyas after the battle, again. “We have to stop meeting like this,” he joked.
Not understanding the reference Reyas looked confused at first, before grimacing in pain, “I am not quick enough,” she said.
“Oh, you are plenty quick enough, you take more risks than any of us,” Benzhi consoled her as he inspected the wound. His shield was brimming with qi stolen from the Medusa, or whatever that was.
“Not you,” Reyas said quietly, sitting down with her back against a backpack, provided by Anastasia, for support.
“Nothing too dangerous,” Benzhi said calmly, inspecting the wound, “the hole is cauterised from the inside.”
“Whatever that means, good. Please fix me,” Reyas said while closing her eyes, “this is embarrassing.” He placed her head down gently, not needing physical access to the wound, he would heal with qi sight and qi healing manipulation.
“I will go and find Keann,” Gisael said watching Benzhi attend to Reyas, “we can set camp here tonight. When you are finished get some rest, I will be back soon.” With that, she took off, Anastasia stayed close, not that there was much chance of danger now the portal was closed.
Anastasia scouted around the immediate area before coming to sit by Benzhi and Reyas.
“She is always pushing it, isn’t she,” Anastasia said.
Benzhi was deep in concentration, after a minute the statement registered and he replied, “before you arrived she almost died to hellhounds,” he said solemnly.
Anastasia gently stroked Reyas’ hair. “It is because she fights without fear of death,” Anastasia looked at Benzhi, “as do you. I don’t think I will ever be able to do that.”
Benzhi was quiet for a long time, focusing on his task, but also considering her words, “It is not fear that is bad, it is letting it affect your decisions. I usually just box mine up and put them aside, try not to let them have headspace. It is easier said than done,” he smiled weakly.
“Oh to be a man to do such things,” Anastasia fancified, “I cannot compartmentalise like you do,” she paused thoughtfully, “Perhaps I can learn.” With that, she got up and scouted the immediate area again, leaving Benzhi to concentrate.
When she was out of earshot, Benzhi closed the connection and whispered to her, “do not ever die on me, I cannot lose you Reyas.”
She was conscious, barely, she had gone into a meditative state while Benzhi healed her, barely cognizant of her surroundings.
“I hear you,” she mumbled and smiled to herself.
After most of the healing was done, she sat up fully awake and aware. She stared at Benzhi as he finished off the final touches on her shoulder.
“I will always fight at the front, with all my strength. Do not doubt me because of a few scratches,” Reyas said fiercely.
Benzhi stared back at her, “I would never expect otherwise,” he said in all seriousness. Although he doubted almost dying to hellhounds would be classified as a scratch, or losing a foot for that matter, a hole through the shoulder was quite a large scratch as well.
The Vanguard gathered, after scouting the next region south which the traders would take, they had made great progress it was the hellhounds, the last before the mountains.
Keann’s party had worked themselves to the bone in keeping up, skinning anything that was noble in quality and above, that was able to be skinned. The tree creatures were a welcome break. They did, however, chop up the third wave and send the wood to Paphyra, hopefully, no one would be too upset about its origin. It did not worry Gisael in any case.
The combined party sat by their camp the Vanguards joining the support crew.
“Who would have thought that snake critter would be so delicious,” Carney said to the group as they chowed down on the last of the Medusa tail.
“Lucky it wasn’t poisonous,” Benzhi replied, “she was vicious, I wouldn’t put it past her.”
“She?” Carney asked.
Benzhi laughed, “well, she had breasts and a head of snake hair, so…”
Carney laughed, “you men and your love of boobs,” she pointed at him accusingly.
Reyas, Anastasia and even Flek nodded in agreement. Flek was usually quiet, she only spoke if she had something important to offer. Which was normal for most wood elves.
Carney, on the other hand, would rarely be quiet.
“What does the morrow bring?” Keann asked, wanting to get down to business before it was time to rest.
“Our old friend,” Benzhi said looking at Reyas, “hellhounds.”
Skorrick shivered, of all the first waves, those beasts were the deadliest. The dwarves and Vanguard had first-hand knowledge.
“Now that the meat from the Naga,” Skorrick called the Medusa a Naga from dwarven lore, “is gone, tomorrow perhaps we can harvest the hellhound flesh. It will be fresh at least.” He said in his dwarven accent.
“Do we need more rations from the wood elves?” Benzhi asked Skorrick, “we can do a portal tonight or tomorrow, just let me know.”
“We dun need any greens, but, we could offload these skins before moving on,” Skorrick suggested, “are ye going to keep all the cores, they be piling up?”
Benzhi nodded. “The Alpine Forest is actually increasing in Land Core size each day, even with the portals being open. I think all the people and magical beasts add a small amount, like a tithe, to the domain over time. I had not noticed before, but I have been closely watching since we kept those portals open full time. I have even been checking when we open a portal back to the Glade.
“We will hold on to them, we have been waiting for Kebo to show for over a week, I have sent three message bubbles, and I need them to trade with him. Also, since we need them, Kebo wants them, I guess they could also be a form of currency to qi powers. They could be valuable in Loctris.” Benzhi finished.
Skorrick nodded, “Many races trade such things. We do not. It is more for the likes of the Myrkalfar, the Demon Lords and the Celestials.”
“What can you tell me of those races, we know next to nothing about them,” Benzhi asked.
“Ye know as much as I do, they are qi masters, they are troublesome, best to be avoided. I have never met any of them, but I am young, Barrin perhaps,” Skorrick added, “oh I have seen art depicting the Demon Lords, they are all blue, not red, as most art that depicts demons shows.”
“They are not the same as Demons,” Gisael answered, “they are called Demon Lords, by others, because they control demon spawn, but they do not call themselves Demon Lords.”
“What do they call themselves?” Benzhi asked.
“Qizhu,” Gisael answered, “I do not know much else from the tales, except they rarely lie.” This was noted because the Fae are well known to never lie. They just omit important words or facts to mislead you.
“That’s good to know,” Benzhi replied, these Demon Lords were the enemy of the Myrkalfar, apparently and were after him as well. The fact they weren’t actually Demons made him change his attitude. He would need to judge them by their actions, he had to stop his preconceived ideas, Earth lore was a good guide, but, it was hardly fact.
Anastasia was picking up the line, if not the exact thought, through their connection.
She nodded, “yes we must be careful not to judge by Earth legends, the fact they rarely lie means what they say can be trusted.”
“To a degree,” Gisael added, knowing full well, if someone trusted everything you said, you could easily mislead them without lying. Stupid beings, ones like Benzhi, would always jump to the wrong conclusion given the facts in a certain light.
“Oh thanks,” Benzhi said.
Reyas tickled him, “cheer up, she just calls you stupid so she can feel superior, when, deep down, she knows she is yours.”
Everyone laughed at Benzhi, even though the statement was aimed at Gisael. It was probably out of habit.
Only Flek glanced nervously at Gisael, who sat with perfect posture, as usual. Her blue-grey eyes giving nothing away. Through the connection the Vanguard could sense the other story, she was a little distraught at Reyas’ insight.
Gisael chirped in annoyance, closing the connection to her immediately.
Reyas, the fiery beserker had melted the ice queen a smidgeon, and not in malice.
The fireside chatter had turned to other topics when an intruder entered their camp, totally unseen.
“You call, call, call,” Kebo said sounding annoyed, “Call once, I come.”
Benzhi looked around, where did he come from? There was no portal, he had no sense of a disturbance.
“I called over a week ago,” Benzhi stated.
Kebo looked at him sternly, “time has no relevance. I come when I come.”
“Good to know,” Benzhi now knew that Kebo would be called once, and turn up when he damn well pleased.
The rest of the party just stared at Kebo, the support crew had only heard stories, they had never seen him.
Kebo stood, all his eleven inches, tapping his foot. He sighed and pulled out his pipe, from nowhere, lit it, and began to puff. His pipe was almost as long as him.
“I have a lot of questions,” Benzhi started, “do you have much time?”
Kebo puffed a frustrated little puff, “you will take long to teach. I just told you; time has no relevance.” Kebo looked at Benzhi seriously, if a fur-covered, horned, little demon from the aether could look serious.
Was Kebo saying that time meant nothing to him? Could he time travel?
“So how do we do this?” Benzhi asked.
Kebo, puffed, “you are strange, asking questions is not normal task. Others will ask Kebo to do task, Kebo states cost. When paid Kebo performs task.”
Benzhi thought about it.
“Ok, I will pay you this, as a retainer, and when you think the value is reached we stop. And either I pay more, or you leave,” Benzhi asked. He was leaving himself open to being charged exorbitantly, but he really did not have much choice, here was someone who could answer questions no one else, he knew, could.
He handed over the equivalent of a thousand first wave spawn cores in a large bag, bigger than Kebo himself. A fraction of what he had in his possession, the second and third wave solid cores, or kernels as Kebo called them were much larger.
“Lesson one,” Kebo tweeted, his voice high, yet raspy due to the smoking, an odd combination. He took the solid cores and pressed them together, similar to what Benzhi had done when merging with the Land Core. Benzhi watched with qi sight, taking in every detail. The seven other party members watched everything in variations of awe and interest, they were so quiet you could easily forget they were present.
As Kebo merged the cores he also condensed them, there was not a lot of finesse, he merely pushed with qi as if they were putty. As the cores condensed, he pushed with more force, a layer of qi on his hands surrounding the kernels.
When he was done a small golf ball sized qi core remained, and it was extremely dense, similar to that of a healthy Land Core. The thousand of small kernels had filled a large sized bag was now in the palm of Kebo’s hand.
Kebo popped the condensed qi kernel into his mouth and bit large chunks until he ate the entire thing. He effected what must be a smile, showing his sharp little brown teeth. Benzhi could see no discernable difference after Kebo swallowed the kernel, he totally absorbed the qi. The little creature had a qi pool so large and condensed that the one thousand kernels did not register.
After being astonished for a few moments, Benzhi shook some sense back into himself. “Ah, first question,” he began, “what is the difference between a red and blue portal?”
Kebo answered immediately, “Red portal is special, it is one way, and it will force the target through when conditions are met.”
“Who paid you to create the red portals to this world?” Benzhi asked.
“Kebo does not talk to buyer about other buyer. Kebo does not trade this way,” he answered swiftly, denying any information on other clients.
Benzhi pondered for a moment. “If I were to ask you to make a portal from here to the Qizhu capital, could you do it?”
“No,” Kebo answered, “cannot open portal to a domain without permission and Kebo would not anger other buyer.”
Benzhi was happy with that answer, even though it was a no it told him two things, one the Alpine Forest domain was safe from foreign portals and two the Demon Lords were buying services from Kebo.
“Can you show me how to open a portal from here to over there,” Benzhi said pointing into the distance.
Kebo nodded, “you need make anchor, Kebo travel aether, but you, strange one cannot.”
Kebo proceeded to show Benzhi how to make an Anchor using solid qi core, or kernel. There were two ways, one of them was to create a mini domain, this was useful in itself, Kebo not only showed Benzhi how to create an anchor but a new domain by turning a small amount of solid qi core into a mini land core. If Benzhi were to use a much large solid qi core, the domain would be larger. However, for the purposes of an anchor it did not need a large size.
The weakness of this method, as far as Benzhi could see, was someone could take over or remove the domain, and he would lose the anchor.
This alone took hours, everyone had fallen asleep long ago, all except Anastasia who was paying close attention, albeit her qi sight was dismal compared to Benzhi’s. The lesson on anchors turned into a lesson on domains before it even reached the second method.
Benzhi asked Kebo to show him how to shield a domain, how to hide one from qi vision and ask him how to take over one.
“To take domain, Kebo has never done, not Kebo’s place. But Kebo knows. Once the domain found, protection removed, need to add more solid core owned new owner and merge. If domain is hostile, must fight.” Kebo instructed in his way.
“What do you mean fight?” Benzhi asked.
“Fight,” Kebo tapped his head, near his third eye.
Benzhi nodded, thinking he understood what Kebo meant.
“What is the other way,” Benzhi asked, “to make an anchor?”
“Kebo show, not tell,” he said and began to send a stream of qi out in an intricate and complicated weave. Kebo constructed an anchor. Benzhi would have to watch him do this several times and practice the same technique several times, with Kebo commenting on his performance.
The pair worked all night, by morning, Benzhi was exhausted both mentally and physically. There was still much more to learn, but he had reached his capacity for this session.
Benzhi sent Kebo home, wherever that was, he needed to rest. Everyone else was waking for the day's activities.
He could now create a new Land Core and subsequently a domain, using solid qi cores. He could also protect and hide a Land Core to a novice level. Benzhi finally learned, which took the most effort, how to create an anchor point with no Land Core. Only one problem, he had to visit a place first.
Anastasia had watched the entire training session, she also had no sleep. Most of the training was well above her capacity for qi manipulation. Benzhi’s skill, through training and experience, was far above hers, it would be a long time before she could create an anchor. And she had no need to create domains, not while she followed Benzhi in any case.
Gisael and Reyas listened to Benzhi describe what he had learned.
“I am not coming to fight hellhounds today, I need to rest,” he said.
Gisael looked at him and nodded, what he had learned was important. Together with Reyas, she would assist Keann for the morning at least.
“We will come and wake you in the after noon,” she said.
Reyas gave him a cuddle and whispered something in his ear before leaving with Gisael.
Benzhi looked at Anastasia and yawned, “Finally alone, good night,” he said before lying down in a spare bedroll.
Anastasia smiled, shook her head and flopped down beside him, totally exhausted as well.